Scottish Referees and VAR. Is it time for dialogue on the elephant in the cave?

With the introduction of VAR to Scottish football our football media, exposure to the on line, audio and print world has been akin to living in Plato’s Cave where debate/discussion  concentrates on the shadows reflected on the wall by the light of a fire: (PLATO ON: The Allegory of the Cave – YouTube )

The shadows take the following shapes.</p?

  • Was it handball?
  • What is handball?
  • Was it a penalty?
  • Was it offside?
  • What are offside rules anyway?
  • Do referees know them?
  • Do they apply them with any degree of consistency?

All are of interest as they are scrutinised, dissected and disputed, but they all ignoring the biggest shadow of the biggest animal in the cave:-  that of the elephant called ” trust”.

In the context of Scottish football, ever since the game became professional, referees in Scotland have never been trusted because of the demographic peculiarities of Scotland, a peculiarity created as a by-product of historical events in Scotland and its near neighbours Ireland and England.

With such a diverse populace tribal distrust of the other is a fertile breeding ground to grow and take life, like unattended weeds choke a garden.

In the Plato’s Cave allegory the commentator suggests the way out of the cave is by philosophical education and if you watch the video, one description of his guidance  on such education is “dialogue.”

So what is dialogue?

“ Dialogue is a conversation on a common subject between two or more persons with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that s/he can change and grow. This very definition of dialogue embodies the first commandment of dialogue.

If we approach another party to either defeat them or to learn about them so as to deal more effectively with her or him, or at best to negotiate with him or her. If we face each other at all in confrontation–sometimes more openly polemically, sometimes more subtly so, but always with the ultimate goal of defeating the other, because we are convinced that we alone have the absolute truth, we are indulging in debate and not dialogue.

But dialogue is not debate. In dialogue each party must listen to the other as openly and sympathetically as s/he can in an attempt to understand the other’s position as precisely and, as it were, as much from within, as possible. Such an attitude automatically includes the assumption that at any point we might find the other party’s position so persuasive that, if we would act with integrity, we would have to change, and change can be disturbing.

The parties must be prepared to come to the dialogue as persons ready to put aside their own needs and wants, at least for a time. They must be ready to listen, without judgement, to the thoughts and feelings as expressed by the other person in the exchange. The parties must be prepared to accept that reaching agreement may not be achieved, although that might occur, but dialogue will lead to both parties, through a better understanding of the others’ needs and wants, to being able to live amicably with their differences.”

How, then, can Scottish football supporters as key stakeholders in the game  via their own club supporter organisations and the likes of The Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA)? How can the clubs themselves effectively engage in a meaningful dialogue?

There are 10 “Commandments in the Original Dialogue Decalogue by Leonard Swidler that can be read at

but the following two are particularly apt in terms of acknowledging the presence of the particular elephant in our own Scottish football cave in order to drag it out and into the light?


SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only between equals. Both must come to learn from each other. Therefore, if, for example, one party views the other as inferior, or if one party views the other as superior, there will be no dialogue. If authentic relationship dialogue is to occur between the parties, then both must come mainly to learn from each other; only then will it be “equal with equal,”. This rule also indicates that there can be no such thing as a one-way dialogue.


EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust, which must be built.  A dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust. Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing the basis of trust. Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken. Thus, as in learning we move from the known to the unknown. So in dialogue we proceed from commonly held matters, which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from possibly years of misunderstanding and possibly hostility in the relationship, may take us quite some time to discover fully–to discuss matters of disagreement.

Philosophy/dialogue is all very well but what can it do to bring about the required level of trust?

The advice above is via small steps and one small step but with huge benefits would be the introduction of transparency to the VAR process. This could be done in the reasonable short term by making conversation between referees and VAR assistant audible to all.

It is a technical approach but with behaviour changing consequences because observed behaviour changes that of those being observed. It need not be live during a game but at very least released within half an hour of a match ending. It brings in transparency which is the forerunner to accountability and would be a game changer.

Longer term strategy for culture change to improve professionalism of referees, which the proposal by Sentinel Celts   Calling Out Scottish Referees – SENTINELCELTS sets out should be part of a longer terms strategy for changing the culture of the referee service with the ultimate aim of making refereeing a very rewarding professional career   and be fertile territory for dialogue between all stakeholders, not least referees themselves.

712 thoughts on “Scottish Referees and VAR. Is it time for dialogue on the elephant in the cave?”

  1. An interesting article posted this morning on the BBC website on yet another attempt by football clubs to avoid / evade tax. The article concentrates on the EPL but it is hard to believe that this practice doesn’t potentially have ramifications for clubs North of the border. Given the scale of the potential tax clawback / penalties this could have serious implications for those who have been using the “mechanism”.

    For those wanting a “deeper dive” pasted below is a link to the article. You will likely have to register to read it but the registration is free.

  2. Westcoaster
    30th March 2023 at 11:51


    I heard an article about this on the news earlier today. Three clubs were mentioned in particular, those being Arsenal, Man City & Man Utd. The sums mentioned that those three might owe was around £10m each. It seems the problem is far more widespread though and as you say, it may affect some clubs in Scotland too. Unsurprisingly the Agent’s Association are saying it’s not an issue. HMRC won’t give up if they think they have a case though.

  3. UTH – 30th March 11.51 – “The sums mentioned that those three might owe was around £10m each.”

    Those sums are for tax year 2021 only. The scheme of dual representation was apparently first introduced in 2015. The combined exposure for certain clubs could be multiple times the £10m figure.

    The taxpolicy link has some interesting additional info together with some good graphics which illustrate how tax was avoided / evaded.

    Newsnight (at 10.30pm tonight) will apparently run a piece on this.

  4. Westcoaster
    30th March 2023 at 11:51
    ‘…An interesting article posted this morning on the BBC website’

    30th March 2023 at 16:28
    ‘..Newsnight (at 10.30pm tonight) will apparently run a piece on this…’
    Many thanks, Westcoaster, for those posts and for the links provided.
    I only wish the FCA were as ready to exercise their Regulatory functions (in relation to companies seeking public issue of their shares) as HMRC were and are to exercise their function in seeing that tax evasion/avoidance dodges are hunted out and examined rigorously!
    As an example, I believe that the Summary of the ‘Prospectus’ issued by RIFC plc in connection with its Initial Public Offer in 2012 was MISLEADING, in that it clearly implied that Rangers Football Club plc ( founded in 1872) had been bought whole and entire as a going concern and that RIFC plc would therefore be the holding company of RFC of 1872 ( company number SC437060) when in fact and law it would be the holding company of TRFC Ltd (company number SC 425159).
    The FCA, in my opinion, were grossly derelict in their duty of ensuring that would-be plcs did not, accidentally or deliberately, issue a misleading Prospectus to bolster its chances of a successful launch.
    This is from the Prospectus:
    (Note the ‘definitions’ of the terms used in this extract)
    ‘The Company’ is ‘Rangers International Football Club” company number SC 437060
    ‘Club’ or ‘Rangers’ is ‘Rangers Football Club’
    ‘RFCL’ is ‘The Rangers Football Club Limited.’
    ‘RFC 2012 plc’ is RFC 2012 plc (in Liquidation), company number SC 004276, formerly known as the Rangers Football Club plc.’

    Here is the extract from the ‘Summary’ of the Prospectus:
    “B.3 On 19 November 2012, the Company was incorporated with the intention of acquiring RFCL upon Admission in order to allow an investment in the Company to qualify for VCT and EIS tax relief. The Company has not carried out any trading activities since its incorporation.
    RFCL acquired the assets and business of the Club on 14 June 2012 from RFC 2012 plc and now operates the Club and other ancillary businesses.
    Immediately prior to Admission, the Company will acquire RFCL pursuant to the Share Exchange Agreement, which is conditional on the Placing Agreement becoming unconditional in all respects, save for Admission, and will be the holding company of the Rangers Group. It is the intention of the Directors and the Manager for the Club to return to topflight football as soon as possible. The Club’s first-team squad is comprised of 27 players (two of whom are currently on loan), who are contracted for varying lengths of time with only one player above the age of 25 having a contract beyond May 2016”

    As I have pointed out before, the current official website of ‘Rangers FC’ does not dare to claim that RIFC plc is the holding company of a club whose company number is SC 004276!
    No, no! SC 004276 is in Liquidation, hasn’t kicked a ball since 2012!
    It states, and HAS to state, that RIFC plc is the holding company of a company whose number is SC 425159- yes, good old CG’s Club13/Sevco5088/SevcoScotland/TRFC Ltd!
    This is all old ground, of course, but we need to keep reminding ourselves and others of the Truth that there were and are serious questions to be asked about the FCA’s functioning as a Regulatory body, as well about Scottish football’s governance bodies’ integrity.
    (Every man, woman and child and their dugs KNOW that TRFC have no entitlement to claim to be the Rangers football club that was founded when one of my grandads was 20/21 years old and the other was 2 years old!)
    The English MSM is better placed to do its journalistic duty than the miserable, cowardly hacks (with one or two very honourable exceptions) in the SMSM.
    Poor old Bury died the death of Liquidation, and Liquidation was accepted by one and all as being the death of a football club, pure and simple.
    Just as it was here in our own country right up to and including Gretna!

  5. I am not a golfer,and have only the mildest of interest in the sport while recognising the levels of skill involved and the pleasure and enjoyment it affords to millions.
    However, I see from a judgment of the Court of Session today that a company called LIV Golf Inc are suing the PGA Tour Inc (in the U.S. Northern California district court),
    They allege that the PGA have engaged in anti-competitive practices in order to dissuade players from joining LIV’s tour. LIV allege that the PGA are seeking unlawfully to monopolise the elite golf event services market.
    LIV have petitioned the court seeking an order to recover evidence which they say is held by the R&A Trust Company (No. 1) Ltd. The R&A organises and promotes The Open.
    LIV allege that the PGA have “leant” on the R&A to engage in anti-competitive practices
    with them.”
    I imagine that the A22 ‘super league’ chaps’ case against UEFA/FIFA will be based on similar ‘anti-competitive’ grounds.
    Today’s CoS judgment was only in the matter of whether the Californian Court’s request that the Royal and Ancient should release documents or what not requested by LIV Inc, could be acceded to under the terms of the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act 1975.
    In case anyone does not want to know the result before reading the judgment I will not give it
    the link to the (short) judgment is

  6. The Rangers Football Club have failed to submit their annual accounts to Companies House in a timely manner..they are overdue. I have tried to find the consequences for such maladministration but as ever in the financial world it is very vague. It does seem to leave directors of any rogue company open to criminal responsibility and financial penalties are implied but all very nebulous. Perhaps the more interesting thing would be knowing if a ‘version’ of accounts has already been submitted to the SFA for consideration in regard to licensing the club for participation in UEFA competitions for the coming season. Bearing in mind that TRFC are on a watch list with regard to financial sustainability rules this could be very worrying indeed for their support. Any contributors up to date with submission dates requirements etc?

  7. gunnerb
    1st April 2023 at 16:58
    ‘…The Rangers Football Club have failed to submit their annual accounts to Companies House in a timely manner…they are overdue.’
    I see that indeed TRFC Ltd’s page in the Companies House register carries the red ink endorsement “Accounts overdue. Next accounts made up to 30 June 2022 due by 31 March 2023
    Last accounts made up to 30 June 2021”
    They should have been in by close of business yesterday!
    There is provision ‘to apply to extend your filing deadline if an unplanned event stops you from filing your accounts.’
    The fact that the record carries the ‘overdue’ endorsement might suggest either that the club secretary did NOT for some reason apply for an extension or that the application was knocked back!
    According to the ‘Guidance’, “failure to deliver accounts on time is a criminal offence. In addition, the law imposes a civil penalty for late filing of accounts on the company.
    The amount of the penalty depends on how late the accounts arrive and whether the company is private or public at the date of the balance sheet:
    Length of period Public company
    Not more than 1 month £750.”
    and so on.
    So, unless Companies House have got it wrong, that’s another £750 blown from the kitty!

    RIFC PLC’s next accounts due-by-date is 31 December 2023, for period made up to 30 June 2023 so there is no apparent time problem in respect of getting them prepared and submitted timeously! There might, of course, be other difficulties.

  8. John Clark

    1st April 2023 at 22:31

    Thanks John and I did a little digging regarding document submission to the SFA initially for consideration in regard to UEFA licensing and found this

    From which this little nugget caught the eye..
    4.2.6 – Licensing Committee Meet and Review

    ‘..That the licence applicant has been provided with a deadline date for the submission of information. In the case of the UEFA documents this will be 8 April (unless an earlier date is stipulated by the Scottish FA during the licensing process). • That the licence applicant has been given the opportunity of being represented at the Licensing Committee meeting if there are items on the “Committee Report” that may lead to a refusal of a UEFA Licence award.’

    So maybe all parties concerned have already had a nice little sit down and discussion. Any member club of the SFA has the right to expect their association to assist as much as possible with guidance and recommendations and I am sure the SFA will do so on this occasion if needed. Without prejudice to the wider membership.

  9. gunnerb
    2nd April 2023 at 09:35
    ‘…In the case of the UEFA documents this will be 8 April (unless an earlier date is stipulated by the Scottish FA during the licensing process’
    Or, gunnerB ,since TRFC’s accounts are already late, perhaps a congenial little get-together will result in an extension of time beyond 8 April to give the impoverished club time to get their accounts to Companies House?

  10. Not being a ‘twitter’ user, I’ve just this last hour, and indirectly, come across RTC’s tweet about RIFC plc’s opposition to an SPFL/Glen’s Vodka sponsorship deal as variously reported in the Daily Mail and DR.
    RTC takes the view that ‘As with the cinch dispute, this has nothing to with sponsorship and everything to do with control of the SPFL and the SFA.’
    Given the state of RIFC plc’s/TRFC’s finances generally [ overdue submission of accounts to Companies House is not a good sign!] and the fact that TRFC are not likely, judging by current league placings, to be in the position of being in with a chance of European football millions, I am inclined to agree with RTC.
    What must the directors/major shareholders do EXCEPT try to exercise dominion over the Governance bodies to ensure that if RIFC plc goes bust, another brand-new club will be accorded the same treatment as was generously accorded in 2012 to CG and his merry band.
    In my opinion CG was able -and without too much difficulty, if truth be told- to subvert Scottish Football governance.
    A monstrous lie was created by frightened and/or partisan men in the SFA/SPL/SFL; a lie which ludicrously insists that the club created in 2012 by the very Governance bodies under whose rules RFC of 1872 lost its share in the SPL, losing thereby its entitlement to membership of the SFA in 2012,is the club that had been created in 1872 but which went into Liquidation in 2012!
    Auld Nick himself would laugh at the absurdity of that lie!
    In my opinion. the RIFC plc board believe they have the support of the SMSM (including the BBC) and influential folk in politics and business in whatever they do to maintain the fiction that TRFC is Rangers of 1872, and that any new club admitted into Scottish Football if/when TRFC is itself liquidated, will still be RFC of 1872!
    You see, that’s what happens when belief in the integrity of the Governance of a Sport has been shattered by the egregious lying of that Governance.
    Am I right or a meringue!??

  11. Another share issue for Rangers international and their only interest is in TRFC who are overdue with accounts. This must be setting alarm bells ringing among the support. By the by, who the hell is throwing money down the plughole? Emotional investing?

  12. gunnerb 3rd April 18.15

    The shares were issued on the 30th March raising (or converting existing loans to shares) £1,929,913. Given the issue date and the TRFC filing deadline (missed) of the 31st March it seems certain the two are linked. When the TRFC accounts are filed the going concern wording may be interesting.

  13. gunnerb 03/04 18.15

    John Halstead with 4 million is the largest investor. George Letham, John Bennett and various smaller shareholders make up the rest.

  14. Mainstream media ‘omerta’ again alongside the move along there huge costs to the Scottish taxpayer of liquidating the genuine version.

  15. gunnerb
    3rd April 2023 at 18:15
    ‘Another share issue for Rangers international..’
    3rd April 2023 at 18:26
    ‘The shares were issued on the 30th March raising (or converting existing loans to shares) £1,929,913..’
    The Companies House pages reflect the share issue of 30 March with the entry:
    “Statement of Capital following an allotment of shares on 30 March 2023”
    GBP 4,442,482.85
    Rangers has an issued share capital of 444,248,285 ordinary shares of 1 pence each in the capital of the Company (“Ordinary Shares”).”
    previous share capital was 436 528 633

    Major Shareholding (3% or above):
    The Company understands that its major shareholders are as follows …
    New Oasis Asset Limited, 63,172,893, 14.22%
    Douglas Park, 52,550,000, 11.83%
    Stuart Gibson, 44,000,000, 9.9%
    George Alexander Taylor, 43,074,998, 9.70%
    Borita Investments Limited, 27,611,955, 6.22%
    Perron Investments LLC, 24,250,000, 5.46%
    John Bennett, 22,647,059, 5.10%
    George Letham, 22,274,516, 5.01%
    Club 1872, 22.202,838, 5.00%
    Tifosy Investment Nominees Limited, 17,610,000, 3.96%
    The Ordinary Shares are freely transferable. No Ordinary Shares are held in treasury. John Halsted has advised that he is the beneficial owner of the shares held by Perron Investments LLC. The shares held by Tifosy Investment Limited are held as nominees for a significant number of individual shareholders none of whose shareholdings are major.

    Currently 8,500,000 of the Company’s Ordinary Shares (c. 1.91%) are subject to restrictions affecting the right to vote the affected shares, the right to receive payments or distributions in respect of the affected shares and the right to transfer the affected shares.
    Director shareholding interests are as follows:

    John Bennett holds 22,647,059 ordinary shares
    Douglas Park holds or is otherwise interested in 52,550,000 ordinary shares
    George Taylor holds or is otherwise interested in 43,074,998 shares
    Julian Wolhardt has advised that he and his wife are interested in the shares held by Borita Investments Limited (see above for details of that Company’s shareholding) and East Harvest Limited, which holds 7,498.525 shares.

    Alastair Johnston holds 7,497,537 ordinary shares

    I can’t find my note of the shareholdings of the individual directors after the previous share issue. Maybe someone has and can tell us which (if any) director(s) and/or Club 1872 may have acquired the 30 March issue?

    And, incidentally, I have not seen any decision in the case of the ‘blocked’ shareholders.
    This is the link to the RFC website

  16. John Clark 03/04 22.11

    Maybe someone has and can tell us which (if any) director(s) and/or Club 1872 may have acquired the 30 March issue?
    John Halstead 4 million, George Letham 1 million, John Bennett 450k, Remaining 2.3 million shared between minor shareholders.

  17. JC 3rd April 2023 22.11

    “Maybe someone has and can tell us which (if any) director(s) and/or Club 1872 may have acquired the 30 March issue?”

    Perron investments (John Halstead) was the biggest individual “buyer” with 4m
    George Letham – 1m
    John Bennett – 0.45m
    the other 2.3m appear to have been distributed to other minor, or new shareholders, and we may have to wait until the next confirmation statement to get some visibility of who they may be.

    I have seen several reports that this was a loan conversion rather than new money in which case the timing would imply a need to strengthen the balance sheet rather than an immediate need for the £1.93m in cash. This would make sense if the TRFC auditors were concerned on the ability of RIFC to continue to fund TRFC.

    I still find it hard to believe that RIFC will not make a paper profit in FY 22-23 given CL group qualification and the Aribo / Bassey transfer monies. Cash is obviously a different matter and deferred COVID related tax payments and the MASH court settlement could easily have weakened the cash position considerably, compounded by not shifting Kent / Morelos in January.

  18. PB 4th April 18.30

    ‘Are these events connected?’

    It is hard not to come to that conclusion.

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