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Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

John Hartson urges caution in Celtic refereeing row

John Hartson
Hartson scored five times against Rangers in his time at Celtic

John Hartson has urged caution ahead of Sunday's Old Firm encounter in the wake of former club Celtic's concerns about refereeing standards this season.

Hartson, who featured regularly against Rangers in his time at Celtic, said he was shocked the concerns were leaked.

"Everyone knows you need to take it easy in an Old Firm week," the retired Welsh striker told BBC Scotland.

"You've got to watch what you're saying. It doesn't take a lot to add fuel to the fire."

Hartson scored five times in matches against Rangers during his five seasons with Celtic and believes the Old Firm encounter is one of the best in world football.

Celtic ref concerns justified - Boyd

The spotlight is always focused on match officials during what is often a volatile fixture and that is likely to be heightened after Celtic revealed that they have met with the Scottish Football Association to discuss what they see as declining standards among match officials.

The news was confirmed after a club source had voiced frustration to BBC Scotland.

Hartson sympathised with the role of officials, saying: "You need a good, strong referee in these games.

"But, in all games, there are incidents where it's very difficult for a referee and I wouldn't want to be one to be honest with you.

"They're brave men and they go in there and put themselves on the line, making decisions in frenzied games - absolutely mental in terms of atmosphere."

However, former Celtic defender Tom Boyd had sympathy for Celtic's stance.

Dougal queries timing of Celtic complaint

"I would have imagined that Alex Ferguson would have been proud of the timing," he said.

"For me, Celtic have done the right thing by going to the SFA and querying the competency of referees this season.

"On the evidence I have seen, there have been a lot of outrageous decisions and Celtic have been the worst victims by far of a lot of honest mistakes."

Former grade one referee Stuart Dougal said that Celtic had the right to raise concerns but thought it mischievous to leak the news on the eve of an Old Firm derby.

"What I have difficulty coming to terms with is the actual timing of it and the purpose of the timing," he said.


"It may be accidental, but I don't think anybody would buy into that.

"If it's designed to put any pressure on the match referee then that won't work.

"The Old Firm game is a big enough challenge without any additional pressure."

Indeed, fellow former top referee Kenny Clark thought the timing was reckless.

"The fans will be in enough of a frenzy without adding fuel to the fire," he said.

"Whoever has released this has acted in a very irresponsible way.

"I don't imagine the police will be very happy about it and it certainly doesn't make things any easier for anyone.

"The only way we can be satisfied that it is not a cynical ploy on Celtic's part is if the club issue a statement disassociating themselves from the leak and making conciliatory remarks about referees."

The Celtic source said that the club had analysed footage - including the last two Old Firm games - and were unhappy at the number of erroneous decisions going against them.

The source also challenged the number of offside verdicts given against recent loan signing Robbie Keane, suggesting officials were too slow to keep up with the striker.

"I just don't think there is any justification for saying Celtic have been treated differently," continued Clark.

"Every club in Scotland would be able to come up with occasions when they say referees have done them down and decisions have not gone their way."

Sunday's Old Firm derby at Ibrox will be overseen by Dougie McDonald and Clark is confident that the referee will not be influenced by the headlines generated by Celtic's discontent.

"I think this is ill-conceived if that is the intention," he said. "Dougie McDonald is a very experienced referee. He has done a number of Old Firm games and this won't alter the way he approaches the match in any way.

"But it will alter the mindset of some fans in the build up to the game.

"There has been an attempt to put additional pressure on the assistants with the references to Robbie Keane not getting the breaks in relation to offside decisions.

"Inevitably, the first time a flag goes up against Robbie Keane, every Celtic fan in the stadium will be up on their feet and, equally, if Robbie Keane is allowed to play on in what some people might suspect was an offside position then the Rangers fans will be thinking that is down to what was said during the week.

"Dougie doesn't need any advice from me, but it would be to referee the way he always has. That's how he got to this level in the first place. He doesn't need to do anything different."

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see also
Old Firm ref not fazed by furore
25 Feb 10 |  Scottish Premier
Celtic raise ref concern with SFA
24 Feb 10 |  Celtic
Poor season for SPL refs - Dallas
16 Feb 10 |  Scottish Premier
Celtic 1-1 Rangers
03 Jan 10 |  Scottish Premier
Rangers 2-1 Celtic
04 Oct 09 |  Scottish Premier

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