Events of the past few days have produced much heat if little light. It is still unclear, for example, what the report by Euan Norris, the match referee, contains in the aftermath of a highly controversial William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final between Hearts and Celtic.
The only certainty is that the report arrived at Hampden yesterday and will be read by Vincent Lunny, the compliance officer. Action will subsequently be taken when Lunny clears his desk over the alleged breaches of SFA rules by Rangers and after the hearing on Neil Lennon tomorrow over charges relating to criticism of referee Willie Collum after Celtic's Scottish Communities League Cup final defeat by Kilmarnock.
The contents of the Norris report are still confidential, with the SFA wary of publicising information and so be accused of leaking details to their benefit. Lennon, of course, will be placed at centre stage over his confrontation with the referee at full-time. There has been speculation that Anthony Stokes will be cited for comments made to officials in the immediate aftermath of the game.
One aspect of the penalty awarded to Hearts – that set the fuse on the Lennon reaction – may also be cleared up. Increasingly, it now seems likely that Norris awarded the spot-kick, converted by Craig Beattie to give Hearts a 2-1 victory, for a hand ball against Victor Wanyama and not Joe Ledley. If so, this takes the award from the realms of desperately harsh to ridiculously absurd.
If the details are still not clear, there is still scope to clear up some misinformation and dismiss unhelpful contributions to the debate.
Lennon, of course, stands central to the furore. There were reports yesterday suggesting he now could face a period of up to 17 matches watching his players from the stand. The Celtic manager is not one to back down and is constitutionally averse to allow what he perceives as injustice pass. A period of reflection far from the touchline – and the frustration of not being allowed to indulge in coaching in the heat of the action – may force a change of attitude. Do not bet on it, however.
The situation regarding the officials has been muddied. Hugh Dallas, the former head of refereeing development, has announced that Lennon bullied Norris. This is unwise for two reasons. First, one would have thought that Dallas, given his recent history at the SFA, would be content to keep silent. Second, an official employed by UEFA should not be making unnecessary interventions into domestic matters.
Retired referees, too, have not helped matters with comments that may cause fear but do not address the truth of the matter. The hoary old argument is being peddled that "bullying" or confrontation with managers is forcing referees to quit. However, not one case is cited to support this notion. The three highest-profile resignations have had nothing whatsoever to do with criticism from press or managers.
Dougie McDonald, the official who lied to a match observer and to Lennon over the award and then rescinding of a penalty, had to be prised from his post. Steve Conroy and Charlie Richmond, who both recently announced their departures, did not state they were leaving because of any actions by managers. Richmond cited "favouritism" with the SFA, presumably irked at not being given bigger appointments.
Conroy's resignation followed a spell in which he had not officiated at a Clydesdale Bank Premier League match in the wake of his decision to award a penalty for Rangers in an incident that subsequently resulted in a suspension for Sone Aluko for simulation.
Potential referees may be dissuaded from entering the game because of abuse from fathers, mothers, amateur coaches, boys with Buckie bottles, rabid dugs and even more rabid Sunday League players. At the highest level, this is not a factor. Officials are properly ambitious and generously paid. There are occasions when a referee in the SPL – on in excess of £800 plus expenses – may be the highest paid man on the pitch. With that hefty premium comes the reality that decisions have to be made quickly, will later be dissected slowly and that criticism will be loud and sustained. Until one cancels the invention of TV, that will continue to be the case.
Another constant is that referees generally understand that reality and still want, even crave the top matches. Ask any Scottish referee if he believes Jose Mourinho attempts to bully officials and then inquire if they fancy taking charge of this week's Barcelona v Real Madrid encounter. The answer will be a resounding yes to both questions.
Norris and his team had an awful day on Sunday. The standside assistant referee missed a straightforward offside that should have nullified Gary Hooper's equaliser. Ian Black remained on the park after a tackle that warranted a straight red card. It was spotted by one official – presumably given Norris's position it was the fourth official – and it was deemed, unaccountably, a cautionable offence.
The referee then wrongly awarded a penalty that gave Hearts the chance to win the game with little time remaining. The outbursts then followed from Lennon, journalists and fans.
The debate has subsequently become even more heated, but two aspects must be exposed to some light. The first is that it would be a brilliantly contrived conspiracy that allowed Celtic an equaliser, from an offside position, then denied them a chance to reach the final through the award of dubious penalty.
Second, any hurt the referee is feeling in the aftermath of the match will have nothing to do with the confrontation with Lennon. His pain will be a direct result of coming to the wrong decision on the big occasion.