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Officially better days

ALLY McCoist reaches back in time when asked about interactions between managers, players and match officials.

Ally McCoist would like to see a better working relationship between referees and managersPhotograph: SNS
Ally McCoist would like to see a better working relationship between referees and managersPhotograph: SNS

"The days of Bobby Tait telling me I was having an effing nightmare seem long gone," he says. "I was, to be fair, but I was still having a better game than him."

The recollection is prompted by the apparently deteriorating relationship between referees and individual managers in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. Only this week, Kilmarnock's Kenny Shiels was served with two notices of complaint by the Scottish Football Association; St Johnstone's Steve Lomas was given an eight-game dugout ban; and Celtic's Neil Lennon called for SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny to communicate more with clubs.

The Rangers manager has not been involved in any confrontations this season, but he shares the sense that a level of trust has been lost between those playing the sport and those who are in charge of it. He is of a different generation, and the game itself has changed – there is greater media scrutiny, more comment, more analysis, a greater intensity of interest – but what was once an informal relationship has become more restricted. McCoist played at a time when a match official could be caustic in his remarks to players and managers, but there is a greater detachment now, or a "bridge" as he calls it.

"There should be a better working relationship between management and officials," McCoist said. "To be fair to John Fleming [the SFA's head of referee development], he operates an open-door policy and I've called him once or twice to ask about a few things, and he's offered to come and see us any time we want. But you can't have a bit of craic with referees any more.

"There was a human element to the way they operated in the past, but now they seem robotic. Unfortunately, that's the way they've been told to do their job and I don't know how you get round that. I could name eight referees from my day who were all right – George Smith, Bob Valentine, Kenny and Dougie Hope and a few others. Nowadays you would struggle to name eight referees full stop and maybe that's the way they like it."

There is an element of idealism to McCoist's view, since referees could argue players and managers no longer treat them the same way either. Many players also prefer officials to be stern rather than informal. A balance needs to be struck, but there is also lingering resentment when managers are obliged to discuss a match in the immediate aftermath and so are often challenged about incidents that occurred.

It will on occasion suit them to divert attention from the outcome of a game by focusing on a moment of contention, but there is also a demand from the media for them to be forthright and truthful, a situation referees themselves don't face.

"You can't ask a manager to give an honest opinion and then give him stick when he gives you one," McCoist said. "I know we have to tread carefully but opinions make football interesting. There is a very thin line between bringing the game into disrepute and being totally honest. Would people rather managers give bland answers after the game? I'm all for freedom of speech. For Steve to get an eight-game ban, that's just outrageous."

However, other matters are more critical for McCoist as he tries to rebuild his team after the traumatic months of administration and a pre-season when the first-team squad was drastically reduced in number by departing players and no friendlies could be played while negotiations dragged on over the club receiving its SFA licence. The unease lingered, with Rangers making hard work of their opening away games, and the team only recently beginning to find a sense of assurance.

Some setbacks still irk McCoist, not least the cup defeats by Queen of the South and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Today's visit of Elgin in the William Hill Scottish Cup offers a chance for his team to try to maintain a run in one competition.

The priority will always be winning the Irn-Bru Third Division, but Rangers will continue to want to measure themselves by the standards of the teams in the top flight, where they are aiming to be.

"It's amazing how you remember [cup defeats], the sore ones, more than the victories," McCoist said. "We want to go as far as we can because in a one-off game against an SPL club we can handle ourselves.

"The League Cup gave us an opportunity to test ourselves against two good SPL sides and we handled ourselves well against Motherwell, there wasn't an awful lot between the teams.

"I'd say the same about Inverness, although we lost 3-0. The first goal was really important and Inverness have gone on to do all right."

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