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Today's referees have Willie Young's sympathy

INTERVIEW Today's referees have Willie Young's sympathy, writes Richard Wilson

Willie Young now works as a referee observer for the SFA and UEFA. Picture: SNS
Willie Young now works as a referee observer for the SFA and UEFA. Picture: SNS

AS someone who has made a decent living from the after dinner speaking circuit, it is little surprise that Willie Young has a steady supply of anecdotes tucked up his sleeve

"There was an incident with Sandy Clark in a game between Morton and Hamilton at Cappielow," Young recalls. "I gave a penalty to Morton and the door was chapped five minutes after the final whistle. Sandy came in and said, 'Willie, Willie, what about that penalty? That was a soft penalty'.

"I says, 'Sandy, when you've been in the game as long as I have you realise penalties are like boiled eggs. Soft or hard – it's still a boiled egg. He says, 'aye, I suppose you're right'. And away he went, quite happy."

Young is smiling as he recounts the story but there is a degree of wistfulness, too. He now works as a referee observer for both the Scottish Football Association and UEFA, overseeing a very different game to the one he used to work in.

Referees, he believes, are now under such pressure – from managers, their superiors, and the media – that there is little scope for a quiet word in the ear or a tolerant turning of a blind eye. The rules must now be followed to the letter and that gives referees little chance to take the commonsense approach more prevalent in Young's day. "They certainly are under more scrutiny than before," he said. "I'm not sure there are more cameras than in my day but there is more interest in football.

"It fills more pages in newspapers and takes more time on radio and, of course, the internet has taken things to another level altogether in terms of how people are able to express their views. Referees know they are being watched all the time.

"They certainly are under more pressure to report everything that happens. More than we were, definitely, because that's the way the game has gone.

"The rules have changed and they are told 'tell us what is happening on and around the pitch and we will then deal with it'. We probably had a bit more discretion. We could judge whether incidents were worthy of report or not.

"I think there is a pressure that comes from them knowing there is so much interest in the games that if they don't report it someone else will.

"In my era there was less likelihood of someone phoning a radio station that night and saying, 'something happened at my game today'. People would talk in the pubs but they wouldn't be as aware of incidents happening."

It seems some managers are intent on racking up more Hampden appearances than Kenny Dalglish. Kenny Shiels, in particular, has reached a point where it feels like he is being summoned to appear in front of an SFA tribunal on a weekly basis, the Kilmarnock manager having recently railed against a number of topics, including referees having it in for his team.

"Kenny has to get to know referees better," Young said. "He is a really deep football thinker and I have been in his company before he started taking this line on officials in recent times. He is a perfectly reasonable individual with great ideas about the game and he was also perfectly fair about refereeing matters, so I don't know why his attitude appears to have changed.

"People know Kenny is a genuine individual. I don't think it is serving him well or his club well and he would better concentrating on the game as his team play a great brand of football. He has the right ethos about football, so why have these side issues?"

Young believes Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, has learned the hard way how best to deal with match officials. "There is no question about the fact that the penny on officials seems to have dropped with Neil," Young said. "I have spoken to him over the years and away from the game he is a perfectly rational and sound and articulate individual.

"He gets very caught up in the matches as is very passionate, as many of them are, but I think he is learning to hold his tongue and think about things a bit more. Again, it is an image thing as who wants to be portrayed as the guy and the club that are always moaning? If it is constant and is the same manager and club it gets boring – move on."

AS someone who has made a decent living from the after dinner speaking circuit, it is little surprise that Willie Young has a steady supply of anecdotes tucked up his sleeve

Nostalgia never goes out of fashion and Young's stock in trade are tales that hark back to his days as a Grade 1 referee, an era when there seemed to be genuine warmth and understanding, if not always peace and harmony, between match officials and the players and managers they were in charge of.

"There was an incident with Sandy Clark in a game between Morton and Hamilton at Cappielow," Young recalls. "I gave a penalty to Morton and the door was chapped five minutes after the final whistle. Sandy came in and said, 'Willie, Willie, what about that penalty? That was a soft penalty'.

"I says, 'Sandy, when you've been in the game as long as I have you realise penalties are like boiled eggs. Soft or hard – it's still a boiled egg. He says, 'aye, I suppose you're right'. And away he went, quite happy."

Young is smiling as he recounts the story but there is a degree of wistfulness, too. He now works as a referee observer for both the Scottish Football Association and UEFA, overseeing a very different game to the one he used to work in.

Referees, he believes, are now under such pressure – from managers, their superiors, and the media – that there is little scope for a quiet word in the ear or a tolerant turning of a blind eye. The rules must now be followed to the letter and that gives referees little chance to take the commonsense approach more prevalent in Young's day. "They certainly are under more scrutiny than before," he said. "I'm not sure there are more cameras than in my day but there is more interest in football.

"It fills more pages in newspapers and takes more time on radio and, of course, the internet has taken things to another level altogether in terms of how people are able to express their views. Referees know they are being watched all the time.

"They certainly are under more pressure to report everything that happens. More than we were, definitely, because that's the way the game has gone.

"The rules have changed and they are told 'tell us what is happening on and around the pitch and we will then deal with it'. We probably had a bit more discretion. We could judge whether incidents were worthy of report or not.

"I think there is a pressure that comes from them knowing there is so much interest in the games that if they don't report it someone else will.

"In my era there was less likelihood of someone phoning a radio station that night and saying, 'something happened at my game today'. People would talk in the pubs but they wouldn't be as aware of incidents happening."

It seems some managers are intent on racking up more Hampden appearances than Kenny Dalglish. Kenny Shiels, in particular, has reached a point where it feels like he is being summoned to appear in front of an SFA tribunal on a weekly basis, the Kilmarnock manager having recently railed against a number of topics, including referees having it in for his team.

"Kenny has to get to know referees better," Young said. "He is a really deep football thinker and I have been in his company before he started taking this line on officials in recent times. He is a perfectly reasonable individual with great ideas about the game and he was also perfectly fair about refereeing matters, so I don't know why his attitude appears to have changed.

"People know Kenny is a genuine individual. I don't think it is serving him well or his club well and he would better concentrating on the game as his team play a great brand of football. He has the right ethos about football, so why have these side issues?"

Young believes Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, has learned the hard way how best to deal with match officials. "There is no question about the fact that the penny on officials seems to have dropped with Neil," Young said. "I have spoken to him over the years and away from the game he is a perfectly rational and sound and articulate individual.

"He gets very caught up in the matches as is very passionate, as many of them are, but I think he is learning to hold his tongue and think about things a bit more. Again, it is an image thing as who wants to be portrayed as the guy and the club that are always moaning? If it is constant and is the same manager and club it gets boring – move on."

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