As the controversy deepened over an alleged conspiracy after referee Dougie McDonald changed his mind about giving Celtic a penalty, Herald Sport can also reveal new SFA chief executive Stewart Regan will use the row to demand greater accountability and transparency in the process for recording how officials handled a game. But Regan needs support among the SFA board to push through changes and hopes that the current crisis will add momentum to the calls for new procedures.
Dallas has consulted his solicitors and will contest accusations made against him by former assistant referee Steven Craven yesterday. McDonald, who was reprimanded by the SFA for his involvement, has let it be known that he will not resign despite coming under growing pressure. Senior figures at Celtic want the incident to become a catalyst for regime change at the SFA, though, and may not be satisfied until Dallas is replaced. Both Celtic and McDonald may issue statements today.
Craven accused Dallas of encouraging him to record a false sequence of events after Celtic had a penalty overturned against Dundee United 15 days ago, so that he would be seen to share responsibility with McDonald for the decision. Craven also accused Dallas of overseeing a bullying culture among SFA referees and said he had been verbally abused by John Fleming, Dallas’ assistant, before a fitness test seven months ago.
But McDonald’s other assistant on the fateful day on Tayside, Charlie Smith, has questioned Craven’s version of events. Smith had no part in the penalty decision and was not privvy to the subsequent conversations between Craven and Dallas. But he accused Craven of embellishing his story and claimed there were inaccuracies within it which made him question his motivation for going public.
“The obvious inaccuracies for me are concerning. People don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. If he had been accurate you could say ‘okay I see where you’re going’ but to put inaccuracies in a story to allege a cover-up is disappointing. Steven made no secret of the fact he was going to chuck it at Chrismas. For me, Steven has jumped for his 20 pieces of silver.”
In order to give the decision more “credibility” Craven initially agreed he would say he helped McDonald make up his mind on it. That’s what they told referee supervisor Jim McBurney. But both of them thought better of it that evening and decided to come clean to Dallas the next day.
“We entered the dressing room [at Tannadice] together and sat down,” Smith said. “Stevie instigated removing the communication packs [ie headsets]. At that point Stevie asked Dougie ‘what are we going to say to the supervisor?’. It was Stevie that instigated the conversation so we could clarify it to the supervisor.”
Smith claimed Craven was happy with the agreed version of events when Neil Lennon entered the room after the game for clarification. “It was a quiet, polite conversation. Dougie explained the situation to Neil. Steven said to Neil ‘you won with a goal in the last minute, would you not rather win with an honest goal than with a dubious penalty’.
“That’s the disappointing thing . . . he was delighted to take the credit at the time. There was no cheating. There was no malice in it.”
Craven resigned as an SFA official over the way he was implicated in the decision and allegedly encouraged by Dallas to stick to the original lie. Smith insisted Craven was wrong to allege other officials were also contemplating their resignations because Dallas was responsible for a bullying culture within Scottish refereeing circles.
“I’ve never encountered any harassment from the SFA. I’ve always found them to be very fair. I was at the fitness test the day this supposed bullying [by Fleming towards Craven] was supposed to have occurred. I was standing two feet from Steven. All the nonsense that’s been said is totally untrue.
“I don’t want to see Hugh lose his job. Hugh has brought Scottish refereeing standards forward by years. It would be a massive error. I think everyone in refereeing circles would back Hugh.”