IAN FOOTE, who died suddenly in Argyll last week, was, without doubt, one of the finest football referees Scotland has ever produced, on a par with other giants such as Jack Mowat, Hugh Phillips and Tom ``Tiny'' Wharton.

He will also be remembered as a fair goalkeeper during a playing career with the amateur side Muirend and junior clubs Petershill and Bo'ness United, but it was during the seventies and eighties when he made his big contribution to the game, as a referee.

He was given the honour of handling three Scottish Cup finals, the first in 1975 when Celtic beat Airdrie 3-1 at Hampden Park, the last match in which Parkhead captain Billy McNeill ever played.

Four years later when Rangers met Hibernian in the final, the clubs fought out two goal-less draws with Brian McGinlay in charge.

And when McGinlay could not officiate at the second replay, the SFA turned to Ian Foote. Rangers won that one 3-2 after extra time making it the longest Scottish Cup final of this century.

His third and last Scottish Cup final came in 1981 with Rangers again involved. This time they beat Dundee United 4-1 after a 0-0 draw.

Ian Foote was also on FIFA's list of top referees and in 1979 he handled the first leg of the UEFA Cup final when Red Star Belgrade drew 1-1 with Borussia Moenchengladbach in Yugoslavia.

Tom Wharton, now an SFA referee supervisor, paid tribute to Ian when he said: ``There is no doubt that Ian Foote was one of the most outstanding referees of his time. He was very strict on the field, but a quiet, kindly man who never had a bad word to say about anyone.

``He was a very good-living man and was still involved in his family business. It's tragic that he was not given the chance to enjoy retirement.''