WHATEVER else he does in his career, Les Mottram knows that he will

have to live with the mistake that has become a part of Scottish

football folklore, the day at Firhill when he didn't give a goal after

the ball went into the net and back out again.

It has become far more notorious a miss than anything Ally McCoist,

Mark Hateley, et al have achieved in careers spent missing more than a

few goals. Yet the only Scots referee who was considered good enough for

the World Cup in the US last year has learned to shrug his shoulders and

accept the inevitable.

It says a great deal for his resilience that this one-time Airdrie

player has taken all the slings and arrows that followed his error three

years ago and gone on to become the country's No.1 ref.

It is perhaps no great surprise that Mottram, who will have the job of

keeping the peace and trying to ensure Scotland's showpiece cup final

today will be worthy of the occasion, has been able to come out from

behind the wagons after his faux pax. Anybody who takes on the task of

the referee in the professional game knows that a hard skin has to be

grown, cultivated and regularly renewed if he has to have any chance of

surviving in the ultimate sporting exercise for masochists.

Mottram has an interesting answer to that oft-asked question about

refs. Why do it when all you get is stick? He points out that nobody

ever goes into the business thinking that he will get to the

high-profile status that brings the raspberries, the taunts, and the

abuse which is life at the top for the men in the middle.

Mottram, who is head of the technical department at Calderhead High

School, Shotts, played football for Airdrie Academy before he was asked

to sign for Airdrie, where his professional career began and ended.

Mottram (''I was a skilful defender who played keepy-uppy with

players'') spent two years at Broomfield before being given a free

transfer and never quite made it to a first-team place.

He was reinstated to Junior level where, during the next decade, he

played for a whole collection of teams, including Shotts Bon Accord,

Thornliewood, Armadale, Bathgate, and Forth. It was after his playing

days ended that he meandered into refereeing, via schools football. That

came after he had trained as a design draughtsman at Honeywell but

hankered after the teaching profession and eventually started in

Caldervale School in Airdrie before moving to his current post 13 years


''When I started taking school teams I found that half the time I had

to referee them as well and I thought I might as well take the exam and

see what happened. It has just gone from there. At the end of the day we

all love football and this is a way of being involved.''

He has a quiet pride in reaching the top as a middleman, particularly

representing his country in the USA last summer. At 44, he has six years

left to referee in Scotland but comes off the FIFA list in December,

1996. ''I will have to think about what to do after that. You get used

to the foreign travel and the exciting appointments, but if I feel fit

enough and enthusiastic enough I will probably still go on. I intend to

take it as it comes.''

Mottram will not be able to follow his normal Saturday routine --

breakfast, a mid-morning coffee and a general relaxation before kick-off

time. ''I can't do that this week, because there is a pre-final lunch at

a hotel in Glasgow with the supervisors, which has become the cup-final

routine. It means that I will have to sit and pick at a lunch that I

don't really want to eat, but I understand why it is done. They are

trying to make it an occasion for everyone.''

The appointment to the final, his first, means a great deal to the

articulate Mottram as he sees it as a recognition from his own country

and, in any case, it is the peak appointment for any referee in


He will go into each dressing room before the game this afternoon,

check their studs and have a wee bit banter with them. ''There will be

no particular instructions. They know me, I know them. I won't be

pontificating. They should know the laws of the game and they know how I

referee. It will be a case of wishing them good luck and getting on with


He belongs to the school of thought that believes communication

between referee and players is paramount. ''As long as the players

accept that you will have a wee word with them occasionally, it will be

fine, but if they ignore you then you have to act.

''I hope Peter Grant is playing for a start. He is one you can talk to

in the middle of the park, and some of the Airdrie players are quite

sociable, shall I say.

''Professionals are professionals. They have a job to do and I suppose

it depends if it is their nature to talk to you. I think if we can get

things sorted out with a few words it can prevent disciplinary action


Mottram, who knows that the first question he will be asked when he

appears on a sports panels will be about that goal scored by Dundee

United which he didn't see. ''I have got used to that now but all I can

say is that it was a mistake, but it was an honest one.

''If I could go back now and give Dundee United a goal I would but I

have to hold my hands up. My conscience is clear. I didn't cheat anyone

or do anything dishonest. If you come away from a game knowing that you

did everything honestly you can go back on to the football field. Baresi

didn't become a bad player by missing a penalty in the World Cup


The fact that he was once a player for Airdrie may worry some folk

concerned about neutrality in the final, but Mottram dismisses those

notions. ''I have refereed Airdrie many times and there is no chance of

any bias on my part. Apart from the fact that it was a long time ago

when I was with them, I have a simple philosophy about our job. Referees

don't think, they react, and in that context colours mean nothing.''

Mottram will receive #300 for his big-day appearance, almost #200 more

than the League pay for the weekly grind, but money could never be a

motivating factor for this rare group of men.

He has no great ambitions. ''I never really had any to begin with,

although I did want to become Class 1. Once that was achieved I was

quite happy. In this business you never know what is coming next so it

is best not to be ambitious. Saturday could be my last game. It has

happened to players and referees before me.''

Calderhead High School has been a home from home for the Mottrams. His

wife, Joy, is a PE teacher there, daughter Sarah has just left to start

Edinburgh University, and son Christopher is a pupil there.

All of them will be there to see dad in action at Hampden, but if

there was any danger of Les being overcome by self-esteem as he

approaches his biggest moment his mother, as mums will, removed it


''I told her about me and the final and asked if she would like to be

there. She said 'yes', but a few days later she called me back to say

she couldn't. 'I forgot,' she said, 'it is the Women's Guild trip to

Aberdeen.' ''