TONY McGLENNAN is not the only SFA employee who watches Sportscene of a Sunday night with a vested interest.

While the governing body's compliance officer tunes in to help him compile his big list of misbehaving footballers - or so some managers would have you believe - his colleagues from the refereeing department are intently studying their own performances and hoping they don't make it on to the highlights reel for the wrong reasons. For if a player can stew for days over a missed chance or needless red card, then it is the same for the match officials when they feel they have made a mistake that could easily have been avoided.

Technology is gradually making their job easier - vanishing spray will be used in Scottish football from this weekend - and a large support network, including a sports psychologist, helps them prepare as best they can. For the most part, however, whether a referee gets a decision right or wrong still comes down to their own awareness, temperament and ability. And when they mess it up it can sting for days.

"We probably feel the same as a player whenever they miss a big chance or do something silly and get send off," admitted FIFA-listed John Beaton, painting a picture a lot different to the emotionless robots many people perceive referees to be. "We're no different. We prepare all week. I was up at half six in the morning training and do that most days, plus training at lunchtime; it's a lot of preparation.

"If we then go out on a Saturday and make a mistake you can imagine the feelings. It's devastation sometimes if it's a big error. Maybe fans don't understand how much goes into it but you can be a bit of a nightmare around the house and your family as you're a bit deflated if you get something wrong.

"Of course we're accountable to ourselves. We don't want to make mistakes. We want to go out there and stay in the background, referee the match, let the players get on with it and hope everything goes okay. There isn't a worse feeling than watching Sportscene on a Sunday night and realising something hasn't gone the way it was meant to."

Referees are a close bunch and will rally round if a colleague is having a difficult time of it. Not all of the support is sympathetic, however. Just as a player can expect his team-mates to take the mickey if he misses an open goal or does something daft, then referees, too have come to expect a raft of texts poking fun at them if they make the headlines.

"We're a very close-knit group," added Beaton. "A lot of us train together, and regionally we know some guys better than others. You talk to each other after matches, compare how things went for you and watch incidents on TV. If you make a mistake or don't have a great performance then you want to get better and your colleagues help you through that.

"And of course a wee bit of banter helps as well to take the heat out the situation, a bit of mickey-taking. It's like a football team in some respects. We are a close-knit group so you enjoy a bit of ribbing as much as the next group. We all have our close mates in refereeing. You just know if you make a certain decision it's going to be picked up by somebody and you'll get a text message. But these thing help you though the season. Nobody likes to read or hear criticism but it's part and parcel of refereeing. We're in the spotlight whether we like it or not."

The man charged with trying to get inside the referees' heads is John Mathers, a sports psychologist at Stirling University. The great paradox of officiating is that referees must make decisions quickly while looking like they have taken their time over it. Creating an image of being fully in control of a situation is therefore key. That is where Mathers comes in.

"He helps us with the simple things," added Beaton. "You don't want to reflect on decisions made in a match. You might make a decision early in the game and you're pretty sure it's right you need to move on with the rest of the match. I saw a red card in 28 seconds in a Championship match last Friday night and you can understand how that might prey on your mind so he helps us to get through difficult moments in the match. He also makes us think about positions we take up and also what we are seeing in terms of body shapes - particularly for hand ball. A lot of it is instinctive. You build it up through experience."