AS a former footballer, it may well go against the grain for me to say this, but I think that referees in Scotland are getting a raw deal.

For me, the way our officials are treated by managers and players alike is ridiculous, and that was exemplified by Neil Lennon’s reaction towards Kevin Clancy after the ref awarded a penalty against his Hibernian side last Saturday.

I am not singling out Lennon here, because plenty of other managers are guilty of it, and I will agree with the Hibs boss in that I didn’t think it was a penalty kick. I also understand the pressure that managers are under, but I think that his reaction was out of line. When he looks back at it, I’m sure he’ll regret it.

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He’s there to set an example and he’s the figurehead of the club, and especially in a live game like that with so many young people watching, it’s not the example you want to see. If my boy is sitting watching that game, what is he to think? That it is acceptable to do that to referees?

I was debating this with Willie Miller on the radio the other night, and he was arguing that you should be able to say what you want to a referee. I completely disagree. In what other workplace could you go up to someone’s face, particularly someone in authority, swear at them and call them all the names under the sun? It’s ridiculous when you think about it. In any other job in the world, you’d be straight round to HR.

I’ve been guilty of saying one or two choice words to referees in my time, of course I have, but it’s only when I look back at it now that it seems bizarre how much you can actually get away with.

It’s all about respect, and there’s no wonder that referees have that exact word on their arms in a futile bid to remind people of that. What is the point in teaching kids all the way through their lives about respecting referees though, when you get into that situation and it all goes out of the window?

The incident with Lennon seemed to be sparked by him being sent to the stand rather than the penalty incident itself, and we are left to take the Hibernian manager’s word on what was said, because the fourth official doesn’t have a voice.

Officials can’t come out and talk about incidents, but I would be all for referees being interviewed after matches in the same way that managers are. If they came out and explained a decision and the reasoning behind why it was given, that least we would have some form of clarity. It leaves a feeling that the officials are unaccountable for their decisions.

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A lot of people seem to think that the standard of refereeing is getting worse, but for me, it’s not. The difference is that now we are dissecting every single contentious decision on television. And I am aware that it is people like me on Sportscene who are doing it!

We can analyse decisions from all sorts of angles and see if it has been a correct call, and that’s why I am all for VAR. Despite its critics, and the teething problems in England, I think that referees should be given all the help they can get.

I don’t think that referees going full-time, as Rangers manager Graeme Murty suggested, is the answer. I played over 200 games in England, and I didn’t necessarily feel that the refereeing standard down there was any better than up here. Every weekend, there are mistakes in England.

Referees are going to make mistakes, there is human error and they are doing their best.

When I was the captain at St Mirren, I went along to a presentation from the referees at the beginning of the season, and I was struck by the amount of analysis and continual assessment that referees are subjected to, as well as the focus that each of them had on their own self-improvement as officials. They are doing pretty much all they can do.

Managers sometimes use referees to distract from the deficiencies in their team’s performance. Tommy Wright did it during the week after St Johnstone’s defeat to Rangers. They lost convincingly by four goals to one, what is he talking about a refereeing decision for as if it was a defining point in the match?You see this sort of tactic all the time.

Where the new generation of referees let themselves down, although not all of them, is that they can seem a little humourless. When you were having a rant at some referees, they would give you a bit back, and that was great. You don’t mind that as a player, and they gain your respect through doing that.

What drives players crazy is when they don’t allow you to speak to them, even if you are politely questioning the reasoning behind a decision. When referees try to hush you up and adopt that headmaster style, they don’t do themselves any favours.

When I was playing, at least you could talk to the majority of refs and they had a human side on the field. Respect, after all, is a two-way street.