AS leading questions go, asking Craig Levein about the presence of refereeing bias in favour of the Old Firm when visiting either Celtic Park or Ibrox was always likely to be a doozy.

Anyone who witnessed his infamous – and it has to be said, justified – rant about official Mike McCurry after watching his Dundee United side fall foul of some baffling calls at Ibrox back in 2008 would have an inkling that Levein holds some pretty strong views on the topic.

Prompted by the concerns raised by Rangers manager Michael Beale this week as he prepares to take his team to a Celtic Park on Saturday that will be occupied solely by home supporters, Levein was indeed asked if he had ever witnessed a ‘homer’ referee when taking his own teams to Glasgow. His answer didn’t disappoint.

“Are you taking the p**s?” Levein said.

“I’ll tell you what’s really interesting, it’s that he’s even thinking about it. That’s interesting because what is he trying to say?

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“Look, I don’t want to get involved in my normal referee baiting! I’ve said it in the past at some point. 

“I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone to Ibrox or Celtic Park and felt that the crowd has swayed the referees’ decisions. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said that after matches.
“It seems to happen. It’s human nature, isn’t it? But the years I’ve waited to hear a Rangers manager say that! Welcome to the world, eh?

“Look, we moan about it. Every manager who has been to Celtic Park or has been to Ibrox, and has had decisions go against them they feel are heavily weighted in the favour of the opponents, have said the same thing. They have felt the referee was influenced by the crowd.

“Listen, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Rangers manager, or a Celtic manager, say that in the past. Have you?

“The section at Ibrox was getting smaller all the time. And at Celtic they were giving the away fans that little section like a slice of cheese up in the corner.

“I didn’t realise there was zero allocation. But to be fair, if there has been issues then it makes sense. 

“If there are two home games left of the season then it seems fair that one team gets the advantage in one game and one team gets the advantage in the other game.

“But it’s interesting he said that. I find that interesting.
“I’m not going to comment on it…other than any comments that I’ve just made!”

The dry humour that is ironically dripping from that last line is a trademark of Levein’s take on the world these days.

It is also evident as he explains why the chance to return to front-line management at United that recently presented itself was tempting, but not quite tempting enough to give up the balance he currently enjoys between his media commitments and his role as an advisor to the board at Brechin City.

Perhaps the flak being directed currently at Robbie Neilson at former club Hearts - despite the Jambos occupying third place in the Premiership table - also factored in his decision, with Levein ruminating that the end of Neilson’s first reign at Tynecastle could have been prompted by the criticism he received.

Not that he directs any blame for his own exit from the Hearts dugout back in 2019, his last managerial job, on the fans.

“I walked away through lack of ability more than anything else!” he quipped.

“I’m actually enjoyed myself now, working up at Brechin with Andy Kirk. I get probably get more pleasure out of that. The pleasure in being a manager isn’t great. 

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“I’m not saying I wouldn’t go back in. But I’m enjoying what I’m doing just now. The Dundee United thing came up and was of a degree of interest. Just the structure wasn’t right. 

“I spoke to the owner. I was interested, because of the club and the connection I have with the supporters up there. 

“I’ve had a couple of chances to go abroad – one in India, one in China – but that’s not for me at this minute in time. I think that’s further away than Brechin! 

“I don’t want to get back into a situation where I’m doing everything I can to be successful and not getting any support.

“That becomes more important to me the longer I’m in football. I’ve realised you need everything around you to be working well to have the best chance of being successful.”

 So, does that suggest he didn’t feel that level of support while at Hearts last time out? Not quite. But his advancing age – he is now 58 – means he has not only developed a wry take on things, but an appreciation of the importance of delegation that didn’t always come easy in his younger years.

“I was lucky first time round with Chris Robinson, who I got on with really well,” he said.

“It wasn’t great in that we didn’t have an awful lot of money. We’d spent a lot of money.

“The idea was to get the wage bill down but get the team moving and improving. He supported me in every way he could, which is all you could ask for.

“At Dundee United I worked with Eddie Thompson, who I got on with brilliantly. Unfortunately, he passed away not long after I got there.

“And working for Ann (Budge) has been really good as well. Having structures in place so you can concentrate on the things that are most important for me is one of the things I’d look into in much greater detail at any club who offered me another job.

“I miss the Saturdays. I miss that standing on the touchline.

“It is a business where you’re up here some of the time but down there a lot of the time.

“Your juices have to be flowing to think and react quicker.

“I don’t want to take a job where I feel I can’t do well at.”