Dallas: “I would love to referee again the Old Firm clash”
Hugh Dallas wasn’t shocked when his bloodied face and stunned expression became a global image on Old Firm day in 1999. Scotland’s most famous referee had been warned a year before that television would change his life for ever. And it certainly did. By the time the craziest night in Glasgow derby history had come to a close the windows of Dallas’ Lanarkshire home had been put in by a crazed supporter. And the referee’s performance during the game that won Rangers the title was about to be sent to a behavioural psychologist in London for analysis by Celtic’s chief executive at the time, Alan McDonald. Now Dallas has spoken for the first time since leaving his job at the SFA a year and a half ago. And he admitted that far from having any regrets about anything which happened to him during a career in refereeing that started when he was 20 and peaked when he became the first Scot to officiate at a World Cup Final in 2002, he would do it all over again. That would include taking charge of the Old Firm showdown at Ibrox on Sunday which threatens to be the most volcanic meeting of the sides since Dallas stepped into the middle of an eruption at Celtic Park on May 2, 1999. He had to send three players off, Stephane Mahe and Vidar Riseth of Celtic and Rangers’ Rod Wallace, while mayhem would have been an understatement to describe what else was going on around him. Dallas was felled by a coin propelled from the crowd and had to receive treatment while the predominantly foreign players of both sides looked on in bewilderment. But he had been prepared for the worldwide attention the night of madness attracted.
Dallas said: “I had gone to work at the World Cup finals in France the year before. Scottish football was about to break historic new ground by having the first league match to be televised live by Sky and one of my English colleagues, Paul Durkin, warned me the lives of our referees would change forever because of the heightened profile television would give them. Paul told me we’d be recognised wherever we went and become part of the showbiz element attached to the game. How right he was. I was the referee when Hearts faced Rangers at Tynecastle in August that year, a game that was Dick Advocaat’s first match as Rangers’ manager and satellite television’s opening match for live consumption. The following May I was handling the Old Firm match which decided that same championship. It was the 12th Glasgow derby I had taken charge of and remains the only one people want to talk about. It was also a match which defined the ground rules for the Old Firm referee and what was true for me in May, 1999 will still be the case on Sunday at Ibrox for Callum Murray. Players can either make life difficult, or easy, for the referee. They can show him suitable respect or else everything can explode. I won’t be at Ibrox on Sunday because I’ll be abroad doing my job for UEFA and working on Euro 2012 issues regarding referees. But I’d love to be there – and I mean right there in the middle handling the match. You ask any of the players who were involved in the game at Celtic Park that night 13 years ago and they’ll give you the same answer. Henrik Larsson would give anything to come out of retirement and play for Celtic at the weekend and so would big Jorg Albertz if he could wear Rangers’ jersey once again. The Old Firm derby means a magnificent stage inside a fantastic theatre.” Dallas refuses to believe that any Old Firm game could ever be described as unmanageable for the ref, no matter how extraordinary the circumstances might be. He said: “The first thing Callum has to do is handle the occasion as best he can and hope he’s not involved in some big call that’s analysed for years to come. I can categorically say he’s the right guy for the job because I know from my time as a referee, and my stint at the SFA, Callum is respected by all players. He’s an intelligent man, calm and composed under pressure. Callum worked with me when I was in the latter stages of my refereeing career and I know him to be a nice guy until somebody crosses him. He’s not an actor. He just gets the job done. I also believe he’ll be dealing with two well-disciplined teams. Rangers are out of the title race but there’s no such thing as a meaningless Glasgow derby. This is still one of the biggest games in the world”, concluded Hugh Dallas.