Andy Walker: Would an exchange improve programme improve Scottish referees?

Reflecting on Scottish referee Bobby Madden taking charge of Panathinaikos vs Olympiakos in Greece's Super League, Andy Walker ponders if and when a foreign referee could officiate a future Old Firm clash...

Image: Scotland's Bobby Madden was recently picked to officiate Panathinaikos vs Olympiakos

Like everyone else, I watched in astonishment earlier this week when English referee Darren Drysdale appeared to square up to Ipswich Town's Alan Judge during their league game against Northampton.

Drysdale has since been charged with improper conduct by the English FA for losing his composure and not engaging with the player in a professional manner. For the referee, it was entirely appropriate that he apologised.

Since it happened, I've also admired the reaction from the player involved, Alan Judge. He wasn't looking for an apology, he didn't want any action taken against the official and as a footballer, he recognised that everyone is capable of making mistakes in that environment.

preview image 0:41
Referee Darren Drysdale appeared to square up to Alan Judge before booking the Ipswich player in their goalless draw against Northampton

Drysdale made a mistake, I'm sure he'll be suspended for a few games but it's hardly the worst thing I've seen on a football park.

It reminded me of the time when former Scottish referee Stuart Dougal was caught on camera swearing at Rangers player Christian Nerlinger during a game against Partick Thistle. Unbelievably, he was fined by the Scottish FA for using foul language!

Nerlinger wasn't offended and Rangers manager Alex McLeish also played the incident down but it was debated for weeks on end.

Cursing and swearing in a football match? It's never been known!

Also See:

But can you imagine the reaction if the Drysdale/Judge incident was to happen in Scotland? People would be hysterical!

Referees in Scotland - as they are everywhere - are constantly under the spotlight with fans accusing them of all sorts of bias and favouritism.

Flynn Downes of Ipswich Town is shown a red card by referee Darren Drysdale against Northampton 1:08
Former Premier League striker Dean Ashton admits he is 'ashamed' at how he spoke to referees during his career

For the avoidance of doubt, I've never believed any Scottish referee to favour one side over another. Sure, they make errors from time to time but with the clubs reluctant to give them the help they need with the introduction of VAR, we will very soon be out of step with most of the top leagues in Europe.

That's why I found it so interesting to learn recently that Scottish and FIFA referee Bobby Madden was given the opportunity to take charge of the Greek Super League clash between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos.

Madden flew out to Athens with assistants David Roome and Graeme Stewart and as you would expect in such a demanding fixture, there were disputes and arguments galore as Panathinaikos won 2-1 with Olympiakos having a man sent off. And that's with VAR. Unlike the Scottish Premiership, the Greek Super League has invested in the technology available to help the man in the middle.

Naturally, he was criticised in the Greek media for his overall performance but any game with three goals, a red card and penalty claims turned down is bound to have everyone talking and taking opposite views.

I have no idea what the standard of refereeing is like in Greece but if their FA approve the appointment of an official from another country for the biggest domestic fixture they have, and the Scottish FA give their blessing too, it's an experiment we could look into here.

Celtic 1:47
Rangers face a trip to Celtic live on Sky on March 21 - but what can fans expect?

A top-class Italian, Spanish, French or German taking charge of a future Old Firm clash? Why not? The Laws of the Game are universal and the only guarantee is that controversy and talking points are the norm once the game is finished no matter who makes the decisions.

Previously, I've never been in favour of foreign refs coming into Scotland to take charge of any game when it has been suggested numerous times. The fear is that our refs may feel undermined and there is the potential for them losing faith in their own ability to handle a demanding and fiery fixture.

But when our guys are being given a chance to officiate in a high-profile clash in a different country with so much at stake, an exchange programme could be beneficial and help them develop their craft.

It doesn't mean you always miss out on taking charge of the most demanding domestic fixture in your own country but sometimes it's useful to be away from the firing line.

Newport County v Salford City - Sky Bet League Two - Rodney Parade
An assistant referee keeps an eye on the action during the Sky Bet League Two match at Rodney Parade, Newport. 1:12
The Referees' Association Chairman Paul Field believes a referee's life will be lost to abuse in the future after Premier League official Mike Dean received death threats following two red card decisions

Sadly, like most people involved in football on or off the park, refs are also subjected to sickening abuse when they have made contentious calls. It affects their personal, family and professional lives. The criticism and abuse that referees take after an Old Firm game, for example, is appalling.

Showing everyone that referees are there to apply the laws of the game no matter where they're from can defuse that spotlight on their everyday lives and ease some tension.

I imagine Bobby Madden is a better referee for the experience of handling a passionate derby in Athens. I'm all for more of it as long as the Scottish Premiership can get a similar input from referees elsewhere.

Win £250,000 with Super 6!

Win £250,000 with Super 6!

Do not miss your chance to land the £250,000 in Saturday's Super 6 round. Play for free, entries by 3:00pm.

Around Sky