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39 of 048 Mark Burchill 87 L SPL H

Dallas backs assistant in penalty row with Hearts

GRAHAM SPIERS, Chief Sportswriter and DARRYL BROADFOOT March 08 2005

Hugh Dallas, Scotland's leading referee, yesterday intervened in the Hearts-Rangers inquiry controversy by writing to the SFA in defence of Andy Davis, his beleaguered fellow match official.

Dallas has also criticised the Hearts head coach, John Robertson, over what Dallas claims were misleading comments made by Robertson to the media in the immediate aftermath of last Wednesday's stormy match at Tynecastle.

The match was settled in the last minute when Dallas awarded a penalty against Hearts after consultation with his assistant, who had flagged for a foul on Rangers defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos by Lee Miller. Fernando Ricksen converted the spot-kick.

However, the Edinburgh club insist there was no foul and have requested an investigation into the "integrity" of the decision. The matter will be discussed by the SFA's disciplinary committee on March 15.

Yesterday, as the affair rumbled on, The Herald also spoke to Davis himself, even though the assistant referee is bound to public silence over the controversy. Sources close to the assitant referee, though, say Davis has been experiencing a "nightmare" during the past five days in the media spotlight.

If even a glimmer of hope had remained with Hearts about the SFA indulging them in their request for an inquiry, it was extinguished by Dallas' intervention.

Dallas has informed the SFA of his complete faith in Davis as an assistant referee.

In private, Dallas has been scathing of any suggestion that Davis, a Glasgow policeman and a FIFA-listed assistant referee, might deliberately give a decision in Rangers' favour. In his letter to the SFA, Dallas goes on to criticise Robertson's post-match behaviour.

Robertson had claimed that, following last Wednesday's match, Davis had refused to explain to him why he had flagged for a foul on Kyrgiakos.

Dallas has told the SFA thatDavis and Robertson did have a conversation, in which Davis explained precisely why he had penalised Miller.

The Herald yesterday spoke at length with Davis, who has found himself besieged since his fateful intervention at Tynecastle. Davis has been asked by the SFA not to say anything in public until the inquiry issue is resolved. Davis is appalled by the notion that he might deliberately give a wrong decision in favour of Rangers, Celtic, or any team.

Davis is one of only a small group of Scottish assistant referees who have been promoted to the FIFA list. Yet since Hearts announced their demand for an inquiry on Friday, Davis has been the subject of public abuse and has had some newspaper personnel camped outside his house.

Last night, meanwhile, it was growing more evident by the hour that the SFA will not give house-room to Hearts' demand for an inquiry.

This impression was not diminished by the possibility that the SFA may yet consider charging Hearts with bringing the game into disrepute for the inference of bias.

George Cumming, FIFA's former head of refereeing, was also condemnatory of Hearts' decision to call for an inquiry.

"I am disappointed with Hearts' reaction to this situation and, personally, senior officials at the club should know they could have acted better," said Cumming, a former development director at the SFA.

"All over the world, the one thing that is recognised about the referees in our country is that they have integrity. We do not have dishonest referees. We have some who are better than others but a contentious decision can be a poor one, not a dishonest one."

Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager, believes Hearts have set a "strange precedent" by asking for an inquiry.

O'Neill said: "Like Hearts head coach John Robertson said, once the game is over, it is done and dusted. I think you set a strange precedent."

Hearts supporters, though, have given their full backing to the club.

Derek Watson, a spokesman for Save Our Hearts, believes the SFA should follow their English counterpart's lead by making details of officials' allegiances public.

Watson praised the club for taking the matter to the SFA, claiming the Old Firm clubs have always been given special treatment by referees.

He said: "We totally agree with what Hearts are doing, I think a lot of clubs have been victims of bad decisions. Celtic and Rangers seem to get the rub of the green more than others.

"Hearts have every right to challenge what happened on Wednesday night, we are right behind the club in asking for an inquiry.

"Supporters of teams in Scottish football are always debating in the pub after games why Celtic and Rangers get so many breaks. I'm sure Hearts are getting support from behind the scenes from other clubs as well."

Watson reckons one way to resolve the issue would be to release details of officials' allegiances.

He added: "It happens in England that referees have to put forward what team they support so they don't get appointed games that have a bearing on their team with regards to promotion and relegation."

Taken from the Herald

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