The recent sending off by referee Barry Cook of Andy Halliday for “gesturing triumphantly” as the BBC put it, after Ranger second goal at Morton has raised more than a few eyebrows this week. Myriad people have seemed unable to quite come to terms with it: “mystified, bemused and frustrated” were some of the adjectives Mark Warburton used to describe the decision; “bizarre and highly contentious” said the Daily Mail; “Harsh” said the Daily record - and then strangely went on to use the Rangers-Morton match report to eulogise the Hibs signing of Anthony stokes. Bizarre behaviour indeed from our “Courageous Journalists”.
While there is no doubt Halliday is gesturing to fans – he is standing in the middle of the pitch and the gesture is no more than a raised, punched fist in recognition Rangers had just scored a goal that essentially sealed the points in a tough match. A triumphant gesture certainly – why not? However, the referee has clearly decided that this gesture is provocative, derisory or inflammatory. The common sense element which referees are at liberty to apply to goal celebrations appears to have been completely non- existent. The fact that double yellow cards cannot be appealed and that this random and spurious application of refereeing law robs Rangers of Hallidays presence going into a vital match against Falkirk merely rubs salt into the wounds.
All that we ask for in refereeing decisions is an element of consistency. However, there is no doubt that consistently applying Barry Cooks interpretation of this law would see bookings and possibly sending offs in almost every match in the land. Nobody wants that as goals, celebrations and triumph are what the game is all about.
For my part, it is the worst piece of Scottish refereeing I have seen since Paul Gascoigne was sent off by Dougie Smith for playfully “booking” the referee with one of his own cards during a 7-0 demolition of Hibs in 1995. That particular decision was voted No. 1 by a national newspaper in their “Top 10 Worst Refereeing Decisions “ article. The Halliday sending off doesn’t beat that particular embarrassment, but it’s certainly up there.