Referees: Red, Yellow and Shades of Grey.

Last updated : 03 November 2010 By Number Eight.

This is a lofty ideal, but under the present circumstances, completely unrealistic. It is perplexing and extraordinarily naive that people who are supposed to understand the game still expect officiating perfection.

If the next referee in an Old Firm game gives a performance worthy of top marks, he'll still be hauled over the coals by fans of the losing side, and especially if the losing side is Celtic.

What happens in the course of a ninety-minute contest cannot be judged with scientific precision. There are grey areas and uncertainties; moments when a decision could go either way, players deliberately cheating to gain an advantage, numerous dishonest claims from the participants, the impossibility of a linesman making consistently correct calls when he has to judge who is offside at the exact moment when a pass is played - he would need two sets of eyes to be certain; the disadvantage of an obscured view, widespread pulling and tugging at corner kicks, players feigning injury, and so it continues, endlessly.

Has the football community not realised yet that the day will never dawn when refereeing perfection is the norm. It can't be the norm because the job is impossible to do to a utopian standard. No amount of remuneration or preparation will stop officials making what are perceived to be poor decisions - and the oft-avoided reality is that a poor decision in the eyes of one man is lauded as a great call by another.

It gets worse though, because people think that television evidence will clarify the picture for referees and put an end to questionable decision-making. Such optimism is misplaced - certainly in Scotland.

We all watched when a Celtic goal against Rangers was chalked off by the referee due to an infringement taking place. The Celtic player, Fortune, was adjudged to have impeded the Rangers goalkeeper, McGregor. The Celtic support, predictably, was incensed when the goal was disallowed, but when we watched a television replay of the action, the referee was proved - conclusively and quite comprehensively - to be dead right.

Did this put an end to the matter? Of course not. Hysteria reigned for the next fortnight as the integrity of match officials was called into question, and by people who really ought to know better. What is the point in television evidence when people won't accept it unless it fits with their preferred scenario? They tell us they want facts and then turn away when the facts are presented.

It's fairly obvious to most football people in Scotland that the Celtic support has a problem with officiating, but it has an even bigger problem with itself. Facts are swept aside, sinister allegations lurk close to the surface, reality is dismissed and invention is embraced. Celtic's failure always appears to be someone else's fault.

While the Celtic support is unique in British football due to the extent of its delusion, the rest of us are hardly unbiased judges. As fans, we make snap decisions from a hundred yards away which we firmly believe to be right, but our overtly partisan stance colours our view.

We are not charged with making the right decision; that responsibility belongs to the referee, and it will weigh heavily on him. For us, it's different. When the battle rages, every decision against our team is a painful blow. We become angry and frustrated as our hopes, dreams and expectations get tarnished, and this isn't helpful when it comes to making accurate judgements on the action being played out before us.

Who can say what the right decision is when two sets of supporters can hold polar opposite views of the exact same incident? The referee has to decide, but he can only please one set of fans with his decision. One side will then praise him for making a good call while the other will damn him for being incompetent - or for being a cheat.

If a referee gives a perfect performance in an Old Firm game, and the ten best referees in the world all agree that his performance is worthy of top marks, will the losing team's fans, especially if they wear green and white, share this view?

We know that they won't. The referee will still be public enemy number one because, quite simply, fans don't recognise refereeing perfection when their team gets cuffed.

In the final analysis, it's not the referees who are to blame for being less than perfect, it's the rest of us who are at fault for demanding perfection when perfection cannot be consistently delivered, and on those few occasions when it comes close, we don't recognise it anyway, especially after a defeat.

In that final analysis, and even taking into account the ongoing incident pertaining to a recent match at Tannadice, I believe there's more integrity within the refereeing community than in any other part of the game. That doesn't make it perfect or above criticism, but it has to view the sport from a perpective that few others can manage; the perspective of neutrality, and few would seriously suggest that it fails to do so.

When we read match reports and listen to comments from radio and television pundits, are we getting a neutral overview, or are we getting slanted, biased and agenda-driven journalism? Who would you most likely believe - a sports pundit at BBC Radio Scotland, or a Scottish referee?

It's a difficult time for the sport in Scotland just now, but our referees are held in higher regard in the international football world than our clubs, our players and our journalists. Maybe we should reflect on that for a while.