Tom English - Josh Meekings, Donald Trump and Bradford fire

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Josh Meekings blocks Leigh Griffiths' header at Hampden
Josh Meekings blocked Leigh Griffiths' header at Hampden

Football's capacity to lose the plot was rarely more evident than in the days since Sunday when Josh Meekings stuck out his hand and signalled a call to arms.

The thunder in the wake of the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden is uniquely Scottish, not so much in its ferocity but in its complexity and longevity.

The theories are running wild and will do so for years. The name McLean has now joined the word Dougie in the lexicon of outraged Celtic fans.

There isn't a crowbar big enough to separate some Celtic supporters from the notion that they were the victims of a plot rather than a colossal blunder on Sunday.

Social media has been a playground for those who would go toe-to-toe with anybody in a world conspiracy championship.

Those who espouse the view that Neil Armstrong never stepped on the moon, or that Marilyn Monroe was killed by the Kennedys, would have their hands full when confronted by the cyber Celts in full flow about the wrongs supposedly perpetrated against their club.

Such a contest would surely have only one winner. The chances are that the Armstrong and Monroe crews would quickly accept that they are mere amateurs when it comes to such matters before abandoning their mission and lumping-in with the professionals of Parkhead.

Sunday gave us a big story, but in a sense we are going over old ground. It's not a revelation that the standard of officiating in Scottish football can be utterly dreadful at times.

It's not a sensation that teams have appalling decisions given against them, nor is it a shock that these teams have a rather one-eyed view of the injustice visited upon them. That goes for Inverness as well as Celtic.

John Hughes, the Inverness manager, has accepted that Meekings handled the ball and that it should have been a penalty. He's also been honest enough in admitting that, had referee Steven McLean spotted the incident, Meekings would almost certainly have been sent-off and, therefore, banned for the final.

They are now railing against the SFA for following a rulebook that Inverness themselves signed up to. It's another example of a club agreeing to a rule only to go ballistic when it impacts on them, a la Celtic agreeing to a justice system based on balance of probability only for them to cry foul when balance of probability was applied in the case of Aleksandar Tonev's ban for racially abusing Aberdeen's Shay Logan.

Celtic manager Ronny Deila confronts the officials at Hampden
Celtic manager Ronny Deila was unhappy with the officials at Hampden on Sunday

Clubs tend to be one-eyed when it comes to this stuff.

"Do you want all clubs to abide by the rules?"


"Including your own club?"

"It depends."

There are shades of grey, of course. Inverness can rightly question why, in four years, no player has been charged with a handball offence retrospectively. They can plead inconsistency and they'd have a lot of support, but in their attempts to free Meekings for the final they are rather hoist by their own petard in terms of the rulebook that carries their imprimatur.

Celtic, of course, are masters at this game. The reason why so many fans of so many other clubs around the country have zero sympathy for them in the wake of Sunday is because, in the past, Celtic have seen only what they've wanted to see when such incidents have gone in their favour.

The classic example, much mentioned on social media, was the case of John Guidetti's wrongly-awarded penalty against Hearts in a Scottish Cup tie in November. Guidetti hit the deck under a non-challenge from Brad McKay and subsequently scored from the spot to make it 2-0.

Hearts were down to 10 men at that time and had a mountain to climb in any event, but the dodgy penalty decision effectively ended any hope they had of making a comeback.

It was abundantly obvious that it was not a penalty and yet Ronny Deila seemed to back the decision in the aftermath, refusing to criticise Willie Collum, the man who made the blunder.

"The referees have been fantastic," said manager Deila. "It's a high level of refereeing in Scotland. It's been worse in Europe, like last Thursday against Salzburg. We have more problems in Europe with referees.

"But the referees here have been good. Sometimes you get something for you, sometimes you get something against you. I don't think a lot about it. If you perform well as a team, you'll win."

When Celtic fans started to bombard their club looking for them to seek "clarification" about why the officials missed the Meekings incident, where was Celtic's philosophical attitude then? Where was the "sometimes you get 'em and sometimes you don't, let's move on" response from the autumn?

They can object to a wretched error if they like, but they leave themselves wide open to a charge of hypocrisy when quietly accepting a wretched error that gave them an advantage.

John Collins, the Celtic assistant manager, only added to this on Tuesday when asked whether he thought it was a conspiracy against Celtic that led to Meekings going unpunished or mere rank awful officiating. "The only person you are going to ask the question to is the referee and the officials, " he said. "I can't answer that."

Hearts people were entitled to be scornful of Celtic's shifting mind-set - from "I don't think a lot about it" when a bad decision goes in their favour to "let's not rule out a conspiracy" when a bad decision goes against them. You can fully understand their anger, but a bit of self-awareness wouldn't go amiss either.

Trump card

Eric Trump at Turnberry
Eric Trump launched the golf course plans at Turnberry this week

It seems that Donald Trump was too busy ruminating on a possible bid for the presidency of the United States to attend a media day at Turnberry on Tuesday, but bombast is hereditary in the Trump clan and his son, Eric, merrily boasted in his father's absence.

You have to wade through an amount of pomposity where the Trumps are involved, but we may have reached a historic moment on Tuesday, a moment when all the braggadocio may have finally been justified.

Turnberry did not need to be purchased by The Donald to make it one of the great wonders of the golfing world, but even this less than enthusiastic Trump observer has to admit that the changes planned for the Ailsa course are excellent.

The alterations, of course, have been mooted for years by Turnberry's members, long before Trump ever came to town.

Chief among the changes is the ninth hole, which is now a 449-yard par-four and will, by June next year, become a 235-yard par-three, played over the rocks by the famous lighthouse. It's a variation to quicken the pulse of any golfer, professional or hacker.

Young Eric has predicted that it will be "the greatest par-three in the world." Normally it's a good policy to ignore the Trumpet-blast, but in this case he could actually be right.

Fitting tribute

Burnt out stand at Valley Parade
The fire at Valley Parade killed 56 people in 1985

Martin Fletcher was 12-years-old on the day of the Bradford stadium disaster, the fire that engulfed a stand at Valley Parade killing 56 people, including his father, brother, grandfather and uncle.

For 15 years, Fletcher researched the events of the day and the aftermath. In gathering evidence for his book "56 - The Story of the Bradford Fire", Fletcher uncovered a truth that, he says, nearly killed him.

He has suffered seizures along the way. His story is harrowing and jaw-dropping, a huge testament to his courage and his resilience, a book that evokes shock and emotion at the circumstances surrounding that horrific day and the lack of proper investigation in its wake.

Reading the book, you think of Stuart McCall, who was a 21-year-old midfielder in the Bradford team that day. McCall has spoken emotionally many times in the past about the horrors of the fire and has gone to many memorial services over the years.

He remembers Fletcher as a young lad. Fletcher maintains that there was more to the fire than mere tragic accident, but McCall is not inclined to agree.

Whatever the viewpoint, the book remembers the victims and tells the story of a survivor who has been damaged for life because of what happened 30 years ago next month. It's profoundly sad and utterly compelling.

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