Dallas: Football will suffer if ref abuse continues
Former World Cup referee Hugh Dallas may have blown his whistle for the final time five years ago, but he has now urged the next generation of referees to step forward to make sure the beautiful game continues to prosper in Scotland.
Dallas was just 23 when he first pursued an interest in refereeing after becoming disillusioned with playing following a succession of injuries. A short stint following his local club Motherwell failed to satisfy his appetite for the game before he made the life changing decision to switch from player to official.
He's now the Scottish Football Association's head of referee development and part of his remit is to source new referees who could yet become the next Scottish representative at a major tournament.
"I've been very fortunate to have visited every continent in the world and all thanks to a small black whistle," said Dallas. "It's an amazing to think that's the case and although I've been lucky I've trained extremely hard and seized on every opportunity.
"My magnificent international journey started in 1988, when, as a wide-eyed and naive referee I had travelled to Italy as one of the legendary Bob Valentine's linesmen for the Sampdoria v Carl Zeis Jena, Cup-Winners' Cup tie.
"Since then I've been all over the world, refereeing some of the best players and teams and been privileged to be involved in the best tournaments. Refereeing has taken me to World Cups in France and Korea as well as visiting every major stadium in Europe on Champions League duty. Any young person considering going into refereeing should be fully aware that it can open up the whole world to them."
The Dallas story is a glowing testament to the profession which certainly conjures up notions of glamorous trips ahead of exciting international clashes. But there's a more serious message behind the journey which has been built on a solid work ethic both on and off the pitch.
Dallas is now transferring his tried and tested principles into his role as Scotland's referees chief, a position he took charge of just last year. The former international official is convinced Scotland already has some top class officials but remains deeply concerned many talented referees are being forced out of the game due to touchline abuse.
And Dallas, who supports the introduction of new technology, fears a continuing pattern could eventually have an extremely detrimental effect throughout the sport.
"It's not recruitment of new referees that's the problems it's retaining them,'' he said. "We lose them for all different reasons but the biggest factor is because of the abuse they suffer from the sidelines.
"That's a real concern because people need to realise that if we don't have referees from the bottom up we won't have games. Our match officials deserve more support and a more understanding approach or the game will ultimately suffer."
Thankfully Dallas remains confident that by educating everyone involved in football the SFA can help to solve the issue and would encourage anyone considering following his lead to give it a try.
Willie Collum, who at just 31 already boasts a 17 year career as a ref, echoes his mentor's words. Collum, who handled Aberdeen's recent clash with Rangers at Pittodrie, has quickly climbed the tree and would love to see others follow his lead.
"At 14 I decided I wasn't any good at football after playing one game in goals we lost 17-0," he said. "I then read a newspaper advert about how a young guy in Aberdeen had become involved in refereeing and I decided to give it a go.
"I can honestly say I'm delighted I took that first step and can't stress enough to any young person considering taking it up what they can achieve. I'm not saying it's easy as there's a lot of hard work involved but the positives far outweigh the negatives and like Hugh I've had the chance to visit some amazing places.
"I teach Religious Studies for a living and always tell the pupils there are places I've been to that I would only have ever seen on television. Just a few weeks ago I refereed France v Belarus at the Stade de France in front of almost 77,000 people. That's like representing your country.
"If you come into refereeing think you'll never get any sort of abuse then you're just kidding yourself. However, overall there's no doubt it's been a great experience for me and one I'd thoroughly recommend to anyone who might be considering it."
• If you are in the Aberdeen area and interested in joining a refereeing course contact Roddy Cobb, on 07865 249298 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.aberdeenanddistrictreferees.co.uk for more details.