This week, homes across Scotland raised a toast to the life and works of Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s favourite son. As the bard himself said “the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley” (roughly translating as 'the best laid plans often go awry'), and this seems to be the case with the Scottish FA’s latest attempt to overhaul their disciplinary system.
In October, the SFA appointed Vincent Lunny as its first ‘Compliance Officer’, charged with reviewing incidents from the Scottish game and advising the existing judicial panel on those missed by match officials. With an experienced legal background including time at The Hague, Lunny seemed well-placed for the job and professed that he was “looking forward to working in the unique environment of Scottish football.” If only he knew what he was in for.
A series of relatively high-profile incidents have seen Lunny’s role ridiculed, his integrity doubted and even his eligibility for the job questioned as fans, players and coaches have been infuriated by some of his rulings.
One of his first decisions was to clear Hibernian striker Garry O’Connor of diving to win a penalty against St Johnstone. Remarkably, this was despite assistant manager Billy Brown admitting it was a dive and footage suggesting the same.
Rangers were next in the firing line. Their forward Steven Naismith was handed a two-match ban for an off-the-ball elbow on Dunfermline’s Austin McCann; Rangers accepted the ban and stated that the club “supports the new SFA process for dealing with disciplinary matters”. However, they weren’t quite so supportive when their winger Sone Aluko was banned for diving again against Dunfermline. The Nigerian wide-man won a penalty that decided the game but Lunny and the judicial panel punished Aluko retrospectively and threw out the Ibrox side’s appeals as they refused to take the punishment lying down.
Lunny has also ruled on gestures made by players towards fans; a particularly dubious area. Hibernian’s Leigh Griffiths has received three bans for almost identical “offensive gestures” made towards both opposition fans and, indeed, his own support; the striker seemingly failing to learn his lesson. The latest enquiry has surrounded Motherwell forward Michael Higdon’s one-match ban after being judged to have made an offensive gesture in celebrating a late equaliser. Exactly who was offended by this has not been made clear, and Motherwell manager Stuart McCall has branded the process “trial by Sportscene,” as the BBC cameras seem to dictate those incidents which are worthy of Lunny’s attention. Others bemoan Lunny’s lack of experience in football while some simply question the match officials’ failure to address such issues during the match.
As scrutiny surrounding decisions heightens, and consistency is demanded, Vincent Lunny has an increasingly thankless task. The SFA’s attempted restructuring seems to have aggravated rather than attenuated and more clubs are standing up to its decisions. The governing body has to get fans back onside but this latest initiative has done little to impress many in Scottish football.