Craig Levein fears the authorities are in danger of killing the passion that makes Scottish football so special.
Speaking ahead of today’s Edinburgh derby, the Hearts manager expressed concern about the number of relatively harmless incidents within the game which he feels are being blown out of proportion and leading to unfair sanctions on players, managers and clubs.
Levein was exasperated to learn this week that both his own team and Aberdeen had been charged by the SFA over an on-field fracas between both sets of players which ensued in the wake of a foul by Dominic Ball on Sean Clare. A similar situation arose earlier in the season for Hearts when they and Hibs were cited over a confrontation in the first Edinburgh derby of the season in October. The charge was subsequently dropped at a Hampden hearing. Levein believes there are now far too many instances of the beaks trying to take action over run-of-the-mill incidents and is concerned that it is going to end up sanitising a product which thrives on drama.
“I worry about it,” he said. “I worry that we get involved too much. As long as I’ve been involved in football, we have been in situations where there are flashpoints, people are scurrying around. Very, very rarely is there actually anything going on. I don’t know why we’re in such a hurry to punish teams for football players caring about their team-mates.
“Last week was handbags. Why are we trying to stamp that out? It’s not out of control. The referee’s in charge. They are quite good now. They just stand back, watch what’s going on and then give people cards. It’s dealt with. Why the hell are we getting involved in trying to further punish teams and players for caring about their team-mates? I don’t understand it. We had one earlier in the season (against Hibs) and it got thrown out because it was just a nonsense. I thought the one the other day was a nonsense as well. I don’t know why the compliance officer is picking this particular thing. There are so many things wrong with football, but that’s nothing. It’s just people showing passion and actually caring about their team-mates.”
Levein is particularly alarmed by the amount of times the compliance officer feels compelled to get involved retrospectively and feels the over-analysing of certain incidents is painting Scottish football in a bad light. “It worries me what’s happening behind the scenes with people getting involved in stuff,” he said. “Why change something that’s working? Football in Scotland is good just now. It’s competitive. OK, Celtic have got away a little bit now but it’s been pretty tight all season and there are a lot of good things happening. But we always seem to focus on (the negatives) ... what happens is the compliance officer gets involved, and the pictures are all over the UK. And see when you watch it, it’s nothing. The last one (against Aberdeen) was an absolute shambles. It was nothing, absolutely nothing. I really don’t understand it.”
Levein’s side go into a derby fixture today, at the end of a week when the fallout from the Glasgow version has dominated the headlines. Celtic, Rangers, Scott Brown and Steven Gerrard were all cited for incidents in or after the match and Levein feels everything has been blown out of proportion. “It’s almost like the compliance officer is trying to make Scottish football look bad,” he said. “I don’t know why she’s picking on the clubs – and trying to magnify things that are nothing. These things happen in every game in England and it doesn’t seem to bother anybody down there.
“I don’t know if this is something that’s coming from the governing body or the SPFL, who have asked the compliance officer to make Scottish football look bad. Because that’s what is happening. I see it coming up on the telly and say: ‘Oh, here we go again, something negative about Scottish football ...’ And I look at what they’re talking about – and it’s almost an eightsome reel. Nothing.”
Levein feels the clampdown on so many incidents in Scottish football is making it harder for managers and players to ensure they are fully committed but remaining within the confines of the rules. “This game, my job is to get them keyed up and get them right at the edge of their limits, so they can play just – just – within the rules,” he said. “Because that’s what the supporters want. I tell every player who comes here that Scottish football is different. Our supporters want to see somebody on the field, wearing a Hearts jersey, who cares. That’s all they want.
“They care about the team, they care about the result. And they want to see players covered in sweat at the end of the game, because they’ve worked their backsides off for the team. When you get to that level and you are pushing things to the edge then, occasionally, things will spill over.
‘At times, I think it makes it quite exciting – providing it’s nothing stupid. And I think we should see it as part of the game. Aggression is something people don’t like talking about. I think it’s a brilliant thing in football. You need it. The type of football that is played in this country is decided by two things. The climate and what the supporters want to see.
‘The climate allows us to play fast, allows people to run for 90 minutes. And the supporters want to see us running for 90 minutes. They want to see tackling, they want to see competing for every single challenge. It’s what makes football different. And it’s what makes it exciting.”