The travel plans of thousands of Northern Ireland-based Celtic and Rangers fans could be in disarray if planned strike action by Scottish referees takes place this weekend.
Recent stinging criticism of officials led to a vote at a referee’s union meeting yesterday, at which a decision was made to refuse appointments for games this coming Saturday and Sunday.
They are adamant they will not take charge of games, forcing the likely postponement of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and Scottish Football League cards.
It’s the latest twist in an episode in which referees feel they are being unfairly treated.
Old Firm fans here will be stunned by the decision given that they have already made bookings for trips to Scotland. A large contingent of Ulster-based Celtic supporters are intent on cheering their team on at home to Inverness on Saturday, while many local Rangers followers are set for a trip to Dundee United to see their team on Sunday.
It is understood that all 31 of the 33 category one officials who were present at a meeting of the Scottish Senior Referees Association voted in favour of strike action this weekend.
They were unanimously supported by 10 category two officials at the organisation's first monthly meeting since October 17 — when Dougie McDonald's decision to rescind a penalty he had awarded to Celtic against Dundee United heralded weeks of controversy. That decision was fiercely criticised by fuming Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
Some referees reported facing abuse in the street and seeing their families come under strain, while police are said to have been called over some incidents.
Abusive emails have been sent to referees' workplaces, embroiling their colleagues in the backlash. Refs feel calls for calm haven’t been heeded and, though they accept criticism comes with the job, they believe they have acted in a bid to stop one of their number being physically attacked.