Football: Best man for the worst jobs

describes the high demands on a troubleshooter
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The Independent Online
WHEN YOUR name is Dallas, the subliminal association with the oil industry is unavoidable. Red Adair may still be the man who puts a lid on oilfield blow-outs, but Dallas is fast becoming football's equivalent.

This Dallas, Hugh Dallas, is from Lanarkshire, not Texas, but his reputation as a troubleshooter is ensuring that the world is his oyster. On Wednesday night, Scotland's most renowned, or is that infamous, referee will be in Moscow to take charge of the potentially troublesome Uefa Cup final between Parma and Marseille.

Uefa have also booked him for next month's European Championship tie between Macedonia and Croatia, onetime partners in the former Yugoslavia, but hardly the best of friends right now. Earlier in the season, Dallas even answered the SOS to officiate at the Cairo derby between Al-Ahly and Zamalek, a match no local referee would touch.

However, the date possibly ringed in deepest red pen on the kitchen-wall calendar of his Motherwell home is the Scottish Cup final on 29 May between Celtic and Rangers at Hampden: Old Firm II, the final reckoning.

Referees are supposed to be unobtrusive, but last Sunday Dallas unavoidably forced his way into everyone's attention. The 41-year-old could have done with one of Red Adair's hard hats as the missiles rained down on him at Celtic Park. Red-hot passion spilled over into venomous attack when Dallas incensed the home support by sending off Celtic's Stephane Mahe after just 31 minutes and then awarding Rangers a debatable penalty which finally killed off any hopes the champions had of retaining their Scottish Premier League title.

Even Red Adair might have flinched about facing the Parkhead fury. Dallas, though, did not. Nor will he in a fortnight's time, even though the five stitches he needed after being cut by a coin will barely have healed. "There was never any question that I would be removed from the Scottish Cup final," insisted Dallas, whose house came under attack in the wake of the Old Firm ugliness, with windows being broken. Nor did he ever contemplate pulling the plug on last Sunday's supercharged encounter. "Abandoning the game would have been the wrong thing to do," declares Dallas.

"That was maybe what some people were looking for, but I would not do it. At no time did I think I was in danger after the coin incident because the security had been stepped up."

It is that calmness under pressure which is responsible for Dallas's growing reputation. "He is one of the world's best referees," said the SFA referees development director, George Cumming.

Certainly, a number of people around the world seem to agree. Dallas's schedule since the World Cup finals, when he was in charge of Mexico and Belgium and then the France v Italy quarter-final, is testimony to his being in demand.

In September, he refereed the tense meeting of Real Madrid and Internazionale in the Champions' League, before moving on to Juventus-Athletic Bilbao in the same competition and then he took in the frenzy of Istanbul as Turkey defeated Germany in a key Euro 2000 qualifier.

The most intriguing mission of all, though, was in Cairo. The Egyptian FA needed a neutral presence for the match between Al-Ahly and Zamalek. It asked Uefa, who passed the request on to the SFA. Dallas, who owns his own building contracts business, was able to oblige.

He and his Scottish linesmen were flown in and out of Cairo on the same day. "The clubs are the Old Firm of Egypt," he says. "There were just under 100,000 fans in the national stadium and the game had to be stopped a couple of times when missiles were thrown.

"But, on the whole, it went quite smoothly. Most of the players spoke no English, so there was absolutely no dissent, which was a bit spooky." The Egyptians are not the only FA to request foreign aid for difficult matches; the Romanians have brought in an unnamed European referee for today's crucial match between the Bucharest rivals, Dinamo and Steaua, which will have a bigger police presence than Pope John Paul II's rally, across town. Perhaps the concept is something the SFA should look at for Old Firm appointments. Living in the community you referee in is not easy. "I can handle what happens on the field," Dallas says, "but it really annoys me when it affects my family or home.

"I feel sorry for Celtic, because a club cannot legislate for one or two mindless idiots. It was a highly charged atmosphere. We could not hear each other speak when we came down the tunnel at the start, but you concentrate on the game."

Marseille would do well to remember that: the French team are missing several players for Wednesday's final because of a brawl in the tunnel after their semi-final with Bologna. Dallas, though, is always switched on.

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