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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Dougal arrived with ‘Dr. Discipline’ nickname.

By John Haydon
Special to SoccerTimes

(Sunday, May 9, 1999) -- Referee Stuard Dougal is now safely back in Scotland after seemingly becoming the most hated referee in Major League Soccer.

Dougal, one of Scotland's top referees, officiated three MLS games recently as part of a referee exchange program. It was an experience he'll want to forget quickly. After running the D.C. United-Chicago game last week, Dougal was castigated by United general manager, Kevin Payne, who labeled his performance an "absolute travesty" and "the worst refereeing" he'd ever seen.

Payne was livid over the red-card Dougal gave United defender Brian Kamler. It was a tough call, and a yellow card would have sufficed, but bad calls will always be part of the game. Dougal, who in the past has had to deal with one the toughest assignment in the trade, notably the "Old Firm" clash between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, thought his time in the U.S. would be a piece of cake.

"Nothing I will see in America will ever match that Old Firm game," he said before leaving for the States. Little did he know he was about to face the worst tongue-lashing ever.

But Dougal is a big boy. He'll get over it. Being a referee in any sport is a tough beat.

As for Payne, his words didn't come cheap. The league slapped him with a hefty $15,000 fine, which was later reduced, but MLS isn't telling us by how much.

It's a pity Payne and his club weren't warned more about Dougal, who issued a record 11 cards, and ejected three players in the United game last weekend. A United official said the only thing the club was told about the Scotsman was that he was "very technical."

A little homework on Dougal would have helped everyone. In his soccer-mad homeland, Dougal is called "Dr. Discipline". He is respected by his peers, but feared by players. The Scottish Daily Record labeled him "the toughest of the lot," in the countries top pool of referees.

And Dougal didn't change a beat when he landed in the United States last month. In just three games he handed out a total of 26 cards. Dougal's reputation is world renown in refereeing circles. His strictness on the field so impressed FIFA, soccer's governing body, that in 1996 he was hand-picked to control the championship game in the war-ravaged nation of Bosnia, between two teams that were sworn political enemies.

"I took my first name within the opening 60 seconds and then sent off a player after 35 minutes . . .The game settled down after that," recalled Dougal, who was once a player, but was forced out of the game after he broke his back in an accident when he was 20.

The "accident was also the last time when anybody questioned his backbone," wrote one Scottish scribe.

Ironically Dougal was blasted in the press for not being tough enough in his last game before leaving for the U.S.

Payne is not the first to be fined for attacking Dougal. Celtic boss Tommy Burns was fined $5.000 for a verbal attack on Dougal in a stadium tunnel four years ago. But Dougal's most famous incident was his clash with Italian star Paulo Di Canio, the John McEnroe of soccer. The Italian striker was given his second yellow card and his walking orders from Dougal, seconds after he tied the game with a penalty kick for Celtic in a 2-2 tie against Hearts in 1996. In Dougal's mind Di Canio got a little too physical with the opposing goalie, as he tried to retrieve the ball from the net after his penalty kick.

Lost in all the rhetoric over Dougal this week, was any criticism of the players' actions in the controversial United-Fire game. These days referee's will reach to their top pocket at any sign of an elbow being raised. If only players could take a lesson from English striker Gary Lineker, who in his amazing career never once received a yellow card. Lineker, who won the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup and tied England's scoring record, faced some of the toughest defenders in the world.

He was hacked to the ground numerous times. But in all those games, Lineker never retaliated, never lost his cool. He got up, brushed the dust of his jersey, and made defenders pay where it counts, by putting the ball in the back of the net. If there were more Linekers in the game today, referees like Dougal wouldn't exist.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.