This article appeared as part of a year-long weekly series by the author in the Sunday Herald
Was there ever a more beloved arbiter, a more respected peacemaker, a more venerable man in polyester black, a more just custodian of the cards in all of Scottish life? Hugh Dallas united Old Firm supporters, soothed their hatreds and made placid bilateralists of the most rabid partisans.
Dallas, born in a schoolbook depository where as a child he nearly talked Lee Harvey Oswald out of a red-card offence, first brought his tranquil presence to bear in an Old Firm match at Ibrox in 1995. With the likes of Andy Goram, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Paul Gascoigne all playing, it was not a contest many considered governable. But Shug of the Beatitudes, for such was his handle, held tight to his peawhistle and kept proceedings in order, dispensing only nine yellow cards.
However, it was in a championship-deciding fixture at Parkhead in 1999 that Dallas demonstrated the full scope of his equability. With Rangers 1-0 in front, a flare-up in which Stephane Mahe responded angrily to being fouled by Rangers’ Neil McCann resulted in the Celtic man being sent off. Mahe, recognising the referee’s inherent rectitude, apologised for his effrontery, and one Celtic supporter manifested his esteem for the offical with a cash donation. Unfortunately, his proferred coin nearly took Dallas’s eye out. But if the target was put in fear of his own safety, he did not show it: moments later he gave Rangers a penalty when Tony Vidmar decided he didn’t like the look on Vidar Riseth’s face and went down in the box.
In 2002, Shug was Scotland’sole representative at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. After receiving a ticker-tape sendoff at Hampden, however, he was to alienate his American fans by declining to award the USA a penalty when Germany’s Torsten Frings handled the ball on the line. Dallas was later awarded an MBE for his services to Scottish football and is now generally regarded as an avuncular Tony Benn-type figure.