GET ME OUT OF HERE! Walter More Than Happy to Take His Leave after a Season That Made the Headlines for Everything Apart from Football
Byline: by PETER JARDINE
IT WAS the year the football died, and Walter Smith -- the former Rangers manager -- reckons he knows exactly when it happened. When Celtic started writing letters to Hampden seeking 'clarification' on refereeing decisions.
The Ibrox icon spent yesterday on a plane to the United States where he will embark on a white-water rafting charity event with the 'new' management of Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowall and Ian Durrant.
And it gave him plenty of time to reflect on his successes with Rangers, on a tense title battle with Neil Lennon's Celtic and on a troubled campaign for Scottish football.
The cumulative effect of the latter left the 63-year-old expressing the view that he 'has to get out of here', such has been the level of stress this past season has inflicted on those at the sharp end.
Smith didn't explain whether that escape means six weeks' holiday on the other side of the Atlantic or a move into employment elsewhere.
But he has already admitted to growing weary of conspiracy theories in a season when Scottish football descended into the gutter and never looked like recovering.
He clearly believes the catalyst was last October when Celtic took on the SFA in a 'showdown' which ultimately led to the departures of referees' chief Hugh Dallas, whistler Dougie McDonald and linesman Steven Craven.
Around that same period, another official, Willie Collum, allegedly received a death threat after taking charge of the opening Old Firm derby of the season.
The rights and wrongs of McDonald's lies at Tannadice are multiple and have been well documented. The fact that he correctly rescinded the award of a penalty to Celtic was lost amid the official's attempt to cover up how he came to the decision when speaking to Lennon.
NONETHELESS, Smith is adamant that Celtic's subsequent 'war' with the SFA -- which saw them point the finger at referees and even led to club chairman Dr John Reid suggesting that refs be obliged to declare their footballing allegiances -- was against Scottish football's best interests.
'After the season we have had here in Scotland, I am ready to get out of here,' sighed Smith yesterday.
'It has been a fraught year for everybody. I don't think there has been any doubt about that.
'As I said three weeks ago, it feels as if I've spent the season answering questions about everything other than football.
'So it feels great that we won the League Cup and the SPL title by showing a winning mentality.
'It seems to me that all of the focus has been deflected from what it should have been on -- players, what they do, who wins, who loses. We have not been talking about that in Scotland this year.
The season got off to a bad start, in that respect, when Celtic put up a challenge to referees and to everybody else. that got the season off to a bad start and it went downhill after that.
'From my own point of view, I hope everybody would realise that people who work in Scottish football - referees included - are always under terrific scrutiny. …