Writing in his remote cottage on the north Donegal gaeltacht, Phil MacGiolla Bhain could scarcely have imagined the spectacular fallout when he posted an exclusive story on his blog last November.
He revealed that on the day of the Pope’s visit to the UK on September 16 last, Hugh Dallas, the head of referee development with the Scottish Football Association(SFA), had circulated an email with a cartoon attached, insinuating that the Pope was a danger to children.
In the following days as the crisis grew, Dallas, who had previously been involved in controversies over referee decisions that had been made against Celtic, resigned ahead of a disciplinary hearing.
Another senior referee, Dougie McDonald stepped down over a separate incident in which he admitted giving a misleading account of why he overturned his own decision to award a crucial penalty to Celtic in a game against Dundee United on October 17.
Referees in Scotland then went on strike in protest over the growing criticism of recent decisions and performances.
In the Scottish Blog Awards on-line poll last week, Glasgow born, Mac Giolla Bhain won the titles of the Best General football site, the Best Scottish football blog and the best Scottish football journalist.
For Mac Giolla Bhain, who is not a sports journalist, it was validation of his work, which has never been credited by the Scottish media.
“I am particularly pleased in that my interest in football writing in Scotland is sociological. I don’t write match reports but I am fascinated by the politics with a small ‘p’ of that, which swirls around Scottish football in general and in particular in clubs like Celtic and Rangers,” he said from his Donegal home.
The writer likened the circulation of the cartoon by Dallas, to the Prophet Muhammad being denigrated in a cartoon during Ramadan.
“For me this was never about sporting rivalry. It is much bigger than that. The small Catholic community in the west of Scotland has always said that the institutions of Scottish football were in institutionally sectarian,” he said.
The father-of-three, who has been living in County Donegal for the past 15 years, revealed that his ongoing coverage of the events in Scotland has drawn over 150,000 people to his website.
Days after his original exclusive, when he further revealed that Hugh Dallas offered to call off the referees’ strike if the disciplinary hearing into the pope cartoon was dropped, his site temporarily crashed, such was the interest it had generated.
He believes that electronic media enabled him to continue to get the story out more speedily than conventional media would allow, but is disheartened that, for the most part his hard work, has not been acknowledged.
I was just breaking a story of public interest. It is going to go in different directions from here on, but what I would like is for people in journalism to accredit, finally if grudgingly, that it was me that broke the story,” he said.
* for further details on all of Phil’s blogs log onto www.philmacgiollabhain.com
This article was written by Anita Guidera of the Irish Independent.