New twist in strike row as stand-in referees fly home

Further chaos struck Scotland's fixture list last night after Portuguese referees brought in to cover for striking Scottish officials returned home.

The Portuguese FA confirmed two referees had set off yesterday morning but it is understood that they left Scotland soon after arriving.

Portuguese referees had been due to take charge of Hibernian's home game against St Johnstone today and tomorrow's contest between Motherwell and Hearts.

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However, SFA officials are continuing to work on the assumption that all six SPL matches will still go ahead.

Despite the latest shock development, which followed a U-turn by the Polish authorities earlier in the day, the SFA have given assurances to SPL clubs that their games will go ahead.

A Motherwell spokesman said: "Motherwell Football Club can confirm that Portuguese officials scheduled to take charge of our game on Sunday have gone home to Portugal.

"The club have been given assurances by the SFA that the game will still go ahead.

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"They are working furiously to ensure that no game will come under threat.

"The club have every sympathy with the difficult plight they are going through and we are grateful for the work being done to ensure our game will go ahead.

"Manager Craig Brown and the players will be in training for the game tomorrow and preparing for the match as normal."

Two Portuguese officials arrived at Glasgow Airport but soon went straight back through to the departure lounge.

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Officials in the SFA's referee administration department were last night working to avoid even more disruption to the weekend's fixtures after three more were postponed earlier in the day.

The last remaining Scottish Football League fixture, the First Division game between Morton and Falkirk, was called off after Poland's football authorities decided not to send three referees and nine assistants as promised.

Two Scottish Cup third-round replays were also called off to take the number of postponed games to 12 following the strike by Scotland's category one referees, who are protesting against a backlash by fans and perceived attacks on their integrity.

Beith are scheduled to play Airdrie in the only Scottish Cup tie to remain on while the SFL had last night not received any indication that tomorrow's Challenge Cup final between Ross County and Queen of the South was under threat.

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A Portuguese team led by Cosme Machado had been due to take charge at Easter Road with the same four officials then meant to be at Fir Park 24 hours later, with Joao Ferreira taking the whistle.

The SFA also secured the promise of help from Malta, Luxembourg and Israel.

The experienced Alain Hamer, of Luxembourg, is due to referee both Old Firm teams after he arriveds in Glasgow.

Hamer will take charge of Celtic's game against Inverness today and will cover Rangers' trip to Dundee United tomorrow.