CAN you imagine what Celtic Park, Ibrox, Tynecastle and Easter Road would look like with 20 foot plus netting in front of all four stands? It would look ridiculous wouldn’t it on a matchday and pictures of fans are obscured by stitched up squares going up and down in front of them. It’d look even more ridiculous at the likes of Glebe Park and Ochilview.
The way things are going just now with the amount of missiles being thrown by thugs at players and officials, that’s what we could end up with in Scottish Football.
In the past month alone, we’ve seen coins thrown from the Celtic end at Tynecastle, a glass bottle to Scott Sinclair at Easter Road, objects thrown by St Mirren fans to a Dundee United fan being carted in a stretcher and a chair thrown from the Rangers section in the direction of Aberdeen fans at Pittodrie. This adds to a list of worrying incidents of coins thrown at the Assistant Referee in the Livingston v Rangers match and towards Neil Lennon in October’s Edinburgh derby.
Add to that the alleged racist abuse dished out by individuals at Hearts (to Christian Mbulu of Motherwell), Aberdeen (to Scott Sinclair) and Rangers (to Shay Logan), and the continuous sectarian abuse, and the dark side of Scottish Football is emerging.
Quite simply, there is no excuse for this behaviour by certain individuals who are putting bitter hatred ahead of their club. These are so-called grown adults who are tarnishing the reputation of their clubs by bringing their name into the media for all the wrong reasons. Their actions are purely selfish and are setting horrendous examples of how to behave – in society in general, not solely on football.
It’s all and well the clubs putting out statements condemning the actions of the minority, who are tarnishing the reputation of the majority, and saying that they’ll cooperate with the relevant parties. However, other than those who are caught being punished, there is nothing practical being done to weed out the vermin who are carrying out their acts of missile throwing and vile chanting.
So what should be done to set the clearest possible message to tell the morons to behave like adults?
Strict liability is an issue that club boards avoid like the plague, and the idea of them voting for strict liability is the same as turkeys voting for Christmas. They don’t want to see their team punished for the actions of the minority, which, in some way, is understandable given they don’t feel that it’s fair on the majority who do behave when they go to football matches in this country.
However, the only possible solution is for some form of strict liability to be put in place. Relying on stewards earning not much more than minimum wage and Police Scotland is not working, with those bodies reluctant to act without risking attack from fans protecting the guilty party. It’s all and well saying that fans should “self police” their own, but why would they risk ridicule from their fellow supporters by “snitching” to the authorities?
Strict liability is the only possible solution to ridding out the stupid morons who put their vile behaviour ahead of their clubs interest.
People worry that it’s unfair to deduct points but there are many steps to go through before it gets that far. Start with warnings, then fines, then certain sections within the ground (as what happened to Celtic by UEFA following their Champions League Qualifier against Linfield last year) before a full stadium closure. Surely the fact that innocent fans are being prevented in going to games because a few mates have decided to throw a few coins or dish out racist abuse would lead to more people having the guts to self police on mass to help eradicate the problem? Then you wouldn’t need to go down the route of points deductions, unless people are that defiant and stupid enough to carry on misbehaving.
You could argue that UEFA could force the SFA and SPFL’s hand by insisting that strict liability is in place within all their member associations. UEFA have dished out punishments for a number of years with the likes of Inter Milan and Feyenoord playing in front of empty stadiums (bar club and UEFA officials), therefore the SFA and SPFL could start taking more action if they knew UEFA were on their case.
It is also argued that the Scottish Government should do more to root out the idiots from our grounds. However, Government intervention is frowned upon by FIFA, who banned Nigeria from International competition for two years back in 2010 for this reason. Plus the Offensive Behaviour Football Act was scrapped after much criticism of the legislation, so perhaps it’s best that this Government keeps its nose out regarding the relevant punishments football should be dishing out.
What the Government could do better is work with the Police and the football bodies to ensure that the culprits are identified and punished accordingly. Whether that’s providing more funding into better security resources within football grounds, or stricter punishments so that the culprits will learn adequately from their actions, they could help without over interfering with the running of our game.
One thing all of this proves is that the alcohol ban within the grounds, other than hospitality suites, is not in a position to be lifted. Whilst it’s not proven that the actions of these idiots is directly linked to alcohol, it does prove that Scottish Football fans cannot yet be trusted whilst these incidents are ongoing. Football fans will argue that they are singled out for criticism, and that might be true up to a point. Unfortunately, whilst people are throwing missiles and dishing out derogatory abuse from the stands, there is little appetite for a 39 year legislation to be abolished.
The SFA, SPFL and their member clubs all need to step up now and come down hard on those who are carrying out these awful acts and shaming their clubs. If it means punishing the clubs and majority of the fans by closing sections of the grounds then so be it, because what’s in place now blatantly is not working.
Worryingly, it’s going to take a player or official to be seriously injured for our bodies to act appropriately unless clubs take off the self preservation hats and consider strict liability.