How the powers that be are strangling the life from Scottish Football
By guest blogger, ‘Kes Devaal’
España 82’. What a wonderful time to be introduced to the beautiful game. I remember as a child being overcome with excitement as the colour and noise of this wonderful event had me glued to the screen. The pizzazz of Platini, Rossi, Zico & Socrates laid out in front of me for the first time, a real splendorous feast of football, whetting my footballing appetite for life.
Fast forward 24 years, and this time I had the pleasure of getting to savour the flavour for myself with a few mates at The 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. Amidst all the excitement and drama of what unfolded that summer, what really left an indelible mark on me was the coming together of thousands of fans from countries all across the globe embracing the occasion in the correct spirit & obviously over a cold Schofferhofer or two.
The fact that this was able to happen in a safe, family-friendly arena without an intense Police presence exponentially added to the wonderful carnival experience. It’s with this sentiment that I ponder over the possibility of ‘The Impossible Dream’ making it to our country – i.e. getting to watch the game I love in a Scottish stadium packed with men, women & children, with an optional cold beer in hand.
Having listened to Les Gray, The former head of The Scottish Police Federation on Monday’s edition of ‘Scotland Tonight’ it’s clear that long arm of the law still harbours doubts that the Scottish Football fans’ social behaviour has evolved since The Hampden riot of 1980. Going by this absurd logic, we might as well deter people from visiting Germany for a city break since we were at war with them 74 years ago.
Gray of course is no stranger to explosive diatribe. In fact his spurious blurb following the Lennon v McCoist touchline handbags following the March 2011 Old Firm match was central to the kneejerk legislation passed by First Minister Alex Salmond. The ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill’ was intended to address anti-social behaviour at football, but now only serves to choke the very spirit of our domestic game. Innocent football fans have, and continue to be treated with mistrust as a consequence of a lazy narrative shoehorned by The Scottish Government and police, fulfilling criteria that generates nothing more than additional paperwork to file.
Worryingly for thousands of ordinary punters like me who strive to see the Scottish game flourish on the park, Mr Gray thinks your average Scottish Football fan cannot be trusted with alcohol whereas our friends who follow the oval ball can. We aspire to experience a modern sporting day out at the football, comparable in value and pleasantness to that of a day at the races, golf, or rugby. The fact that those in authority see fit to prohibit any progress on this front is nothing short of a slur on the working class. I thought that kind of approach of contempt for the working class punter was supposed to have died in November 1990, when the late Margaret Thatcher was dislodged from No.10.
To compound matters, you can attend virtually any sport in Scotland and be permitted to consume alcohol. Should you have the luxury of disposable income then you can enjoy a beer at the football, but only in the Corporate/Hospitality areas. Again this promotes a dangerous class divide, a false notion that only affluent wealthy classes can be trusted with alcohol.
Sir David Murray embarked on an egotistical spending crusade at Rangers to outdo Celtic’s 9 in a row and achieve European Cup success. He did so by being economical with the rules of the game and spending money that wasn’t there. The cost of failure was the very existence of Rangers Football Club when they were liquidated in 2012. The cost to the Scottish game was that our member clubs had to gamble with finances to compete with Rangers, and we now find ourselves in a very precarious financial reality. With this in mind, the Scottish game now, more than any other time, needs to do two things to sustain a bright future. On the park we need to get back to the model that served us well: Operating within our means and investing in youth. To be fair to most SPL clubs, the penny has at last dropped and they are embracing this policy. The second component, which is equally critical, is that we need to look after the paying public and give them a match day experience that compels them to return. The introduction of controlled, responsible drinking I believe would go a long way to making the paying customer feel as if they are being catered for. As they do across all Premiership stadia, SPL clubs would control responsible drinking largely with stewards, which is a straightforward process, and one that causes little or no trouble south of the border.
Championing the cause, Peter Lawell will most likely need to call upon the services of a Johnnie Cochran style lawyer with supreme powers of persuasion to stand any chance of altering the opinions of the powers that be in this country. As the finances of the game in Scotland continue to dwindle, as does the time we have to right this wrong. The dream of having an all-encompassing football infrastructure that allows the likes of alcohol to be sold within the grounds is in no way an unrealistic target, but now is the time to act if we’re ever to make the change.