There is no doubt that the reputation of Scottish football fans has been damaged in the last few weeks. Incidents at Easter Road (bottle thrown at Celtic’s Scott Sinclair and Rangers’ James Tavernier threatened by a fan), Rangers fans throwing seats at Pittodrie and Celtic fans breaking a good number of seats at Kilmarnock. At first hearing this doesn’t sound great.
All of this only serves to give mediocre politicians and organisations, who rely on government funding for their existence, the opportunity to pontificate about the failure of the Offensive Behaviour Football Act (OBFA) and drag the good name of football fans through the mire. The fact that society in general in this modern age is more confrontational and aggressive is lost on these people. Hang around Glasgow city centre on a weekend evening and you will find yourself pining for the relative calm of a football match. And you won’t hear any politicians commenting about that.
As a child of the 1970’s I actually find it all fairly amusing. The level of hooliganism and drunkenness during that decade had to be seen to be believed. It was really scary stuff for young boys and the press used wonderful euphemisms to describe proceedings like ‘break in’ (pitch invasion) and ‘bottle party’ (the sky turning black with missiles) during that period. It wasn’t unusual back then to have in excess of 100 arrests at just one fixture and this was during the game, not including those detained before and after the event. It’s doubtful now if there are 100 combined arrests in every SPFL stadium during an entire season.
A lot of the hooliganism during that decade was gang related. Parkhead and Ibrox often witnessed break outs of violence on the terraces as drunken gang members carried out their grudges during the football, actually fighting with their own fellow supporters. This was also exported to England on a bi-annual basis when gangs would travel down south on the Wembley pilgrimage and cause havoc in old London town. All this before the phrase ‘Tartan army’ was ever thought of. Londoners would experience a weekend of carnage.
There is one particular game that always sticks in my mind as a young boy. Rangers played Celtic in January 1978 at Ibrox. Celtic were denied a stonewall penalty as Rangers broke up the park and scored a controversial goal. This was enough to set off the ‘mad team’ at the back of the Celtic end terracing firing off a barrage of bottles and cans. Their intention was to reach the pitch but they only served to hit their fellow Celtic fans at the front. This resulted in me and hundreds of other kids having to jump on to the track for safety as the game was stopped to allow the police to restore order with mass arrests all around. The courts could hardly cope on Monday morning, such was the level of arrests.
In October 1979, after a 1-0 win for Celtic at Parkhead, Rangers fans climbed on top of the old bridge over London Road and proceeded to launch a hail of missiles at passers-by and stop the traffic on London Road. I know this because an Eldorado bottle hit me and it was like a scene from the little Big Horn as police sought to restore order. That incident hardly made a mention in the next day’s press.
The Scottish hooligan problem probably peaked in 1980 when Celtic and Rangers fans famously fought a pitched battle on the Hampden pitch. As the police placed their resources outside the ground in anticipation of the expected disorder, the fans inside the ground decided to have it out there and then. It was the worst scenes ever witnessed in Scottish football history and took place on the day of Scottish football’s showpiece event.
1980 also witnessed the sad scene of Gordon Strachan being attacked by a Celtic fan who ran on from the Jungle enclosure. This was a horrifying ordeal for Strachan although it was amusing in one way, in that Tommy Burns and Danny McGrain apprehended the fan, the irony then being that both Celts would work closely with Gordon when he became the Celtic manager in 2005.
Ask anyone who attended football matches around this period and they will bear witness to the fact that hooligan acts were carried out in grounds on a weekly basis. It was a cultural thing, the hard drinking, hard fighting, aggressive Scots who only seemed happy when they were intoxicated and causing havoc.
In the current era, there is no doubt that there may be more incidents in the weeks to come. Pyro, broken seats and maybe the odd small pitch invasion should Rangers win the Champions League again at Firhill, may still be ahead of us. However, it’s actually all small change compared to what happened a few decades ago and it should be kept totally in perspective. The truth is (and the likes of nil by mouth and the Holyrood government don’t want you to know this) that it has never been safer to attend football matches in this country. There has never been a time when more females have attended football matches. And there has never been a time when more families have attended football matches.
This should be a cause for celebration and is worth remembering the next time politicians and organisations over react at the drop of a hat. A little perspective is definitely required.