I grew up in the 1980’s when all football fans were “scum” – ‘why can’t you behave like Rugby fans?’ was the cry you’d often hear and read in the media. Then came Bradford, Hillsborough etc. They took down the fences, treated us like humans and miraculously we started behaving like humans.


My dissertation for my degree was “Delictual liabilities of Sports Clubs to their Members and Spectators” (sounds riveting you say!).  I studied all stadium disasters through the last 100+ years and read the transcripts for Hillsborough. Stamford Bridge, Hillsborough, Ibrox, Bradford etc.  All these disasters where people died had commonality, they had the same basic problem of poor stadium design and an attitude to football fan management of containment and control, based upon the default position that football fans are ‘scum’ who are for the watching.  All of that is the reason why I rail against any attempt by law-makers to associate societal problems with football – to say that football supporters are specifically uniquely misbehaving.


We had renowned expert on crowd management and policing Professor Clifford Stott on the podcast 5 years ago. He had previously been an advisor to Strathclyde police and we discussed policing at Scottish Football, The Dam Square issue and OBFA . In that podcast he told me that police in Scotland had been moving towards much reduced segregation. At Celtic v Rangers games (at Hampden especially) they had progressed so that the lost seats through segregation had halved. They had halved the number of stewards. One way around this was the police worked with the clubs on who got tickets close to opposing fans. Then Police Scotland was formed, Stephen House came in from England and the way they wanted to police crowds changed. It became more confrontational. Then they introduced OBFA. I have always thought it is no coincidence that there has been an increase in some of the less desirable songs since that point.


Over these past few months there has been a focus on less desirable behaviour coming back into football and this has focussed on the old fashioned Celtic & Rangers ‘sectarian’ song debate and us being two cheeks of the same arse.  But of course this misses the wider issue of this being a Scotland wide, society wide problem and only this week this has been evident with racism at the Clyde/Brechin game, and of course we know that the hotbed of football violence in the 1980’s and recently has been Aberdeen and Edinburgh.  Tynecastle has always been a problem to go to and be at and Easter Road is going down the same route with bottles and chairs being thrown, managers and players being assaulted.

No-one can deny that missiles being thrown, players being attacked and unpleasant songs being sung is not an issue but looking just at Struct Liability is myopic. There is a much wider issue. If religious crimes make up just 6% of all hate crime, why are associated songs more prevalent at football? Part of it is what happens to people in a crowd etc etc.

To think Strict Liability can deal with it is a huge error. Under Franco Barca grew as a club partly because, in a crowd, it was the only place you could speak and sing in Catalan and openly voice your anti-fascist views. Behind the Iron Curtain, crowds were huge because in a crowd you could shout and hurl abuse at authorities. Crowds at football in Russia fell massively when the Soviet system fell. If football crowds was the place to voice anti-establishment views under such authoritarian regimes despite the presence of informants and mass surveillance, then SL will not fix it in a democracy.

There are obviously issues at football and from the Celtic perspective, from a club and support who pride ourselves upon having higher moral values and being more than a football club, there are behaviours that surely have to change.  We belt out songs and chants that most, if not all of us have engaged in at some point in our lives but in the cold light of day any normal rational review would say are not acceptable – how can we complain about being called Fenian B’s but hurl the term Orange B around at will?  And who can really say that a sporting event is the place to sing songs glorifying an armed struggle that saw thousands murdered?

Perhaps the most frustrating thing in all of this is, when our songs and chants are debated, is when those defending will use the behaviour of another club as a shield; ‘deal with them before dealing with us – they’re worse.’  Really?  We bemoan the term Old Firm and rail against any association with that club (past & present) except when it comes to songs and suddenly we want them to be our barometer?  You set standards based upon your own values and beliefs.  You do not use others to set your moral compass.

Football fans do not come from Mars, they are part of society and therefore what we see at the football can only be a reflection of wider societal issues.  The argument for the introduction of SL is that behaviour at football has suddenly deteriorated.  If so why do we have bampots who think they can say and do as they wish?

  • Is it social media making them think they can behave like this?
  • Is it cocaine making them feel invincible?
  • Is it the current aggressive wider political discourse?
  • Is it 10yrs of austerity making people think “fuck it, I’ll do what I want and have nothing to lose?
  • Is it 10yrs of austerity creating a generation of very angry people?
  • Is it the confrontational style of policing?
  • Is it all and some of the above?

It’s certainly not football that’s changed.