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Ban the Old Firm? What a load of Rubbish!

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Les Gray Chairman of the Scottish Police Federation stated just before Wednesday night’s Scottish Cup clash between Celtic and Rangers, that the Old Firm Derby led to Murder and Mayhem on the streets. He continued to say that the ‘Police Service dreaded Old Firm games and that with the resources and finances available to the Police, they could not handle the trouble after these games.

However, we can sum up Les Gray’s comments as more scaremongering from the Chairman of the SPF. Back in August 2010, he said that cuts that were going to be imposed on Police would mean the Service would grind to a halt, that they would not have officers to attend calls, and that people would not be safe on the streets.

Now he is claiming that – with no cuts made yet – the biggest Police force in Scotland with 1000 officers at their disposal on every Old Firm match day cannot cope. Four games out of 365 days in a year [okay a few more extra this year due to cup replay and the League Cup Final].

However it is all too easy for Gray and his cronies to blame Old Firm games for violence later that day, but what is to blame for crime in the 361 days when the Old Firm don’t play one another?

Maybe they should tackle the real issues at the heart of so much trouble – Sectarianism and Alcohol. Educate the masses not just the minority of people. It is not solely a West of Scotland issue, it is Scotland-wide.

The Police themselves tackle drug crime the proper way, arresting not only the users and the street dealers, but going after the gangs who smuggle the drugs into the country as well as the masterminds. This is the way they should tackle the problems surrounding the Old Firm games. Yes arrest those on the street involved in the violence, but also tackle the issues which led them to turn violent – the sectarian issue that surrounds both clubs and the drinking culture within Scotland. Maybe then we would see the Police being able to handle all those extra arrests they make.

On the issue of the increased amounts of those arrested on the days of Old Firm games. On the day of the league game in which Celtic defeated Rangers 3-0, 230 people were arrested for violence, disorder and anti-social behaviour. A big number when you don’t find police records for an average amount of arrests on a Sunday. A normal Sunday will see on average 182 people arrested – and that is not on Old Firm match days. Certainly not a huge rise considering the amount of fans who attend the derby games from both sides. A mere 0.08% of the 60,000 fans who regularly attend in fact.

And the fact that the Police have to travel 50 miles to jail 48 extra people, says more about the cuts in the Police Service, the lack of Police Stations and the red tape surrounding the justice system in this country, rather than trouble on Old Firm nights.

Gray implies that the removal of the Old Firm Derbies will solve all the problems that the Police Force in Scotland face at the weekends, but if the Police cannot handle an extra 48 people for a variety of crimes from minor on the spot fine offences to serious assault etc, then there is something seriously rotten within it.

Tackling the drug & alcohol problem in Scotland would have much more of a beneficial effect on crime figures than banning a game that happens only four times a year.

Don’t get me wrong the violence and the hatred the surrounds an Old Firm match is disgusting, but most of that hatred for the majority is spent during the matches, most of it is only football banter amongst mates, but as ever there is a small minority who ruin it for everyone else. And it is these individuals, fuelled by drink, become aggressive and end up in resorting to violence. It would be good to see the records of these individuals to see if they have been in trouble with the law before, out with derby games, what occurs on Old Firm match days is nothing more than what every city experiences on a regular Friday and Saturday night.

But if the small rise in crime is the reason to ban the Old Firm from playing, why not ban Christmas and New Year parties, because trouble increases around the festive period, as does drink driving – so why not just ban Christmas and New Year altogether. Oh but wait that’s not tackling the real issues at the heart of THAT violence, that is why we have adverts on the television and radio telling us to curb our drinking around this period. And yet they do not do the same with Old Firm games, it is the football that causes the violence and let’s just ignore the drinking issue altogether.

Gray then states that the country cannot afford it – yet a study in 2005 said that the presence of the Old Firm itself is worth £120 million to the Scottish economy annually and creates thousands of jobs for Scotland. This figure includes cash spent by fans at matches, travel costs and food also. Not to mention the jobs created in the hospitality industry. That was 6 years ago,and in that time the value of the Old Firm to the Scottish Economy,would have both increased and decreased depending on European runs etc. The real question is can the country afford not to have the Old Firm playing?

And if anyone believes that the Police cannot cope with the amount of trouble on Old Firm match days, then I ask these people to look back at the days when Hooliganism was rife in the Scottish game in the 1970s and 80s. The Scottish Cup riot of 1981 between the two sides on the pitch at Hampden, was not because the Police were under resourced or they could not afford it, it was because of fans fuelled with booze and a hatred for the other side.

Even Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan dismisses Gray’s calls for the derby to be banned, by saying that is the alcohol not football that is responsible for the wave of violence that follows an Old Firm match.

He said, “Alcohol is the problem, football is just the excuse. It’s clear that some people continue to drink excessively around the times of these high-profile matches. As a result, they get drunk, become full of aggression and inevitably end up getting into bother. This has to stop. It’s time to break the culture of drinking to excess.”

And former Strathclyde Police Match Commander Kenny Scott – backed up by the Police Service and the Scottish Government – stated that the majority of offenders do not attend the matches. That the violence has risen among the back streets, the pubs and in the family homes during the 24 hour period around the game, and not inside the stadium itself.

So why should the majority of those law-abiding individuals who attend the games be punished by the mindless thuggery of booze-fuelled eejits, eejits that infest every city in the world not just Glasgow.

Again I state that the real issue is not the football math, but the alcohol and the culture within Scotland towards alcohol.

But as ever such scaremongerers are always waiting in the wings, hoping and praying for another episode to jump into to give their views and Les Grey is no different. He branded the scenes at Celtic Park as ‘disgraceful.’

Adding that, “What happens on the pitch is replicated throughout the streets, the pubs and the clubs and the houses within Scotland. The behaviour of all those involved last night was nothing short of disgraceful. Something needs to happen, I’m realistic enough to know that they’ll probably never stop it but we need to have a serious look at it. It may well be that they’ll have to look at playing the game behind closed doors for two or three times just to see how it goes. People may say it’s a great advert for football, a great advert for Scottish football – that wasn’t much of an advert last night.”

The fact that he knows himself, the games will not be stopped prove how ludicrous and inept his previous comments were. And do you really think that the SFA and the SPL will demand that Old Firm games be played behind closed doors? Such an order would have to come from the Police and if that happens you can bet your mortgage on the fans than deciding, what the hell – why not extend it to all the grounds in Scotland. If they won’t let us into watch our team against our greatest rivals then we aren’t going to pay good money to watch our team play against the likes of St.Mirren, Hamilton Accies or Kilmarnock etc. Such would the effect of a fan-imposed strike be, that several clubs would go into administration and possible bankruptcy. Why do you think these clubs and the SPL are wanting to keep the games against the Old Firm to four rather than what the fans want – two.

Last month, 16 people were arrested inside the stadium with 48 more arrested in the Strathclyde region, than on a normal Sunday. On Wednesday 34 people were arrested inside the stadium, while an 18-year-old girl was seriously injured outside the Lovat Arms pub in Yoker, with six men arrested.

Both clubs will now attend a summit with the Police, the SFA and the Scottish Government to try to solve the issues that surround Old Firm matches.

As for Les Grey, if he is so worried about the lack of resources and finances within the Police Service maybe he should tackle the head honchos within the Police force who pull in big wages, not to mention the MPs/MSPs who pull in even bigger wages all the while cutting costs across the country. And if it is still not enough maybe Grey himself could use some his wage to pay for one or two extra officers.

And if Strathclyde Police and Les Grey believe that the actions of a handful of players and that 34 fans being arrested was a national disgrace then what of the scenes at the match between Birmingham City and AstonVilla in December? When only 5 people were arrested and yet the scenes beamed across the world were far worse than what was on show at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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