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3000 fans protest against the Police and Offensive Behaviour Bill

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Pic: Matt McGlone

Pic: Matt McGlone

It is estimated that around 3000 people turned up at the ‘Fans Against Criminalisation’ rally in George Square on Saturday to protest against the Offensive Behaviour Bill and the Police, which the group believe unfairly targets football fans.

The ‘Fans Against Criminalisation’ group is made up of a number of Celtic supporters groups, who aim to fight against the SNP’s bill and stand-up for football fans who they believe have been unfairly treated.

The Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act 2012, was brought in by the government in March last year following several high-profile incidents during Old Firm matches, one being dubbed the ‘Old Firm shame game’.

An excerpt from the bill, states: “The Act criminalises behaviour which is threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting.”

However, other parties did not agree with the way the bill and no MSPs from outside the SNP majority government voted in favour of it. One of the most vocal MSP’s against the bill, Michael McMahon of Labour, was in attendance at the rally.

Speaking to the protesters in attendance, he said: “The reality is you shouldn’t have to be here. Because when the Scottish government was bringing this legislation forward; they were told by all of the other political parties in the Scottish parliament, told by the legal profession, told by anti-sectarianism charities and they were told by children’s charities. That this legislation was wrong in principle and it was badly drafted. That the criminalisation of football fans could not stand the test that it was about to receive. That has proven to be right.

“The Scottish government wouldn’t listen then and they have to be made to listen now. Your support here this afternoon sends a very strong signal. It indicates to the other parliamentarians in the Scottish parliament, those like me, who oppose the bill and support the campaign against the criminalisation of football fans – that there is a campaign to be supported, and you have that support in the Scottish Parliament.”

He continued by saying that as the campaign grows: “We have to make them [the SNP]listen because having an opinion which is different from them cannot be a crime, being a football fan cannot in itself be a crime.”

Michael McMahon’s statements were vocally supported by the demonstrators in attendance – Celtic fans, along with fellow supporters from Dundee United, Motherwell and Hibernian. Despite safety fears following 13 arrests made at a protest last month; there was no arrests or disorder at this rally. Police presence was low as FAC had organised for 250 stewards to be in attendance to keep order.

We spoke to a Celtic fan, Kenny, he said: “I think the numbers that are here would suggest that there are a lot of folk not happy with what’s going on.

“The government have to stand up and take note that what they’ve put in place doesn’t work. It’s proven not to work. The courts recognise it doesn’t work. Everybody, but the police and the politicians, recognise it doesn’t work. It’s about time they did something about it.

“Almost every case has been thrown out the courts, it’s been laughed out of the courts. You can’t decide something is distasteful to someone and put people in jail for it. We’re talking about football here. We’re talking about club rivalries. We’re not going to pat another teams’ supporters on the back when we’re facing them in a game of football. Politicians need to understand what they’re dealing with here. It doesn’t make you a bad person; it doesn’t make for a bad society. You just have to have a bit of give-and-take and there’s none allowed for in the bill.”

Scotzine will be publishing their second issue of FITBA – The Scottish Football magazine this coming week. In it we take a look at the Offensive Behaviour in Football Bill one year on, as we exclusively speak to the Head of FoCUS Superintendent Stephen McAllister, Roseanne Cunningham SNP MSP gives us her views on the bill and James Kelly Labour MSP tackles the bill from his view-point also.

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