A TEAM of MSPs was last night branded "an absolute disgrace" after a football match in which they were involved was called off when tempers boiled over.
The match at Lesser Hampden in Glasgow on Sunday was stopped after about 55 minutes when the game threatened to descend into a mass brawl following a number of contentious challenges between the politicians and their opponents, a team of sports journalists.
One of the flashpoints in the match saw the BBC broadcaster, Chick Young, injured in a tackle involving John Park, the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, after which the MSP was sent off.
In an interview last night, Mr Young claimed the MSPs behaved like a "team of thugs" and were "an absolute disgrace". He said: "This wasn't any joke on Sunday; these people were an absolute disgrace. The attitude towards the referee, the language that was used by the politicians on the occasion, was totally out of order."
But Mr Park – who has been touted as a future Scottish Labour leader and is the Glenrothes by-election campaign manager – sought to play down the behaviour of the politicians at the match, suggesting everyone there played a role in causing the problems.
Mr Young said that at first he thought the tackle on him had broken his ankle. "It's not, but it's pretty bad and I had to abandon a day's charity golf yesterday, which broke my heart as well," he said.
Mr Park claimed his tackle on the broadcaster was an accident after which he immediately apologised.
He said: "It was a mistimed tackle on Chick and I put my hand up straight away and apologised to him."
When asked how Mr Young responded, Mr Park replied: "He was OK."
However, the BBC football journalist reacted furiously to the MSP's account, saying: "I have absolutely no idea where he was on Sunday morning because he certainly wasn't at the match.
"He did attempt to apologise to me and I refused to accept the apology, so for him to say that I was fine about it is absolute nonsense."
Mr Young added: "What worries me most of all, these are the people who are in charge of running the country."
Mr Park was asked whether three MSPs, including himself, were given red cards during the game. The politician conceded he was sent off, but claimed he was not given a red card.
He said: "I wasn't red-carded, the referee said, 'I think it might be an idea if you go off,' and I agreed."
Mr Park did not comment on whether any more of his team-mates were handed red cards or sent off. He also suggested it was not only the MSPs causing trouble.
He said: "I know that sometimes these games go a bit like that, but I think everybody had a role to play."
Labour's Ken Macintosh, one of the organisers of the MSPs' side, said both teams accepted the decision to call proceedings to a halt. He said: "Normally, it's our football that embarrasses, not our behaviour.
"But in this case, it wasn't a terrific display."
The MSPs' side, which also included Labour's Andy Kerr and Frank McAveety and the SNP's Jamie Hepburn, was leading by six goals to two when the match was abandoned.
It is understood this came about after players from both sides squared up and started pushing each other in the chest.
The journalists' team also included the Radio Clyde commentator Peter Martin.