Football fans not “neanderthals” - Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy. Picture: John Devlin

Jim Murphy. Picture: John Devlin

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Football supporters could be allowed to drink inside grounds for up to two hours before kick-off as part of a move to lift the 35-year-old alcohol ban in Scotland.

Labour leader Jim Murphy said football fans in Scotland are not “knuckle dragging neanderthals” and should be trusted to have a drink after hosting a summit with clubs and fans today.

Supporters could be allowed to drink inside grounds for up to two hours before kick-off as part of a move to lift the ban which has been in place for the past 35 years.

But it came as several leading doctors and anti-violence campaigners raised serious concerns about it being lifted.

Murphy met football clubs and supporters’ groups at Hampden today to discuss the issue.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “The perception of Scottish football supporters as knuckle dragging neanderthals is over.

“That’s almost a parody of the 1980s. I go to football every week and the people I see are not second class citizens, they’re adults they can behave themselves.

“We should stop treating them as if they are incapable of behaving or treating them as if every Scottish football fan has the potential of being a hooligan or a criminal.”

Labour announced plans for a consultation on the issue last weekend, with Mr Murphy arguing fans were ‘’paying for the sins’’ of the 1980s.

The ban was initially imposed after a riot at the 1980 Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Celtic but alcohol can be served in corporate hospitality areas of football stadiums.

SFA corporate chief Darryl Broadfoot said Scotland’s match with Nigeria in London a few years ago saw fans allowed to drink inside the stadium for two hours before kick-off with a 15 minute window before the game start. This is because fans are allowed a drink at games south of the border.

Mr Broadfoot said: “There were no arrests. What we have to do is look seriously at whether two hours is viable, but certainly an hour or an hour and a half, which may be dictated by other fixtures.

“Why can’t a group of fans of families go along to watch the afternoon game for a three o’clock kick-off, have the ability to have a drink or enjoy street food or the `Xbox’ culture for kids while the game is going on?

“If we can commit to making it family friendly, the window of consumption is immaterial if it’s controlled and for that defined period.”

The proposals would mean fans still cannot take drink into matches. They would be able to buy drink in the concourse areas of stadiums and consume it there, but not take it to their seats.

But senior figures from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), the Violence Reduction Unit and Alcohol Focus Scotland voiced concerns in an open letter on the issue.

They argued that there are “important reasons” to maintain the current arrangements for the control of alcohol availability in football grounds.

They also voiced disappointment at what they said was a lack of discussion with them in the consultations taking place.

The letter stated: “These discussions need to go well beyond the world of football. This is not merely a matter of ‘consulting with the fans’. Alcohol’s impact on health, families, work and safety goes much wider than those attending the game and those hoping to profit from the sale of alcohol should not have the dominant voice in discussions.”

The summit at Hampden heard from safety officers at the Old Firm who said the current situation encourages binge drinking in pubs before games.

Mr Murphy said: “They spoke about how the current arrangements force a culture of last minute drinking before going to a game and encourage last minute arrivals.

“They crowd into the bars near the stadium and have that culture of drink as much as you can before you get into the stadium.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson first called for a review of the ban in September 2013.

Her party has carried out a survey of all clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League which suggests that 85% of the 26 clubs that responded want an end to the drink ban.

Andrew Jenkin of Supporters Direct Scotland said after the summit it has carried out research into the alcohol ban.

“There’s a majority of supporters that do want to see the law changed. Over 60% of supporters are in favour of fans being able to drink alcohol at football.

“This is about safety of supporters and there’s a lot of literature that’s been written before about allowing supporters to drink within stadiums in a controlled environment which is a lot safer for them for a number of reasons. There’ a lot of evidence to support that.

“This is about ensuring the matchday experience is better for everyone.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is ‘’far from convinced’’ about removing it, warning against “taking a step backwards”.

Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has also said he would be “extremely concerned’’ at any proposal to change the law, but that if a consultation finds public support for the idea police would enter into formal discussions with the footballing authorities.

The SFA has already been consulting with fans on the issue of whether alcohol should be sold at stadiums during matches and will also seek to gauge the views of the public and non-football fans.

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