Scottish football clubs warned of harsh penalties for crowd trouble

Picture: Robert Perry

Picture: Robert Perry

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Football clubs have been warned they could face point deductions and be told to play matches behind closed doors if they do not kick disorder and violence out of the national game.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson said the Scottish Government is considering the introduction of “strict liability” following trouble at last month’s cup final between Rangers and Hibs.

Already used in European competition, strict liability can see clubs fined or docked points for the behaviour of their fans. The move is likely to be opposed by clubs and it is unclear if the Scottish Government could compel the Scottish Football Association (SFA) to adopt the measure.

But Mr Matheson said the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act – which is deeply unpopular with many fans – showed there was a willingness to act on the part of government.

He said: “We need a transparent and robust scheme to prevent unacceptable conduct and deal with it effectively if it does occur, and encourage clubs to take all action possible to address unacceptable conduct. That may be strict liability or a form of strict liability or it may be something else, but the bottom line is we want to see football taking the opportunity to finally address this long-standing issue.

“I hope football can rise to this challenge and finally address this issue, and the Scottish Government is ready to work together constructively on this. I am encouraged by the initial response, but let me be absolutely clear: the Scottish Government is prepared to act if Scottish football isn’t.”

Both Rangers and Celtic have been fined by UEFA, European football’s governing body, in recent years over the behaviour of their fans while playing in European competition.

But the Scottish Professional Football League is opposed to strict liability, with clubs voting against its introduction in 2013.

St Johnstone chairman Steve Brown today described Mr Matheson’s comments as “premature”, calling for an independent inquiry set up by the SFA after the trouble at Hampden to be allowed to conclude its work.

Chaired by Sheriff Principal Edward F Bowen, the indpendent commission will review operational matters at the match. Rangers has vowed to act against any fans who are found guilty of disorder, while Hibs said it would impose sanctions, including lifetime bans, against a number of

supporters.

Dave Scott, campaign director of the charity Nil By Mouth, backed the introduction of strict liability, saying it was time for clubs to take responsibility for their supporters.

He said: “This is exactly the sort of government-led initiative we need to truly make football join us in the 21st century. It would bring the Scottish game into line with European standards. It has been successfully introduced in England without any aggravation.The parliament needs to make sure football steps up and no longer picks and chooses the issues it has a conscience on.”

Moves are currently under way to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which was introduced by the SNP in 2011 following trouble at an Old Firm match. Labour MSP James Kelly, who is bringing forward a members’ bill to repeal the legislation, said: “There is a public debate to be had about strict liability, however the justice minister would be wrong to use it as a distraction from the SNP’s discredited Football Act.”

The SFA did not respond to requests for comment on the issue of strict liability.

In a statement on its website, SFA president Alan McRae said: “I would like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, for taking time to address our members in light of the events at the end of the cup final.

“The Scottish FA has an excellent working relationship with the government and we will continue our collective efforts to implement robust procedures to ensure no repeat of the unacceptable conduct at what should have been the showpiece occasion of the Scottish season.”

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