DCSIMG

The day that Scottish football redeemed itself. But only just

SCOTTISH football's governing body has vowed to work with ministers to crack down on sectarianism, after welcoming an "exciting" conclusion to a "challenging" year for the game.

Despite fears that the final day of the league season would end in violence and disorder, as Old Firm rivals Rangers and Celtic vied for the championship, there was only a handful of arrests at their respective fixtures.

Strathclyde Police, which launched "as big an operation as we have ever mounted", with a "ring of steel" around both grounds, reported only nine arrests at the two matches, none of which involved sectarianism.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) said that, while the circumstances of recent months had "cast a cloud" over the sport, there was "genuine reason" to look forward to the future.

First Minister Alex Salmond, meanwhile, said ministers would be working through the summer to tackle bigotry and football-related violence, to ensure the game was in the news for "all the right reasons" in the 2011-12 season.

It came as Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who over the course of the campaign has been subjected to parcel bombs, death threats and a physical assault, vowed to remain in his job.

Both Old Firm clubs went into their games yesterday afternoon with a chance of winning the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title. Celtic beat Motherwell at home, but Rangers - a point clear beforehand - also won, defeating Kilmarnock 5-1, guaranteeing them the title.

Strathclyde Police made five arrests inside Celtic's Parkhead stadium, all for minor alcohol related offences. There were a further two arrests outside the ground, one for a minor alcohol-related offence and one person who was wanted on a warrant.

At Kilmarnock's Rugby Park ground, police made two arrests inside, both for breach of the peace, and there were no incidents outside the ground.

• How damaging has this season been and where can we go from here?

Undercover officers were at both games listening for sectarian songs.

Police had made it clear they were preparing for a worst-case scenario, with weekend leave cancelled across the force area and 1,000 officers deployed.

While it is likely the arrest figures for the Strathclyde area will run into three-figures - the average for a Sunday is 182 - it appeared that, as of yesterday evening, the anticipated acrimony had not materialised.

At the Rangers game, the early lead taken by the away side ensured a celebratory atmosphere prevailed. In Glasgow, meanwhile, Celtic supporters repeatedly sang Lennon's name.

After the game, the former Celtic captain came on to the pitch to address the fans.

"This isn't the end, this is the beginning," he told them.

Asked if he had considered walking away at various points during a difficult time in which he has been given 24-hour security protection, he said: "Once or twice, but then I thought, 'Why?'

"I'm not happy that my personal safety was under threat at Tynecastle," he added. "Obviously that's not an issue for myself or my club to deal with; that's for other authorities and clubs to sort out."

Asked what he thought about those who have claimed he has brought much of the trouble on himself, Lennon replied: "Astonishing. It tells me about those people who are saying these things. It's not a slight on me, it's a slight on them."A spokesman for the Scottish Football Association said: "The exciting last day of the championship restored the focus on to the football. The events of the last few months have made people realise that all the off-field activities we have seen cannot be allowed to happen again.

"The government is committed to coming down hard on those people who use football as a vehicle for sectarianism, and that, in turn, will empower the football authorities to tackle the issue."

Mr Salmond said: "We need to ensure that next season and beyond Scottish football is in the news for all the right reasons."

 
 
 

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