The SPFL is facing renewed criticism over its commitment to tackling anti-social behaviour among supporters after it emerged that one recommendation of a working party set up to address the issue was to ask the Scottish government to provide millions of pounds to provide facial recognition technology at grounds.
The attempt to shift the focus from clubs to the authorities when dealing with supporter behaviour emerged from a meeting at Hampden yesterday which was attended by representatives from all 42 senior clubs.
Strict liability – holding clubs responsible for the actions of their supporters in any ground – and enlarging the top league by league reconstruction were heralded as the matters which would be moved on in discussions with the clubs.
However, statements made by a number of figures emerging from the discussions at the national stadium highlighted the absence of any consensus on these matters. Unlawful conduct at football grounds has been brought into sharp focus by Rangers fans’ widespread sectarian singing in their home encounter against Hibs on 28 December and the dangerous use of flares at away matches by Celtic and Dundee United supporters in recent weeks.
Kilmarnock secretary Michael Johnston talked of more “robust” measures to tackle these problems that could involve sanctions, while stopping short of strict liability, whereas Mike Mulraney, Alloa chairman and SPFL board member, appeared entirely dismissive of
punishing clubs for “societal” problems.
“There is no chance of clubs whatsoever agreeing to strict liability,” Mulraney said. “That’s pretty unanimous. It’s not the answer.
“It is the one system proven to fail and it will fail again.
“If clubs don’t take the reasonable steps to ensure [unacceptable behaviour] doesn’t happen then there should be punishment. But if they do what’s reasonable should they be punished over something they have no control of? In my view, no.”
Johnston seemed at odds with this unequivocal stance. “There are various solutions under discussion so perhaps a more robust approach is required,” he said. “The Scottish Government and the SPFL are working together on a plan to tackle the issue.
“It is not a new problem. It comes and goes. At some stages it looks like it’s been put to bed then it rears its ugly head. The clubs want to do everything they can to assist in dealing with the problem.
“Do we need to introduce points penalties? It’s the only sanction that’s going to focus supporters’ minds on how damaging it is to their clubs.
“Ultimately if we want supporters to behave appropriately we have to have the sanction of imposing points penalties. I think [though] in terms of the Premiership, we would need an 11-1 vote to secure a sanction of that nature, which won’t be easy to achieve.”
The Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) voiced its opposition to the facial recognition proposal.
Chairman Simon Barrow said: “The SFSA would be concerned at a rushed move towards intrusive surveillance. There needs to be careful consultation with fans and clubs, alongside wider consideration of how to deal effectively and proportionately with threatening and insulting behaviour. The best ways forward will involve working with the great majority of supporters who deplore such abuses, rather than making them feel under accusation themselves.”
The notion of a bigger top league seemed as far away as ever following the meeting, with Hibernian chief executive Leann Dempster offering no encouragement. “The minute we get a new league somebody else wants a different league,” she said. “That’s the reality of it.
“Everybody always looks for the next best thing or something different and I think that’s the state of play at the moment.
“Today’s meeting was a very light-touched discussion and there was genuinely nothing to report. I’m not going to stand here and say everybody was looking for a 14 or 16-team league. That wasn’t the sphere of the discussion.”
THE SCOTSMAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA