THE Scottish Football Association is set to convene a conference to discuss the merits of selling alcohol at Scottish football matches in the latest attempts to improve the supporters’ matchday experience and help improve income streams for clubs.
SFA president Campbell Ogilvie yesterday acknowledged that the debate about lifting the ban on selling alcohol at football matches “isn’t going to go away”. There are now moves to ensure the relevant authorities, including the Scottish government, Supporters Direct Scotland and Police Scotland, can sit down before the end of this year and properly engage with the issue. Legislation has meant the sale of alcohol has been prohibited at Scottish football grounds for more than 30 years.
“This comes up every few years and the SFA are only too happy to take part in the debate,” said Ogilvie. “But within the debate you have to have a unified approach and the police, the Government, safety authorities, have to be on board with it. Any discussions taking place will only take place if all the interested parties are round the table.”
In England, alcohol can be consumed at football stadia both before matches and at half-time in all parts of the ground. However, a riot at the Scottish Cup final in 1980 between Rangers and Celtic led to a restriction imposed, banning alcohol at Scottish football matches outwith hospitality areas. Attempts have been made recently to review the ban. The Scottish Conservatives last month wrote to every senior football clubs seeking their views.
Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, spoke earlier this year about lifting the ban in order to make football grounds a “destination” before the game. Now the SFA is planning to lead a debate on the issue at a time when football attendances in Scotland are declining.
“We’d be satisfied as long as the safety authorities were satisfied,” confirmed Ogilvie. “It’s as simple as that.”
“Over the years the corporate hospitality side within grounds has expanded. There’s more hospitality within grounds. It also happens down south and within other sports, such as the likes of rugby.
“Football evolves, it’s changed over the years. A lot of issues in football concern perceptions. We go back to Friday night football and the perceived issues with it. But Friday night football came in and I don’t think there’s been any problems with it.
“I’m sure if alcohol is ever brought into the stadia, it would be evaluated very carefully.
“If there were any issues thereafter it would soon be rescinded. But the key issue is satisfying the safety authorities, the police, local authorities and government. And the key is for everyone to be sitting round the table and put across their opinions.”
Speaking last month, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, proposed looking again at the issue.
“I understand why the ban was brought in all those years ago, but times have changed significantly since then,” she said. “We now have modern stadia with excellent stewarding to keep spectators safer, allowing more families to attend matches.”