Chris Marshall: Football and domestic violence

SUNDAY’s much-anticipated Old Firm game – the first meeting of Celtic and Rangers for three years – predictably failed to live up to its billing. As a worldwide TV audience looked on, Celtic eased to a 2-0 victory in a drab affair not helped by the state of the Hampden turf.

Since the creation of Police Scotland domestic violence has been afforded a new, higher priority. Picture: Julie Howden
Since the creation of Police Scotland domestic violence has been afforded a new, higher priority. Picture: Julie Howden

Despite warnings of trouble between rival fans, Police Scotland praised the behaviour of the vast majority of the 50,000 who attended the game, making 37 arrests for offences including sectarian breaches of the peace.

The most shaming incident came in the run-up to the match when a ten-year-old boy travelling in a minibus was hospitalised after being hit by a bottle.

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There was, however, one statistic which provided room for cautious optimism – a 35 per cent fall in domestic abuse incidents.

According to Police Scotland, there were 139 incidents recorded across the country on Sunday, down from the average of 213 seen on Sundays between May 2014 and January.

While 139 domestic abuse incidents is hardly a cause for celebration, the figure shows that the new proactive approach being adopted by the police may be reaping some rewards.

Sadly, there’s plenty of statistical evidence linking football, but particularly the Old Firm, with a spike in the level of domestic violence incidents. Research published in 2013 by St Andrews University found a “significant” rise in cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the 24-hour period after kick-off.

Separate analysis by Strathclyde Police in 2011 found domestic abuse incidents could rise by up to 139 per cent when the two teams meet.

Since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013, domestic violence has been afforded a new, higher priority.

In the run-up to Sunday’s game, officers visited known abusers warning them about their behaviour. The tactic appears to be working.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Old Firm match was dubbed the “shame game” for ugly scenes in 2011 which led to the much-maligned Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

There is talk of more legislation being passed, this time to create a specific offence of domestic abuse.

That law would make it easier to punish those intent on attacking their partners, leaving the real fans to enjoy the game.

The Old Firm game could once again become a regular fixture from next season, should Rangers be promoted from the Championship.

The meeting of Scotland’s two largest clubs should be an occasion looked forward to by football fans, not feared by the children and partners of domestic abusers.