Leaders: Doubts about mixing football and alcohol

We KNOW old habits can die hard, especially bad ones. But have they died sufficiently to lift a near 35-year-old ban on the sale of alcohol at football grounds?

There is a difference in the culture and ambience of rugby and football matches. Picture: SNS
There is a difference in the culture and ambience of rugby and football matches. Picture: SNS
There is a difference in the culture and ambience of rugby and football matches. Picture: SNS

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy thinks so. He has mustered fair points to support his argument. He argues that “times have changed, football has changed, the stadiums have changed”. He points to alcohol sales at rugby grounds as an example of class prejudice and cites huge improvements in crowd behaviour since the 1980s.

There should be no doubt that the vast majority of football fans are, as they historically have been, well behaved. And there are clear indications that outbreaks of troublesome, alcohol-fuelled behaviour are not as severe as they once were. But has there been sufficient improvement to lift the ban?

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Football has cleaned up its act. But that cleansing is far from complete. There are still problems including bottles being thrown at Old Firm games, sectarian chanting and abuse. More evidence is needed that anti-social and abusive incidents have declined sufficiently to allow the authorities to lift the ban with confidence that the terraces will be safe.



An increasingly important consideration here is the attitude of women supporters. Across the UK the social appeal of football has changed significantly since the 1980s. There are more female fans and indeed growing female participation in the game. This is wholly to be welcomed and Scottish clubs would benefit greatly from enlarging and expanding the appeal of football attendance from the diminishing base of hard-drinking working class males. That requires the terraces to be safe, unthreatening and welcome for women. Reformers could usefully reflect on this.

It is certainly the case that alcohol is on sale at rugby fixtures at Murrayfield. But there is a marked difference in the culture and ambience of rugby matches. There is no lack of passion. But rival fans mix happily with each other, there is no crowd segregation and certainly no evidence of the religious divisions that have plagued Old Firm fixtures.

As for “pilot schemes” with sales limited to low-strength beers, the test that matters is the Old Firm fixture and how such a scheme could possibly be policed and enforced. Scotland still has major problems with its relationship with alcohol.

What is needed is a thorough review of club and police records in recent years and proven evidence of a decline in anti-social behaviour. It would also help if more weight was given to the views of female fans, for it can be argued that it is on this that the future of the game in Scotland will critically depend.

This is a change we need to be fully confident will be safe and one that will endure.

Don’t turn Capital into a museum

Edinburgh’s listed architecture is a pride and joy. It is a key reason why the city is enduringly popular with visitors around the world. Its World Heritage status is intended to protect and sustain this unique charm and character.

But conservation can also lead to blight, almost as much as untrammelled innovation. For Edinburgh is also a working city, its vibrancy sustained by the thousands who live and work at its heart. And for that vibrancy to continue, some freedom must be allowed to adapt the interiors of our buildings for modern living. The outer fabric and construction of our historic buildings must be maintained and new build must have regard to the neighbouring vernacular. But there is a danger that, when strict planning rules are applied to the interiors, we risk condemning them.

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Lorn Macneal, an award-winning conservation architect, warns Edinburgh is in danger of being crippled by a planning system “terrified of offending” the city’s World Heritage status. Today, Wi-Fi and digital communication have transformed how we work in offices, while in home design there is a marked preference for open living and dining spaces.

Planners would do well to regard buildings, not as museum pieces but as living and functional works of heritage, capable of embracing modern life. Excellent refurbishments such as the work on Riddle’s Court show how old buildings can be adapted with care. Architects need to be allowed greater discretion in ensuring that buildings can meet the demands of the age in which we live and work. In this way change can be the enabler of conservation.