Football season begins: 'It is a watershed year for our national sport'

AS the football season kicks off today, it is already shaping up to be a watershed year for our national sport.

Not because of Hearts' realistic ambitions to rival the Old Firm this term, or anything to do with Hibs' dreams of repeating cup glories of too long ago, but due entirely to events off the pitch.

Rarely, if ever, has Scottish football been so much under the microscope as it will be in the coming months as a result of some diabolical behaviour by a hate-filled minority last season.

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New anti-sectarian laws are due to be passed by the end of the calendar year, creating new offences to target abusive behaviour both inside and outside football grounds, and raising the maximum jail term for offenders from six months to five years.

That is a welcome and necessary move, but it is not the only positive step.

The creation of a dedicated Scottish football policing unit, for instance, should help officers to better identify potential troublemakers and flashpoints ahead of games.

Hopefully, too, the worst excesses of last year will have helped shape a new mood among the sensible majority of supporters who may be less willing now to indulge the offensive chants and other abusive behaviour of others in their ranks. Maybe a little of the famous "self-policing" of the Tartan Army will transfer itself to our club games.

All that, however, remains to be seen.

We in the Capital will have an early chance to check the impact of the changes so far as Hibs and Hearts meet the two Old Firm sides today.

No-one wants to contemplate any repeat of last season's problems - and the damage caused to the good name of the sport and the two cities.

The law-makers are doing their bit; now it is up to the clubs, the police and, most importantly, the fans to ensure it doesn't happen again.

All must do the right thing if this is to be a season to remember for all the right reasons.

So here's to Hearts, Hibs and Livingston doing the business on the pitch.

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