Fans’ anger at anti-sectarian guidelines that will ‘sterilise’ match culture

Fans fear that guidelines will 'sterilise' match culture. Picture: Robert Perry
Fans fear that guidelines will 'sterilise' match culture. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE Lord Advocate has issued fresh guidelines about what songs and chants will be illegal under the Scottish Government’s new anti-sectarian legislation in a move that has angered fans.

In updated guidance to police, Frank Mullholland, Scotland’s most senior prosecutor, has warned singing or chanting songs which “glorify, celebrate or mock events involving the loss of life” should be viewed as offensive.

The ten-page report also says that “flags, banners, songs or chants in support of terrorist organisations” are “likely to be offensive”.

Songs “which promote or celebrate violence against another person’s religion, culture or heritage” are also “likely to be offensive”, according to Mulholland.

The guidance would seem to clarify that fans singing some of the most well-known songs sung on the football terraces will now face arrest. It is understood Mulholland’s guidance outlaws songs like the Billy Boys, The Boys Of The Old Brigade, the so-called Famine Song, and the chant “Ooh Ah, Up The Ra”, which is sung by Celtic supporters.

Yesterday fans reacted angrily, claiming the guidelines could change the culture of football games to such an extent that supporters would be reduced to “polite clapping”.

Mark Dingwall, board member of the Rangers Supporters Trust, said: “Everyone who wants to do anything more than politely clap is very worried that they will lose their liberty and livelihoods.”

The Lord Advocate’s guidance was published to coincide with the legislation coming into force this month.

The Scottish Government and the Crown Office have repeatedly refused to provide a comprehensive list of songs which would lead to fans being arrested. The lack of clarity has led to criticism that fans did not know which songs could lead to them being arrested.

The Crown Office has warned fans who breach the new law to expect robust action.

A spokesman said: “The singing of offensive songs of any kind, or the display of offensive flags or banners, will not be tolerated, and the perpetrators of any incidents of this nature will be dealt with robustly by the prosecution service. Where the song is religiously prejudiced the relevant aggravation will be libelled.”

Jeanette Findlay, chairwoman of the Celtic Supporters Trust, said: “This legislation is entirely aimed at Celtic fans.

“The existing legislation was entirely adequate, it was there and it could be used.”

Dingwall argued that the legislation runs the risk of sterilising the atmosphere at football matches by criminalising “banter” among fans. “We’ve had meetings with police where they say, ‘what’s that got to do with football, why can’t you just clap?’

“It’s alright saying banter’s allowed, but we’ve seen fans indulging in banter who have then been arrested,” he said.

Hibs fans Andrew Whitson, 28, of Kitchener Crescent, Longniddry and Paul Swan, 39, of Coronation Place, Tranent became the first people to be convicted under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act last week when they admitted singing songs that were “of a racially derogative nature” on a train between Ayr and Glasgow.

They were fined a combined £380.

A Scottish Government spokesman added: “This legislation will have no impact on the banter and passionate support that goes hand in hand with supporting football teams, which are part of the competition and rivalry that is the lifeblood of the sport.

“It is about eradicating sectarianism and other unacceptable expressions of hate from our national game.

“The overwhelming majority of football fans who have been supporting their teams in the true spirit of the game for years therefore have absolutely nothing to fear.

“In fact it is designed to improve their experience, ensuring they can focus on football and not be distracted by the mindless, hateful prejudices of a small minority.”