FOOTBALL supporters could be allowed to drink inside grounds for up to two hours before games as part of a move to lift the 35-year-old alcohol ban in Scotland.
Labour leader Jim Murphy said football fans in Scotland are not “knuckle-dragging neanderthals” and should be trusted to have a drink. He was speaking after hosting a summit with clubs and fans yesterday.
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But it came as several leading doctors and anti-violence campaigners raised serious concerns about it being lifted.
Murphy met football clubs and supporters’ groups at Hampden to discuss the issue.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “The perception of Scottish football supporters as knuckle-dragging neanderthals is over.
“That’s almost a parody of the 1980s. I go to football every week and the people I see are not second-class citizens, they’re adults they can behave themselves.”
The ban was initially imposed after a riot at the 1980 Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Celtic but alcohol can be served in corporate hospitality areas of football stadiums.
SFA corporate chief Darryl Broadfoot said Scotland’s match with Nigeria in London a few years ago saw fans allowed to drink inside the stadium for two hours before kick-off with a 15-minute window before the game start. This is because fans are allowed a drink at games south of the Border.
Mr Broadfoot said: “There were no arrests. What we have to do is look seriously at whether two hours is viable, but certainly an hour or an hour and a half, which may be dictated by other fixtures. If we can commit to making it family-friendly, the window of consumption is immaterial if it’s controlled and for that defined period.”
The summit at Hampden heard from safety officers at the Old Firm who said the current situation encourages binge drinking in pubs before games.
Mr Murphy said: “They spoke about how the current arrangements force a culture of last-minute drinking before going to a game and encourage last-minute arrivals.
“They crowd into the bars near the stadium and have that culture of drink as much as you can before you get into the stadium.”
The proposals would mean fans still cannot take drink into matches. They would be able to buy drink in the concourse areas of stadiums and consume it there, but not take it to their seats.
Andrew Jenkin of Supporters Direct Scotland said fans back the move and drinking in the “controlled environment” of stadiums would make it safer.
But senior figures from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), the Violence Reduction Unit and Alcohol Focus Scotland voiced concerns in an open letter on the issue.
They argued that there are “important reasons” to maintain the current arrangements for the control of alcohol availability in football grounds.
They also voiced disappointment at what they said was a lack of discussion with them in the consultations taking place.
The letter stated: “These discussions need to go well beyond the world of football. This is not merely a matter of ‘consulting with the fans’.
“Alcohol’s impact on health, families, work and safety goes much wider than those attending the game and those hoping to profit from the sale of alcohol should not have the dominant voice in discussions.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is ‘’far from convinced’’ about removing it, warning against “taking a step backwards”.
Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has also said he would be “extremely concerned’’ at any proposal to change the law. But he added that, if a consultation finds public support for the idea, police would enter into formal discussions with the footballing authorities.