Police Scotland and league bosses deny rift over Old Firm fixture

Two mounted police officers control the crowds outside Ibrox.''Picture: Submitted
Two mounted police officers control the crowds outside Ibrox.''Picture: Submitted

Police Scotland has said it considered holding the upcoming Old Firm match on at least two other dates before agreeing to the Hogmanay fixture.

The decision to schedule the match between Rangers and Celtic on 31 December has been criticised, including by the Scottish Police Federation, which described the decision as “absolutely unbelievable”.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said the force had initially inquired about playing the match on Wednesday 28 December and had also considered Monday 2 January before settling on 31 December – the first time an Old Firm game has ever been played on New Year’s Eve.

Mr Higgins said playing the game on 28 December had not been possible due to a full fixture list that day, but he denied suggestions that Police Scotland had clashed with the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) over the issue.

Speaking to a Sunday newspaper, Mr Higgins said: “We asked the SPFL if we could have it on 28 December and that wasn’t possible because there’s a full fixture list. We looked at 2 January and again, for other reasons, that wasn’t possible either.”

Speaking earlier this year, Chief Constable Phil Gormley said there was a “compelling logic” for playing the match at 12:15pm on Hogmanay, due to the availability of public transport and the ability to get fans away from the stadium at full-time.

But the police federation, which represents rank and file officers, said it was “ridiculous” to play Scottish football’s most high-profile fixture on what is traditionally one of the police service’s busiest days.

And the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said the decision was “senseless”, warning there were “obvious concerns” about longer drinking time and pressure on the emergency services.

In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Higgins said: “As part of the engagement with partners around fixtures, ­other dates were considered and – for a range of reasons – 
31 December remained the day in which this game would be played.

“These discussions were both entirely professional and pragmatic. We agreed that we could police the event on that date and asked for the kick-off time to be brought forward.”

He added: “It is well within the capability of Police Scotland to meet the demand of that day, both in football terms and the wider Hogmanay celebrations.”

A spokesman for the SPFL said: “The broadcaster [Sky Sports] originally asked for the match to be moved to Sunday lunchtime for live broadcast.

“This was taken to Police Scotland who advised that the sought scheduling was not acceptable and requested that the fixture be scheduled for Saturday lunchtime.

“We took the Police Scotland request to Sky Sports who agreed.”