MINISTERS were asked to intervene to differentiate between “good natured” Scottish football fans from their violent English counterparts, newly released files have revealed.
Documents relating to the 1998 World Cup show government officials in Edinburgh became exasperated by suggestions that the tournament could be tarnished by British football hooligans.
In response they attempted to emphasise the amiable and peaceful nature of the Tartan Army and distance it from the “shaven-headed thugs” who had damaged England’s reputation.
In the build-up to the competition the then Home Secretary Jack Straw hosted a high-profile press conference where he warned that tough sanctions would be taken against “British supporters” who caused trouble in France.
His broad-brush approach infuriated Scottish Office civil servants who pointed out that the legal measures he described did not apply north of the Border.
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A memo to Scottish ministers, which has been opened and placed in the National Archives in Edinburgh, states: “These provisions are all aimed principally at English hooligans and the current restriction order scheme covers only England and Wales.
“As ministers know, Scottish supporters have a much better reputation for trouble-free support of the Scottish team abroad.
“I would recommend that the Secretary of State write to the Home Secretary highlighting the different legislative and presentational issues in Scotland.”
Another document from March 1998 reveals that the Scottish Office responded by organising a press conference of its own.
The letter states: “There is merit in maximising press interest in the distinct Scottish dimension to the World Cup on the 25th when it will be possible to emphasise (discreetly) the difference between English and Scottish fans and their respective reputation for good behaviour.”
In the build-up to the tournament Scottish civil servants were issued with an EU-commissioned report on football and violence.
The dossier notes that Scottish supporters have a history of award-winning good behaviour. In stark contrast, the section on English supporters stated heavy drinking could lead to disorder: “Inter-club rivalry is put to one side and hooligans from different clubs join together in support of the national team.
“Many supporters will display extreme nationalistic tendencies when abroad.”
Hamish Husband of the West of Scotland Tartan Army welcomed the release of the documents.
He said: “It is disappointing but not surprising that the British government of the time could not distinguish between Scottish and English football fans and were totally oblivious to the worldwide reputation of the Tartan Army for friendliness and good humour.”