Scotland’s not the only country to suffer from “fitba” related violence, and neither is it the only sport nor is now the only period of history when such misbehaviour has occurred. I recall semi-humorous chats with a senior police officer who like me was an amateur historian, about the riots that occurred in Ancient Byzantium following chariot races. Ironically in Constantinople, the teams even sported the colours of blue and green.
It’s also not known whether the disorder that broke out on Sunday was linked to the Old Firm fixture but all the circumstantial evidence certainly points that way. Moreover, it wasn’t simply the horrific injuries inflicted in the Merchant City but wider disorder that took place across the country, some as ever unnoticed and behind closed doors.
Of course, that’s not the fault of the clubs who can’t be held responsible for the actions of individuals far away from the ground and which they rightly condemn. But let’s be under no illusions about football exceptionalism. For sure, there’s a wider social malaise at play but it’s also commercialised and institutionalised by the game. It’s not occurring in rugby or in any other sport but only in the supposedly beautiful game.
It was for that reason the much-maligned Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was brought in. It did have limitations and even a few flaws but they were being ironed out by High Court decisions and police practice. Football-related behaviour was improving and violence was reducing.
It’s gloating removal by James Kelly MSP and Holyrood teammates was all about playing to the gallery and hammering the Scottish Government – not improving the game.
Now the legislation’s gone and the situation has worsened and Kelly and his ilk are to blame. The Act is not coming back but action needs taken.
Clubs need to step up and recognise that if they don’t regulate, then Parliament will. Refusing to take action for fan misbehaviour’s no longer acceptable as the public, not just the police, demand action.
A self-regulated and limited liability scheme is needed or football will find they’ve lost control of the game.