Police chief says sectarianism at football is now ‘normal’

One of Scotland’s most senior police officers has said there are concerns about rising disorder and sectarianism at football matches.

Police officers working at the football. Picture: SNS
Police officers working at the football. Picture: SNS

Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said he is surprised at how “normal” sectarianism and aggression towards police is from some fans.

He said recent incidents included a flare being thrown at a police horse, officers being pulled from horses and others being spat at and attacked.His comments came as Police Scotland said they are investigating reports of sectarian singing at Tynecastle on Wednesday when Hearts lost 2-1 to Celtic, as well as reports of coins being thrown from the away stand during the match.

Police are also looking into footage which was posted on social media of what appears to be Celtic fans chanting offensive comments about former manager Brendan Rodgers in an Edinburgh bar.

The force appealed for anyone with information about these incidents to get in contact. Speaking at a Scottish Police Authority board meeting in Greenock, Mr Kerr said: “The vast majority of fans who go to these football matches 
do so entirely peacefully and just want to enjoy the wonderful spectacle that is Scottish football.

“But what I’ve been surprised at over the last six months, particularly when it comes to behaviour at football matches, has been two things. One has been that level of sectarianism on display and I say that having policed in Northern Ireland for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve been surprised at how much it is seen as normal… It feels almost visceral in a way I haven’t experienced for quite a while.”

Mr Kerr added: “I’ve also been surprised just at the 
level of disorder on display at the some of the football matches and we have been concerned, particularly over the last 12 months, that there has been a rise in both disorder, that type of offensive behaviour and the levels of aggression to police officers.

“We’ve had officers pulled off horses, spat at, attacked – very aggressive behaviour towards them. We had a police horse which had pyrotechnic flare thrown at it a couple of weeks ago and was injured to the extent it had to go to the vet.

“Again, I’ve been surprised that the consistently thuggish behaviour of a very small number of fans is considered normal. This is not normal. It is a sport.

“On both fronts there is a responsibility and a need for everybody, including the police service, to collectively challenge ourselves about how much that’s considered normal and what we can actually do to address it.”

Questioned if the force has data to indicate rising levels of sectarianism and disorder he said the rise is “hard to quantify” and is based on feelings of officers policing the matches, but there is growing public concern.

Mr Kerr said clubs, fans, police and councils all need to look at what can be done differently to change this behaviour “from being normal to being unacceptable”.

He said part of that will be enforcement but “we’re certainly not going to arrest our way out of this”.

An independent review of policing at football matches in Scotland is due to be launched next week.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “Decent, proper fans are disgusted at what these so-called supporters are up to.

“Violent and sectarian behaviour needs stamping out. It’s time to look seriously at escalating penalties, for example the possibility of shutting sections of grounds.”