Henry McLeish: I'm concerned relationships between football and the Scottish government are at lowest ebb

As a nation we need to be concerned about what must be perceived as reputational damage to Scotland. Pandemic restrictions are still in place.

Rangers fans celebrate winning the title at George Square in Glasgow.
Rangers fans celebrate winning the title at George Square in Glasgow.

Glasgow is now spending time with further lockdowns. Against that background, we have thousands of people, so-called football supporters, marauding around in Glasgow’s city centre with no concern for the pandemic.

We are on the eve of the Euro 2020 tournament coming to Glasgow. It is a chance to showcase what a wonderful football loving city we have. People were looking in on these scenes – what were they thinking?

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I am concerned relationships between football and the Scottish government are at the lowest ebb that I have seen.

This is damaging because we need the government to be involved in football. We need football to be showing its positive side because the government is involved in investment, in youth development, in ground safety and a whole range of other matters.

We must not destroy that relationship. I fear recent events mean we are further down that line.

Like myself, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is angry about what is happening. The game must realise that government is better on their side than against them.

This is not the first issue that Rangers have been involved in this season as far as the pandemic is concerned. A bit like the strict liability discussions, the SFA, the SPFL and clubs must take far more responsibility for what is done and said in their name.

I am personally pleased that Rangers have climbed back from the dark days of a decade ago to be a major player again in the league. Along with Celtic, Hibs, Hearts and Aberdeen, these are the clubs we look to qualify for Europe on an annual basis and move the game forward.

In that context we do not need to turn the clock back in relation to fan behaviour. We want to be a progressive, modern country. There is no place for this mindless, reckless disorder which was deeply insulting to Glasgow. To turn George Square into a battlefield is no way to celebrate Rangers’ Premiership victory.

The relationship between football and the government concerns me. I want to see a good relationship between the two and I know for a fact this is not happening. People within football have got to realise that not all the country loves football. They must realise that the government represents the whole of the country.

I believe the government wants to have a good relationship with football. But let’s be in no doubt that events like last weekend do not enhance that possibility.

There have been endless discussions about who should tackle responsibility for what happens in football. That debate has not progressed.

I would challenge football and say we do not live in an era of entitlement.

There are no entitlements for the game now – we need to work hard to win the trust of government and win their investment. We must work hard to make sure we retain the confidence of the Scottish people.

In a great, football-loving city like Glasgow, we need to be careful that the behaviour of a few does not damage the incredible reputation it has as a city that loves its football.

When I was 12, I was at Hampden Park with 127,000 others watching Real Madrid versus Eintracht Frankfurt in the European Cup final, the greatest football game that was ever played on the planet. Where was it based? In Glasgow. Real Madrid conceived after the game that this was their second home. Of all the world’s greatest football tournaments and largest crowds, Glasgow still has the record.

I may be sentimental and a bit emotional about the game. But we cannot continue to undermine that fabulous history by the thuggish behaviour of a few. That is why I strongly feel that together we need to work towards more lasting solutions.

Since devolution, Scotland has become a more mature, more modern, more ambitious, and a more assertive nation. People must realise that the world is looking in on Scotland. Not just for Euro 2020, not just for what we are doing on the pandemic.

They are looking at Scotland to show the way forward for other parts of the United Kingdom. What we cannot do is self-harm ourselves by this behaviour. People might think I am taking the issues out of context, but people are looking in, they will make a judgement about our country. Sadly, it won’t be about the great things we are doing. It will be about the top-ranking story in the media last weekend.

On the government side, I know that it has invested in football over a long period, including when I was first minister. But you cannot continue to irritate and alienate the first minister and her cabinet ministers as football is doing. It may be a minority of fans. But at the end of the day, I think it is now time for the game itself to regain more trust and regain further investment by starting to put their own house in order.

The game is not doing enough in total. I do not think Glasgow Rangers are doing enough either – it is easy to say they have criticised those involved and I welcome that.

But this is 2021 – it is not 1960, or 1970. We must look at new ways of sanctioning those who have stepped out of line.

These people are causing untold damage. They may be celebrating Rangers’ success, but they are hurting the game. I call for the SFA, SPFL and Glasgow Rangers to review their outlook to government, society and to what is happening allegedly in their name. Now is the time to stamp out what is happening.

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