Why football fans are right to feel victimised by Police Scotland

Six bottles of buckfast, a couple of tins of Fosters, two cans of Strongbow Dark Fruits and MD 20/20.

Police watch over football fans. Picture: SNS/Roddy Scott

I know what you are thinking. A few pals have gone round to a mate’s house on a Saturday night. They’ll document their antics on Snapchat. They’ll listen to Gerry Cinnamon on repeat. Maybe increase the cultured stakes by divulging in some Oasis. The night finishes with one of the group fast asleep with a chair on his head, devoid of eyebrows.

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Well, you’re wrong. Those are the drinks which South Ayrshire Police “seized” from a busload of Ayr United fans making their way to Greenock for their Championship clash with Morton on Saturday.

Not only did the police spoil a group of supporters’ day out but they gloated about their haul on social media as if they were a crack division of the LAPD who had just foiled a mammoth arms shipment with a Pablo Escobar size of drugs thrown in for good measure.

The tweet on Saturday evening rankled with thousands of football fans across the country. The post is still visible on the police branch’s Twitter.

On the social media platform users talk about the ‘ratio’. If a tweet has significantly more replies than it does retweets or likes then you can guess it has been controversial, offensive and/or plainly wrong.

At the time of writing it has 578 retweets, 1,224 likes and more than 4,700 thousands replies - twice as many as were in attendance at Cappielow for the Morton v Ayr clash.

It is the latest incident where football fans feel victimised and persecuted for being football fans. The word choice may be hyperbolic but it is the current strength of feeling among match-going fans.

This is not a case of castigating Police Scotland. It is a difficult, unenviable and essential job.

Since the beginning of May 2018 there have been news stories on Scottish police numbers falling to nine-year low, officers feeling fatigued and frustrated, the public being at risk over insufficient staffing levels and cuts being just enough to keep the lights on as morale lowers.

You can argue the officers were simply doing their job, it is against the law for alcohol to be open, or have been opened, in a motor vehicle. But looking at the bigger picture it is acceptable to ask the following questions. Is ‘seizing’ 11 bottles/cans of alcohol the best use of police resources? Is it wise to then boast about it on social media when the public image of Police Scotland isn’t at its best?

Maybe not and definitely not are the answers to those questions.

As football fans we have all had our experiences of dealing with heavy-handed, obdurate and authoritarian police officers; whether it is just simply attempting to get into watch a game or trying to enjoy a few beverages before or after the match to either make the 90 minutes bearable or help forget what we had just suffered.

On travelling back from Kirkcaldy by train one Sunday evening following a Scottish Cup draw between Raith Rovers and Heart of Midlothian, a friend of this writer had a small crate of lager confiscated by an officer who proceeded to make sure we all saw him bin the alcohol.

It was after 9pm, the time at which you are no longer able to drink on trains. However, in this instance, the lager was unopened and in a plastic bag. What if he had done a small shop and had a loaf of bread, some eggs and latest copy of the Beano?

It then sticks in the craw of football fans when they see rugby fans being encouraged to drink. Ahead of Scotland’s Six Nations match with Ireland at BT Murrayfield alcohol companies were handing out their own products for free.

Following that particular match, famed Scottish author Irvine Welsh hit out at the way football and rugby fans are treated differently in the country. It came after a poster had highlighted unflattering behaviour of some supporters who had attended the game.

Welsh has a point. There is a sense that rugby fans are celebrated whereas those that attend football are treated with suspicion. In away ends up and down the country there can be the feeling that you are part of a social experiment: filmed, penned in, ushered from one place to the next.

It isn’t just police who have this view. In Edinburgh it can be seen as an affront to request football on the television in certain pubs. One such watering hole refused a request to put on a match between Hibs and Rangers because ‘they don’t show Scottish football’ despite the bar being completely empty.

The Six Nations rolls around and the red carpet appears for rugby fans. Flags are draped around pubs and inflatable rugby posts take pride of place at entrances.

It is also difficult to imagine supporters ferrying rugby fans being stopped, alcohol being seized and paraded on social media.

This isn’t Scottish Rugby’s fault. The set-up at Murrayfield for matches should draw the envy of football fans. They create an experience: a show; something which can more than make up for any disappointment on the field.

Scottish football has to be more proactive in making bigger events of games, offering better experiences. However, that is a different issue and nor is this a call for alcohol to be sold at football.

This is about the respect, or more pertinently lack of respect for football fans by many important stakeholders in the country.

Supporters don’t help themselves at times but it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is an expectation that they will misbehave so they will misbehave. Some of the police operations at games scream ‘we don’t trust you one bit’.

Going by Saturday’s message from South Ayrshire Police that mistrust is set to continue as officers keep local communities safe from modest carry-outs.