Not a weekend goes by without fans of Celtic and Rangers watching their ‘rivals’ and subsequently complaining on social media about the songs said rival fans had sung. Whether it is complaining about Rangers fans singing sectarian or racist songs such as ‘The Billy Boys’ or ‘The Famine Song’ or complaining about Celtic fans singing songs in support of the IRA.
At the moment, there is nothing the Scottish Football governing bodies can do to the clubs so anyone complaining is wasting their time. There are legal ramifications of singing those songs but as the Chief Executive of the SFA once famously said ‘You cant arrest a whole stadium’. He is right but this shrug of the shoulders, we are doing everything we can attitude is not good enough.
I have written previously about crowd issues within Scottish Football. Whether that is sectarianism, racism, homophobia, crowd disturbances and the displaying of pyrotechnics. If fans from a particular club misbehave, there are no ramifications if the club can prove they did all they could to prevent it. The Scottish Cup Final in 2016 is case and point in that regard. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Rangers regarding lack of punishment bestowed on Hibernian, not once did they allude to the introduction of Strict Liability which would have allowed real punishments to be levied.
Strict liability would make clubs responsible for all conduct associated with a game taking place in Scotland. This includes players, officials and perhaps more pertinently the conduct of fans.
Nil By Mouth, the Scottish based charity set up after the murder of a Celtic fan because of his religion, have launched a survey designed to gauge a response from fans as to whether they agree with the introduction of a form of strict liability.
The survey can be found here.
Some argue the survey has focused too much on sectarianism. Fundamentally, that is Nil By Mouth’s raison d’etre so for them to comment on the application of Strict Liability for any other disorder issue would be inappropriate.
I have long supported the introduction of Strict Liability but understand the reticence some have. There is a fear that we are using a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ but to do nothing is to be complacent in the fight against fan disorder.
Most people go to football games just to watch their team. Some argue, why punish the majority for the actions of a minority. It might be unfair but the current method employed by the governing bodies and clubs is not deterring people.
In my opinion, if strict liability was introduced in Scotland, there would have to be a few things implemented for it to work:
- It would need an extensive framework that could be referred to that would detail exactly what actions would result in disciplinary procedures being applied. This would need a list of any offensive songs in a proscribed list. This is something that the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act falls down on as that law is very subjective.
- It would also need an independent panel of observers that would be tasked with instigating disciplinary action. The requirement for independence here is especially prescient in Scotland as the suggestion of bias is always at the forefront.
I also would prefer the government to not have to legislate for strict liability. I would prefer the SPFL, SFA and the clubs to be adults about it and realise there is a problem and follow the lead of UEFA and other governing bodies such as the FA and the IFA but that doesn’t seem likely.
The governing bodies seem quick to accept government funding but seem to be unwilling to accept the government holding them to account when fan behaviour becomes unacceptable. They can’t have their cake and eat it.
If you are dead against strict liability, let your feeling be known in the Nil By Mouth survey and also take part in James Dornan MSP’ s public consultation. Get involved and let people know what could be done as an alternative but for me there isn’t anything else that would work.
Instead of complaining week in and week out about the sectarian and racist songs we hear in our grounds, lets implement a policy that will go some way to forcing clubs to act properly and rid Scottish football of its shame once and for all.