When did it stop being ‘Just a Game’?

By Graham Baird

With the Old Firm meeting for an unprecedented seven times this season, the Scottish media have now started to focus on the issues the game brings with it and what can be expected on a ‘normal’ Old Firm weekend in the country.

Before we start to look at the various aspects of the story, it has to be said that yes, the Old Firm clash represents one of football’s oldest rivalries. And yes, the Old Firm game can get the passions flowing from even the coolest cucumber in the bunch. But when you look at the effect the clash is now having on our culture, it makes for a damning realisation about how Scotland as a country appear to find it acceptable for violence and hostile behaviour to accompany this fixture.

It would appear that on each occasion Celtic and Rangers meet, the number of police incidents, hospital admissions and domestic abuse cases all increase dramatically. Coincidence? Well, maybe if you view the world with your eyes shut.

Old Firm violence

It has been suggested this week by certain professional bodies that Old Firm games be banned, citing the effect and strain it is having on our police resources. On Monday, Les Gray, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, suggested the Old Firm clashes be scrapped, citing the loss of life and violence which goes hand in hand with the clash as the reasons for doing so.

This is an issue which has been overlooked, disregarded or blissfully ignored for too long, and Scotland as a whole must now deal with. It has been allowed to spiral out of control to the extent where the problems are swept under the carpet in an attempt to save face and glamorise the encounters without promoting the violence which follows. Action has to be taken…not later, not when it’s convenient, but now! What better time to stamp the authority of the law down on the very people who cannot see past the violence which accompanies an Old Firm game, but in the season the Glasgow rivals will play each other seven times.

This sort of conduct is generally accepted as a way of life in Scotland. This attitude is nothing short of disgraceful when you consider we are talking about a football game. Nothing more than twenty two men running about on a field for ninety minutes representing a rivalry between two clubs.

Is it acceptable that on four occasions each season,(albeit seven this season) we expect more violence, domestic abuse cases to rise and for our hospitals to be completely overrun dealing with the aftermath of the game. Absolutely not.

On the 2nd of January this year the teams met at Ibrox with Celtic running out 2-0 winners on the day. Some time after the match, I spoke with an NHS nurse who informed me about some disturbing details of the chaos which ensued after the game. With the A & E department at Glasgow Royal Infirmary already stretched to the core, the hospital were forced to stop taking admissions before midnight, instead having to direct people to other medical establishments in the city. The reason for the closure? They didn’t have the staff numbers to deal with the influx of people who had already been admitted to the emergency department, never mind the people who were en route to the hospital. Such was the rise in admissions this day the hospital could not deal with the incidents they were presented with. The idea of this scenario is hard to comprehend, that the increase in patients was so steep an A & E department had to close its doors.

In another damning assessment recently revelled after one of the latest Old Firm games, the 2-2 draw between the teams on the 20th of February, Strathclyde Police reported yet another rise in domestic abuse cases on this given day. A daily Sunday average of 87 reported incidents almost doubled on the day the two teams met. To think that because the team you support lost to your oldest rivals, you would go home after the match and beat your partner is an absolutely shocking contemplation, which surely the average level headed person could not possibly fathom.

From this we have to then ask ourselves, as a society, why we think this sort of conduct is acceptable and why it should be tolerated? For every one step this country takes forward in the battle against sectarianism, bigotry and Old Firm related violence, in the aftermath of an Old Firm game it must be realised we’ve taken two colossal steps back.

Life is precious, yet here in Scotland on four occasions in the football league calendar, people are prepared to put it on the line all for the sake of a game of football. Surely with the problem reaching breaking point, we now as a society have to take action. Do we educate the population about the detrimental effects an Old Firm game can generate, introduce this subject to education, teaching our young about how life is in fact to valuable to be wasted for such a senseless purpose or start handing out significant jail sentences’ for people found to be in breach of the law, with the Old Firm game at the core of the issue.

I believe you also have to look at both clubs and question whether or not they are doing enough to try and stamp this vile ritual not only out of football, but out of Scotland. I’m not suggesting the Old Firm are the football police, but the ‘fans’ who choose to engage in the foolish behaviour before and after the Old Firm games listen to what the clubs preach. Surely this should be seized upon, with the clubs helping the Scottish government and Scottish Police Forces address this ever-growing issue in Scotland.

For what is only a game of football, why must people view this fixture as a life or death situation? It should be a time when the great rivals come together and produce an entertaining game of football which can be enjoyed by both sets of fans and neutrals alike. Instead what we get is ninety minutes of sectarian driven bile, which then spills out onto the streets with people choosing to abandon all rationale…all for the sake of a GAME OF FOOTBALL?!

Until some sort of action is taken, this situation will only continue to get worse. How far will this country let the issue escalate before it decides to take the drastic action required which would hopefully quell the violence and brutality that accompanies an Old Firm clash in Scotland.

One Response to When did it stop being ‘Just a Game’?

  1. Well said. It seems that people across Scotland (not just football fans) now readily accept that violence and mayhem are all part of Old Firm day.

    While it’s impossible to stop all the trouble, more needs to be done. The lunch-time kick-offs on a Saturday or Sunday don’t do a great deal, other than keep the trouble away from the stadium. Instead fans just get boozed up afterwards and then the trouble starts.

    Personally I’d go for more midweek games. It’s no miracle cure but at least some people who are due to work the next day might think twice before kicking off. There will be less scope for fans to spend all day in the pub before the game either.

    Hopefully events tonight don’t prove me wrong.

    .

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