Slag­ging peo­ple off is part of foot­ball cul­ture

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

IT IS now more than three years since I last paid into a foot­ball match in Scot­land. I have no in­ten­tion of putting an­other shilling of my hard-earned into the sport, at least at se­nior level, in the fore­see­able fu­ture either.

You may re­gard this as all rather rich from some­one whose very liv­ing has a di­rect re­la­tion­ship with the pro­fes­sional game. To other sportswrit­ers irked by reg­u­lar ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing free­loaders who give noth­ing back, I apol­o­gise forth­with for dam­ag­ing your most im­pas­sioned at­tempts to win round your de­trac­tors while brush­ing off the slob­ber and the fury.

The thing is, I just found my last visit to a match as a pay­ing punter to be such a wholly un­pleas­ant, joy­less or­deal. All beauty died that night.

To think, I was ob­sessed by foot­ball as a boy: play­ing Three-And-In and World Cup down the garages in my Peru strip; ab­sorb­ing ev­ery word of the Sun­day news­pa­per re­ports and cut­ting out the best bits for my scrap­books; over­com­ing any sem­blance of guilt and tak­ing the cheat’s op­tion by send­ing away a Postal Or­der for the last nine stick­ers re­quired to com­plete that year’s Panini al­bum.

Go­ing to games, par­tic­u­larly night­time ones, was a thrill, a treat, and some­thing to be looked for­ward to for weeks on end. The tick­ets from my ear­li­est matches with my old man re­main sa­cred me­men­toes, wee bits of pa­per stored safely in a box that will, in time, travel down through the dy­nasty along with all those pro­grammes, posters and pen­nants be­side them. And then be thrown out, prob­a­bly.

As a teenager, some of my hap­pi­est evenings were spent gam­bolling home – on oc­ca­sion, be­ing chased – from Ham­p­den Park to Glas­gow city cen­tre af­ter Scot­land matches and stop­ping off in a wee pub near The Gor­bals to warm the cock­les. I am sure it was called Scotch Cor­ner, al­though I wouldn’t bet on it.

The first time I got served was in a sta­dium be­side a foot­ball ground. Three pints of Tar­tan Spe­cial. No ques­tions asked, no ID given.

It is th­ese sweet rec­ol­lec­tions that made Celtic ver­sus Raith Rovers on Septem­ber 25, 2012, so painful.

My old chum Eric, be­friended dur­ing a spec­tac­u­larly boozy foot­ball trip to Por­tu­gal in the early 1990s and a com­pan­ion across con­ti­nents with the na­tional side and our “English team” in in­ter­ven­ing years, had a spare ticket for the Rovers end.

I have a soft spot for Rovers, hav­ing been on work­ing duty in Mu­nich the night they al­most top­pled Bay­ern and I’m still tick­led by mem­o­ries of chas­ing Tommy McLean and his then lawyer, Jock Brown, round the Stark’s Park car park af­ter Tommy had quit to join Dundee United.

All told, it seemed a per­fectly pleas­ant way to pass an evening. It wasn’t.

There could only have been a cou­ple of hun­dred in the away end. Even so, we were sub­jected to the full treat­ment on the way in the form of mounted po­lice and loud men in hel­mets.

Bags were searched and, from mem­ory, even cig­a­rette pack­ets were ex­am­ined. It was al­most enough to bring on one of those claus­tro­pho­bic flash­backs to the days of be­ing frisked on the way into those all-nighters at The Plaza at Eglin­ton Toll.

It seemed, to me, that peo­ple were be­ing ejected from the ground for very lit­tle in­deed. Po­lice and stew­ards filmed every­thing. I am con­vinced my retina suf­fered a de­gree of dam­age dur­ing the sec­ond half as a re­sult of be­ing too close to the pha­lanx of large men wear­ing yel­low, hi-vis jack­ets in the aisle to my im­me­di­ate right.

Out of the Raith Rovers song­book, I only know the words to Ge­ordie Munro, but sat on my hands for fear of do­ing or say­ing some­thing that might be termed in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Foot­ball has moved on from the 1980s and be­hav­iour in­side grounds has had to change, but does it re­ally have to be so ster­ile and, dare I say, in­tim­i­dat­ing?

The po­lice, I guess, are do­ing their jobs, fol­low­ing or­ders from above. Cer­tainly, as the protest at the re­cent Mother­well-Celtic match sug­gested, the Of­fen­sive Be­hav­iour at Foot­ball and Threat­en­ing Communications (Scot­land) Act seems to be at the heart of much of this.

Foot­ball is eat­ing it­self, too, though. Ram­bling tan­noy an­nounce­ments threat­en­ing ex­pul­sion for the slight­est in­fringe­ment of the SPFL Code of Con­duct are now com­mon­place. Go­ing to the foot­ball is sup­posed to be fun and, tar and feather me for say­ing it, songs slag­ging other peo­ple off are all part of the cul­ture.

Manch­ester City are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by UEFA be­cause their fans booed the Cham­pi­ons League an­them be­fore their match with Sevilla last week. Where will this end?

Hearts are in the process of iden­ti­fy­ing the in­di­vid­u­als who at­tacked a Ross County sup­port­ers’ bus at the week­end. The lan­guage be­ing used by the club has been un­com­pro­mis­ing and un­der­stand­ably so, even though we are hardly talk­ing about the Ed­in­burgh equiv­a­lent of the Los An­ge­les riots here.

They must be care­ful, though. It seems too many sup­port­ers now feel them­selves un­der un­fair scru­tiny be­cause of the mis­con­duct of the few.

When the bad eggs have been dealt with, things must re­turn to nor­mal be­cause Tynecas­tle is one sta­dium in which we can­not have what is a truly unique at­mos­phere com­pro­mised. If that goes, the ball re­ally is burst.

TO­MOR­ROW Kevin Fer­rie

Go­ing to the foot­ball is sup­posed to be fun and, tar and feather me for say­ing it, songs slag­ging other peo­ple off are all part of the cul­ture

ACT­ING UP: Celtic fans un­veiled a ban­ner call­ing on the SNP to re­vise the Act that has af­fected match­days

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