Slagging people off is part of football culture
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