Please find to follow details of a communication sent to the Supporters Liaison Officers of all the Scottish Premier League clubs today. While bigotry within football affects all clubs it is often easy to dismiss it as a West of Scotland problem. To do so is to relax our own responsibilities to tackle a problem that has reared its head too often this season. Bigotry on any grounds is unacceptable. It happens in grounds all over our country. Self policing of fan behaviour by all the good souls within the crowd will be necessary to make sure the idiots are left in no doubt that it is their discrimination and prejudice that is unwelcome, not the object of their abuse.
Our first three suggestions can be taken on board within each club individually while the last three may require collaboration. The variation on Strict Liability will hopefully spark some debate.
We would dearly like to see fans of all clubs take a united front on this, supported and enabled by their various clubs.
[Sent to the SLO of all Premier League Teams]
Bigotry Within Scottish Football
In the wake of a number of unsavoury events in recent weeks, I thought it prudent to write to you all in regards to your roles within Scotland’s most prominent football teams and those around which such troublesome behaviour is most high profile. If you approve of the contents of this letter I would ask that your representatives share this with the members of your respective Boards for further consideration.
It has been our longstanding view that Scottish football is governed by an Association which is paralysed by self-interests, undemocratic in the exclusion of large groups of stakeholders and unable and unfit to implement the necessary changes needed in Scottish football both regarding bigotry and other immediate concerns. I would therefore ask that the clubs consider taking this matter into their own hands and reaching an all-party accord on tackling certain elements together and commitment to implementation of others within each club. Much as it is painted to the contrary – this affects clubs up and down the country.
The term ‘sectarian’ is of no immediate use to this discussion. The steps proposed can and should be extended to all forms of bigotry. The most prominent – all of which have featured in Scottish football this season – are bigotry on the grounds of race, sex, sexual preference, ethnicity, religion and persecution based on political beliefs. These are all considered ‘special categories’ under the recent General Data Protection Regulation across Europe due to their sensitivity. We do not believe there is any reason to consider any particular category of discriminatory behaviour as more acceptable than others as none are acceptable in wider society.
On a positive note, in wider society such bigotry and discrimination has mostly been dying out year by year as we all become more tolerant. Unfortunately football appears to have become a last noisy bastion of poor behaviour that lends an air of acceptability to unacceptable values. We welcome strongly the positive messages in dealing with this extolled by Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rogers. We also welcome Mr King’s strong statement that this will be addressed and that both Glasgow clubs have been consistent in public statements that this is unwelcome in football. We would now ask your support for active measures to curtail such behaviours. The first three relate to what clubs can individually do and the items four to six relate to collective measures.
1. ENGAGE WITH FANS: SELF-POLICING
The fans themselves are the first line of defence against all forms of bigotry. Clubs should engage fans groups about the values they hold and what is positive about the club and the elements that detract from that (SWOT analysis style). A club that has an identity and values to strive for with fans bought in can challenge behaviours that don’t fit in with this. This example from Germany shows a fan charter by way of example which is signposted throughout the stadium. Anyone breaching it faces banning orders imposed by the club. All fans can report persons breaching it on a match day. This requires support mechanisms from the clubs within stadiums and clear two-way communication with fans groups about what will is acceptable.
2. ENGAGE WITH FANS: ULTRAS
Embrace and encourage Ultras but set the parameters and expectations for conduct. They provide colour and noise that can replace the more unsavoury elements without subtracting from experience and atmosphere. They should be encouraged to drive on the team with songs and banners that extol what is great about the club not revelling in bigotry or hatred. Banter is great but the line hard to judge. Make sure there are open lines of communication with the club and clear consequences for breaches of trust that run contrary to the club values. The club itself should participate in this banter. Clubs such as Roma, Zenit, and Monchengladbach have formed strong international reputations for their social media banter. Gain proactively a strong club personality that fans will not want to tarnish. Be rightly proud of it and gain popularity around the world. Scotland has a world class banter game that isn’t thriving in football. German football contains good examples of how such groups can be ingratiated into the game.
3. ENGAGE WITH FANS: FAN GROUPS
Particularly in the age of social media, fans groups including forums and social media can form silos of socially unacceptable thinking. Often this spills over into outright sectarianism or other bigotry. While it’s unrealistic to expect such groups to control the content produced by all members, the ‘tone at the top’ should be reflective of the values of the club. Key among them that sectarianism and other bigotry is not welcome. Where such groups repeatedly or seriously fail to adhere to these values the clubs and wider fan base should seek to publically distance themselves from such pariah views. This could involve icons or symbols of such groups being banned from the stadium and refusal of admission to those identifying as such. Again, a strong and engaging club social media presence can help direct and control messages being sent out to fans of each club, ensuring that they stay close to the agreed club values.
4. ENGAGE WITH POLICE
Football fans often feel that they are treated unfairly by police and even criminalised unjustly. Clubs need to have fans backs on this but also engage proactively with the police to ensure atmospheres are fun but safe. Bigotry – including sectarianism – deserves to be criminalised but nobody of any club deserves to pre-empted as a bigot. The police have often cited not being able to do anything about large crowds engaging in sectarian chants or other illicit behaviour (pitch invasions etc). Have clear but steep punishments and each time it happens use either police presence or technology to publically pursue and prosecute at least a few of the perpetrators. Appropriately high penalties for doing so will soon deter others from participating. It has to be seen to be carried out and it has to be done with the clear support of the club. We would ask that the clubs take steps aimed at bringing treatment of football fans back in line with supporters of other sports. The sort of organised hooliganism that brought the measures in faded a generation ago. It is time to engage as adults and managing football fans based on their actual behaviour rather than anticipated behaviour. Severity of policing should depend on track records of clubs themselves and become a matter of pride. Blanket treatments – including alcohol bans on supporters buses – should be up for discussion and a carrot-and-stick approach to each clubs supporters adopted rather than treating all fans as potential criminals.
Additionally clubs should ensure that they clearly and actively help the police pursue their own fans when engaging in unacceptable behaviour and support them by banning orders and vociferous support of large fines if found guilty of an offence. This should extend to the use of security camera footage and seat allocation data, with facial recognition technology and such other identification means considered for future use. Punishing a few harshly even where many engage will soon act as a deterrent to the larger groups.
Nothing quite sends a message that something is unacceptable as much as solidarity. Make sure all teams regularly make a show (as they have done for racism for example) before games of decrying all forms of bigotry as unacceptable. Make a point of players of various teams attending the same charitable events and sending a clear message that the clubs stand together to drive this out of the game.
6. NOT-SO-STRICT LIABILITY
The 2 major problems most seem to have with strict liability are:
- Nobody trusts the SFA to oversee the effective implementation and to apply it without fear or fervour – particularly given recent inconsistencies in other matters within their remit; and
- There is always the risk of the odd lone lunatic (or fan of another team) getting the club on mass into trouble
There is no easy workable way to address these without fundamental SFA reform and trust being rebuilt (which we are working towards). What can however be done is a voluntary scheme. We suggests clubs work to agree on an impartial panel to see to oversee such incidences involving top flight clubs and issue suggested remedial penalties which go towards educational charities involved with anti-bigotry. Any club could of course refuse to pay but would face the appearance of not taking the issue seriously. If the reasons are just, then it could of course be explained away by a public statement. This drastically reduces the impediments to strict liability will retaining most of the benefits. Such penal matters as point deductions etc may not be possible under such a regime but other measures can be considered as confidence in its operation grows.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider our suggestions. Given the recent statements indicating real action will be taken to improve Scottish football for all our benefits, we are hopeful that concrete initiatives for how this can be achieved will be forthcoming.
Fans Without Scarves