Is this the start of a better era in Scottish football? A more accepting and acceptable face to that of the past, where deep divisions and outright hatred has found fertile ground? It could be, if we take the opportunity now to demand more from our clubs and the SFA.
In an Ibrox direction, in recent weeks in quick succession we’ve seen:
- The launch of their Anyone, Everyone campaign of inclusiveness;
- The outcome of UEFA charges related to racist (sectarian) behaviour during the match against St Josephs and punishment of a loss of 3,000 seats for an upcoming fixture;
- A strong statement from Rangers FC detailing that such behaviour will not be tolerated;
- A follow up from Steven Gerrard which praises the fans passion while criticising them ‘letting down’ the club when the discriminatory songbook comes out;
- A statement by the Union Bears in response to the loss of seating and seeming criticism their way by the club;
- Further UEFA charges announced relating to racist (sectarian) behaviour in the away leg against Legia Warsaw (incidentally a team which has its own chequered history of racist and discriminatory behaviour with UEFA);
- A further statement from Rangers being clear of the standard expected of Rangers fans in supporting their team;
- A statement from supporters group Club 1872 echoing the Rangers FC sentiments about behaviour at Rangers games;
- A return leg where, under provocation of banners clearly intended to incite, the Rangers fans behaviour was impeccable;
- News breaking (of uncertain and disputed provenance) of a possible third investigation relating to a performance against Midtjylland; then
- Today the scheduled hearing by UEFA of that second charge.
[Edit 30/8/19 at 12:12 – since posting of this article many media outlets who ran the story regarding the potential third charge have retracted it seemingly under UEFA confirmation that they were not aware of it. Also subsequently the charges mentioned in the final bullet point have been upheld and as a result 3000 seats will once again be empty for the next European home game – end of edit]
Meanwhile, both Celtic and Rangers have qualified for the Europa group stage and the co-efficient is already guaranteed to improve by the end of the campaign.
There’s been less to say about developments over Parkhead direction, though it is noteworthy that their match in Sweden was marred by clashes with stewards wielding batons and police. Early video footage appears to indicate this looks heavy-handed by the officials – and Celtic appear to believe Hammarby fans were in that section – but no clear picture of what happened is yet available.
While this rumbled along, the Scottish Football Supporters Association – an organisation representing all fans of Scottish football that is actually independent from the SFA and answerable to such fans – raised the issue of domestic strict liability again, promising a white paper on the subject and a desire that it should be free from government interference (something UEFA would likely insist on to be fair).
Many Rangers fans – and this is reflected in the Club 1872 statement – are suspicious of the motives of the organisation FARE and their role in the scrutiny and reporting of their European matches. Whether concerns have merit or not, the nature of FARE itself need be factored into consideration. The group Football Against Racism in Europe is by its raison d’être specifically aimed at the examination of racism (Article 14 infractions in UEFA’s rulebook) and not other forms of misbehaviour such as pyrotechnics, crowd disturbances etc. It has an established place and support within the European Community that has made clear its opposition to racism and other discriminatory behaviour and most importantly – the organisation has made a sustained difference in the acceptability of discriminatory behaviour in European football. There may be individuals linked to FARE that have a Celtic-leaning and Rangers may well receive more scrutiny than other clubs do. That is a circumstance that has come about by the voracity and regularity or discriminatory behaviour from the Ibrox stands though. Sustained over-scrutiny and reporting of minor infractions after a pattern of established behaviour like last nights would be justified if it happened, but it just hasn’t yet.
“Whatboutery” based on punishments for different natured infractions (many of which Celtic have been had action taken against them by UEFA for over the years) are misplaced. When punishments for Article 14 infractions are examined, UEFA’s approach is measured, firm and consistent.
A more apt strand of “whataboutery” might be to equate discriminatory chants and songs with those revelling in culture (perceived or otherwise) which are not explicitly discriminatory but might be considered offensive. This is of course a problem which the ill-fated OBFA in Scotland also wrestled. From a UEFA perspective however there appears to be some tolerance of political messages as part of societal issues that it can do little about. Football fans will always be antagonistic, always likely to hold shared values and the political landscape always evolving. It is an area in which case law is less clear as to when and why UEFA may step in.
The rationale and logic being applied are certainly worth close examination. While to date, the message being given to fans by clubs has primarily been what not to do, actually understanding the process rather than a focus on a ‘banned list’ provides a much better starting point for working out how best to keep the atmosphere and keenly watched rivalry while advancing in the modern world. On social media the issues have been debated for the most part sensibly and with less of the normal tribal antagonism than has been the case in the past.
The clubs though have been at the sharp end of this for a long time. They have been involved in the UEFA decision making progress and they have been responsible for taking the right actions at the right time in their own interests.
The SFA too are responsible for ensuring comparable standards of protections in Scottish football to that UEFA do in European football. They are supposed to be the moral compass of the game ensuring fairness and societal standards.
Arguably too the SPFL (and before that the SPL and SFL) have responsibilities to act in the combined best interests of the clubs they represent.
There is no recognisable fan voice (much to our chagrin) to add to this, but that’s a campaign for another day.
The rest of this series of articles will examine the case law surrounding these issues and what our clubs and associations ought to be doing.
Part 2 continues here