Old Firm: New era, age old problems

Published

Joe Mclean

Glasgow was named as Scotland’s ‘artistic powerhouse’ this week, once again proud to be called a City of Culture. Ironically this announcement came the day before the Scottish Government held their Old Firm summit at Holyrood, to discuss the mayhem surrounding the recent Celtic and Rangers games in the city, a game the government described as “disgraceful”.

On hearing the news of this artistic accolade, the pride and excitement of Glasgow’s civic leaders was hard to contain. As Council leader Gordon Matheson stated in a recent interview with The Evening Times “We are a city that innovates in performance and takes pride in its cultural legacy. We celebrate the past, always with an eye to investing in the future…Glasgow is unique”.

Glasgow is unique indeed, a proud City, built from profits of the empire and now changed beyond all recognition from the age of the industrial revolution and ship building, that made the city of Glasgow famous across the world. However, this ‘artistic powerhouse’ also has a seedier side to its cultured image, this schizophrenic element to the City, that can boast so much in the way of attracting tourists, also has the power to utterly horrify the same revenue generating tourists, with sights of the alcohol fuelled bigotry that plagues the streets on the day of an Old Firm game.

The summit has been denounced by some involved in football, as nothing more than political point scoring. But what we have to ask, is why do we find ourselves in a situation where Politicians have to step in, in order to try and sort out the embarrassment caused by this football fixture. In 2011, Glasgow is still haunted by the spectre of bigotry and hatred that fuels the violence, hooliganism and vandalism. Some so called ‘fans’ on both sides of the divide still associate themselves more with the outcome of the Battle of the Boyne than they do with present day Glasgow. They have not evolved to consider that this bigoted, narrow minded outlook has no place in society or in a football game in the 21st Century.

The question arises, How do we halt this downward slide? and How do we stop the mayhem spilling out onto our streets at the final whistle? These are the questions the police, the clubs and the politicians will debate over long and hard. Firstly, we have to get back to basics and remember, that as corny and cliched as it sounds, it is only a game. It is certainly not worth anyone dying over the outcome of this match. If I was able to make a suggestion at the summit, I would ask that both Celtic and Rangers hold a joint press conference in the week leading up to an Old Firm game, to show a unity and a stance against bigotry. The madness stems from what happens on the pitch, it is fuelled by alcohol and other social problems, but ultimately it comes from what happens on the football field. It is no coincidence that the more volatile the game, the more violence pours onto Glasgow’s streets.

Statistics from previous encounters have shown that on the day of a game, 300 arrests were made and domestic violence soared by 80%. Chief Constable Steve House commented that the games this season have put “an intolerable burden” on Strathclyde Police. A burden that is shared by the taxpayer, as it’s estimated this seasons games will cost £40 million in terms of policing, prosecutions and hospital care.

It is understood Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell and Rangers chief executive Martin Bain will attend the summit with Mr House, Mr Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Also attending will be Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan, Strathclyde Police director of communications Rob Shorthouse, Celtic security chief Ronnie Hawthorn, Rangers security chief David Martin, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster and SFL chief executive David Longmuir. Surely between this meeting of minds, they can come up with a solution on how to tackle the problems arising from this fixture.

Other suggestions would be to encourage players to applaud each other off the park, as they do in Rugby, to demonstrate to fans that the rivalry ends at the final whistle and to show that nothing should go beyond the football field. Players have to realise, their conduct significantly impacts on social issues, their behaviour, their reaction to referees decisions and the way they play the game has an impact on the lives of those who live and work in Glasgow and have to live cheek by jowl with the two foot balling powerhouses.