With Rangers fans breaching Covid-19 guidelines to celebrate the end of a taxing nine years, questions must be asked regarding violence associated with Scottish football as fans wreak havoc on the streets of Glasgow.
On 7 March, hundreds of Rangers fans encroached upon Glasgow’s historic George Square, where they showed their city pride by destroying one of Glasgow’s most loved public spaces. Despite warnings that a gathering could cause a spike in Covid-19 cases, Rangers fans celebrated their claim of the 55th Scottish Premiership championship title by popping off firecrackers, destroying property and gallivanting around George Square and Ibrox whilst ignoring Covid restrictions. Celtic’s previous nine-year reign was ended after their tie with Dundee United, allowing Rangers to win their first title in ten years.
The success of Rangers is not something that should be ignored: the team remains unbeaten this season. However, the reactions of their fans have not only caused over £11,000 worth of damage but also incited fear into the citizens of Glasgow who were forced to run to their homes and hide from the loud commotion of the evening. The fans’ alleged love and pride for their city was not reflected through the damage caused to memorial benches, flowerbeds, and other greenery in the city centre.
Issues regarding Glasgow derby fans have been brought up in the past, especially in regards to violence. In 2017, an investigation by the Scottish Sun revealed a rise in domestic violence attacks after Old Firm matches: the statistics indicated a 21% rise in violence on game nights, and accounts from victims supported the assumption that the derbies led to heavy drinking and abuse. However, in 2018 these findings were questioned by publications like the Herald, deemed misleading under the claims that blaming football consequently disregards the underlying causes of domestic abuse. Many argued that the rise in domestic violence cases was due to more policing on derby nights as well as an increase in drinking, claiming that neither of these are real causes of violence. While it is obviously the case that football in itself does not cause violence, the aftermath of the George Square rampage supports the claim that some extreme fans use these matches to inflict violence upon others. Moreover, the trends of violence point to a problem in the way that football fan culture supports heavy drinking during matches and rage directed at the winning team.
On 21 March the police warned against fans appearing at the Old Firm derby in an attempt to prevent another incident like the one in Ibrox and George Square; thankfully, fans took heed of this warning and followed the “stay at home” order that was established due to Covid-19. The BBC shared that fans were even praised for their ability to follow directions by assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins. The derby took place behind closed doors, making it impossible for fans to actively observe the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Although the fans obeyed the regulations, the police were instructed to stay on standby throughout the night waiting for violence to occur, which reflects the expected and tolerated behaviour of football fans.
This upcoming Sunday, 18 April, the two Old Firm teams will compete at the Scottish Cup fourth round in Ibrox. This match will be watched by many, especially as Rangers are undefeated by Celtic this season, and Celtic will give everything they have to defend the title they have claimed for the past four years. Rangers are record holders for the Scottish Cup, but have not won in over a decade, which will make them and their fans very eager for a victory. There is bound to be many emotions from both the winning and losing team, so we can only hope that these emotions are contained and expressed in a professional, well-spirited manner. There have not been any official police warnings about congregating at or after the event, and with lockdown restrictions easing in the following weeks it seems likely that many will be tempted to go against current regulations. We can only hope that the behaviour seen at the derby on 21 March be repeated again this weekend, despite the high stakes of the match. This derby will be an exciting event for many, will be a great form of escapism for those struggling with the restrictions of the pandemic and will provide an opportunity for fans to come together; this derby will be a positive event if fans do not turn to violence and law-breaking to cope with their emotions.
Football fans are not problematic in themselves, the same way that football isn’t problematic in itself, but the culture surrounding the fandom leads to the violence that we saw displayed in George Square. This culture takes the emphasis off of the teams and games and directs it towards the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic fans. The Rangers fans should have felt prideful and patriotic at the news of their victory – instead, many felt the urge to destroy their city and flaunt their success at the risk of others.
The behaviour of the Rangers fans on 7 March was violent, unsafe and destructive to the city of Glasgow. The fans have raised funds to repay the damages they brought upon the physical properties destroyed, but the fear their behaviour instilled cannot be compensated nor forgotten. Football matches are meant to evoke team spirit, comradery and regional pride, bringing together different people to support a common goal. The Rangers’ fans behaviour does not mimic these values.