BEFORE reading this column, a note of apology if the prose isn’t quite up to scratch. I am writing it in an office surrounded by football fans, and so naturally am a little on edge.

Two of them were arguing over the merits of playing Oliver Burke as a striker at the water cooler earlier, so there will no doubt be rampaging gangs of hooligans marauding through the canteen at any minute.

Forgive the facetiousness, but if you were to listen to certain politicians or hand-wringing commentators, then this is the sort of anarchy that football supporters are currently unleashing on Scottish society. Gie’s peace.

If only our national team was as good at point-scoring as those who carp from the sidelines of Scottish football about its ills and evils while probably having never been near a touchline in their puff.

At the moment, there is no doubt that there has been a rise in high-profile incidents of disorder and misconduct. These shouldn’t be belittled or downplayed, particularly when it comes to objects being thrown at players.

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The idiots who threw a coin at a linesman at Livingston, or a coin at Neil Lennon at Tynecastle, or a bottle at Scott Sinclair at Easter Road, or a firecracker at St Mirren keeper Vaclav Hladky should be called out, identified, charged and banned from setting foot inside a stadium for life. But what about the tens of thousands of other law-abiding, perfectly well-behaved supporters who attended those matches, backed their team and went up the road? Should they be tarred with the same brush as the lunatic fringe?

According to supporters of strict liability, not only should they too be punished, but the clubs as well. The major flaw in the thinking behind its introduction is the rather quaint notion that in the heat of the moment, these idiots give a millisecond of thought about the consequences of their actions on others. If they did, why would they throw objects at fellow human beings in the first place?

The truth is they wouldn’t be bothered by a stand closure or a points deduction for their team any more than they would if they had grievously injured the targets of their missiles. The only way to discourage the increasingly emboldened headbangers is to use the existing technology to identify them and then punish them to the full extent of the existing laws.

It may seem oxymoronic to describe a spate of shameful episodes like the ones described here as isolated incidents, but in the contexts of the size of the crowds they took place in, that is largely what they are.

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Former SFA chief executive Stewart Regan was fond of defending the exorbitant ticket pricing for Scotland matches by comparing the matches to concerts, so if we take that argument further, why not compare arrests? The likes of the TRANSMT festival or the Eminem or Stone Roses gigs in Glasgow in recent times have eclipsed Sunday’s Old Firm game for arrests, but no one is demanding to shut down the Hydro or labelling concert-goers as a scourge on society.

There are aspects of fan behaviour in Scotland that need to improve, there is no doubt about that. But whether that is the enduring presence of sectarianism or the occasional bursts of violence from the stands, it could be argued that these are all societal issues that should be tackled in the long-term through education and in the present through punitive measures for the individual.

The disorder such as the brawl outside a pub or the sickening stabbing of a Celtic fan in Glasgow’s Merchant City on Sunday evening are deeply unfortunate, but when such disorder occurs on almost any weekend night in the city, it is too easy to surmise that football is at the root of such problems in Scottish life.

Football is instead simply the conduit these lowly limpets attach themselves to, the megaphone that amplifies the existence of these problems in wider society, and therefore the scapegoat when politicians are looking for a bogeyman to blame rather than tackling the deeper issues.

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It seems there are those who have also fallen victim to the recent trend across all areas of British life to look at the past in sepia tones, where rival fans greeted each other with handshakes and congratulated opponents on a jolly good game. It’s revisionist nonsense.

On the whole, the contrast between going to games nowadays than 30 years ago is huge, and almost exclusively for the better. My old man once told me a story about how he felt something warm down his side in the old enclosure in front of Fir Park’s Main Stand, only to turn around and find a drunk supporter peeing in his jacket pocket. Like that gent, if you are arguing that football fans are behaving worse than ever, then you really are taking the p***.


OPINIONS on the citing of Scott Brown for his conduct after Sunday's Old Firm game broadly fall into three camps; Celtic fans who think it is ridiculous, Rangers fans who think it is justified, and everyone else who thinks it ironic the SFA would haul someone up for failing to act in the best interests of the game.

Whatever your take, the charge isn't entirely without precedent. Showing all of their trademark humour, the SFA once handed a one-match ban to Motherwell striker Michael Higdon for celebrating a goal by delivering a 'get it up you' salute to fans who had been given him pelters all game. They were his own fans, mind you.

When did the game become so po-faced?