Thoughts On The Sale Of Alcohol Inside Scottish Football Stadia
Firstly, before I begin this article in earnest, I would like to make something abundantly clear. This is not a political article, nor I do approach the content herein from a political standpoint but simply from the view of a football supporter. Neither I nor anybody else has any right to tell any individual which way to vote or, indeed, whether to vote at all. No support for any political party has ever been expressed on this website previously, and neither will it be in future. “Maley’s Bhoys” does not take political stances, so please do not allow anybody to purvey this piece as political in nature, as it is most certainly not. It’s just my own thoughts on a long running debate. Thank you.
Above, you will see one of the many iconic images of a day which defined a country’s sporting generation. The trouble which followed the Scottish Cup Final of 1980 was, putting its respective causes to one side for the sake of brevity, a very unpleasant occurrence, and not one which any reasonable individual would ever wish to see repeated. Following the now infamous “Hampden Riot”, an Act of Parliament was drafted and passed which banned the sale of alcohol within Scottish sporting arenas. However, whilst Archie MacPherson’s famous quotations likening the events to “a scene out of Apocalypse Now” before reflecting that “these supporters hate each other” were certainly not unfounded, we must remember that this was not the first occasion upon which we witnessed violent disorder at a Scottish football game.
As one would perhaps expect the now legendary riot of 1909, which flared after the second drawn Scottish Cup Final of that year between Celtic and Rangers, is often cited by those who pen pieces on this subject. After all, I can’t think of any other occasion upon which supporters have intentionally set fire to sections of Hampden Park, but I digress. The main point is that there have been countless times over the years wherein violence has reared its ugly head at these matches and, during several of the respective aftermaths, those people in positions of power have sworn they’d finally solve these problems, all with little or no success. However, I suppose it is fair to say that the 1980 Scottish Cup Final was different, simply because now, even as I write this almost thirty-five years on from that sunny day, it remains the last example of widespread violence inside a Scottish football ground. For that fact, perhaps the previously referenced alcohol ban can take some credit.
However, it is also fair to say that during the intervening thirty-five years between then and now, significant changes have taken place within the fabric of Scottish football. Large scale terracing is a thing of the past (although the introduction of safe-standing, a system totally different from the old open terracing, remains a future possibility), hard hats to protect the wearer from missiles are no longer a common sight, and organised hooliganism is a shadow of its former self. More families attend both home and away matches now, with an ever-increasing number of women and children, as well as those people from all walks of life and backgrounds, attending games with regularity.
Fundamentally, in some senses at least, Scottish football is a very different spectacle now to what is was in 1980 and beyond. Yet, the legacy of that time remains in the alcohol ban, despite the fact that nobody aged much below fifty today could have possibly been involved in the trouble which saw the ban introduced. As such, whilst being punished for a crime which they did not commit, an entire generation of fans have proven themselves to be – largely – non-violent at the vast majority of domestic football matches.
Contrary to popular belief, which puts my age at a little under one hundred and fifty, I am actually twenty-four, and as such – just as many men and women my age do – I enjoy the odd drink here and there. Like so many others of all ages, I have counsumed a few alcoholic drinks both before and after many football matches, in this country and abroad, without ever once becoming violent. Therefore, I feel it is a reasonable question for me to ask what I, or anyone else who was not involved in the trouble following the 1980 Scottish Cup Final, have done to warrant our continued subjection to such an archaic piece of legislation?
The obvious response would be “nothing”, but the sad truth is that because I, like all of you reading this, happen to be football fans, we are still subject to the rules introduced thereafter.
To display the bizarre situations which the current law can give rise to, allow me to give you an example.
Just prior to the start of the Commonwealth Games last year, I headed to Murrayfield, a stadium in which alcohol is normally sold, to watch Celtic play K.R. Reykjavik, but obviously no alcohol was available because the sport on show that evening was to be football. However, around a week later, I traveled to Ibrox Park, a stadium in which alcohol is normally prohibited from sale, and yet I was able to buy a few beers because I was there as a rugby fan, not a football supporter. Unsurprisingly, neither event was blighted by a riot, nor are the thousands of Scottish pubs which open virtually every day of the year and serve people from all walks of life dens of violence.
And yet, perhaps the most overlooked irony of the current situation is this – the sale of alcohol goes on every single weekend inside Scottish Football stadia – the only caveat being that it is only people with tickets for the executive areas and hospitality suites of grounds who are able to indulge in this small pleasure. Therefore, by definition, there is one rule being implemented for those who are fortunate enough to have the money to be able to purchase hospitality tickets, and another for the remaining supporters who sit in the “normal” seats. Quite simply, this is a farcical duality.
Of course, if you pay the extra money to enjoy the relative luxuries of hospitality seats, you should expect to receive more than you would with a “normal ticket” by definition – comfortable seats, a better view, some food, a free programme etc – but you should not be subject to different rules with regards behaviour within the stadium. This is, of course, not to say that those in executive areas should not be able to buy an alcoholic drink at matches – they most certainly should be in my opinion – but so should the rest of us also.
Clearly, there are those who would have you believe that fans of Scottish football cannot be trusted because we are, one and all, violent yobs always on the lookout for a good fight. Like many stereotypes, this is false, but even in the modern world, perceptions can be difficult things to alter, and as such I would propose the following guidelines with regards any future trials of alcohol sales inside Scottish stadia:
- If you are drunk, you should not be served alcohol.
- If you are under eighteen years of age or unable to prove you are eighteen or over, you should not be served alcohol (although, to be fair, I accept my hypocrisy here as I know my seventeen year old self would have said something different, but that is another matter entirely)
- If you are behaving in an unacceptable manner (e.g. being abusive to staff members), you should not be served alcohol.
- Drinks would only be served in plastic glasses to nullify the risk of them being used as missiles (although proper glasses are available today within hospitality areas)
Beyond that, one would presume that the inevitably high pricing coupled with the long queues and strict bar opening times would, in themselves, naturally limit the amount of alcohol which supporters could consume with the stadium. Equally, I would accept that there are certain fixtures which – even with a relaxation of the current ban – may be deemed to be too high risk for alcohol to be sold (i.e. Celtic v Rangers*, Hearts v Celtic, Aberdeen v Rangers* etc), and this could be decided on a match by match basis by the relevant clubs, governing bodies and police. One could even consider temporary restrictions which would prevent alcohol from being sold within designated family areas of stadia, until such time as the trial period of alcohol sales proved to be successful.
Regardless, the crux of the matter is this – if a supporter has paid their hard-earned money to see Celtic take on Falkirk on a cold, miserable Tuesday night in December, what possible threat to society would this individual cause if they were allowed to purchase an alcoholic drink prior to kick-off? After all, there is nothing presently in place to stop them from consuming said beverage in a nearby pub – or even in the stadium in the likes of the Kerrydale Bar – a matter of minutes before they pass through their turnstile of choice. In fact, it is probable that the majority of “run of the mill” games such as that described above would remain just that, even with the introduction of alcohol.
There other are points which can be made to support the idea too. For example, not only would Football Clubs enjoy significantly increased revenues from their kiosks, it would also partially discourage the late rushes from pubs into stadia in the few remaining minutes leading up to kick-off. Yes, some people may need to nip out of their row to use the toilet midway through a half, but no more than already do so thanks to their consumption of large carbonated drinks or the aforementioned pints at the pub beforehand.
In closing, I do not wish to see a return to the days when crates of lager or bottles of wine were allowed to be brought into Scottish football stadia, nor do I wish to see individuals urinating down people’s legs once more, but make no mistake about it, modern football in Scotland is a very different creature to that which it was in decades gone by (not always in positive ways, granted, with high ticket prices and TV deals the source of much consternation, but I’m sure you all understand the point which I am attempting to make whether or not you agree with me). Alcohol is sold at football grounds around the world without any major problems, and as such I believe this can be the case in Scotland also. Whether or not we “need” alcohol to be available inside our stadia to add to our enjoyment is a point which some have mooted, but it is not something I agree with personally. We should all have the freedom of choice to decide whether we would like an alcoholic drink and, consequently, we must all be responsible enough not to take it to extremes.
In all likelihood, the introduction of alcohol sales inside Scottish Football stadia is at most a matter of years away, with increasing calls for it coming, both in public and in private, from supporters and club representatives alike.
A new generation of football fans, who may not be perfect but are also most certainly not the devil in disguise as some would have us believe, deserve the opportunity to prove themselves capable of acting like the normal, law-abiding people they are. We are not criminals and we should no longer be treated as such, simply because of our sport of choice, or the relative lack of funds in our pockets.