As new legislation aimed at stamping out offensive behaviour in football comes into force, Superintendent David Brand from the Football Coordination Unit for Scotland (FoCUS), looks at how Scotland can best tackle the issue.
He writes: Football has long been considered Scotland’s national game but it’s a sport, which also remains deeply rooted, in our local communities. I’ve spent the last few weeks listening and consulting with supporters’ clubs and trusts across Scotland. FoCUS working together with Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) travelled to Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh with the aim of offering advice and guidance around the new act. What’s clear is that the fans are as loyal as ever and their passion for the game at all levels is well and truly alive and kicking
It’s those positive attitudes towards the game, which I want to build on to help make the atmosphere around football in Scotland better. Our role at FoCUS is to address offensive behaviour linked to football and deliver a consistent approach to overseeing the game in Scotland. We want to educate supporters on what is crossing the line and make them aware of how they can keep each other’s behaviour in check.
That’s why we have been out and about meeting supporters to talk about how we can work together to improve football in Scotland, and uphold the reputation of the fans as being among the best supporters in the world through the camaraderie and passion they show at games home and away.
It’s really a minority of fans associated with Scottish football whose behaviour causes offence. But that minority can ruin it for others. Examples of the behaviour we wish to eradicate, from the singing of Sectarian and pro terrorist songs to abusive behaviour, have been broadcast around the world triggering hundreds of complaints, including from Scots living abroad who have been shocked to see what was coming out of their country. What I am pleased to hear and see however is that there are clear signs of strong support from fans who have decided they will not stand for this kind of offensive behaviour in football. They absolutely recognise what is banter but they also know what is unacceptable and where the line is crossed.
I was especially heartened by a recent incident where a group of fans reported their fellow supporters for offensive behaviour, which took place in front of a family with young children. Examples like this show there is a real willingness to keep this kind of unwanted behaviour out of the game, and people are prepared to take action.
From speaking to supporters, it’s clear that some are reluctant to take their families to certain games because of the kind of atmosphere they anticipate. That’s a real shame - after all a football match can be a great family day out. We’re very keen to work with the clubs to encourage more families back, and initiatives like Friday night football have been introduced to try to support this.
Police and clubs are taking action but fans also have a personal responsibility - to themselves, to each other and to the game. It’s up to each individual to consider what kind of impact their own behaviour will have, and whether it would be considered offensive by others.
I believe we have made real inroads into ridding football of offensive behaviour with signs that fans themselves are changing their behaviour for the better. Having been closely involved with the game and supporters for some time now, I certainly feel like we’ve made a big leap forward.
The new legislation comes at the right time – when we are already going in the right direction. It sends a strong signal that offensive behaviour in football is completely unacceptable. It is another tool in our tool box for tackling the issue but we will continue to say to fans – work with us to make football better.
Eradicating sectarianism from the terraces completely will take a big societal change but I think we are on course. There is no reason we can’t do it – it’s already happening. Football plays such a key part in the life of day to day Scotland whether it’s supporting your team, the national side or if it’s part of your local community. This is our chance to make football about football again, and bring back the pride in the game.
r The Football Coordination Unit for Scotland (FoCUS) was primarily set up to tackle the main problems associated with football, disorder, violence, sectarianism and hate crime and to further ensure a consistent approach across Scotland in policing matches. FoCUS has been deployed to many games this season, including pre-season friendlies, communities cup matches, European qualifiers, SPL fixtures and are involved in ongoing post match investigations across Scotland involving violence and disorder. FoCUS is applying a fair, even-handed and proportionate level of deployment at matches tackling all elements of offensive, unacceptable and violent behaviour.
Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) campaigns for the wider recognition of the social, cultural and economic value of sports clubs and works with a wide variety of clubs and trusts across Scotland.