Will stadium closures and points deductions really deter football’s idiots?

Incidents of misbehaviour by fans in Scotland and England stole all the headlines last week, Graham Ruthven wonders how you can stop it…


One fool followed another followed another. Maybe they were copycat incidents, maybe they were individual cases of thuggishness witnessed over the one weekend only through coincidence.

Either way, the past few days have shamed British football on both sides of the border.

First, on Friday night there was the fan who invaded the pitch at Easter Road to confront Rangers captain James Tavernier. Then, Jack Grealish was sucker-punched in the side of the head during the Second City Derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa.

Almost immediately after that, a supporter pushed Chris Smalling on the Emirates Stadium pitch as Arsenal celebrated a second goal against Manchester United.

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For Scots, who have seen their national game dogged by cases of thrown coins, abuse against referees and sectarian chanting this season, this was another episode in a season of shame.

The events on Sunday, though, showed that it’s not just Scottish football vulnerable to the behaviour of imbeciles, but English football too.

It can be difficult to know what to do about the spate of recent misconduct by football fans. Most are in agreement that something needs to be done, particularly in Scotland where there has been a real leadership void following recent controversies. The SPFL, for instance, took until Sunday to issue a statement on what happened at Easter Road on the Friday night, with some speculating Neil Doncaster was only forced into action after the EFL’s quick response to the incident at St Andrew’s earlier in the day.

In sharp contrast to the delayed statement issued by Doncaster, Hibernian chief executive, Leeann Dempster, spoke to the media immediately after Friday night’s Scottish Premiership game. She set the tone for what must be an orchestrated response to the epidemic faced by the sport north of the border, refusing to rule out the closure of sections of her own team’s stadium. “Nothing can be off the table,” she said.

Measures like this would at least verge on the adoption of some sort of Strict Liability. In Scotland, this is something that has been discussed for years.

Essentially, these regulations would hold clubs responsible for the conduct of their own fans, meaning they could, in the event of unacceptable conduct, face fines, stadium closures and even points deductions. These are rules already adhered to by clubs involved in European competition.

But given that fans, like the one that invaded the pitch to attack Grealish on Sunday, already face real-world consequences, such as jail time, for inappropriate conduct while attending football games are things like stadium closures and points deductions really going to deter anyone?

And if it is, what does that say about society, that punishments meted out to a football team carry more weight than personal convictions?

We must be careful not to criminalise football fans who already suffer harsh treatment from authorities. After all, it’s not so long ago that the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OFBA) was repealed in Scotland for.

This was a widely-panned piece of legalisation that jailed fans for doing things deemed legally acceptable for fans of other sports or members of the general public. OFBA focused on where these perceived offences were taking place rather than the actual offences. This results in arguments made against football as a whole when fans should be punished in the way any other member of society would be.

As some have pointed out on social media, where were the calls for concert goers to be targeted after 34 Eminem fans were arrested at a gig in Glasgow two years ago? Or when 35 fans were arrested at a Calvin Harris and Paolo Nutini gig back in 2015? Or when 34 people were arrested and 163 reported for illegal drug offences at TRNSMT festival last year?

Those fans who behaved so unacceptably over the weekend deserve all that is coming to them, but football itself can only play so much of a role in the enforcement of these consequences.

Dempster set a tone with her remarks, but any other measures, at least those that have been suggested, could give the sport a new problem.

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What do you think?