The Scottish Football Association, Scottish Professional Football League and Scottish Women’s Premier League issued a joint statement criticising the “heavy-handed” proposals. A consultation was launched last week by the UK Government over plans which would, for example, limit where and when vehicles arrive at sporting events.
The statement from the Hampden offices read: “There’s no evidence that this is a significant problem in Scottish football. We are concerned by the targeted nature of these proposals, which serve to demonise football fans and interfere unnecessarily in people’s lives. In Scotland, there are already appropriate powers held by PHV (private hire vehicle) operators, Police Scotland and other partners to deal effectively with a very small number of incidents by a minority of fans.
“The consultation itself notes that the majority of football fans are law-abiding and do not cause any disturbances when travelling to or from games, yet these proposals would unfairly affect the vast majority of football fans who travel safely and respectfully to and from matches on a weekly basis. We don’t support these unnecessary and heavy-handed proposals and we will be making our views clear in the consultation.”
The new guidelines cover “taking passengers to sporting events in Scotland” but have been written by Richard Turfitt, the Senior Traffic Commissioner for Great Britain, who states the rules are already in place in England and Wales. Although the title of the paper references sporting events, the word ‘football’ is used 35 times in the document and no other sport is mentioned. The commissioner states his intention is to “limit anti-social behaviour experienced at some football matches” caused by fans travelling by public service vehicles.
The rules include the following guidelines: Bus operators must notify police of bookings, numbers and the organiser’s contact details at least 48 hours before a game; Vehicles cannot stop within 10 miles of the venue without police permission; Buses cannot stop at pubs unless supporters have a “substantial meal” with alcohol and must get police permission for such stops; Vehicles must arrive between two and one hours before kick-off and leave within 30 minutes of the final whistle; Competitions covered include the Highland and Lowland leagues as well as the major leagues and cups but also “association football matches (other than those specified above) which come within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association”. The proposals also cover games played by Scottish teams outside of the country.
The plans prompted criticism from supporters and politicians after being highlighted on social media by Derek Watson, who is a board member of the Well Society, Motherwell’s fan ownership body. Watson said: “The draconian proposals put civil liberties at risk. Not only does this propose stricter monitoring of the average football fan, it would have a significant detrimental impact on small businesses and football clubs. Pubs in the vicinity of various football stadiums in Scotland rely on the trade of travelling fans to stay afloat. Rather than being demonised, fans should be celebrated.”
Motherwell later promised to consult Well Society members before responding to the consultation document. A club statement added: “We believe it is important that we encourage as many fans as possible to attend matches and to make the experience as enjoyable and welcoming as possible.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, criticised the proposals. The Dundee United fan, who follows the Scotland national team abroad, wrote on social media: “Unworkable, unmanageable, unenforceable. Get it in the bin. The clubs these fans support can be a huge force for good & more folk attend matches in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe. Celebrate them, don’t punish them.”
Kilmarnock director and former Labour MSP Cathy Jamieson claimed the plans were “trying to solve problems that largely don’t exist and singling out football fans”. Alan Brown, the SNP MP for Kilmarnock & Loudon, and a Killie fan, said: “This would be a complete and utter waste of police time and resources. As someone who ran a supporters’ bus for 26 years and still regularly travels to away games via this avenue, it will simply not work – total madness.”
Gillian Mackay, the Green MSP for Central Scotland, wrote: “Supporters and football clubs should be celebrated for the excellent work they do to enhance their communities. These proposed measures are unwarranted, unworkable and out of touch. They should be scrapped immediately!”