A new campaign group, Fans Against Criminalisation, has been formed by Celtic fans to campaign against the first part of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill.
Following the so-called ‘Shame Game’ last March, the police and the Scottish Government called Celtic and Rangers to a summit to discuss a range of societal problems they claimed football was responsible for. Since then, the ills of society have been laid at football’s door and football fans have been blamed for everything from sectarianism to drink-fuelled domestic abuse. The government and a hitherto compliant Scottish media have portrayed the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill as ‘anti-sectarian’ legislation.
The reality is, however, very different from the political rhetoric.
There is very little criminality at football matches – indeed, there has been no serious disorder in a Scottish stadium for over thirty years. The very small number of offences committed inside Scottish football grounds is a symptom of the nation’s wider problems with alcohol and bigotry, rather than a cause.
The Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill does not tackle any of the nation’s problems. As a range of bodies from the Law Society to Nil By Mouth argue, there are existing laws that ably tackle sectarianism and other hate crimes. Instead, the proposed new legislation criminalises football fans for being football fans. The new law applies only to us and leaves football fans all over the country liable for arrest and imprisonment. Justice Minister Roseanna Cunningham suggests fans may be arrested for anything from making the sign of the cross to singing a national anthem. A whole range of acts routinely carried out by fans at football matches could be considered ‘offensive’. Any fan arrested under this new legislation will likely be subject to the nightmare of a football banning order and numerous court appearances before their case is even heard. Those convicted can be sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
As Celtic fans, we have even more reason to be fearful about the Bill, given Justice Committee Chair Christine Graham’s view that the law should be seen as an ‘evening-up’ process, allowing the criminal law to capture Celtic fans as well as those of our city rivals.
Rather than any serious policy debate, the Scottish Government has instead engaged in political grandstanding. Football fans have barely been considered or their views consulted as Alex Salmond tries to accelerate the Bill onto the statute books.
But fans will no longer remain silent on the issue and our voices must be heard. The Green Brigade’s recent protest at the Inverness match was given huge backing by the Celtic support and has been followed by similarly well-received protests at other grounds. It now also seems that other commentators and members of civil society are starting to see through the Scottish government’s rhetoric and realise that the Bill is a poorly crafted piece of legislation that is both unnecessary and undesirable.
Fans Against Criminalisation will not allow the ills of Scottish society to be laid at the door of football fans, or football fans to be treated as second-class citizens, subject to a ludicrous law that applies only to us. We will not stand idly by as fan culture and football fans are criminalised. Over the coming weeks and months we will be mounting a campaign against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill.
You can help support the campaign and keep up to date with news and events by following us on twitter (@FACKilltheBill) and on facebook
Fans Against Criminalisation