The last few years have seen somewhat of a convergence in Scottish football after a few decades worth of change. The re-unification of the SPL and SFL under the SPFL banner has widely been considered great for the game, with the play-offs between the Premiership and Championship being widely exciting for both the few end of season games and the race to be apart (or not) of them. Other changes that have been rolled back within the game include the seating arrangements for fans. From a point around ten years ago where clubs being promoted to the top flight had to have all-seater stadiums with at least a 10,000 capacity, the requirements for stadia dropped to 6,000 and then, in the last few years, some standing has been allowed at even the biggest grounds.
One last feature of going to football games hasn’t been allowed to change back to its old ways, though, and that is the availability of alcohol at games. Ever since the disgrace of the 1980 Old Firm Scottish Cup final, where Celtic and Rangers fans rioted at Hampden Park with alcohol being a major factor, the sale of alcohol has been banned at Scottish football grounds during matches.
However, the tide is turning back in favour of the sale of alcohol. 34 years on from the events which caused the ban, 90% of Scottish clubs said in a survey that they would support a trial run of selling alcohol at games. 62% of fans in a Supporters Direct Scotland survey said they supported the lifting of the ban. There’s a clear will from the football community for doing so, and I agree that it should happen.
Alcohol and football are still inseparable even if you cannot buy drinks at stadia anymore. A crucial part of the traditional matchday experience for many fans includes going to the pub before and after matches. Being able to buy drinks at games would only help to enhance this. Hospitality packages at games across the country are allowed to serve alcohol at stadia already, so extending this to the masses is only fair.
I think the atmosphere at games across the country would improve if fans were able to have a drink or two more at games. Football grounds have often been considered quieter in the modern era than they were before, but we could put a bit more life into the crowds by allowing drinking at matches. I don’t accept the idea that drink will cause the
Allowing smaller clubs to serve alcohol could prove a huge boost to their catering income. It could also help bring in some more punters who might choose to stay in the pub to watch a game on telly rather than brave the cold and watch some live football. It may cost money initially on training staff and getting them licensed, but on the whole it could be a boon for the lower leagues if drinking at games was re-introduced. It would also perhaps require smaller clubs to up their policing at games, from what is normally a low level, at additional cost. Above all, though, I think the choice should rest with the clubs. If they think that they will be able to make money and give their fans a better experience then they should have all options open to them.
When we look at England we see a working example of drinking at football matches that we could easily replicate here. Even in the wake of the hooliganism of the 1980s, English football grounds were still allowed to sell alcohol, although restrictions were put in place. At the moment, you can purchase drinks but not take them back with you to your seat. We see little in the way of disturbances at these games now and the overall fan experience is better. If we look closer to home, the blanket ban on drinking in Scottish sport was lifted for rugby matches at Murrayfield back in 2007 and has been successful. There’s no reason why there would be any more risk here in Scotland apart from at some of the more heated fixtures.
The government and police are the main opponents of change on this issue, and they have concerns that the problems of old could return with drinking at games. The SNP government has no plans to make legislation to change matters, but the Conservatives have pushed the issue – commissioning the surveys of clubs and looking to change the law which is “out of date”.
A full-scale roll-out of alcohol at Scottish football might not be immediately practical and there are definitely some restrictions that would need to be placed on drinking at football games to ease the transition. I think that police concerns over big games are valid, and that they should be allowed to restrict the sale of alcohol at big cup games (those at Hampden) and between big rivals. A limit could also be placed on the number of drinks you could buy at games, perhaps by printing on tickets what can be bought and having it crossed off when the limit has been reached. These are just some of the measures that could be brought in to make sure that fans are as safe as possible.
In a time of change for Scottish football let’s take some real steps towards re-introducing alcohol to football matches. There is an appetite amongst fans and clubs for it, and fan culture has moved a long way towards being more responsible. We can learn lessons from the problems of the past and implement something that works for everyone. We’ve come a long way in 34 years, so let’s make the final step. A pie and Bovril might be okay for some, but I’d prefer a pie and a pint.