Wednesday, April 01, 2009

How bad are we?

During my trip to Holland a few weeks ago I noted with interest, if not surprise, that almost every decision by the referee or linesman was greeted with a barrage of missiles (coins, lighters etc) thrown by the home support.

Now the mighty ADO Den Haag have a reputation for being a bit crazy but speaking to people in Holland and watching a bit of football there and here it seems to me that this is not an isolated incident. It certainly happens elsewhere in the continent (remember the infamous pig's head at Barcelona?) far more regularly than it happens in Scotland.

I happened to have in my possession that night around a dozen AAA batteries (don't ask, suffice to say bargain hunting can survive the exchange rate if you know where to look) which, were I of a mind, would have been quite wonderful objects to throw. I'm quite sure they would have been binned had I been searched going into a Scottish ground. In The Hague the security guard patting me down just looked at them, nodded (clearly a fellow tight arse) and waved me on my way.

Likewise a couple of years ago a London derby (Chelsea and Spurs, for reasons of precision) ended with ten people getting stabbed within two miles of the ground. Coincidence? Nah, probably not.

Now I don't want to get bogged down in a "we're marginally less criminally minded than you" argument. But are UEFA cracking down on Dutch clubs? Are the Metropolitan Police embroiling all Londoners in a bout of communal soul searching as the Strathclyde force did a couple of weeks ago in Glasgow?

I don't think they are. But Rangers and Celtic fans - a minority of whom probably deserve all they get - are watched like hawks. You can read in The Observer's excellent "Said and Done" column almost every Sunday how UEFA and FIFA take what might, extremely charitably, be called a softly, softly approach to racism (as Dave Zirin in Welcome To The Terrordome notes they're not above a spot of institutionalised racism either) yet they seem to be prepared to be a lot harsher on Scottish sectarianism?

Are we, as a minority football nation, picked on because we are relatively insignificant? Well, you can hardly say the ADO Den Haag are a powerhouse of European football so the reasons would seem to run deeper than that.

I think partly we are bringing this on ourselves. When you start having rows about the hokey cokey you know that the battle against sectarianism is a long way from being won. It makes the whole country look backward. But our politicians are essentially inviting the footballing authorities to come in and hammer us.

You see, if you're a politician, it sounds great to moan about sectarianism. The majority of us who abhor prejudice can't argue with that, right? Absolutely. But there is a trade off - what about the sizable minority that support the Old Firm? Now they're not all bigots but even some of those that aren't might soon get pissed off at the constant abuse their team is getting.

So our politicians cop out. They raise the issue and say it's just terrible. Very pleased they are to lead the moaning. But they seem to forget their leadership credentials when it actually comes to doing anything about it. So here we are, a grown up country, own parliament and everything, and a bunch of elected clowns saying "Oh, look at us in Scotland, we've got all these bigots that we can't do anything about, please help."

That makes it very easy for UEFA to smash Rangers the next time they go abroad. Far easier than it is for them to smash Spain for having a vocal racist element in the stands and in the dug-out.

Again, I'm not saying that what we hear in Scotland is any better or worse than racist chanting (in fact if we look closely there remains a racist undercurrent in a lot of Scottish stands) but we are now a victim of double standards in our treatment by the footballing authorities.

Why don't our politicians set up a European wide consultation to rid football of all bigotry and violence? Why don't they work with UEFA and FIFA to set punishments that will actually really harm the clubs in question - by which I mean really, really harm their bank balances rather than denting their reputations?

Any politicians wondering why, for all Rangers bigot busting bluster, the problem remains need only look at themselves. Talking about doing something is not the same as actually doing it. Martin Bain might well have learnt that watching Holyrood Live.

Our politicians started the debate but weren't prepared to finish it. They could have started something across Europe. Instead they were content just to have opened their mouths. That has given UEFA carte blanche to use the Old Firm as its whipping boys. That in itself is no bad thing but the problems, in Glasgow, London, Barcelona, The Hague and Rome all remain unsolved thanks to a combination of UEFA's essential corruptness and the craven opportunism of Holyrood's finest.