Don’t let Murphy drag football back into the 1970s

Since I wrote about the plight of the Scottish Labour Party back in November things have not improved despite the election of Jim Murphy as leader. The last Scottish poll I saw put them at 28 per cent, 17 points behind the SNP who are on 45. That would mean they would fall from 41 seats to 12 while the SNP would go from 6 seats to 47. A poll this month by ex Conservative donor and polling guru Lord Ashcroft was even worse. It suggested that even the ultra safe Labour seat of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (majority 20,714 or 49.8 per cent making it the eighth safest Labour seat in the entire UK) would fall to a rampant SNP. Scottish Labour are still in deep trouble.
So what is Jim Murphy’s big plan to win back Labour voters? He wants to allow football fans to drink alcohol at games again. Quite apart from the fact that this issue is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and has nothing to do with the UK election the plan is a non starter as it would drag football in Scotland back to the 1970s. For those that don’t know alcohol was banned from Scottish football grounds after a hideous riot after the Rangers v Celtic Cup Final of 1980 where police on horseback had to disperse gangs of morons. The ban – imposed significantly by a woman Margaret Thatcher – had the effect of making football in Scotland civilised. Thirty five years on football wants it lifted but they are wrong totally wrong – and Murphy far from encouraging them to chase votes should be backing the law.
Football wants the ban lifted because fans want a drink, clubs want to make money and they argue that sports like rugby have fans drinking at games so why shouldn’t football? The last point is easy to deal with. There is no history of violence or racist and sexist abuse at rugby. There is at football. The chants at football matches are offensive enough when fans are sober. Imagine how bad they would be if they were drunk. Scottish Football Association head of Communications Darryl Broadfoot said in Saturday’s Daily Record that “We have allowed ourselves to be stigmatised – wrongly – as the pariahs of Scottish social culture”. But football fans are the pariahs of social culture because some of them can’t behave. Even my local junior team Kilbirnie Ladeside were at one time (2011) banned from hosting or visiting bitter rivals Beith because of hideous riots that needed more than 30 police officers to control – and this is for games watched by a few hundred people!
And if football is for lifting the ban society is not. The police are against it – after all football fans are hard enough for the police to deal with sober never mind with a drink in them. Women’s groups are against for fear that fans returning from games drunk would be more likely to beat up their partners (domestic violence in the UK is always worse after big football matches). And accident and emergency (A and E) departments at hospitals are against for fear that drunk fans would get involved in fights go to A and E and increase the workload on an already over worked department of the Health Service. Why should arrogant football’s demands be allowed to affect other areas of society? This is like the football v society debate that the Ched Evans affair caused when shamefully the headliner in January 9th’s Daily Telegraph said “FOOTBALL BACKS EVANS” (a convicted rapist by the way). But society – led by brave Jean Hatchet – did not and public opinion won. Football has NO right to impose its views on society. Why can’t Murphy get that? There are other examples of society imposing its views on groups. I’m sure drivers would like to travel at whatever speed they like and be free to drink or drive. But society – since the 1967 Road Safety Act passed by significantly a woman Barbara Castle – imposed speed limits and limited the amount of alcohol you were allowed to drink before you drove. An example of society’s desire for road safety trumping the selfish desire of motorists to do whatever they wanted. Castle got dog’s abuse from motorists – I imagine that if Twitter had existed in 1967 she would have got the same death/rape threats Hatchet has got for standing up to football – but the law saved lives. And that is important.
Another disappointing thing about Murphy wanting the ban lifted is that it goes against his views on football. He is supportive of women in football and in 2012 even asked “Why is there not a female manager of a male professional football team”?. He doesn’t seem to realise that the lifting of the ban on alcohol would make the grounds less safe and deter women (and children) from attending games. He also doesn’t realise that for some of the people wanting the ban lifted that might be the reason they want it lifted – to deter women from attending. I know the West of Scotland rather too well and I suspect there are Scottish equivalents of Dougie Brimson – who wrote in his book “The Geezer’s Guide to Football* (page 57) “if I had my way women wouldn’t even be allowed inside grounds” (He also wrote that women can’t play football or kick a ball with any degree of accuracy over a distance of 40 inches. Oh dear. This guy has clearly not seen goals by Carli Lloyd, Claire Lavogez, Dzsenifer Marozan , Eugenie Le Sommer, Stephanie Roche and Toni Duggan – among others – that make him look like the prat he is.)
The other thing that puzzles me about Murphy is why is he choosing to make an issue of this? There are far more important things than this he could be talking about. Like the fact that our health service is creaking at the seams. Like the fact that food bank use in the UK has rocketed since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Like the fact that the poor have been clobbered by the bedroom tax. Like the fact that big companies evade tax – and don’t pay the living wage. Like the fact that his UK party leader Ed Miliband is a gutless coward who is scared of the voters and won’t give us a referendum on EU membership. What has Murphy to say on those important issues? He’d better tell us. For unless he does his party is facing wipe out in May – and proposing to drag football back into the 1970s is NOT the way to save his party.
*Anyone who knows my views on football might wonder how I have this book – football’s answer to the “lads mags” that pollute newsagents. The answer is poof that males can be victims of gender stereotyping too. A well meaning relative got me it one Christmas on the basis that as I am a male who likes football I would agree with Brimson’s sexist drivel. Which I don’t.

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