JUST six years ago the spectacle of a footballer appearing in a court
of law for a crime committed on the playing field was so rare that one
of Scotland's senior Queen's Counsel involved in just such a courtroom
drama referred to it as a unique test case.
Donald MacAulay QC was appearing for his client, the ex-Rangers
footballer Graham Roberts. It was 1988 and Roberts, along with fellow
Ibrox stars Terry Butcher and Chris Woods were standing trial on breach
of the peace charges at Glasgow Sheriff Court alongside Celtic's Frank
The Old Firm four were said to have committed the offence as they
jostled each other during a highly charged clash between the two great
Scottish rival clubs.
''No football player in this country has had to face a charge of this
nature. It is a test case. Footballers are not immune from the law but
the action complained of was totally within the field of play and not
calculated against the crowd,'' said Roberts's lawyer who, as Lord
MacAulay of Bragar, is now the Labour Party's Scottish legal spokesman.
MacAulay served his client well, the case against Roberts being found
not proven. Butcher, however, was fined #250 and Woods #500. Frank
McAvennie was found not guilty.
Woods and Butcher took the matter to appeal and lost again. However,
the dissenting but minority opinion of Lord Murray, who found in favour
of the footballers, raised some of the questions which, to many minds,
have not yet been satisfactorily answered.
Lord Murray said the central issue raised by the appeals was whether
the footballers' conduct constituted not only an infringement of the
laws of the game but also a criminal breach of the peace.
The appeal judge accepted that what might constitute a breach of the
peace in the ordinary context of the offence was not necessarily the
case within the context of a contact sport.
''Once it is accepted that violent physical contact can be legitimate
under the rules of a particular sport, subject no doubt to further rules
which limit the legitimacy of that violence, I consider that a radically
different context is set up from the ordinary public street or other
But the decision by Lord Justice Clerk Ross and Lord Allanbridge that
the convictions should stand has acted as a pointer for prosecutors ever
As a result of the huge publicity the case attracted and the growing
awareness among police and prosecutors that the sporting arena was no
longer a ''law-free zone'', there has been an increased willingness on
the part of the legal authorities to expose sporting miscreants, and not
just footballers, to the full majesty of the law.
In October last year Sheriff Francis Lummy jailed Hamilton Accies'
winger Scott Henderson for 60 days after he had admitted head butting an
The Crown Office, while accepting at face value the contention that
more sportsmen are being prosecuted, is adamant that there has been no
policy decision to treat sporting offenders in the same manner as are
participants in a street brawl.
''There hasn't been a change of policy. Cases are still dealt with
strictly on a case-by-case basis but the circumstances in which the
alleged offence has been committed is also taken into account and in
cases involving offences in a big public stadium the possibility that
the offence might have an inflammatory effect on the crowd would also be
taken into account.
''I don't know what we can attribute the apparent increase in these
cases to. It is not for me to say that sport is becoming more violent
and I wouldn't do so, but whatever the reason it isn't because of a
policy decision by the Crown Office and prosecuting authorities,'' says
a Crown Office spokesman.
There is no doubt, though, that with special allowance for the
exceptional nature of a highly charged footballing encounter, the police
wish to see upheld the same standards of decency and propriety that they
would expect to be observed outside the stadium.
Strathclyde Police has the vast majority of Scotland's top football
clubs within its jurisdiction and the Strathclyde policeman with overall
responsibility for policing these grounds at the time of the Ferguson
incident was Assistant Chief Constable (Operations) Peter Gibson.
Mr Gibson said: ''No specific guidelines are laid down in respect of
police involvement in 'sporting incidents'. The conduct of sport
participants on the field of play is governed and controlled by the
rules of the game, the sports' governing bodies and associations and, on
the day, by the referee.
''Nevertheless, in the event of the police receiving a complaint
alleging that an offence or crime has been committed, then in the normal
course the police would carry out a full investigation and report all
the circumstances to the procurator fiscal. Thereafter, it is a matter
for the procurator fiscal to decide whether those involved are proceeded
against through the courts. It is certainly true to say that complaints
of this nature to the police, including complaints made by spectators,
have increased over recent years.''
Chief Superintendent Alan Naylor is secretary of the Lothian branch of
the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents. Leith, the Edinburgh
police division which he oversees, includes the Hibernian football
stadium at Easter Road.
He says: ''Our main objective is ensuring public safety. In the
context of a big football match any incident on the field of play which
might endanger public safety will be looked at very closely. What we
have been trying to do is to encourage football to become the kind of
family entertainment which it used to be.
''Common sense has to be employed. If we were to report everyone who
swore at a football match then I would be locking up 20,000 every
Saturday at Easter Road. If, however, we see a violent incident on the
field of play then we will stand back and await the outcome. If there is
a complaint of assault from a player or a complaint from a spectator
that the player's action has amounted to a breach of the peace then we
will prepare a report and it will go to the procurator fiscal.''
Chief Superintendent Naylor adds that, as a football match commander,
he briefs the match officials. ''I tell referees that they are
responsible for the green bit in the middle and that will remain the
case until we see an event which so overpowers them that we have to
become involved. Happily, unlike other countries, that happens very
''If I am a match commander and the two managers are swearing at each
other in their dug-outs and I receive a complaint from a spectator who
says that their language is disgraceful and upsetting his five-year-old
boy then we have an obligation to act,'' says Chief Superintendent
But here another problem arises. Because of the quasi-independent
nature of the procurator fiscal service it is apparent that fiscals are
not dealing even- handedly with sporting ''crimes''.
In the Ferguson case, the Glasgow procurator fiscal, Mr Andrew
Normand, ordered an investigation and, when that investigation was
complete, decided that there was a case to answer.
Meanwhile, last August, two Heart of Midlothian players, Craig Levein
and Graeme Hogg, fell out in spectacular fashion during a ''friendly''
match against Raith Rovers at Stark's Park.
Eyewitnesses say they saw Hogg push his skipper Levein who, they
claim, twice lashed out at his fellow defender, the second blow
connecting and sending Hogg to the ground. Both men were sent off by the
referee, Hogg making his exit on a stretcher.
Subsequently, the Tyncecastle management decided that condign
punishment was in order. Levein was stripped of the Hearts' captaincy
and both men were suspended, fined and placed on the transfer list.
But neither Levein nor Hogg faced prosecution? Kirkcaldy procurator
fiscal Frank Crowe told The Herald that the police did not submit a
report, he did not ask for a report and therefore no action was
No doubt the fact that both men were from the same team, and as a
result one set of supporters did not have their passions inflamed,
played a part in the decision not to prosecute. Nevertheless, here we
had an apparent assault which went unpunished by the law of the land.
Another sport, another procurator fiscal. Last autumn the Hawick and
South of Scotland rugby forward Brian Renwick was playing for the
Combined Scottish Districts in a showcase game at Mansfield Park against
top the New Zealand province Auckland.
In the course of a not particularly bad-tempered game Renwick was
felled by a vicious blow from one of the Auckland forwards. The punch
shattered Renwick's jaw and the young Hawick player was hospitalised as
surgeons rebuilt his face. The blow was caught on camera by the BBC who
were video-taping the match.
As a rugged Border forward, Renwick is used to the rough and tumble
which accompanies top-class rugby. But he felt the assault went beyond
the bounds of acceptability. ''This is different,'' he said as he
reported to matter to the police.
Renwick was hoping his assailant would be charged with common assault
but he was disappointed. The procurator fiscal in Jedburgh decided to
take no action.
The Hawick forward, for one, would welcome uniformity of approach
throughout the land and wishes, too, that the same willingness to
prosecute which saw Duncan Ferguson in the dock at Glasgow Sheriff Court
had been displayed when he found himself on the receiving end of an
Aucklander's right hook.
SPORTSMEN BROUGHT TO BOOK BY THE PROSECUTOR
* May, 1995: Amateur footballer Robert Crooks, of Telford United, had
sentence deferred until May 24 for background reports after admitting a
breach of the peace during a match in Union Park, Edinburgh, by shouting
and swearing at the match referee and threatening violence.
* Mr Crooks also admitted possessing an offensive weapon -- a piece of
wood -- and another breach of the peace by driving a car on to the pitch
and putting the referee in fear for his safety.
* January, 1995: Norman Lawson, who was playing for a Safeway shop
staff team in a friendly football match at Saughton Park, Edinburgh, was
fined #250 and ordered to pay his victim #100 compensation after
admitting assaulting an opponent by butting him on the face.
* December, 1994: Plumber Gary Whitehead was ordered to pay an
opponent #500 compensation after being found guilty of assault by
head-butting him during a match between Port Seton Wemyss and Dalkeith
Horseshoe Bar in Port Seton, East Lothian.
* October, 1994: Hamilton Academicals rugby player Scott Henderson
jailed for 60 days at Hamilton Sheriff Court for head-butting opponent
in local derby against Uddingston. Freed pending appeal.
* August, 1994: Glenrothes Covenanters' footballer Graeme Harper
jailed for four months at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court after admitting
assault on referee during Covenanters v Glenrothes Tokheim match. Punch
left the referee with fractured cheekbone. SAFA banned Harper for 50
* July, 1994: After Old Bailey trial, rugby player William Hardy is
found not guilty of manslaughter following death of opponent in West
Drayton Centaurs v Hendon match.
* May, 1994: Preston Lodge rugby forward Scott McMillan who
head-butted Musselburgh opponent Stanley Ross is jailed for nine months
after Haddington Sheriff Court assault trial. Mr Ross suffered smashed
jaw and cheekbone.
* May, 1994: Strathclyde Police interview two footballers after fracas
in televised Scottish Junior Cup final at Ibrox between Glenafton
Athletic and Largs Thistle. Largs player apparently head-butted. Four
sent off. No report sought by Glasgow fiscal Andrew Normand and no
* April, 1994: Footballer Jorge Louriero fined #140 at Edinburgh
Sheriff Court after admitting head-butt assault on referee during
amateur match at the Pitz Super Soccer complex in Edinburgh.
* March, 1994: Football linesman acquitted at Reading Crown Court of
assault on 13-year-old player during match between Theale Tigers and
Forest Hill Dynamos. Game abandoned after pitch invaded and general
* February, 1994: At Portsmouth court martial, Royal Navy rugby player
Ian Russell, accused of grievous bodily harm, receives four-month
suspended sentence and ordered to pay victim #1500 compensation
following incident in match between Navy and Havant.
* February, 1994: Inverness Sheriff Court trial of Kincraig shinty
player Leslie Anderson abandoned due to lack of evidence. In shinty's
first criminal court case the Kincraig player was accused of striking an
Inverness opponent on the head with his stick.
* December, 1993: Ian Cook, Alnwick, appears at Berwick Magistrates'
Court accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm on former Berwick
Rangers' player-manager Eric Tait during North Northumberland League
* November, 1993: Hawick and South of Scotland No 8 forward Brian
Renwick has jaw broken by punch while playing for Scottish Districts
against Auckland. Renwick reports alleged assault to police but
procurator fiscal takes no action.
* October, 1993: Stoke City striker Mark Stein receives conditional
discharge at Shrewsbury Crown Court for punching Stockport County player
in flare-up after Second Division match.
* August, 1993: Longside FC striker Jim Bain acquitted at Peterhead
Sheriff Court after ruling that a tackle which broke the leg of Aberdeen
Lads' player did not amount to a criminal offence.
* May, 1992: Perth Sheriff Court trial of football managers Walter
Smith of Rangers and Alex Totten of St Johnstone on breach of peace
charges after dug-out disagreement during Premier League clash. Totten
fined #250. The case against Smith was found not proven.
* October, 1988: Aberdeen procurator fiscal to take no action against
Rangers' captain Terry Butcher following police investigation into
alleged damage to referee's changing room door at Pittodrie.
* April, 1988: In what the defence team claimed was a test case, Old
Firm players Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Graham Roberts and Frank
McAvennie, appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court on breach of peace charges
arising from Old Firm match. Woods fined #500, Butcher fined #250. Case
against Roberts not proven and McAvennie found not guilty.