FRONTLINE police officers have criticised the "soft" sentence handed out to a Scottish premiership footballer after he avoided a jail sentence for attacking two police officers as they tried to arrest him.

Paul McGowan, a former Celtic youth player who is now a mid­fielder for St Mirren, was yesterday sentenced to 130 hours of unpaid work and a one-year supervision order.

The sentence was reduced from 170 hours on account of his early guilty plea, but McGowan, who has a previous conviction for police assault, was told that as part of his community payback order he may have to attend the Meridian alcohol counselling service.

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Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said: "An attack on a police officer is an attack on the fabric of society. It is disappointing to see a soft sentence handed out again.

"We can only put cases before the courts. It is up to the courts to decide on the merits of the case.

"It is quite disappointing the way the courts deal with assaults on police officers."

Outside court, McGowan said: "I'm not allowed to say anything but I would have taken that if you'd have asked me."

He had previously admitted kicking Constable Edward Gilmartin and repeatedly kicking Constable Tony Fitzpatrick in Airdrie and at Coatbridge police station on August 11.

The 26-year-old pled guilty to the double assault at Airdrie Sheriff Court last month.

Sentencing him yesterday, Sheriff Frank Pieri told him: "People who act in this way towards police officers can expect a prison sentence, especially with someone like your record.

"However, I am prepared to deal with you in this way as a direct alternative to custody."

The court heard how McGowan, a father of one, had been on a night out in his home town of Airdrie with his father when the incident took place.

Police were called to Wheatholm Street after receiving a tip-off about an incident involving the player. While being handcuffed the footballer kicked out at Constable Gilmartin, striking him on the knee. He was then held face down but kicked out again, catching Constable Fitzpatrick on the inner thigh and groin area, causing him "severe pain".

Because of his aggressive manner, the officers were forced to restrain his feet using fast-straps before he was taken to Coatbridge police station.

McGowan's solicitor Mark Lutton told the sheriff the incident was an "impulsive reaction by a young man that was drunk".

The solicitor added: "His behaviour was totally inappropriate. He fully accepts his wrong­doing. He is able to recognise the role excessive alcohol has played. He does not offer that as an excuse but to explain his behaviour. He is thoroughly ashamed. He is full of regret and remorse and offers his full apology to both the court and to the police officers concerned."

McGowan's lawyer added that the player's parents were "deeply disappointed" by their son's behaviour.

Following the court proceedings, St Mirren said: "Today's sentencing brings this deeply regrettable matter to a close.

"We have been very clear we do not condone Paul's actions in any way. Everyone involved with St Mirren Football Club is fully aware we expect them to act in accordance with our commitment to respect and tolerance in our community. Paul knows what he did was wrong and completely unaccept­able. As a club, our long-term objective is to help him learn from his behaviour and move on with his life and career and, as such, we have no further comment to make."