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Pubs blame Old Firm for latest threat to business

TRADE lobbyists have blamed Old Firm players and managers for the latest threat to pubs around football grounds.

Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon's notorious confrontation after an Old Firm game in March 2011
Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon's notorious confrontation after an Old Firm game in March 2011

They have demanded that corporate hospitality at stadiums such as Celtic Park and Ibrox is included in any alcohol clampdowns on matchdays, accusing ministers and the police of focusing on independent bar operators because they are easy targets.

Following the announcement of plans to amend Scotland's liquor laws, the chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has also warned that any serious attempt to limit the supply of alcohol around sensitive games and parades would require preventing supermarkets over a huge geographic area from selling drink up to a day before the actual event.

The SLTA's intervention comes in the middle of the Scottish Government's consultation on amending the Licensing (Scotland) 2005 Act, three years after it was introduced.

Key areas the Government has said could be tightened up include moves to prevent discounts on buying alcohol online from England-based suppliers, having people selling alcohol pass a test in English, giving police additional powers to flag up concerns about individuals in the trade, and changing the law to stop adults escaping prosecution if they buy alcohol for people under 18.

But as well as giving councils legal backing to make changes to how alcohol is sold across entire neighbourhoods, they could also have powers to shut pubs around football grounds if they believe there could be disorder associated with the match.

Now SLTA boss Paul Waterson says pubs are being targeted as part of the fall-out from the so-called "shame game" between Celtic and Rangers nearly two years ago, which saw three players sent off and both managers square up to each other.

The incident led to the Government's football summit and the creation of the Football Co-ordination Unit for Scotland (FoCUS), backed with millions of pounds.

Mr Waterson said: "The players and managers are part of the problem here. We all know what happened after the game of two years ago. In the past, pubs were closed during Old Firm games, so the problems historically have been around the match itself.

"Ibrox, Celtic Park and Hampden all have large Asdas in their immediate vicinity. Are they going to stop them selling alcohol? Will they prevent the clubs giving out free drink to the VIPs receiving corporate hospitality?

"The police already have enough checks and balances to deal with problem premises and if you really want to do something about alcohol and football you'd need to prevent supermarkets across the west of Scotland selling alcohol even the night before the game.

"But individual operators, many of whose livelihoods are dependent on the football crowd, are much easier targets. We'll fight these proposed changes tooth and nail."

One source told The Herald the changes to the Licensing Act around football were being pushed by the police, which had become "more interventionist" under new laws and needed something to show for the establishment of FoCUS.

The source added: "Police currently have the power to apply to a licensing board for the closure of individual premises on public safety grounds. I'm not aware of this power ever having been used – I'm certain it hasn't been used to any significant extent – so it's impossible to figure out why they're now seeking a much wider power. If licensed premises do become the source of football-related disorder it's open to the police to call for a review of the licence."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are consulting on a variety of proposals to strengthen the powers of licensing boards and the police, including police powers to impose restrictions on licensed premises in areas where disorder is likely to occur.

"The Joint Action Group on Football agrees that alcohol fuels much of the violence associated with football and proposed that these powers could reduce alcohol-related disorder and help with dispersal of supporters following a match.

"This proposal is similar to powers that already exist in England and Wales and we welcome views."

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