THE leader of Glasgow City Council has been accused of a dramatic u-turn on his long-standing opposition to the widespread availability of alcohol by backing plans for its reintroduction at football.


Gordon Matheson, who once launched a campaign on liquor abuse with the claim "Glasgow has a problem with alcohol", said he now supported a "moderate drinking at Scottish football matches".

A change in the law would see Mr Matheson's authority have a veto on whether the country's three biggest stadia, Celtic Park, Hampden and Ibrox, would be licensed.

His support of the scheme comes as his party leader, Jim Murphy, headed a summit at Hampden, along with representatives of clubs and the Scottish Football Association, calling for the the 35 year ban on booze within grounds being lifted.

Asked on his views on the issue, Mr Matheson said: "I think the time is right to consult on the phased re-introduction of moderate drinking at Scottish football matches, perhaps on a trial basis. Corporate guests at football games and everyone at rugby matches can drink.

"Why do some in authority find it so hard to trust working class football fans?"

But health experts have criticised the stance, while opposition politicians have pointed to his previous statements on alcohol.

Two years ago, when bringing Glasgow into line with most of the rest of Scotland on earlier Sunday pub openings was mooted, he described the plan as "retrograde step" and "utterly perverse", insisting he would oppose its introduction.

In 2011 he also launched a task force on alcohol, claiming there had been too long an acceptance of "booze culture"and weekend binge drinking, adding: "Glasgow has a problem with alcohol - it's no secret, it's there for all to see."

Leading Glasgow SNP councillor Graeme Hendry said: "Cllr Matheson's rapid move from being the city's leading prohibitionist to leading libertarian on alcohol availability shows the fundamental lack of belief in anything at the heart of Labour."

He also said the council leader had neglected to support fans on other issues, adding: "Maybe he could investigate why his council is dragging its heels so much on safe standing areas."

Barbara O'Donnell, deputy chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "Those calling for the sale of alcohol at football grounds should consider the broader implications, including the impact on health, disorder and violence. "Reversing this ban would be a backwards step. The annual cost of alcohol in Glasgow alone is already £364 million. We should be focusing on reducing the availability of alcohol to reduce consumption and harm, not creating yet more opportunities to drink.

Dr Peter Rice, chair of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol, said previous legal challenges raised questions on whether limits could be set on alcohol availability at football, adding: "This isn't a one-way discussion. People are thinking about this. Some claims by the general public are much less knee jerk than those made by some politicians."

Asked about his previous comments Mr Matheson said alcohol at football approach was entirely consistent with tackling excessive, public and underage drinking, adding: "Public policy must address alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour while allowing adults to enjoy themselves responsibly."

After the Hampden summit, Mr Murphy, who was heckled by serial protester Sean Clerkin as he arrived, said: "Football has changed so much in three and half decades. Is there still the odd idiot? Absolutely.

"What we are talking about is people being allowed to drink for a proscribed period in a supervised way inside the stadium in a controlled environment."