POLICE have been whispering their concerns for months: hooliganism, they have been saying, is back.

Organised football violence, source concede, is nothing like the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s.

Late last year Bernie Higgins, the assistant chief constable in charge of policing Scottish games, told The Herald that half of Scotland’s 42 senior clubs had what he called “risk supporters”. Some clubs - and he did not name them - have up to 150 of such fans.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents the force’s rank and file, was even blunter. Its vice chair, David Hamilton, said Scotland “had a resurgence of old problems”.

Legislation - widely criticised - to deal with sectarianism and hooliganism has been repealed. This, rightly or wrongly, suggest some sources has emboldened problematic elements of Scotland’s football clubs.

READ MORE: Police warns of rising sectarian attacks on officers at Scottish football

Enter Will Kerr, the national force’s new deputy chief constable. The Northern Irishman crossed The Sheuch to Scotland in September after decades policing his home turf. He knows about sectarianism. And yet, he told a meeting of his ruling board, he was surprised by what he had seen at Scottish grounds.

HeraldScotland: Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr displays a police officer's shield which was struck by a ceremonial sword in Belfast

Will Kerr when still in Northern Ireland

Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority in Greenock, he said: “The vast majority of fans who go to these football matches do so entirely peacefully and just want to enjoy the wonderful spectacle that is Scottish football.

“But what I’ve been surprised at over the last six months, particularly when it comes to behaviour at football matches, has been two things.

“One has been that level of sectarianism on display and I say that having policed in Northern Ireland for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve been surprised at how much it is seen as normal... It feels almost visceral in a way I haven’t experienced for quite a while.”

Mr Kerr added: “I’ve also been surprised just at the level of disorder on display at the some of the football matches and we have been concerned, particularly over the last 12 months, that there has been a rise in both disorder, that type of offensive behaviour and the levels of aggression to police officers.

“We’ve had officers pulled off horses, spat at, attacked - very aggressive behaviour towards them.

“We had a police horse which had pyrotechnic flare thrown at it a couple of weeks ago and was injured to the extent it had to go to the vet.

“Again, I’ve been surprised that the consistently thuggish behaviour of a very small number of fans is considered normal. This is not normal. It is a sport.

“On both fronts there is a responsibility and a need for everybody, including the police service, to collectively challenge ourselves about how much that’s considered normal and what we can actually do to address it.”

READ MORE: Scottish football needs strict liability - here's why we won't get it

Mr Kerr admitted it was hard to measure the rise in aggression. His remarks, he explained were based on feelings of officers policing the matches.

The issue, he said, should not be left to the police. Mr Kerr said clubs, fans, and councils all need to look at what can be done differently to change this behaviour “from being normal to being unacceptable”.

He said part of that will be enforcement but “we’re certainly not going to arrest our way out of this”.

Scotland is getting outside help. An independent review of policing at football matches in Scotland is due to be launched next week.

The sport, meanwhile, is resisting calls for strict liability, when clubs could be punished for the behaviour of their fans. Anti-sectarianism campaigners favour that response.

Dave Scott, director of Nil by Mouth, said: “We can’t ignore the loud and angry minority that seem to revel in this behaviour and feel the laws of the land don’t apply once they buy a match ticket.

“This problem is compounded by the total lack of action by clubs and governing bodies being allowed to repeatedly bury their heads in the sand on this issue.”

Other solutions? Liberal Democrats Thursday mooted closing the stands of clubs plagued by trouble.