HERE we go again. Just when you thought Scottish football had surely had its fill of footballers’ poorly-thought-out plans going awry and creating an almighty mess, the issue has reared its head once again.

No, don’t worry Kilmarnock fans: Kirk Broadfoot hasn’t been poaching eggs in the microwave again. I’m talking, of course, about the five Rangers players who have found themselves in hot water after allegedly breaching Covid-19 safety protocols.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past few days, here’s a quick recap of the situation. On Sunday evening, news broke that the Infamous Five – Calvin Bassey, Nathan Patterson, Dapo Mebude, Bongani Zungu and Brian Kinnear – were in attendance at a party in Glasgow’s west end that was broken up by police. Ten people were issued with fixed penalty notices for breaking the Government’s coronavirus protocols with Rangers then releasing a statement to inform their fans that they had launched an internal investigation into the matter.

The names of those apparently involved were already circulating on social media that very evening before Steven Gerrard removed any lingering doubt by identifying them in an interview with Rangers TV yesterday.


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He told the club’s media channel that everyone at Ibrox was “really disappointed” with the players, adding that they will receive fines from the club in addition to whatever punishment the Scottish FA come up with. The Liverpool great also mentioned that talks between Rangers, the SFA and the Scottish Government were ongoing “to find the solution in terms of these boys”.

The players involved will face repercussions and given the stink that the situation has caused, I’d expect those consequences to be fairly severe.

I imagine senior figures within Ibrox are furious and frankly, it’s hard to blame them. The SFA, too, are surely mightily unimpressed with the whole situation, given the fight they have had in initially getting our game back up and running and then ensuring that it stays that way. But there’s another party involved here – one that has been very vocal on the matter – whose response has been disproportionate in my eyes.

When the First Minister gave her daily press briefing on Monday, it was inevitable that the Covid breach would come up before long. When it was raised, Nicola Sturgeon admitted that she felt it took “all my power not to use expletives when asked about football again”. She explained that she did not care which club’s players had committed a breach before warning that Scottish football has to get its house in order.


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It was a fitting response from a government that has long been accused of treating our nation’s most popular sport with disdain. The frustration the First Minister showed was palpable but it was perhaps telling, too. Here we all are, Sturgeon must have thought, trying to have a serious, grown-up chat about our national response to a pandemic, and here’s bloody football getting brought into it. Again.

Of course, this isn’t the first time this season that the Government has treated the entire football industry like a misbehaving child. The First Minister warned that she had issued a “yellow card” for all of Scottish football back in August after two notable breaches – Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli’s inexplicable Spanish sojourn and the eight Aberdeen players who were spotted drinking in a bar in the city centre.

Isn’t it funny, though, that whenever a footballer breaks protocols, the entire industry is held up and publicly castigated yet in other instances, it’s only ever the individual to blame?

Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t remember the Government demanding that politicians should have a long, hard look in the mirror when Margaret Ferrier hopped on a train to London and back. When Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief medical officer, circumvented the very rules that she had helped to write, I don’t recall any sweeping proclamations that medical professionals across the country were on their final warning. When Dominic Cummings drove his family to Barnard Castle, I have no recollection of strongly-worded statements on the actions of political advisors as a whole.


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Funny that. In those instances, it was one bad apple acting out of turn but as soon as it’s football, a subject that one can’t help but feel serves only as an irritant to Holyrood, everyone is to blame.

When the First Minister spoke on Monday, she made a point of underlining the fact that footballers have been enjoying privileges that have been alien to the rest of us for what feels like a lifetime. The implication is that there’s a requirement for them to act responsibly, especially given their national profile. For what it’s worth, I completely agree with that assessment.

There’s a bone of contention though, and it’s this: in the cases of Ferrier, Dr Calderwood and Cummings, couldn’t the very same argument be made? And if it could, why wasn’t it?

It seems to me that this latest commotion, the one prompted by that this quintet that have proved so quarrelsome, is simply the next iteration of a sequence over 13 years in the making where Scottish football is treated simply as an annoyance, as an unsolicited and inconsequential sideshow.

I had the same suspicion when the Government were fighting tooth and nail to prevent the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (Scotland) of 2012 – a piece of legislation that was ultimately repealed amid concerns from human rights groups that it treated football fans as suspects first and citizens second – from being scrapped. It was introduced as a knee-jerk reaction to the infamous ‘Shame Game’ between Celtic and Rangers the year previous. Under the Act, you could be fined for a football-related offence without even being at a match. Yes, under the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Go figure.


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Only a month ago, former first minister Henry McLeish said that the current Government’s relationship with football in this country “had hit rock bottom”, adding that Holyrood “doesn’t trust” the sport’s administrators, the SFA and the SPFL. It is testimony that is worth listening to, given McLeish’s background, and this latest incident only underlines his assertions.

The relationship between the Scottish Government and the beautiful game has been uneasy at best and downright condescending at worst, and comments like the ones Nicola Sturgeon made earlier this week will only cause this schism to widen. For the longest time, I’ve suspected that Holyrood couldn’t give a monkeys about the sport and aren’t overly fussed about pretending otherwise. Just compare and contrast the treatment of football and rugby fans with regards to the sale of alcohol, for example.

I can forgive indifference and it’s perfectly understandable if football is the very last thing on Nicola Sturgeon’s mind at the moment. There is no doubt that she has enough on her plate already. But it is deeply unfair to hold an entire industry to account for the misdeeds of a select few, particularly when football is the only one being treated in such a way, and the First Minister would do well to remember that.