This article was first published yesterday in our bespoke Sports newsletter The Fixture. You can sign up in seconds to receive it straight to your inbox every weekday here.


Having allowed him to attend his first football match without parental supervision last Saturday, The Fixture was alarmed to take a phone call from his teenage son as the match he was watching entered the closing minutes.

During the call he asked me to change our meeting point outside the ground and expressed concern that fans from the away section were brandishing machetes and waving them at rival supporters.

The first thought was to get him out of there as quickly as possible even though I knew there was no way for the away fans to get to his section of the ground, the second was how those away fans had managed to get into the ground without detection in the first place and what were the police and stewards doing? Depressingly, there was another realisation much later on: there had been a total lack of surprise about what he had encountered at the game. 

There has been a worrying recent spate of bad behaviour at sporting events which – it must be said – have tended to threaten the safety of players more than that of supporters but which has once again prompted calls for strict liability from among others, Fraser Wishart, the PFA Scotland chief executive.

Over the festive period there was a slew of incidents in Scottish football: a Celtic fan was hit by a bottle thrown from the Rangers section at the New Year Old Firm game, idiotic Celtic fans interrupted the minute's silence for the Ibrox disaster, Rangers fans sung a despicable song during a league game at Ross County about former Celtic manager Tommy Burns, a beloved colleague of Rangers legends Walter Smith and Ally McCoist when the trio were part of the Scotland management team together. On the same day as the Celtic fan was hit by what was believed to be a bottle opener, the Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark suffered a head wound after he was struck by an object thrown by a Hibs fan during the Edinburgh derby.

Sport has always had that curious ability to generate the kind of passion that prompts normally sentient beings to take leave of their senses and do things that they would not otherwise do (some others are beyond redemption, of course).

Fan disorder and the threat of violence is not a new phenomenon at football grounds or in sporting arenas in general for that matter but it tends to be copycat in its nature and a cyclical thing which, alas, appears to be on the rise at the minute.

As Wishart noted a fortnight ago: “In the last three or four years, there have been quite a few incidents where missiles have been thrown — whether it is chips, coins or bottles — and players are getting hurt. It’s not getting any better and whatever is being done about it now is not working. So the game needs to look at it.

“The pitch is the players’ workplace. They are entitled to their safety there, same as anybody else. But nothing seems to be getting done. The governing bodies have the power to investigate improper conduct by supporters. Whether they do or not I don’t know. We never seem to hear anything about the outcome. We are at a stage now where there needs to be a review.”

HeraldScotland:

Last week, data released by the UK Football Policing Unit showed there were 343 banning orders issued between July 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022, in England and Wales which represented an increase of 230 per cent compared to the same period in the 2021-22 campaign.

In contrast, figures obtained by the Scottish Daily Express last October in the form of a Freedom of Information request revealed that the total number of banning orders for Scotland's clubs from the five-year period from 2017-2022 totalled 145 – it is a figure that has mostly declined year on year so perhaps Wishart had a point.

In recent days it has been the turn of English football fans to shame themselves. A Tottenham Hotspur supporter kicked the Arsenal goalkeeper, Aaron Ramsdale, in the aftermath of last weekend's North London derby then a few night's later a United fan strolled on to the Selhurst Park pitch during Manchester United's 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace and took a selfie with Jose Casemiro. The thousands of likes and comments praising the supporter told a predictable tale about how the modern football fan thinks: there is that sense of entitlement, then there is the social media element to it all – he captured his dash across the pitch with selfie-stick in hand – that desperate urge for those 15 minutes of fame.

As security breaches go, they were not exactly on a par with the Escape From Alcatraz, but who knows when that one fan might just go that step too far?