SCOTLAND’S elected representatives have been understandably reluctant to involve themselves in the running of our national game since the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (OBFA) was repealed at Holyrood five years ago.

The legislation, introduced in the wake of a bad-tempered Scottish Cup replay between Celtic and Rangers at Parkhead in 2011 that was branded an “Old Firm shame game” in the aftermath by certain sections of the media, faced strong opposition before it was passed and unhappiness escalated after it was pushed through.

James Kelly, the Labour MSP who spearheaded the drive to have OBFA scrapped, described it as “the worst legislation in Scottish parliament history”, claimed it was “illiberal” and argued that it treated supporters as “second class citizens”.

Many of his colleagues clearly agreed. It was, amid widespread celebrations at grounds around the country, finally shown a red card in 2018. Our politicians have tended to concentrate on weightier matters, like looking after the education system, running the health service and tackling unemployment, ever since.

READ MOREFans using 'private areas' and child 'mules' to get pyro into games

But the Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Articles (Scotland) Act 2022 which was approved by MSPs last year is set to have a significant impact on the match day experience for many fans after it comes in to force next month – and risks being met with exactly the same opposition and outrage as its predecessor a result.

Police Scotland officers will soon be able to act on intelligence and proactively search supporters they suspect may be carrying flares, smoke canisters, strobes and rockets, the use of which has been on the rise at games here to an alarming degree in recent years as the ultra culture prevalent in mainland Europe has grown, without warrant outside of stadiums.    

They have lobbied Holyrood for the new powers and believe they will enable them to snuff out what is a concerning problem and extinguish the risk of a fire being started or serious injuries and even fatalities occurring.

It is to be hoped the measures help to both detect and deter offenders and make our sporting arenas far safer places, including for the players on the park, than is currently the case.


But will they? It has long been a criminal offence to take pyrotechnics into a football ground and set them off and that has done nothing whatsoever to discourage those who believe they enhance the atmosphere and care little for the potentially serious consequences of their reckless behaviour.

Stopping these devices coming through the turnstiles is an impossible task for clubs, police, security staff and the football authorities given the size of the crowds they are dealing with.

What significant difference will searching people outside a ground make when there are thousands, often tens of thousands, of people in attendance at an Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts, Hibernian or a Rangers match? It will still be needle in a haystack stuff.

Ken Scott, the head of inspectorate at the Sports Ground Safety Authority, recounted the extraordinary lengths that some fans had gone to in the past to smuggle pyrotechnics in to stadiums across the United Kingdom in an interview in these pages earlier this year. He revealed they had concealed them on their private parts, had used children as “mules” and had even hidden them inside baguettes.

READ MOREHow football in Norway has pioneered safe pyrotechnic areas in grounds

Scott also stressed that he believed the solution did not lie in punitive measures like fines and stand closures or in heavy-handed policing. He advocated “education and persuasion rather than prescription” and pointed out that taking a less severe approach had made a tangible difference down in England. He had a good point.  

What will the reaction to being stopped and frisked by police on a Saturday afternoon as they make their way to see their heroes in action be among Scottish supporters? You do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. Complaints about having their human rights violated promise to be as deafening as the flashbangs which have permanently damaged the hearing of stewards.

There was an outcry in German football at the start of this season at the Draconian treatment which Werder Bremen fans were subjected to by local police when they turned up at the Volkswagen Arena for their opening Bundesliga fixture against VfL Wolfsburg.


Their president Hubertus Hess-Grunewald called publicly for an end to the “criminalisation” of fans afterwards. “The controlled burning of pyro could be a way out of an escalating spiral of repression,” he said.

How will “no pyro, no party” brigade respond to the new crackdown? Will they shrug their shoulders and put their strobes in a sand bucket? Not a chance. The ultra element positively revel in the lawlessness of their actions. If anything, they will simply redouble their efforts.

The Scottish Cup semi-final between Rangers and Celtic at Hampden last Sunday saw coordinated pyro displays before kick-off in both ends. They were certainly spectacular. And nobody was hurt during them.

However, I saw several stewards ducking to avoid being hit by lit flares which were launched onto the track from high above them. Something certainly needs to be done before another person is maimed or worse.

But is this new legislation the answer? There is a very real danger it will just be OBFA in disguise. An open and adult debate involving all concerned parties would perhaps do more to reach a workable solution.