IS there a socially acceptable way to get blotto? Have a few cans and a bottle of tonic wine on the train to the game, and, like Bananaman after eating his favourite fruit, you will immediately transform into an anti-social ned. Suck from the nectar of 10 overpriced pints and a bottle of merlot before, during and after the rugger, and you’ll transform into Ernest Hemingway emanating genius through a perennial drunken haze.

The treatment of football fans in relation to the nation’s other favourite pastime, pissed-time, has been riven with double standards against its white-collar cousin for decades. Go to Hampden Park to see Scotland play Estonia in a relatively prosaic Nations League match and you’ll be trusted with a carton cup of draft coke. Go to Murrayfield to watch Scotland take on fierce rivals England in the Calcutta Cup and you can swan to and from your seat with a bounty of frothy brews topping up the pre-match binge.

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The hypocrisy, of course, is brewed at the very top of society, and manifested itself like a soggy belch during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

This week, WhatsApp messages delivered to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry revealed what we already knew about then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s attitude towards professional football players given the privilege to continue in their gainful employment during those dismal months in the first summer of the global crisis. A “complacent abomination” is how she described eight Aberdeen players’ trip to a pub following a match against Rangers that same day in August 2020. Eight young men, who were permitted to share transport to and from their ground, share a dressing room, play together in a contact sport, then had the temerity to eat and drink together afterwards and were eviscerated by the most prominent politician in the land.

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This is not to suggest that what they did was acceptable. The strict rules in place were there for a reason and the fact that some of that cohort subsequently tested positive for the virus vindicated the folly of their judgement.

These rules, of course, were concocted by experts in the field. Real role models for public behaviour, political appointees whom we can and should hold to the highest standards in public life. Figures like former chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, say.

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Dr Calderwood was someone close to Ms Sturgeon who, in April that year, during that horrific spring when cases were exponential and hospitals and healthcare workers pushed well beyond their limits, despite helping to draft the draconian guidelines which precluded such basic social contact as a sit-down meal in a pub, broke the very rules she helped to write in the profoundly high-brow pursuit of visiting a second home on more than one occasion and was subsequently backed, defended, and then, with a heavy heart, sacked by the then-First Minister under heavy political pressure. Complacent? Abomination? No, no: it was ill-judged and unfortunate.

Another unelected appointee who was one of the members of the group chat containing Ms Sturgeon’s “complacent abomination” line was Professor Jason Leitch. The nation’s clinical director was so appalled by the Aberdeen players’ actions he sent a text message to then-minister for public health and sport, Joe FitzPatrick, calling for the Pittodrie club to be docked points for the offence. This was the same clinical director who that same month had agreed to consider a plan from Scottish Rugby to use Murrayfield as a test event for getting supporters back into sporting grounds. Overlooked were the dozens of football stadiums which had been at the avant-garde of hosting matches under severe conditions, of course.

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Then compare and contrast Professor Leitch’s attitude a year later, heading into the foreboding winter months of 2021, when in November that year he advised current First Minister, then-health minister, Humza Yousaf on how to skirt around restrictions at a social event. “I know sitting at the table I don’t need my mask,” Mr Yousaf said in the partially redacted message. “If I’m standing talking to folk need me mask on? [sic]”

The Herald: WhatsApp messages at Covid InquiryWhatsApp messages at Covid Inquiry (Image: Google)

The clinical director replied: “Officially yes. But literally no one does. Have a drink in your hands at ALL times. Then you’re exempt. So if someone comes over and you stand, lift your drink.”

Perhaps if the “Aberdeen eight” had followed this advice they could have avoided such puritanical outrage a year earlier. Yes, the rules in August 2020 and November 2021 were different, and what Professor Leitch was suggesting was within the rules at the time. But it comes back to double standards. The First Minister felt compelled at the time to make an example of a group of young guys having a meal after work, but a year later her clinical director is giving advice to the then-health minister on how to circumvent rules they were responsible for inflicting upon the public at – checks notes – a meal after work. Spot the difference.

Returning to the alcohol ban at football grounds, then, the point here is not that supporters should be allowed to get blitzed in peace like their oval-ball watching friends (being drunk and disorderly is a criminal offence, remember). There will be individuals on all sides who go against the spirit of the rules, it just appears that those wearing football colours are fairer game for recrimination. One group is trusted to follow the rules in the main, and the other is precluded and lambasted for their actions regardless. It’s a complacent abomination, I say.