A rare weekend off left me free, free to do whatever I wanted, and I wanted to go and see Motherwell. So cheap train tickets and a tinnie in my friend’s flat beforehand, off we went to Pittodrie. I do my best not to be downbeat about Scottish football, as it is an attitude which seems prevalent and I don’t agree with it. In many ways however, today outlined some of the very worst aspects of the game for me, can’t say I’m deeply into conspiracy theories either, but more to that later.
Upon arriving, we had to wait to be frisked and again at the turnstile, as a ‘Well fan and his young son baulked at the £40 requested for the two of them to sit in a crumbling, cold stand. £23 with a £17 concession is a ridiculous price to watch Scottish football. Still, we made our way inside and headed closer to the front of the stand in order to be part of the Motherwell singing section who have added so much to the atmosphere at games this season. As at Tannadice, they were informed their flags and snare drum were not permitted within the stadium, but no matter. Motherwell fans have been in good voice this season and proved this once again as the game kicked off. Michael Higdon kicked things off with a front post header from another powerfully hit free-kick whipped across the face of goal by Tom Hateley. Aberdeen responded almost immediately with a Scott Vernon header.
The next half hour or so of the game is difficult to analyse really, as I spent most of it staring at hi-vis jackets. BBC Live Text reported it as:
1524: We’re hearing there’s been a bit of trouble in the Motherwell section of the support at Pittodrie. The police are there in numbers…
Motherwell’s singing section had been standing, singing and generating an atmosphere. Soon after the Aberdeen goal, the stewards moved in towards the group and began to remove members of the group. This proved to be a flash point and the following half an hour saw more fans removed and a collection of ugly scenes between the Stewards and Motherwell fans. Fans were dragged up the stairs towards the top of the stands and one younger member was pulled by the chest and neck to the front of the stand and pulled out. A few fans reacted and a Steward was pushed over. As the Stewards began hauling teenagers out, the atmosphere changed dramatically and became poisonously confrontational. Fans whipped out their phones in order to capture what was going on and a few appeared to be removed for doing so. The police became involved and attempted to calm the situation with the Stewards eventually retreating. The behaviour from the Stewards was similar to Tannadice earlier in the season, where they appeared to be getting in the face of Motherwell fans and provoking a reaction.
With the exception of one swift removal at the beginning of the second half, it passed without incident. The singing section regrouped in the same position as they had done previously, not infringing on anyone else’s view and amazingly managed to stand for 45 minutes, sing and celebrate Omar Daley’s first goal in claret and amber without throwing themselves to the ground.
My main bone of contention with all of this is the double standards which pervade this debate. There were Aberdeen fans in the section alongside the away fans today and at the back of the Dick Donald stand who remained unseated for the 90 minutes. When a Police officer was asked about this, he informed us that it was the ‘singing section’. I’ve been at numerous games with Old Firm fans as well as Scotland games where large sections of the crowd are on their feet for the entire game. In no way do I consider it unreasonable for fans to stand at the football, but consistency here would clear the muddy waters somewhat. The rules appear to apply to groups of teenage Motherwell fans, Dunfermline fans or St. Johnstone fans (simply from my experiences) but for large groups, there is no point bothering, so why make a fuss? In addition to this, I wholeheartedly object to being filmed at the football. I’ve covered several Hearts and Dundee United games where the special Policing football unit have been out in force, holding their camera up and getting a nice shot of my hairy face. I’ve nothing to hide, but as we saw today, again, double standards where authorities are fully entitled to film fans but fans filming authorities is unacceptable? The ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ argument works both ways.
The past few months has seen a lot said about the SNP’s Offensive Behaviour at the Football bill and a mobilisation against it. This has very much been on a club by club basis, with Rangers, Celtic and this week, Motherwell fan groups expressing their distaste. As I said previously, I’m not really into conspiracy theories or 2+2=5ery, but I’ve been in the away end at Pittodrie with Hearts, Dundee United, Motherwell, Hibernian, Falkirk and St. Johnstone (I think that is all of them?) and today was far and away the most confrontational the Stewards have been. This bill seems to be going through, whether fans are consulted or not. MSPs are telling us that the Police and Stewards will be able to apply the legislation responsibly and with common sense but certainly today, Motherwell fans saw very little of this and I fail to see how adding more powers will improve this. I very much get the feeling that once again, due to the numbers involved in Old Firm supports and the rest of the SPL, no difference will be made, and once again fans of smaller teams will suffer.
We need a dialogue between the clubs, fans and the authorities, one which is not motivated by political point scoring or fundamentalist fans. One which has the match day experience at the heart of it and one which is run by people who are capable of making the connection between fans through the gate, fans enjoying themselves and returning, more money for the clubs, a better product on the pitch and a better product to sell on the television. Fan groups should be encouraged, and Police and Stewards need to stop looking at groups of teenagers as hooligans. This all feels like the thin end of the wedge to me, and at a time where Scottish football should be welcoming any and all positive action around games, pulling teenagers out left right and centre from games for the crime of standing up is madness.
As the Motherwell fans sang out this afternoon, ‘Heavy hands – Empty stands’