Treating football fans like vermin

A football cop’s admission that he sees his job as ‘pest control’ sheds light on the elite’s attitude to fans.

Stuart Waiton

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Topics Politics

The Scottish Sun ran a story this week about a specialist Scottish football police officer, Tommy McCrindle, who was pulled off his duties, policing Celtic fans, because of comments he appears to have made on Facebook. McCrindle is alleged to have written in the ‘Works At’ section of his Facebook page: ‘Fume-a-Pest & Termite Control.’ That is, he equated Celtic fans with cockroaches and vermin.

The irony for anybody who has been watching how football fans, especially Celtic fans, are being policed at the moment, is that McCrindle was ‘done’ not for his unit’s intimidation and harassment of fans, but for being offensive. Given the police’s obsession with football fans singing offensive songs, you could say McCrindle was hoist with his own petard.

McCrindle’s Facebook page was made public by the Green Brigade. This is an ‘ultra’ Celtic fan group, which, in numerous statements made online and to the press, has argued that its members are being relentlessly targeted by Strathclyde Police, of which McCrindle is an officer. Indeed, in November 2012 the Green Brigade boycotted two Celtic games due to its concerns over the treatment of its members by the police.

If the Green Brigade’s most recent statements are true, it appears that the police, with the help of some Celtic officials, are targeting the Green Brigade, which is well known for its Irish republican sympathies and singing at games. Members have their Green Brigade merchandise removed, they are restricted from entering the ground, and sometimes they are suspended and banned without explanation. Other Green Brigade members, who all sit in the same section of Celtic Park, have been arrested for a variety of offences – many of them under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Communications Act 2012.

Some members are followed by the same policeman each week at and around games, and some officers even namedrop Green Brigade family members in front of the fans as part of an attempt to intimidate them. Arrests have been made at workplaces and at airports as families arrive home from holiday, presumably for the added effect this has on the individual, their families and even their job prospects. Many of these arrests lead nowhere and the cases are quickly dropped; others go further but are eventually thrown out of court. As this week’s Green Brigade statement notes, ‘It has now gotten to the stage whereby members of our group live in constant fear of the police showing up at their homes or workplaces with a trumped-up charge, or to be told that they are banned from football matches as they approach the gates of 111’ (the section the Green Brigade sits in).

If it turns out that the comments on Facebook did indeed come from McCrindle himself (and reports suggest they do), it will indicate a certain level of stupidity from this ‘anti-hooligan’ officer. More importantly, it might also point to the hatred and prejudices that exist among the Scottish elites towards football fans in general, and fans of Old Firm rivals, Rangers and Celtic, in particular. The more these fans are discussed in the corridors of power as a problem for society, as Scotland’s ‘shame’, as ‘peddlers of sectarian hate’ or as ‘bigots who have no place in Scottish society’, the more the police are given the green light to talk about and treat them like pests or vermin that need to be stamped out.

It is worth pointing out that despite the media often attempting to implicate the Green Brigade in Celtic-related violence after games, the brigade is not a hooligan gang. It is not violent or interested in violence; it is a group which creates the atmosphere at Celtic games with its Irish republican singing. The Green Brigade’s songs, chants and banners offend some people, particularly the right-thinking people in the Scottish elite. And now, thanks to the Offensive Behaviour Act that allows cops to police all forms of speech, singing and behaviour at football grounds, the brigade can be criminalised simply for chanting the ‘wrong’ thing or for singing, in Scottish first minister Alex Salmond put it, ‘IRA songs’.

It is clearly the intention of the Scottish elite to stamp out groups of fans they see as bringing shame on Scotland. It is not the violence of fans that is being policed, but their words. Chant or sing a song that might be seen as offensive in any way and you can now be arrested by the Scottish police. For Celtic fans, simply singing political songs that celebrate the Irish republican cause can lead to an arrest.

The fact that the Green Brigade can be harassed and intimidated in this way is a terrifying and disgraceful reflection of the nature of the new elite. This elite’s members think of themselves as tolerant, but in reality they’re authoritarian snobs who have encouraged the police to treat football fans like a pest to be eradicated.

Stuart Waiton is a sociology and criminology lecturer at Abertay University in Dundee. He is the author of Snobs Law: Criminalising Football Fans in an Age of Intolerance. (Buy this book from Amazon (UK).)

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Topics Politics