Time for a pint mate?

The debate rages this week thanks to the unlikely man of the people Mr. Jim Murphy. In his infinite wisdom Jim wants those attending football matches to be enjoying alcoholic drinks for the first time since 1980 when the current ban was introduced. I’ll leave aside any sinister analysis of Mr. Murphy’s motives so I can give this issue the due consideration it deserves. This debate is important as it has many people divided. Health services; charities; the police and so forth want the current ban kept in place. Yet, the big wigs that run football teams want the ban rescinded in efforts to halt sliding attendances.

So, should alcohol be brought back to football grounds in Scotland? In my opinion, yes it should, without any shadow of a doubt – a trial run at least.

Henceforth I’m going to state my reasoning for wanting alcohol sales brough back and address some issues I feel are being unfairly held against all football fans. Before I go any further, this article isn’t supporting Jim Murphy or attacking the SNP, none of that nonsense need apply here. As a football lover who grew up travelling the length and breadth of Scotland following Morton, I am merely giving my voice to a very heated debate.

Does Scotland have an issue with alcohol? Yes, we have a major issue with alcohol. One look at the NHS statistics will show you the price we pay – individually and collectively – for excessive alcohol consumption. Whatever category or statistical evidence you apply to alcohol related issues in Scotland; it will paint you the same picture. Now I’m not avoiding the issue, I fully accept and understand the costs to society for our chronic love of a pint and a wee dram. Where I have trouble with our alcohol related issues is in the draconian laws applied to football fans because of it.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, when attending football matches, you could take in cases of beer; bottles of tonic wine, basically whatever you wanted to drink, you could take into the stadium. Now growing up as a young boy, my old man would take me to Morton games. I loved it, absolutely loved it – Cowshed casual I was. I loved the long bus journeys the most. Away to Forar, 2 hours on a bus with my dad and his steamin’ mates, I’d happily do that every day and twice on a Sunday if I could. I’m sure you could imagine the amount of alcohol that was consumed on those trips. Even as a young boy I was aware of how excessive some of that drinking was. Yet the atmosphere on the bus was brilliant. The songs, the discussions, the jokes, the whole trip was something I cherished. When we arrived at some games, some of the bus wouldn’t go, instead they would opt out for the nearest pub to the stadium. Sometimes I’d even have a different dad take me through the parent and child gate – don’t tell my maw. So far it seems like I’m painting a good picture for the current ban. However, the point I am trying to get at is about consumption. Alcohol is widely available to fans, via many different outlets pre and post match. Personally I find it hard to imagine that allowing fans to drink in the 90 minutes of a football match, will add significantly to the problems society already faces from misuse. Just for clarity, I am not advocating a return to bring in your own carryout. A licensed outlet selling alcoholic drinks is what I want to see returned to the stadium.

Perhaps the strongest argument against having alcohol sold freely in football stadiums comes from women’s organisations. When the ban on alcohol sale was introduced in 1980, something rightly had to be done, there was a direct correlation between domestic abuse and football. Yet domestic abuse is a much wider social issue than simply an occurrence of football related drunkenness. My desire to see drink sold freely at football matches is not so we can return to 1980s style domestic abuse, or indeed reserve the gains made by society when dealing with this often taboo subject. I just find it hard to believe that domestic abuse is a direct consequence of football fans consuming alcohol over a 90-minute period. Again the hypocrisy stems from the availability of alcohol to all of society. I welcome the moves by the current Scottish Govt with their ‘Alcohol Minimum Pricing’. I welcomed the move to bring forward the Old Firm match to 12pm. My problem is this: I simply do not see how in today’s environment, allowing a fan to purchase alcohol in stadiums will result in an increase of domestic violence. There is indeed a strong argument that the football fan in Scotland is being vicitmised for societies wider failings. I accept that certain football fans have tarnished history when it comes to violence and abusing alcohol. Yet to trust rugby fans or ice hockey fans with alcohol but not football fans is simply backwards and quite frankly insulating to fans of our most popular sport. Is anyone seriously suggesting that alcohol abuse is the sole province of football fans? Much like the racism issue in English football, domestic abuse is highlighted by football, not caused by it. You would have to show me some pretty impressive studies before I believed bringing back alcohol sales in football grounds would result in an increase in domestic violence. I am in no way attempting to belittle domestic abuse or violence in any context what so ever, I just prefer to deal with it at its root cause than demonise a section of football fans.

I want to conclude by giving my final thoughts on the issue. The negative effects of alcohol are a problem we should all meet head on. We have come a very long way in my short lifetime in acknowledging and addressing our failings with the devil. Alcohol in football grounds was rightly banned in the 1980s. Yet it is not 1980 anymore, and whilst we must always heed the concerns and opinions of those opposed to the introduction, it is time to move on from the past. For alcohol to be sold in grounds – to everyone, not just the select financially able few – the right safeguards must be put in place. Stadiums could have designated drinking stands, which remove children. In England, at football grounds, you can only get a pint at halftime and not within view of the park. Those are just two examples but there are multiple criteria which we can apply to any future trials. Finally, whilst alcohol is freely available to those at rugby grounds; ice hockey venues, and general sporting events across the country, I feel it is grossly unfair to prohibit one set of sporting fans from enjoying the freedoms afforded to others.

It’s halftime, time for a pint mate?

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