Friday 22 November 2019

'If people want to hit their wives, not watching Scott Brown or El-Hadji Diouf won't make much difference'

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

If the police statistics are to be believed, this time next week there'll will be roughly double the number of women waking up in parts of Scotland having been beaten up the day before, because Rangers play Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final.

This will be the sixth time the Old Firm have met this season and, with familiarity breeding growing contempt, the nastiness that usually surrounds the game has taken on a hardened edge thanks to the presence of some combustible individuals in both ranks.

After the last game 12 days ago, Strathclyde police revealed that instances of domestic violence in the west of Scotland rise by 138.8pc when the game is played on a Saturday, with smaller but still significant rises (96.6pc and 56.8pc) for games played on Sundays and weekday evenings.

Even the Scottish government got involved by calling a meeting between the two clubs to discuss how behaviour at the fixture can be improved, with Celtic's chief executive Peter Lawwell acknowledging that "around an Old Firm game violence and domestic abuse does take a hike, and we must address that".

All of which is very commendable until the first mis-timed or deliberately late tackle next Sunday at Hampden Park sets the frenzy in motion again and puts the police and hospitals on red alert. Warning players about how their actions on the field will affect other people off it is a nice idea, but like so many other reactions to aspects of popular culture, it thoroughly ignores the root cause.

During the 1990s the film 'Natural Born Killers' was banned because its plot revolved around a couple of serial killers whose actions were being glorified and the fear was that it could cause copycat behaviour.

Those in favour of banning the film put forward the image of somebody whose mental health wasn't good -- and who had access to a gun -- watching the film and deciding that they would do the same thing.

On the surface it's a reasonable argument but, by banning the film, it still left the would-be killer with mental health problems and access to a gun, both of which are far more serious issues and more difficult to solve. But, we'll just ban the film and hope that everything will be okay.

Like censoring films or music, the idea of abolishing Old Firm matches or playing them behind closed doors seems like a reasonable suggestion in order to tackle the problem of domestic violence.

But if somebody feels justified to perpetrate such a vile and unforgivable action because their team has lost a football match or the two opposition managers have gone nose-to-nose after the final whistle, the chances are they will be capable of finding some other risible excuse for going home and throwing a few digs.

That is not to excuse the players or managers entirely, but their actions can, realistically, only be punished by the sort of suspensions which Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist rightly received for their behaviour last time around.

But trying to make footballers and their clubs -- not just in Glasgow -- the fall-guys for a range of social issues represents a classic case of treating a symptom rather than a cause.

If somebody feels it's acceptable to batter their wife, not being able to see Scott Brown and El-Hadji Diouf isn't going to make a blind bit of difference.

The police statistics reinforce the image around the supporters of Old Firm teams whose reputation seems to be falling faster than the quality of football on offer between the two teams. Because of this country's traditional allegiance to Celtic, it's generally portrayed that Rangers supporters are the bigots who are mostly responsible for the trouble.

That may or may not be the case, but try walking down a crowded street in Ireland wearing a Rangers jersey and see how long it takes for somebody to throw a word or something more sinister in your direction.

Those responsible might have no allegiance to Celtic at all, but the sight of a Rangers jersey, even in such an enlightened country as we like to think ours is, means you probably wouldn't have to wait too long.

Then there's the stereotypical image of the Celtic supporters wearing T-shirts of 'undefeated army' and having their phones ringing to the sound of 'Come out ye black and tans'.

Again, like all teams, there is an unpleasant element, but the majority of the hundreds who head to the ports and airports on a weekly basis are doing so purely for the football.

And for the Old Firm, it's the football that's becoming the problem. Three years ago, Celtic emerged from a Champions League group ahead of Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk before losing 4-2 on aggregate to Barcelona in the last 16. In the last two years, they haven't even reached the group stages.

Rangers are making a reasonable go of their Europa League campaign on their quest to reach the final in Dublin -- which should be an interesting social experiment -- but where once Old Firm matches had the continental quality of Laudrup and Larsson, it's the Premier League rejects like David Healy or Georgios Samaras who now spearhead the attacks.

Such a lack of quality means the games are now promoted using clips of bad tackles and fights to build up the supporters to the point where the first incident lights the powder-keg which ends up with people waking up with black eyes and bruises the next day. As long as people are only choosing to blame the players, that's unlikely, sadly, to ever change.

The Left Wing: Champions Cup returns, Jacob Stockdale's development, and Simon Zebo goes back to Munster

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