Date: 10th November 2023
Sting has never had a reaction like the responses last week’s “Only One Story in Town’, generated when I followed up the Dens Park Pyro Riot and discussed the growing and deeply worrying appearance of pyros at more and more of our matches mostly in the hands of self- proclaimed ‘Ultras’.
I’d like to think it was just my writing that was getting more popular but it was the subject matter that sent Sting into orbit.
There is real fear among ordinary fans about both the rise of Ultra ‘club within club’ elites and behaviour issues that are getting worse.
Pyros is probably the biggest single issue and short term danger.
So, firstly thanks to over 100 of you who took the time to write in, mostly thanking us for the publicity and our belief that Strict Liability is probably the only, eventual solution to what is heading our way.
Only one pro-pyro respondent thought I was over-reacting a tad, but was pro strict liability nevertheless.
Not surprisingly a few media interviews have followed-on showing that there is genuine interest from the Fourth Estate.
But in the strange world of Scottish football the appearance of pyro at the League Cup Semi-final between Hearts and Rangers (mostly at the Hearts end) must have been less visible to the attendant media than it was to one of our Jambo members who felt threatened enough to leave with his grand kids.
And the full written match report on the BBC Scotland Sports site on Wednesday morning after the Saints v Motherwell match somehow failed to mention the Motherwell pyro display.
Maybe the writer was having a Gerry McNee moment?
But even with the usual Scottish Football ‘Omerta’ to journos who don’t play ball, pyros and interlinked bad behaviour from Ultras has not gone away and will get worse.
So, one way and another, the whole Pyro thing has been the talk of our SFSA Steamie all week and like out there, you soon notice that there are entrenched views on both sides.
Older fans amongst us, who can remember the horrendous and fatal Bradford City fire that came from a discarded cigarette end, are very much against while the younger fans see pyros as adding colour and unifying younger fans together.
My ‘Sting’ encouraged a whole bunch of new correspondence from fans who tell us they have tried to get help from their clubs because of the Ultras and pyros but are getting nowhere.
Also collectively you agree that there has to be a real punishment framework as part of any real solution.
Indeed the feeling is that it will take a few short, sharp jolts of points lost or closed grounds before sense and self policing finally breaks out.
But that is the future and in the short term there is an education gap that needs to be bridged, and fast and an epidemic to cure before it becomes a pandemic.
With hindsight it’s easy to say that this was always going to head our way because we all watch European football both live and on telly. Copycatting by fans is a natural thing in football, and even the tag ‘Ultra’ makes certain individuals feel ‘windswept and interesting’ and superior to other fans, both the opposition but also your own team’s supporters.
It’s not new.
Remember the Casuals from the 80s, the Bovver Boys from the late 60s and probably the Teddy Boys before that too.
And think about it, if you are an aspirant Ultras group and want to be bad there is no better way to unite your wee group than trousering in some pyros from Poland, informally first but then in an organised way.
Then changing jackets with your mates, chasing some other fans away from where you have moved to, wearing balaclavas and sun glasses and you have joined.
We’re the Ultras.
We fear nobody.
We’re the bad boys.
And we have the biggest sparklers in town!
Get that ‘right up you’, whoever you might be.
We are the Ultras
So the copycat continues and spreads and the pandemic metaphor doesn’t seem an over-egging any particular pudding.
And one wee Scottish bonus is outside European matches, your club doesn’t get punished because they have a wee self-produced agreement, between each other, from a dark room, that says if they have ticked all their self- agreed boxes, and that bad behaviour at football and the consequences of it are not their fault.
A Veritable ‘Get out of Jail’ card.
It cannot be legal.
And if you as a fan become an “Ultra’ at your club then you become part of a new fan elite and can feel special.
You are a veritable ‘Stormtrooper’.
Yes it’s all bollocks but as of now it makes you kings of the terracing.
Just think of the adrenaline flowing?
Who needs the football match?
The world is an angry place just now and Scotland is doing not bad in the performance tables.
Ultras and Ultra culture is a collective blanket to express feelings of anger and disillusionment.
That all means even though we can see it coming, it’s not an easy problem for anyone to solve.
Clubs have enough trouble just getting by.
They certainly don’t have the answer to a European-driven and interlinked sequence of quasi social problems.
I mentioned earlier that we had a family fight between some older and some younger SFSA people.
It tripped off after there was a social media post from a Laura Brannan, who works for TNT Sport and also works on the ‘Scottish Football Show’.
I don’t know her so this is at face value.
This week she tweeted, “Bored of seeing the same negative pyro headlines, uneducated columns and repetitive scare stories? We wanted to move the conversation on and get the facts. So come and listen to the guys who invented a form of pyro that’s as safe as using sparklers. Danish pyrotechnician Tommy Cordsen”.
Reading that ahead of a meeting this week with Robbie McGregor who chairs the Scottish Football Safety Officer Group I did two things.
I left him in no doubt about the number of our members who are scared to the point of non-attendance. (See the letter in point 5 of Sting).
I was like a dog with my own special bone on that one.
I also asked about ‘safe’ pyro.
Pyro, and remember it is hand held, burns at 2500 degrees.
‘Safe’ pyro burns at 600 degrees, easily hot enough to burn your own hands, set your clothes on fire, burn other fans, set alight to plastic seats and Laura we still have wooden stands in many grounds.
“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE PYRO”, Laura.
Robbie told us that categorically.
I believe him.
Football grounds are crowded and there are innocent people there.
Robbie and all the other safety officers are decent experts doing an amazing job and keeping us safe, but I’d argue they need more.
On Remembrance weekend I see them like the ‘lions led by donkeys’ from the trenches all those years ago.
While the generals are dining rather well and drinking rather nice claret the Safety Officers are the heroes.
But they need more structure and leadership and for now are hamstrung from the inherent protectionism in the game.
i.e. No matter what happens, under our current ‘internal’ agreements it will never be anyone’s fault or responsibility.
That is a huge nonsense.
Looking For a Solution
Self-policing is the ultimate control of any crowd of individuals.
We need fast education about Pyros, the fumes, the fire risk, and there are three action points needing addressed urgently.
Get out there and consult with fans who want pyros and fans who don’t.
Is there a role, a genuine role going forward, or is this just a fad from angry youngsters wanting to protest.
We need to let fans know that certain behaviours spoil it for other fans supporting their team.
Believe it or not, our research shows that only 40% of fans at most were ever in favour of ‘safe pyro’. That means a clear majority don’t want it.
And in the meantime get the message out there that pyros are dangerous and a disaster waiting to happen.
Tell all the fans about the danger of weaponry in enclosed spaces.
We live with it every day in every area.
It is no big deal and in fact is the counterbalance that holds most societies together.
There has to be somewhere to go when rules are flaunted and stuff has happened.
And like the law it can start small but statutory points reductions and closed stands would deter most fans.
A ‘without fear or favour’ set of rules and penalties.
And Dealing With the Age-Old Squirrel
Yes rogue fans could ostensibly get tickets, dress up, and be bad in their rivals ends to get their rivals into trouble.
In today’s social media age it is not hard to find out who people have supported.
Build in a simple check by the polis to any situation as part of the Strict Liability process.
This Week’s Sting
1. Split Down the Middle
2. The Footbonaut
3. Dortmund Wave 2 Fingers
4. Was This Strict Liability at Work?
5. What Can One Email Do?
1. Splitting Hampden, Badly and Unfairly
Aberdeen asked quite reasonably for a 50/50 gate share.
SPFL split it 56/44 in favour of Rangers.
All cup finals should initially be shared equally and ends drawn.
How fair is that?
2. 15 Year Old Andy Would Have Loved This Machine
Borussia Dortmund built and installed a unique 72 window passing and return machine in 2012.
It cost circa 1 M Euros but is changing their game.
It can work on right, left, head, slow (50Km per Hr) fast (100km per Hr) variable and gives out a score too.
It’s only in two other places, the Aspire Academy and in Qatar.
I’d have been crap but it would have made me a better player.
It is revolutionising the quality of their kids and their pros and has paid for itself on the subsequent transfer market.
Have a look.
3. German Club and Fans With Consciences
It must be Borussia Week.
Sensible prices for their home Champions League game with Newcastle and an attack on the monetarisation of Fifa and Uefa at the same time.
Well done guys.
4. What a Difference a Week Makes
Last week Dens Park was a smokehouse and a Singalonga night for the songs from a rather unique songbook that does Scottish football no favours.
This week was a wonderful and colourful display under the eye of Strict Liability and a Uefa delegate.
I’ve also been told the songbook for the night was also Uefa approved.
Strict Liability does what the SPFL seems unable to.
Well done the team for the win though, and also Aberdeen who just started their campaign 3 games too late.
And as for Madrid, well the sending off was harsh, and as daft as the Rashford one in Denmark.
Maybe VAR is taking us to a non-contact sport?
5. One Email Can Start a Revolution
I was touched by so many of the emails that came in after last week’s Sting.
Here is one from an ordinary, unnamed fan.
It doesn’t mention the club but makes a range of points that show distinct common ground.
You can judge any society by how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Right now Scottish Football is letting down some of its customers.
I have just read your recent article. I wanted you to know I can
relate to everything you wrote. I actually stopped going to games
last season because of the behaviour of some so called fans. The
saddest part was these were ‘fans’ of my own club. A club I have
followed since 1985. I rarely missed a home or away match.
It was a large part of my life for a long time.
Things seemed to get much worse after Covid.
I thought it might be a temporary thing and it was just
fans letting off steam. I was wrong. It’s continued to escalate to
the extremes we all witnessed last week at Dundee.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been near one of these flares,
unfortunately I have, only once but it’s not anything I would
recommend. They burn at such an intensity its quite frightening. I
would dread to imagine what injuries they could inflict if handled
incorrectly or if one became faulty.
The rise of anti-social behaviour before and during games was the main
reason I stopped going. You would experience it in pubs before games
and you could feel the tension building, and by the time we would get
inside the ground it was clear things were going to happen. There is
a group within our support that wants to style itself on the European Ultra
style of support. But they aren’t happy with just the relentless drum
banging and flag waving, it goes deeper than that. It’s political and
its violent. I don’t know if the two are linked or it’s just something
they feel they have to do because that’s how ‘other groups’ behave. It
all seems a bit plagiaristic to me. All a bit pretend.
But the consequences are the same. Stand near them and risk injury. That’s
Each game I attended became less and less enjoyable. Each game I
would spend most of my time wondering if the person next to me was
part of this group whose behaviour was unpredictable. And on some
occasions they were. I decided to remove myself from the danger. I
don’t know how many others feel the same way. But I am active on my
clubs forums and I’m certainly not the only one.
I wished those in charge would’ve taken your advice and opted into the
strict liability, seems like a common sense solution, maybe that’s why
they weren’t interested, not a lot of common sense about these days.
I wonder what it would take before they start to take notice? I fear
something tragic….let’s hope not.
Well done on the article,
That’s it for this week
Feedback input and wee stories welcome as always.
Andy’s Single and Album s of the Week
This week it should have been Fire by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown or Pyromania by Def Leppard.
But I wanted some peaceful background so I have been playing Dido and ‘Life for Rent’.
I love Sand in my Shoes, and This Land is Mine.
I know she reads Sting too and is a Stenny fan.