Our Donald – Behave Yersel…

Date: 11th February 2024

In this weeks second blog from our resident writer Donald Stewart:

Behave yersel… 

There’s nothing like the cup designed for the lower leagues to divide fans. As I have written countless times, nobody cares about it until their team is close to the final. Then people suddenly become animated about the possibility of getting to a national final and winning a cup.  

And so, this year’s SPFL Trust Trophy, shall have the very first non-Scottish team in that final – The New Saints (TNS) from Wales – up against Airdrieonians at the Falkirk Stadium on the 24th of March 2024. The Welsh shall no doubt send their fans up in numbers. The fact that the final has been announced for the Falkirk Stadium does seem to be a fitting venue as it stands like a Premier League structure whilst supporting a team that has not been in the top league for quite some time. It is a stadium about vaulting ambition which deserves to have reality catch it up – unless they face Ayr United in any playoff… 

But it was their last visit to the Falkirk Stadium which caught the attention of news desks as the semi-final, against Falkirk FC – the only UK top level team unbeaten in their league – ended up with what was called “disorder” outside of the ground. Falkirk were quick to condemn and apologise as distress was clearly caused to the fans who had made the journey all the way to support their team.  

Such fan disorder is, as Falkirk rightly claim, a disappointment and an embarrassment.  

It was not, however, the only evidence of fan disorder during that week as Leeds’ Jason Bamford reported that, after having missed a penalty, fans decided to come and confront him at home! Just how they knew where he lived, hardly takes an Einstein to work out in the days of social media and celebrities wanting to share their lives online to “manage their profile” and keep them “relevant”…  

Meanwhile the level of social media content around the disorder at Falkirk will have been concerning on the one hand but on the other may well lead to people being swiftly identified, arrested and dealt with. And I am not always going to blame the hijinks and disgusting behaviour on a few rowdy young ‘uns, who will be branded bad ‘uns. It is similarly easy to start down the societal route where we are talking about letting off steam and pressures that are political and all the rest of the malarkey. Putting anyone into a state of fear and alarm is wrong, irrespective of what you are suffering or what has happened to you in turn. Mitigation is available but we need to start by responsibility being taken.  

But the one statement which came out from Falkirk FC, only really reported in the Falkirk Herald, their local paper really caught my eye and was as follows: – 

“Finally, we wish to thank the vast majority of Falkirk supporters who attended the game on Saturday, once again in great numbers, for your fantastic backing and the positive atmosphere which you created.” It was added to by the wise words of the TNS representative who commented to the same newspaper – my emphasis – “We are naturally disappointed that the semi-final was marred by issues after the game. The safety of fans is paramount, and we are working closely with Falkirk FC to identify the perpetrators and take the appropriate action to ensure these few individuals are dealt with and this anti-social behaviour is stamped out of the game.” 

So, let’s deal with the easy bit. This type of behaviour is wrong. It is unwelcome in football. It is very unwelcome in Scottish football. But there is something called balance. 

Now, I do think that reporting this was right, but it is likely to obscure other things – these things always do. The positive work being done by fans groups across the country gets relegated to another place due to the obsession we have, along with the media, for the bad stuff, the headline grabbing, click bait material which makes us buy the ever decreasing circulation of a branded newspaper.  

But let us say that through two events – miles apart – in Falkirk and Leeds – that a hundred fans were involved – there were nowhere near that number – but that is out of thousands of fans who attended games that day and that night. From that number, there are intellectually driven volunteers who can become part of a club that underlines their commitment to safety. There are volunteers in each club who come in, know the people round about them and create an atmosphere, a culture of acceptance and warmth from which each and every supporter will invest – cash, emotion, time, support – and make the game better. There are great examples all over Scotland of how fan power has really made an immense difference. There are a few times where it has led to conflict.  

But what is most disappointing throughout both of these examples is that the governing body is silent. I expected that somebody in an “authority” would wade in and support the clubs with their processes. Now, I may be miscalling the FA and the SFA/ SPFL and behind the scenes they could be beavering away, silently, secretly and divisively… 

But if there was someone who we could turn to, who could quantify and analyse the  issue with independent thought and train of mind – how good would that be…? 

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