The recent call by Partick Thistle for football clubs to be allowed to serve beer is worth investigating, writes solicitor Stephen McGowan
The call was publicly backed at the start of the year by team manager Jackie McNamara, who told STV that with the practice commonplace in England he doesn’t “see what the big deal is about it”.
“I don’t think it is going to change anything inside the stadium,” he said.
“They do it with the rugby, so as long as it is controlled properly then it should be welcome.”
Partick Thistle does have a particular view on this due to the club’s experience of ground-sharing with Glasgow Warriors. Rugby matches, of course, are not subject to the same ban and there has always been a debated perception that rugby fans are mature, well-heeled and responsible while football fans are red-eyed, atavistic bevvy merchants.
That debate is for another day, but at Firhill they can point to alcohol being sold at the Glasgow Warriors games without incident.
There is no doubt that removing the ban would be controversial, but the “beautiful game” in Scotland is, for many commentators, dying and allowing a beer or two within the stadium may remedy the chronic and long-lasting effects of empty stadia.
Back in October 2009, football pundit Archie Macpherson said: “If alcohol was allowed back inside grounds it would show fans are more mature than they were three decades ago. I’d have bars inside, anything to help the SPL get more people back in.”
Any such move towards this would almost certainly be rebuffed with considerable force by the police and the health lobby.
They would be likely to point to the reason why the ban was imposed in the first place, namely the Scottish Cup Final back in 1980.
Recalling those horrible scenes, which saw Old Firm fans engage in a pitched battle and clash with mounted police, they may rightly argue that it would be a backward step, bad for public health, public nuisance and crime and disorder.
Looking at this in 2012, with a fresh perspective, it is fair to say that times have changed. We have all-seater stadia, for a start.
But perhaps a more compelling argument is that alcohol consumption would be more measured, controlled and regulated if it was allowed in grounds today.
The police and licensing boards now have much greater powers to control alcohol consumption than ever before – licensing laws have become much more restrictive since alcohol was last allowed.
In addition, new offences have been created, including those under the recent anti-sectarian legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.
With all that in mind I was interested to read a recent article about planning for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Alcohol was banned from Brazilian stadia in 2003 in order to try and cut down on violence between rival sets of local fans. But it appears FIFA, the governing body of world football, is insisting alcohol be allowed for the World Cup.
This is now under review by the Brazilian government and there seems to be an indication, if not a full blown admission, that the ban has not worked and that it has simply moved the consumption to “outside of the ground”, where there are no controls or regulation. Perhaps it’s also time for a re-think in Scotland.
• Stephen McGowan is director – licensing & gambling at Lindsays solicitors.