Tony Caw

Tony Caw: Why the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act Must Go.. Now

Tony Caw: Why the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act Must Go.. Now

Let’s get something crystal clear from the get go. Football casuals and football ultras are completely different entities. I repeat, they are not the same thing. In the first instance, casuals are groups of supporters who purposefully and deliberately look to do battle with other supporter groups – they often are first and foremost looking for a fight before they are looking to support their team. Famous (or indeed infamous) casual groups include: the Chelsea Headhunters; Hibernian of Edinburgh’s Capital City Service and the Inter-City Firm, or ICF.

With casuals, football is war, where bragging rights and prestige are quite literally fought for. Now, violence is a crime punishable by law and it logically follows that football casuals deserve to be called criminals for their actions on a Saturday afternoon.

The same fundamentally and categorically cannot be said for football ultra groups. When you think of ultra, think of colour, think of noise, think of passion and think of well thought-out, intricate and intelligent supporter displays which are beamed all over Europe, and indeed the world. You cannot and should not think of violence and/or crime. The two entities are almost entirely mutually exclusive.

Ultras don’t fight with their fists, ultras fight with their minds. They do battle in the terraces via witty and intelligent displays while creating, at times, an absolutely incredible atmosphere. Since when did that become a crime?

Well it would appear that in Scotland it became a crime when the SNP introduced the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA). Subsequently, this Act has unjustly detained, charged and, in turn, made criminals of young working class men. It is fundamentally wrong and it is an Act which must be removed from the Statute Book as soon as possible.

Now, it is important to note that I am a supporter of the SNP and believe in a lot of what they do for the people of Scotland and agree instinctively with their core principles. However, this Act I cannot agree with. This Act is an attack on supporters all over Scotland whose sole purpose is to go along to a football match, support their team, inject a little bit of colour and sing a few songs.

Kenny MacAskill introduced the Bill

Kenny MacAskill introduced the Bill

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of singing songs at a football match; arresting someone and having them spend a weekend in a jail cell for singing a song is an absolute outrage in my opinion. (Arrests like this the OBFA lauds.)

Furthermore, the prospect of a five-year prison sentence on top of the initial charge for the singing of said songs is utterly disgraceful. Do they get ten years if they’re a poor singer and if they’ve sang the song in the wrong key? I can see the court room now:

“I also understand that the defendant is a terrible singer too…”

Laughable. The whole act is laughable. I am from Glasgow and this is as good a place as any to evidence my point about the singing of songs. Essentially, because someone sings a song at a football match does NOT make them a criminal; and let’s call a spade a spade here. Some of the Celtic and Rangers Rebel and Loyalist songs are pretty rousing and are fundamentally good songs. As the legend Noel Gallagher once said:

“My first exposure to music was at the Irish Rebel Clubs in Manchester….you know what? I think
that’s where Oasis songs get their punch-in-the-air quality.”

Is Noel Gallagher a criminal? Of course not. These sometimes beautiful, admittedly aggressive and violent songs are works of art and can even be seen as influential. Some of the most evocative pieces of music have calls to violence within – see Le Marseilles and the Scottish National Anthem as examples. These songs cannot and should not be suppressed, just as freedom of expression cannot and should not be suppressed. Singing a song should not be a crime and ultra is not a crime. It is the SNP Act which is criminal.

So what does one do in a democracy when you’re not happy with the work of those in power? Well, you have the right to go look elsewhere for an alternative. And, from their hub in Cumbernauld, Glasgow, a new political party RISE plans to fight against the OBFA.

I met with a couple of core members of RISE recently, Liam Stevenson and Jordan Daly, and they feel strongly about the OBFA’s repeal – as all football supporters, young and old alike should do too. We, as football supporters, are very often in it together and together we must be on this issue. Most young people don’t go to a football match expecting to end up in a jail cell, yet end up there they do. Many don’t warrant their time in the cells. They are purely supporting their football team.

A further RISE spokesperson recently commented: “The Act is disproportionately affecting young working class people, whom 80% of have never been in contact with the justice system previously.

“We see this Act as a knee-jerk reaction to sectarianism which does not deal with the root causes of the issues within our society.

“We completely oppose the OBFA and encourage all political parties to do the same. The criminalisation of young working class people has to end.”

And, in response, Paul Quigley of Fans Against Criminalisation (a group formed in the aftermath of the introduction of this piece of legislation from the SNP) commented: “We are delighted to hear that RISE have pledged to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act in their manifesto ahead of the Scottish election next year.

“The legislation is not about sectarianism but it is instead an attack on the rights of working class football supporters. It is unreasonable and unworkable, illiberal and illogical.

“Every mainstream party with the exception of the SNP have opposed this Act, and we invite them all to join us to actively challenge it to ensure that is repealed as quickly as possible.”

It is this partnership between groups and this commitment to fighting injustice which will see us through on this issue.

Ultimately, it is time to RISE up against the OBFA.

Tony Caw

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