Acceptable to be abusive?

Having been away from home for a few days over the weekend I am trying to catch up with social media and the newspapers as well as trying to get the house in some sort of order.

An article in Saturday’s edition of The Herald caused me a little concern. I had been discussing the subject with friends we were staying with but only got the chance to read the article today (Tuesday).

Dr Joseph Webster of Queen’s University, Belfast says that sectarian and abusive behaviour is about cementing “solidarity and fraternity” within groups rather than directing hatred at their rivals. Really? Does this academic ‘who carries out research on the behaviour of fans at old firm matches’ continue his research onto the streets, buses, trains after the match?

In a way I can understand the solidarity and fraternity bit. If you are a sport fan you choose to support and associate yourself with the team that most represents you. I have never been to a rugby match but people I know say that the fans appreciate it was just a game and the best team won. They will socialise easily in the same venue together post match. I have been to a baseball game in Chicago. I observed no abusive behaviour between the fans, despite passionately being behind the support of their own side.

Dr Webster also compares rival football fans to “boys facing off in the playground” who are unwilling to throw a real punch. Again, REALLY? I believe there are plenty police notebooks that could disagree with that statement.

Now, before you go shouting at me, I know the majority of football fans can find their way home without getting in any trouble. They can also have a perfectly normal Saturday night with family or friends and leave the behaviour of the terraces behind.

However, there are more than enough stories from people who have felt threatened by the sheer number of fans, in full voice, entering the train station and causing disruption. It is not a pleasant experience being shut in a train carriage where the majority are loud football fans. You may be visiting a city and not beware of the pubs to avoid and a quiet late afternoon drink turns into quite a different affair.

Personally, as a teenager, I would never entertain being in the central shopping area of our village at the time the supporters buses stopped off to allow the fans to get a drink or visit the chip shop. Their language of solidarity was a very frightening sight to experience. As an adult I was innocently walking my dog, totally unaware that there had been very large orange walk in Glasgow. I was living in Polmont at the time, why would this walk have any impact on me? I had not been brought up with sectarianism so knew not what to expect. The local orange order members had just arrived back from Glasgow and formed a march back to where they had started. I had the misfortune to be wearing a green jacket. The comments may have been fun and fraternal to those shouting them but my dog was terrified and I was none too pleased either.

I have no answers. I am at a loss to understand why this tribalism is so violent among football fans. I understand slightly better (and totally abhor) the religious tribalism. Someone somewhere must have some of the answers but I do not believe Dr Joseph Webster has. Any one of us observing the behaviour could have come to the same conclusions he has.

The problem has not gone away just because the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act has failed and been overturned. It may not have been the right legislation but the fact remains that this behaviour still has to be addressed. Not only in football either!