Scotland politics

Matheson ultimatum to football chiefs over cup disorder

Michael Matheson
Image caption Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the Scottish government could step in to solve issues in football

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has issued an ultimatum to Scottish football bosses, saying the government could step in to tackle crowd disorder.

Mr Matheson condemned the "appalling" scenes when fans fought on the pitch following the Scottish Cup final.

Speaking at the Scottish Football Association AGM in Glasgow, he called for a form of "strict liability" to crack down on "unacceptable conduct".

The SFA has set up an independent investigation into the final disorder.

May's Hampden cup final, which saw Hibs lift the trophy for the first time since 1902, was marred by violence after fans spilled onto the pitch following the final whistle.

Rangers players complained of being confronted by fans, while goalposts were broken and turf was torn up.

One man has already admitted a charge under the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, a controversial piece of legislation introduced by the Scottish government in the last term but which opposition parties want to overturn.

The cup final disorder has been cited by parties on both sides of the debate, with SNP MSP John Mason claiming it showed the legislation should be kept.

Mr Matheson also cited the act, saying it proved the Scottish government "will act if we don't think football is doing enough".

He called for a form of strict liability, which could see clubs punished for the actions of their fans, although some clubs have recently spoken out against this.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption MSPs have cited the Hampden cup final disorder as both a reason to keep and to repeal the football act

Mr Matheson said: "The scenes we saw at Hampden last week were appalling and the Scottish government condemns in the strongest possible terms the disorder and violence which scarred the end of the game.

"But from those dreadful scenes there is an opportunity to address some of the negative long-standing issues in the game and I want football to be proactive and seize that opportunity.

"We need a transparent and robust scheme to prevent unacceptable conduct and deal with it effectively if it does occur, and encourage clubs to take all action possible to address unacceptable conduct.

"That may be strict liability or a form of strict liability or it may be something else, but the bottom line is we want to see football taking the opportunity to finally address this long-standing issue.

Mr Matheson said he was "encouraged" by the initial response of the SFA, but warned: "Let me be absolutely clear. The Scottish government is prepared to act if Scottish football isn't.

"On that basis we will explore alternative options if no solution can be delivered by football. I genuinely hope this is not needed, and Scottish football takes control of its own destiny."

'Step up and sort out'

In January, Alloa Athletic chairman Mike Mulraney said there was "no chance whatsoever of clubs agreeing to strict liability", describing the opposition as "pretty unanimous".

He said clubs should not be punished if they took "reasonable steps" to prevent unruly behaviour.

Police Scotland is investigating the Scottish Cup final disorder, and has made a number of arrests.

SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan instructed a "comprehensive report" on the matter, as well as an independent commission to look into the disorder.

He added: "I am keen that the Scottish FA is proactive in the investigations with the police authorities and the independent commission."

Following the AGM in Glasgow, Mr Regan said Mr Matheson had told the SFA to "step up and sort out" problems within Scottish football.

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