Brian Monteith: Football drinking trial win-win

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It was a one-off some 20 years ago. I was an overnight sensation in football management but, sadly, it will never happen again.

I was participating in one of those fantasy football leagues that were all the craze in the 1990s and, lo and behold, I opened the pages of a national UK broadsheet and I had won manager of the week. Yah beauty!

I couldn’t believe it but my outfit, given the moniker Willowbrae Wanderers, had climbed the most places after a terrific performance by Gary McAllister who had bagged a hat-trick for Leeds United. Some of my other players had stepped up to the plate and done well too and suddenly I had won two tickets to an English Premiership match, subject to availability.

Unfortunately, life is never that simple and as I had twin seven-year-old boys I really needed four tickets as it would have to be a family outing to England. I support Chelsea, my sons supported Arsenal and Manchester United at the time, so I asked for tickets for any of those teams playing a match in the north, preferably against Newcastle. With attendances at such English Premiership matches being what they are, these were apparently outrageous demands and I had to lower my expectations.

In the end, nearly a year later, we were on our way to watch Nottingham Forest versus Tottenham Hotspur (fitting a visit to Alton Towers into the bargain). It was a great trip, full of memorable family incident; an Ian Woan winning goal, a spin on the teacups, and a ride on the runaway mine train.

I still remember it well but one of the things I noticed at the match itself and always recall is how inside Forest’s City Ground the punters were supping ales and lagers. That’s right, for those readers of mild disposition, adults were drinking beer at a football match without resorting to fighting, vandalism and other antisocial behaviour.

Being super-cold keg beer it was rather insipid, but I suppose expecting crafted real ale at a stadium only open once a fortnight is asking too much (in such circumstances I would opt for the Guinness). The point is though, for the vast majority of the drinkers that was exactly what they would have been drinking in the working men’s clubs, local pubs, in the railway station bars and car parks from their tins on the way to a match – if they could not get beer inside a ground.

The truth that all regular football attendees know is that having a pint before and after a match is a part of the ritual for many of the young males that make up the majority of spectators. If they cannot get drink inside a ground – and it is banned at all Scottish senior football matches – then they are likely to binge by downing a handful of pints before the game, what is accurately called “getting tanked up”.

Having rushed their intake and then hit the fresh air on the walk to the stadium they are more of a handful for the local constabulary than if they can meet their mates in a pub for a swift one and then go to the game where they can drink at a more leisurely pace. This is why English police forces support the availability of beer in football stadia.

The slower pace of consumption reduces drinkers’ aggression and also means they are more likely to avail themselves of the stadium facilities than the nearest close or bus shelter. It’s a good thing all round.

Once he got to the Scottish Parliament, David McLetchie took up the cause of allowing Scottish football supporters the same respect and dignity that they were being allowed in England. He made it party policy that the licensing laws should be changed, so I smile when I read that teetotaller Jim Murphy thinks it’s time for change now.

I looked up one of the debates we had about football back in 2004 and found Kenny MacAskill condemning the Tories for suggesting both that alcohol be allowed at all-seater football stadia and the SFA consider the revival of the Home Nations Championships. Labour’s free-spirited Susan Deacon was the only member from another party to support the idea back then.

There was, of course, good reason for Malcolm Rifkind to bring in the ban on alcohol some 35 years ago – I remember how supporters used to lob beer cans at each other (sometimes filled with a similar alternative) and violence was a real problem at matches – but football has changed significantly since then. Not least has been the introduction of all-seated stadia and the encouragement of family sections.

People have recently seen on television how followers of rugby are able to enjoy a beer in Scotland as they watch their sport, but what they are less aware of is how it happens at English football. There’s a strong case for a trial and, if successful, only allowing police to object to particular matches where they believe there could be a problem.

Scotland and England now play each other again. Funny how things come full circle. McLetchie was right about alcohol then and his idea is still right now.