Helen Martin: An ugly facet of the beautiful game

Clubs are making it difficult to be inclusive to all families.
Clubs are making it difficult to be inclusive to all families.
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DURING the course of my newspaper career, I’ve often fallen foul of football clubs.

I’ve been in the bad books with Hearts, Hibs and Rangers, and once with Celtic when I was working in Glasgow and was sent to an Old Firm match at Parkhead.

My job was to take three football match ‘virgins’, to report on what we all witnessed and record their feed-back and opinions of the experience.

To be fair, this was 35 years ago. The women guests included the then chairwoman of the Children’s Panel, the winning singer of the National Mod who was also a TV personality, and the boss of a Glasgow model agency.

When the resulting two-page feature appeared in the paper, the headline pretty well summed up the day - ‘NO PLACE TO TAKE A LADY!’

Supporters shamelessly relieved themselves in public against a wall. Even the official toilets sent a tsunami of urine flowing out into the concourse, but these were the least disturbing aspects. The verbal abuse, the missiles thrown and the language and behaviour all around us shocked the ladies to such an extent that the Children’s Panel chairwoman said she now understood the horrific and damaging influences young boys had been subject to at such matches probably contributed to them landing up before the panel. Celtic were not happy.

Things are different now – well, some things are. But the goal of several club chairmen over the years, to create an atmosphere which is both encouraging and welcoming to families, remains a fantasy.

Last week, Himself decided it was time for a family ‘boys’ day out’ and started planning a trip to see Sunderland play Arsenal this Saturday.

He registered on-line to buy tickets and rang the Sunderland ground to find out if any concessions applied. That was when he was told the game was ‘high security’, registering wasn’t enough, and only those who had already attended the ground were eligible.

The woman on the other end of the line asked him which area he had wanted to sit in, Sunderland or Arsenal - a curious question since she wasn’t going to sell him tickets anyway.

He said he didn’t care and explained it was a day out for him (grandad), three sons and a grandson aged six. They planned to drive down from Edinburgh together, to appreciate the quality of the football rather than take sides. . . .clearly, not a group posing any kind of problem.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But if you know anyone who is eligible, they could buy tickets for you.”

Sunderland is not alone. This is standard ‘high security’ procedure at big matches to stop trouble-seeking fans infiltrating each other’s stands and causing riots.

Of the die-hard supporters on both sides, many will be aggressively goading the opposition, combative in attitude and raging at the result. Yet they can have tickets for themselves and anyone else they like. But a family group seeking a happy day out, tourists and others who just want to enjoy a game without insane, fanatic loyalty and anger, are barred by security measures.

As a semi-retired sports journalist, Himself could have got round that with his contacts. He was too disgusted to bother. It’s an ugly facet of the ‘beautiful’ game.