Fan gatherings: Let them celebrate safely
Last month Glasgow Cross was packed to the rafters with Celtic fans celebrating winning the Scottish Premiership. The aerial footage was incredible, but some of the footage on the ground was a real cause for concern, namely, of a man who can be seen aiming a firework into the sky as a woman attempts to wrestle it out of his hands resulting in it being fired into a crowd.
It’s not an isolated event either. Celtic fans gathered in the same spot last year to celebrate winning the league, while Rangers fans did the same in George Square in March and May 2021.
These unofficial end-of-season celebrations are quickly becoming a tradition in the city, and with Glasgow’s Big Two having won the league every year since 1985, it’s fair to assume the city should be expecting more of the same. But it has been so woefully unprepared to this point.
The events of last month were the worst-kept secret online if you spent any time on social media in the weeks leading up. Glasgow City Council even issued advice for visitors but chose not to take pre-emptive measures like street closures – decisions that would have made the gathering safer for fans and non-fans alike.
From the council and the police’s perspective, I can see why they didn’t do this, however. Particularly in the wake of previous gatherings in Glasgow Cross and George Square, they wouldn’t want to be seen to be encouraging anti-social behaviour, obscene littering and damage to traffic signals, all of which have been a fixture of the past.
But even when there was an organised event in 2019 to have Celtic players parade their trophies on an open-top bus through the city it was an unmitigated disaster.
Local councillor Martin McElroy described the event as having “inadequate preparations” with “no pedestrian barriers, insufficient stewards or police, conflicting information, and virtually no other arrangements beyond the closure of the road”, adding that the factors that led up to the rerouting of the celebration were “entirely predictable and avoidable”.
The planning of the bus parade massively contradicted Glasgow’s handling of global events like the Commonwealth Games, the Euro 2020 fanzone and COP26. The fanzone, for example, was a well-organised event with seating, screens, table service and in a secured location within Glasgow Green. I booked tickets online for the game between Scotland and England and it was one of the best footballing experiences I have had – it was safe, friendly and, most importantly, it was fun.
Regardless of the authorities’ views on football fans gathering en masse to celebrate, it is becoming more apparent they are not going anywhere, and organisation at the very least would help businesses, pubs and restaurants to adjust opening times and stock up accordingly. If done well it could keep fans away from celebrating on busy roads and streets within the city.
Some of the scenes weren’t pretty. Police Scotland recorded three separate incidents of assault that led to hospitalisation, 18 other minor injuries and 10 arrests for public disorder. It also issued eight fixed-penalty notices. That’s before mentioning the mess and disruption left at the doorstep of residents and businesses. But in an attempt to offer some perspective, TRNSMT, a similar event which also involved alcohol, had 26 arrests over one weekend last year. This is no endorsement of bad behaviour, but these kinds of events will attract some troublemakers.
Glasgow City Council, the clubs, and the authorities need to come together and get on top of this quickly. With the Scottish Cup final this weekend, it wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility that we could see similar scenes in the city again.