We surely didn’t expect this subject covered extensively by Al-Jazeera, but it seems Scottish football supporters are experiencing unprecedented attention from local police. And not in the way they’d hope for…
Scotland has witnessed several legislation changes recently, with Offensive Behaviour at Football Act creating a new criminal offence of "offensive behaviour at regulated football matches". At regulated matches also means before and after matches, inside the stadium or anywhere outside, as long as it’s somehow associated to the ‘regulated football match’ in question.
In practice, according to many fans, this means police has even more power to intrude their lives and uses it without respect for peoples’ rights.
Last weekend some 150 Celtic supporters were walking from Gallowgate to Celtic Park. Fans often meet there ahead of games, though this time they were marching peacefully in support of those with banning orders. Or so they were planning…
"By the time I got there, the Public Order Act had been read and there was a large group of mainly young people being kettled," says Jeanette Findlay, chair of the Celtic Trust, who was alarmed about police taking action.
People were herded as their march was judged as ‘illegal procession’. Number of police officers on site was simply stunning – over 200, with a helicopter above and mounted police and several vehicles in support.
As people were stopped, tension started growing. Supporters claim police were overzealous, even thuggish. Official complaints were filed, hundreds more expressed online. Some 13 people were arrested on charges which included allegations of breaching the peace, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.
A police spokeswoman dismissed allegations of disproportionate actions as completely inaccurate. She said in a statement: "Having reviewed the footage, senior officers are entirely satisfied that the officers on the ground dealt with the situation in a professional and proportionate way. Indeed, officers showed great restraint given the level of aggression and abuse they received."
Tapped phones, intercepted emails
Strathclyde Police has set up a dedicated unit for supporter issues, known as the Football Co-ordination Unit for Scotland, with specially trained officers and a two-year budget of almost £2 million ($3 million) to enforce the new law.
How they do it is a matter of massive controversy. Supporters claim that the unit's activities go well beyond policing at football matches, with some alleging that their phones have been tapped and emails intercepted. Members of the Green Brigade say they have been harassed at their homes, at their places of work and at airports as they return from holiday.
The latter claim is dismissed by Strathclyde Police, but as for the rest… "we do not comment on intelligence matters" is the only reply Al-Jazeera got.
Worth emphasizing, those targeted by police and interviewed by Al-Jazeera are not hooligans or criminals, but fans from vibrant ultras groups Green Brigade (Celtic) and Union Bears (Rangers).