The SFA, Police Scotland and the cover-up of the Cup Final debacle

Last updated : 31 August 2016 By Mark Dingwall

After the Hibs fans invaded the pitch and proceeded to assault Rangers players en masse all that has happened since has been entirely predictable. 

The first move was to kick the issue into the long grass; instead of the instant justice which would have been meted out had Rangers fans been the main culprits we were instead treated to denial and the playing down of what had happened by the three monkeys of this tale - Hibernian FC, the SFA and Police Scotland. Instead of clear and timeous action we got the news that Edward Bowen QC had been appointed to produce a report for the Board of the SFA to consider.

It’s a tactic as old as the hills. Calm everyone down, reassure them that the persons conducting the inquiry are, of course, brimming with the highest levels of integrity - essentially buy time so that memories will fade and momentum will be lost. 

They got that bit right - if Rangers had been the culprits I can confidently predict that the Cup would have been with-held, entry to European competition would have been cancelled, we’d have been banned from the Scottish Cup for a good few years and even our licence to play football would have been up for discussion. Hibs? They got a wee wag of the finger and a bit of tut-tutting.

Another old administrative trick, well-honoured by decades of use by the Establishment, is to set the Terms of Reference in such a way as to funnel attention in a certain direction which makes the final report arrive at a pre-determined destination.   

Over the last five or six years I found it to be very useful to actually read the boring stuff in its entirety - legal opinions, governing body rules, prospectuses, etc. So, I suggest if you are interested to understand what is going on that you take the time to read Mr Bowen’s report - as if by magic at 51 pages it is over the psychological barrier of 50! -

Talk about money for old rope - he spends a lot of time stating the blindingly obvious in order to set the scene. Rather than a detailed analysis of what went wrong there’s a lot of repetition of waffle about regulatory frameworks, ground regulations and safety certificates. He just doesn’t grasp the nettle. The report is heavily padded with inane observations about the sequence of events and previous incidents. For example - The three historic pitch invasions given separate sections in Mr Bowen’s report all involve Rangers. Do you get the picture?

Mr Bowen’s conclusions are for the most part laughable - the phrase “consideration should be given" is repeatedly used:  in other words, more delay and no attribution of blame. From reading the report you would gain the impression that the governing bodies, police and stewards - no matter how highly paid some of them are or how many years of experience they have - couldn’t have predicted what had happened and would not have been able to cope even if they did. 

The poor lambs.

His last recommendation is the rather plaintive plea to have all clubs appoint Supporter Liaison Officers - the effect this will have had on the sweepings of the Leith gutter I leave to your imagination.

Now that the SFA had bought themselves time to wash their hands of the problem they undoubtedly counted on the cultural bias against Rangers coming into play and helping to massage reality, take the spotlight off of the themselves and slowly rope Rangers into the dock alongside Hibs as equal partners. This is exactly what happened.

Spiers was one culprit, the Scotsman another - the idea was floated that somehow Hibs fans had been enraged by Rangers arrogance and the singing of naughty songs. The “contempt” for Rangers brought upon by this was presented as natural and a pretext for the pitch invasion: after all, who cares if “bigots”, even ones in wheelchairs, are assaulted? 

The Daily Record excelled itself with the invention by Jane Hamilton of a mass assault by Rangers fans on police reserves outside the ground - excellent work by Club 1872 and individual fans ran coach and horses through that (I’ll discuss this in another article later this week) - but the scene was set.

The police too would play their part in shifting the blame from Hibernian fans.  They too suffer from cultural bias - for too long senior officers have directed Police Scotland resources out of all proportion at the whim of their political masters - whether Labour or SNP - in the direction of Rangers. This hatred - whether politically or religiously motivated - has been subsidised by the public purse. Hence, for example, of the first 26 reported arrests 18 were of Rangers fans fans despite the pitch invaders being something in the order of 10 or 20 to one in the favour of Hibs.

The reason for that? Psychological and administrative conditioning. While Rangers players were being assaulted the police resources and cameras were trained to a large degree on the Rangers support. The disparity in the number of arrests throughout the summer is also easily explainable - by filming, photographing and indexing Rangers fans for years under the pretext of sectarianism Police Scotland have a vast database of ordinary fans to work from. For the last 30 years Hibs and Aberdeen have had a hooligan problem vastly more serious compared with the size of their supports than any other clubs in Scotland - yet that remains a lower priority than the possibility of Rangers and Celtic fans opening up on one another with automatic weaponry.

Earlier this summer we had the head of the Police Federation warbling about what a tough job his members had until he was slapped down with the facts - but again his largely anti-Rangers diatribes helped to set the scene.

I don’t believe in co-incidences - so therefore it was no surprise that at the beginning of this week the newspapers carried lurid claims that had Hampden been policed any other way “people would have died.” Conveniently timed to appear the day before the SFA Compliance Officer issued his charges against Hibs and Rangers. Again, taking the heat off the authorities and onto the fans - getting people talking about that issue and dulling the effect of the pitiful content of the charges laid against the clubs. Hibs to be taken to task for the assaults on players? Best of luck with that thought!

In summary: over the summer we’ve seen a classic case of pigeons coming home to roost. The lack of direction and strategy within Ibrox for decades has led to the creation of conditions in which the authorities and powers that be feel safe to neglect their duties and to place the blame for sin on what they consider a safe target - the Rangers support.

In this instance it hasn’t gone quite as they hoped - the credibility of the SFA, Police Scotland and sections of the media has been badly damaged as a result mostly of the work of small groups of Rangers fans. disgusted by years of stereotyping doing, the hard slog of hounding those who need to be hounded by the application of the difficult and diligent work needed to expose the lies and bias.

You didn’t need to be a genius to work out within minutes of the final whistle how this would play out - both clubs will get their knuckles wrapped, Hibs will be fined a bit more than Rangers, and “Scottish football will consider the lessons to be learned.” Business as usual.

Only this time - the blatant bias in various quarters has served to wake up tens of thousands of Rangers fans - it’s a tide than will not recede. Let’s build on that and direct it into positive work.