Mark McGinley with A Celtic State of Mind – Can Scottish football ever accommodate fan zones and alcohol sales?

As the whole country moves towards a new ‘normal’ with Phase 3 of the Covid-19 restrictions, some may argue there are more pressing issues than the betterment of the Scottish football fan experience.

However, if you were to align this to the hot topic of how best to improve the economy and get things moving again, perhaps the timing may be right. Clubs throughout the country should be highlighting how they can play a part. In doing so, they will increase their revenue as well as helping the local and national economy through the introduction of purchasing alcohol, and sanctioning ‘fan zones’ in and around the stadiums.

Can anyone give me a reasonable answer why I am unable to buy a beer before taking my seat to watch Celtic? Or why I cannot socialise with family and friends in and around the perimeters of Celtic Park within a fan zone, set up hours before the kick-off? It is a form of fan experience that occurs throughout a high proportion of major sports events throughout the world, including football matches. Closer to home, it appears to be sanctioned for Scottish rugby where rules around alcohol for fans are far more relaxed (and in significant contrast to those of football supporters). Like many of you, I saw those same hospitality points closed when we watched Celtic play at the home of Scottish Rugby for a few European matches, and the more recent League Cup semi-final. All were closed because they are set up for alcohol and, thus, not needed that day as it was football fans that were in town.

Fan zones are not completely unknown to the areas around Celtic Park, as the stadium was used last year (in May 2019) to host a rugby cup final. Even in England, a football fan can enjoy the option of buying alcohol in and around their home stadium, and this despite the English having worldwide notoriety with football hooliganism and (arguably) having a similar culture around food and drink to ours.

So why is it allowed for the fans of Scottish rugby and English football but not for Scottish football fans?

Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:

I am aware that Celtic have been very pro-active in trying to smash through their own glass ceiling and, as a well-operated business, I can only imagine that the potential for a great many being constantly refused must be so infuriating. I am told that they will continue to fight this and hopefully Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland can see beyond what appears as a negative and poorly assessed view – that it would be a means that encourages binge-drinking, with the potential for the resultant anti-social behaviour.

It could be argued that a negative culture of drinking alcohol already exists on match-days as the local bars are overcrowded and large groups of semi-drunken people congregate on corners and on waste grounds. Opening safe, clean, and legal outlets, controlled rigorously and managed by the respective clubs would encourage safer, sensible, and far more comfortable environments for people to congregate and socialise (whilst cleaning up the image of the surrounding area).

The local economy also would be boosted through generating employment. Celtic’s very own ‘Gateway to Employment’ could massively benefit through the opportunities gained in this hospitality industry and do so alongside other partners such as local colleges which can offer accredited qualifications. Other independent parties could be included through buskers, children’s entertainers, face painters, as well as pop-up stalls for food and merchandise. The list is endless and all-benefiting while contributing to a more positive and enjoyable experience for fans, friends and family.

As noted in the Insider article of April 2020, the Fraser of Allander Institute found that the SPFL season of 2017/18 contributed £444 million gross to Scotland’s GDP, while supporting the equivalent of 9,300 full-time jobs. It also noted that the spending (not in addition to the Scottish economy) contributed £214 million net along with the equivalent of 5,700 full-time jobs. The same Institute notes that from season 2016/2017, the spending of Celtic and its supporters was worth £165 million to the economy while, supporting the equivalent of 2,820 full-time jobs, and this eclipses the £155 million that golf tourism provides, and the £125 million from the 2014 Commonwealth games. What would these figures be with the introduction of fan zones?

The football industry and its benefits should never be allowed to be looked upon with shame. It should never be compared negatively to other sports and major events such as those attached to the music industry where the levels of disturbance and anti-social behaviour can be higher than that of football.

It is surely time for the government and police to look logically at this and stop treating football fans with contempt.

Mark McGinley


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