Today the organisation Fans Against Criminalisation released an online video, via Vimeo, detailing the damage done by the Scottish Government’s illiberal legislation, the Offensive Behaviour at Football & Threatening Communications Act 2012. The video, called “Guilty: The Story of the Offensive Behaviour Act”, is a must watch. The images you will see are truly shocking. Some of the language used by members of Police Scotland is disturbing. Something I was not aware of until I watched this hour-long movie is that the Scottish National Party received no support by ANY opposition party to apply the legislation which would impact so many people within Scotland.
The terminology of the word ‘offensive’ has given Police Scotland the power to arrest anyone, for anything that an individual officer may deem to be ‘offensive’; the implications of this are catastrophic. Before its inception, the Offensive Behaviour Act trod a very thin line between freedom of expression and authoritarian control; it has long since crossed that line and now we have an environment in which the relationship between football supporters and the Scottish police force is hostile, and almost irreparable.
Instead of giving you a weekly issue I have decided to outline the implications the act has had on me and share my personal experience of it.
I was 17 years old when this law was passed on 19th January 2012. It made me very aware of everything I was doing; what I was saying, what I was wearing, how I walked off the bus, how I walked to the ground, which direction I looked in and who was around me? I was trying my very best not to draw attention to myself, because I didn’t want any trouble.
The OBFA is a disgraceful piece of legislation which should be repealed. A big reason why I stopped following Celtic around Scotland was because I was body searched on multiple occasions and I was worried about being under surveillance which could have implications on, at the time, my education, my job and my voluntary position as a football coach of young kids. Although I knew I was doing nothing wrong, in the eyes of the law I could be arrested, charged and/or held for chanting songs related to my Irish identity, of which myself and others should never be ashamed or guilty of.
I was targeted, I didn’t trust the police (whom I have, and will continue, to show respect to) and I have suffered under this legislation. I was very aware that I was a word away from being swept into the criminal justice system.
Respect to those who have stuck around and endured this frankly, and ironically, offensive act. Men in particular, my hats go off to you, because there is no denying you have by in large been used as cannon fodder by law and government. I have seen brutality first hand. I’ve seen young boys (and I would like to emphasis BOYS) being pinned up against walls and searched. I have witnessed people having cameras shoved in their faces. Watched as people have been pulled out of crowds and forced into the back of police vans. This is all before I’ve even stepped foot inside the ground.
I stopped doing the thing I loved because I was a target. I felt exposed. I could no longer enjoy the thing I once loved without fear of being plucked from a crowd, recorded and/or body searched. It wasn’t worth the hassle and the worry it was causing me so I simply stopped attending Celtic away games, much to my disappointment.
The talk of facial recognition may well have been the last straw for me. In January 2016 there was a proposal made by the Scottish Professional Football League to seek government funding for facial recognition software at Scottish football grounds. It was reported that the new feature would cost £4million of tax payers money.
Although this proposal never came to fruition, it speaks volumes regarding the horrific treatment of football supports. If facial recognition was brought into football grounds, I would give up my season ticket at Parkhead.
Football supporters are people; human beings just like everyone else. We spend our hard-earned money on tickets for the match, a carry-out for the bus and a half-time pie, because that’s what we love! Why did it get to the point where I felt my behaviour as a football supporter was similar to that of a gang member or a murderer? Do the real criminals fall under the same heavy surveillance that I did? I don’t think so.
Travelling to football grounds across Scotland posed a threat to me. Arrest was highly probable, and for those who still follow their team around the country it still is highly probable.
I can’t remember the last away game I went to; it’s been that long (plus I also have a terrible memory). But that isn’t what’s important here. The overriding issue is that I have no interest in returning until this act is binned.
Supporting your team is not a crime. Keep fighting the good fight!