Licensed trade operators in and around Glasgow have united to condemn the decision to stage a Celtic-Rangers (“Old Firm”) match on Hogmanay, fearing it will make an already difficult night unmanageable and dangerous.
Among the strongest comments have come from Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, who wants the match moved to January 2 or 3 and away from the one night of the year when police are already at full stretch and the streets awash with revellers tanked up on supermarket drink carry-outs.
Mr Waterson has also questioned why a recent attempt to stage a Munich-style Oktoberfest event in the city centre was knocked back – on the grounds that it would provoke drunken disorder – while an “Old Firm” clash has been sanctioned to go ahead.
He said: “Does no-one remember Police Scotland’s campaign last year during the festive season to reduce the number of domestic incidents – a time when violence is at its highest?”
The SLTA has described the Hogmanay decision in forthright terms as “senseless” and “outrageous”.
Police were reportedly forced to despatch riot vans to control the chaos said to have erupted after an earlier attempt to stage the Oktoberfest event, which had no sectarian football connotation.
A recent match between Rangers and Celtic sparked ugly scenes across Glasgow and into adjoining areas, with drunk supporters screaming sectarian abuse at each other throughout the afternoon.
While attention is fixed on Glasgow, Hogmanay flashpoints could also surface in locations as different as Dumbarton and Kirkintilloch – much of west central Scotland could be involved.
The poisonous historic sectarian rivalry between Rangers and Celtic is feared likely to take on an added edge to an already problematic night.
Licensed trade expert Susan Young, editor of leading trade journal The Dram, said: “I haven’t spoken to a single person who thinks this is a good idea. Hogmanay is supposed to be for families – that’s the tradition – and instead we’ll have something which has nothing to do with real celebration.”
She says that on a practical note it’s also “the one night in the year” when many men help out, as in organising family parties – and predicts many football supporting spouses will be otherwise occupied.
She also considers the licensed trade will struggle to contain the backlash from the game, whatever its result, and that even pubs closing early will face an extra security hazard as they strive to maintain their legal obligation by turning away aggressive drunks.
A main worry is that many supporters will be both belligerent and drunk before trying to gain entry to licensed premises – dissuading normal Hogmanay revellers from having a drink “before the bells” .
That in turn could give bars the worst of both worlds, with few regular customers braving late night streets for it to be worthwhile opening, and a deluge of drunk supporters to keep at bay.
The propensity for domestic violence is feared set to rise dramatically.
Another worry is that as embattled police try to contain “Old Firm” -related drunkenness, abuse and sometimes outright thuggery the chaos could leave the way open for opportunist criminals.
Meanwhile Hogmanay, often said to have lost its traditional family and community spirit, could send out a message about Scotland wildly at odds with its supposed theme of inclusion, generosity and hope.
A night when “auld acquaintance” is supposedly celebrated in a roseate familial and communitarian glow of Burnsian bonhomie could instead feature in January 1 news broadcasts as a squalid sectarian bacchanale which puts families at risk, mocking the “Glasgow Loves Hogmanay” theme which the city council hoped would move celebrations away from the usual Glasgow-style mass drunkenness.
The police have said that planning for the unprecedented December 31 “Old Firm” fixture is already underway, and that policing it will involve “a multi-agency partnership approach”.
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins has defended the remarkable decision by maintaining that the time and date were decided after discussions involving police, football authorities and broadcasters.
Chief Constable Phil Gormley said: “There is no ideal time to have the game, but if you put it on New Year’s Eve at 12.30pm you reduce the risk of over-consumption of alcohol.
“You’ve also got a full transport infrastructure on so that people can get to and from the match.
“There’s a compelling logic around it.”