Voices floating over Hadrian’s Wall after Sunday’s Old Firm derby sounded curiously, positive. Curiously positive in the sense that, with so much about Scottish football being accompanied by the sound of a death knell of late, hearing something good about two SPL clubs struck a more upbeat note. Rangers and Celtic gave those in attendance at Ibrox, along with those watching abroad, a fierce display of quality football for the majority of the ninety minutes, showcasing much of the skill and drama that draws us to this game. As opposed to previous iterations where fans might have thought they were attending a fight and a game of football broke out, Sunday’s affair gave us a match that was purely about the football and little else.
There was that peach of a goal from Celtic’s Gary Hooper to level the match in the 34th minute, followed by Scotland’s No. 1 producing a howler that would have made Robert Green nostalgic if he were watching, and gave Hoops the halftime lead. Ally McCoist then answered some questions about him that have been asked since his appointment as Rangers manager, weaving into this particular match’s narrative his personal story of redemption. Having set his halftime hairdryer to the appropriate setting as well as correctly adjusting his tactical schemes to overturn the shock deficit, McCoist provided his squad the better plan with which to make the blue half of Glasgow a happier lot on the day. While Celtic supporters can be most disappointed with three unanswered 2nd half goals and a 4-2 derby loss that gives Rangers an early four point lead at the top of the table, most would acquiesce to the notion that any major disagreements in this one should be over the play on offer rather than on the external issues that forever separate an Old Firm contest from being just another match on a league fixture list.
Now, several reasons can be speculated as to why there was a decrease in the number of reported sectarian incidents and arrests around the grounds on the day. The recent anti-sectarian legislation, currently in delay before the Scottish parliament but quite specifically entitled the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill, could potentially carry a lengthy prison sentence for guilty parties, and this might have produced a chilling effect on those for whom it is directly targeted. The overwhelmingly good behaviour could also be credited to the clubs, who have worked in concert with their supporters to stamp out Old Firm violence for good. Neither the players on the pitch nor the managers after the game rose to anything that could have been potentially inciting, providing a benchmark from which their fans could follow suit. When McCoist was asked in interview after the match regarding Charlie Mulgrew’s sending off, rather than stoke any flames he dampened them by saying he saw Celtic’s Mulgrew had gotten a foot on the ball before he got Steven Davis in the challenge and thought his second yellow card might have been a tad harsh. Lennon seemed only to discuss how his tactics might have let him down and refused to take the bait over launching into the referee’s decision over the Mulgrew red card.
Then again, recorded incidents might have been less because this was the first derby of this still young season, and the piss and vinegar is being saved to warm up an Old Firm once the weather gets even cooler.
With the general sense that this derby saw fewer outward demonstrations of the bit of ugliness that has blighted derbies in the past, the Old Firm might be able to point to this match as a crucial turn in the ongoing struggle to capture the passion for these encounters whilst forgoing the violence often accompanied. What seems to have transpired, however, was that the violence instead was taken behind closed doors, with Strathclyde Police reporting a marked increase in the number of domestic abuse incidents occurring after the match. This happened anyway, despite public warnings prior to the weekend that this type of abuse would not be tolerated. Perhaps most alarmingly is that, during this calendar year, spikes in reported cases of domestic abuse following Old Firm matches appears to be rising of late, with 48 in early February, 70 in late February, and 142 Sunday past. In comparison to weekends from the same area and at the similar time of the year that did not include an Old Firm derby, these raw numbers are all marked increases.
Why? Why on earth does an Old Firm match, or any football game for that matter, find some of the worst sporting enthusiasts assaulting the ones closest to them? How does Badr El Kaddouri having his lunch handed to him for most of Sunday or McGregor’s gaffe make someone want to slug a beloved, whom most likely was also wearing the same colour replica shirt as the aggressor? A university study over the link between sporting events and domestic violence conducted stateside suggested the greatest increases are found when an individual’s team experienced an unexpected loss, and the effect was magnified should it happen during a holiday season. What is interesting in that particular study, however, is that the connection becomes negated if the loss happened when the contest was expected to be close. This is quite often the case with Old Firm derbies, and this most recent one, given that most of the coverage leading into Sunday’s match indicated the game would be a tight one considering both sides run of form. Perhaps, then, the “holiday” factor played a role if the Old Firm is considered a special event, the kind of focal event where emotions run even higher than normal, nerves are more taut, and possibly more egg nog than someone would normally dip into is consumed with the excuse that this is a special day.
Then again, the continual increase in the numbers of domestic abuse cases somewhat attributable to Rangers v Celtic matches could also be down to better reporting. A research note on domestic abuse from the Scottish Parliament disclosed that the identification and classification of domestic abuse cases in general really did not truly begin until the beginning of this past decade. Before then, those types of offences were lumped into other categories, making the statistics difficult to tease out. Further, Scottish Parliament passed an updated Domestic Abuse Bill in March this year strengthened protections for alleged victims, allowing for criminal proceedings rather than simply civil ones, and denied the ability for an alleged assailant to avoid an interdict due to a technicality over the definition of the concept. It may very well be that these two administrative conditions have made it easier for a victim to report an incident and it be counted.
This would suggest an overall rise in all domestic violence figures for Scotland as a whole, which was seen initially. From 1999 to 2009, the general figures for domestic abuse rose, but last year, government reported a 4% decrease, the first such drop in a decade. While numbers for this year have yet to be calculated, the overall trend looks to be a decline in crime, the lowest in Scotland in thirty five years, all while reporting has become more accurate. So, it would appear–at least for 2011–Old Firm-related spikes in domestic abuse cases should be a grave concern, rather than being dismissed due to recent legislative changes. And while the clubs have worked diligently with the police and their own supporters to eradicate the kinds of violence committed in the name of this rivalry, this might be one kind they cannot address. After all, speaking to this atrocious connection in public is one thing, and banning fans who are domestic abusers quite another, but how could either Rangers or Celtic be able to eliminate this most recent blemish upon their derby? As the very nature of the cases occur in private, in the homes of those fans who likely did not attend the match to begin with or were perfectly amenable at Ibrox or Celtic Park but later came home in a towering rage, waiting to gnash teeth behind closed doors, how can the clubs affect change?
While domestic abuse, whatever its cause, is a stain upon society in general, it is truly disheartening to see it happening in spades from something that happened at a football match. It can be said Old Firm derbies have seen their share of players, managers, fans, and even referees behaving badly, but Sunday’s contest exhibited none of that. It is a shame some of those watching on the telly couldn’t behave just as well.
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