Belfast Telegraph

Soccer violence must get red card

It may be trite - but only just - to say that matches involving Glasgow's Old Firm clubs are tribal battles at which, occasionally, a football game breaks out. For the vast majority of the Rangers and Celtic supporters, following their team is a fusion of identity, religious adherence, bigotry and hatred of the other side. Tension is always in the air and can quickly spill over into violence. Such is the frequency of stabbings on the streets after meetings between these clubs that Glasgow newspapers no longer regard them as news. The violence also manifests itself on the streets of Northern Ireland given that both clubs have thousands of supporters here.

Today Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond will chair a summit to address the disgraceful scenes on and off the pitch when the two sides met last week. Police are so concerned about decline in behaviour both inside and outside the grounds that they are seriously suggesting that future games should be played behind closed doors. Of course that won't happen as it would be just a knee-jerk reaction to a problem rooted in history and which Scottish politicians have done little to address in the past.

Nevertheless it is clear that the situation cannot continue and the two clubs must up their game in trying to remove some of the tension from their matches. Both will claim to have robust policies to deal with sectarian fans, but these are not always evident in tense games. The sight of Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers assistant manager, Ally McCoist, snarling at each other during the last meeting of the sides was disgraceful and both must quell their natural passion for the game to prevent such unseemly scenes.

Lennon has been subjected to reprehensible death threats which shows the depths of hatred which can be stirred by these controversial games. Today's summit is that there is no place at either club for supporters who descend to violence or hate crimes.

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