Government proposals to change the rules around football supporters’ buses have been met with an angry backlash from fans.
A consultation document detailing new guidelines for “taking passengers to sporting events in Scotland” was published last week the UK Government’s senior traffic commissioner Richard Turfitt.
Scotland has the highest football attendance per capita in Europe, with many supporters travelling to games on organised private hire coaches.
The guidelines include new restrictions on supporters travelling to games, including a ban on buses stopping at pubs unless alcohol is being consumed along with “a substantial meal”, voluntary searches for alcohol and pyrotechnics, and a requirement to inform a “dedicated football officer” of details of the trip ahead of travel.
Fans have described the proposals, which apply to football but not other sports, as being “draconian” and “disgraceful”.
A joint statement issued on behalf of the Scottish FA, Scottish Professional Football League, and Scottish Women’s Premier League said: “There’s no evidence that this is a significant problem in Scottish football. We are concerned by the targeted nature of these proposals, which serve to demonise football fans and interfere unnecessarily in people’s lives.
“In Scotland, there are already appropriate powers held by PHV operators, Police Scotland and other partners to deal effectively with a very small number of incidents by a minority of fans.
“The consultation itself notes that the majority of football fans are law-abiding and do not cause any disturbances when travelling to or from games, yet these proposals would unfairly affect the vast majority of football fans who travel safely and respectfully to and from matches on a weekly basis.
“We don’t support these unnecessary and heavy-handed proposals and we will be making our views clear in the consultation.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn described the plan as “unworkable” and said that football supporters should be celebrated and not punished.
“These unworkable, unmanageable, and unenforceable proposals belong in the bin,” Flynn said.
“Scotland’s football attendance, the highest in Europe, is something to be celebrated and encouraged, not punished as the Tories are seeking to do with these absurd suggestions.
“This will have a severe impact not just on our football clubs, but the small businesses and firms who rely on matchday travel and footfall.
“At a time when Scotland is in the midst of a crucial European qualification campaign, it’s telling that the UK government would issue such a tone-deaf and damaging proposal for our game.”
Kilmarnock and Loudon MP Alan Brown tweeted: “This would be a complete and utter waste of police time and resources. As someone who ran a supporters’ bus for 26 years and still regularly travels to away games via this avenue, it will simply not work – total madness.”
Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “These proposals are completely disproportionate. They fail to recognise the hugely important role football – and football fans – play in communities right across Scotland.
“Scotland is a football loving nation and fans often go the extra mile – quite literally – to support their teams.
“These proposals risk putting that in jeopardy while also impacting those businesses who lay on travel for fans on a weekly basis.
“I urge the UK Government to rework these misguided plans and will make representations to them to this effect.”
The consultation document explains that guidelines have been updated in England and Wales, which is why new proposals for public service vehicles (PSVs) have been published in Scotland.
The Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain are the independent regulators that cover commercial vehicle use and are responsible for regulating the conduct of bus coach and lorry drivers.
Their report states that although the vast majority of football fans are law-abiding and cause no trouble, “a small minority can be disruptive and impact the enjoyment of others.
The proposals are all voluntary guidelines but bus operators would expect to follow the new rules if implemented.
Ten new guidelines have been published, with the Commission asking for feedback from stakeholders before making any further recommendations.
The guidelines are:
a) PSV operators taking bookings from groups of supporters are to notify the relevant Dedicated Football Officer (DFO), at least 48 hours before the event, of the number of supporters expected to travel, the number of vehicles booked, the name and the contact number for the person who made the booking.
b) Vehicles are not to stop within 10 miles of the venue either enroute to, or on departure from the event unless prior agreement is obtained from the relevant Dedicated Football Officer.
c) Unless directed by a police officer, PSVs may stop at premises where intoxicating liquor is sold only if it is sold ancillary to a substantial meal. Prior agreement for meal stops where alcohol is available should be sought from the operator’s relevant Dedicated Football Officer.
d) PSVs are to arrive at the venue no earlier than two hours before and not later than one hour before the scheduled start of the game, unless otherwise directed by police.
e) PSVs are not to set down or uplift passengers at any unauthorised locations without prior permission of the police.
f) PSVs must leave the venue within 30 minutes of the finish of the event, unless directed otherwise by a police officer or ground safety officer.
g) PSV operators are to follow all reasonable instruction given by police or enforcement officers at all times. This includes, but is not limited to, routing and stopping arrangements.
h) Intoxicating liquor, flares and similar pyrotechnics, must not be carried on PSVs travelling to or from designated grounds. Operators will draw hirers’ attention to the requirements of the law, and drivers shall, as far as reasonably practical, supervise boarding passengers and check that they are not obviously carrying intoxicating alcohol, flares and similar pyrotechnics. Drivers will not be expected to carry out baggage or body searches, nor will they be expected to confiscate alcohol or to remove passengers without police assistance. Operators may add a condition of entry to the PSV that a voluntary search may be undertaken.
i) PSV operators are to notify the Dedicated Football Officer at the destination upon arrival at an away football ground, of any chanting demonstrating hostility based on race, ethnicity religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender identity or chanting of an otherwise grossly offensive or inflammatory nature which had taken place during the journey to the ground.
j) PSV operators are to have established safeguarding policies when carrying persons under the age of 18 years old. This is to include arrangements for the nomination of at least one responsible adult for the minors carried.
Supporters on social media have been quick to slam the proposals.
Derek Watson tweeted “The draconian proposals put civil liberties at risk. They must be opposed.”
While Neil Larid called for action to oppose “these draconian, dystopian and downright disgraceful proposals that infringe the civil liberties of football supporters in Scotland”.
Gordon Frew said: “Treated like criminals as usual, under constant surveillance. A shambles.”
The consultation period runs until November 24. Details on how to respond, and the full document, are available here.