The Old Firm is one of the biggest games in the Scottish football calendar – it is also one of the most expensive to police, according to new figures released to The Ferret ahead of the New Year’s Eve clash between Rangers and Celtic.
Policing inside Hampden Park during the Scottish Cup semi-final between Rangers and Celtic in April cost £45,590.40, according to figures released by Police Scotland in response to a freedom of information request.
The in-stadium policing bill for the Old Firm’s League cup semi-final in February 2015 was £37,651.20. The league game between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park in September cost £50,448.
However, the full cost of policing Old Firm clashes is likely to be far higher than these figures.
Police Scotland has a statutory obligation to recover the costs of policing public events such as football matches – but the force is only able to charge policing at and “in the immediate vicinity of the stadium”. The additional local, regional and even national police presence around Old Firm games in particular is met through existing police resources.
Leading police representatives and anti-sectarian charities have questioned whether public funds should be used to meet the increased policing demands from major football games.
Gordon Crossan, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said: “For the Rangers Celtic football match at Hogmanay policing the football is not much different from any other game, we will have some additional resources but not massive.
“But the wider context, in the cities and towns, will require additional resources. There is no cost recovery for that. Should it really be for the police to pick up the tab for policing a commercial event?”
Old Firms games have often been marred by crowd trouble, both inside and outside grounds. After September’s fixture it was discovered that the toilets at the away end at Celtic Park had been badly damaged.
Police Scotland does not calculate the cost of policing beyond football stadiums, but figures revealed by Strathclyde Police in 2011, before the creation of the unified force, found the total policing bill for six Old Firm clashes was just under £2 million.
This figure covered match commanders and other events staff but nearly half of the total was for extra police officers, not just in Glasgow but also in towns and villages from Ayrshire to Argyll.
Of the £1,968,840 overall cost of policing Old Firm fixtures in 2010-11, Celtic and Rangers paid £301,263.80.
Celtic and Rangers have also received millions in public funding for activities in recent years.
In May, both clubs were given £100,000 from Glasgow City Council for outreach work. In 2014, the Celtic FC Foundation, the club’s charity arm, was awarded £175,000 from the Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities scheme.
The issue of the cost of policing football matches is long running. In the 1990s, the then Strathclyde police attempted to force clubs to pay for all policing costs associated with matches but this move proved unsuccessful, in part because it was difficult to ascertain what additional policing costs could be directly attributed to football.
In 2009, a report by the Home Affairs Committee in Westminster said that policing costs related to football “should be met by the clubs rather than the taxpayer” – but stopped short of calling for clubs to be forced to pay for additional match day policing beyond the confines of their stadia.
In Scotland, the rising cost of policing public events such as music festivals have put the future of some in jeopardy.
When it comes to football, Scottish police and charities say that more needs to be done to address the culture around the game, and particularly the Old Firm.
“We would rather change the culture of football, of football supporters, so we don’t have disorder linked to certain football matches,” said Gordon Crossan.
“The question for me is the culture of football. It is almost acceptable to go into a stadium for 90 minutes and shout sectarian abuse or racist abuse or homophobic abuse.”
He added: “We need to change mind sets. How you conduct yourself in a sporting event should be the same as you conduct yourself in everyday life.”
An anti-sectarian charity is calling for the introduction of “strict liability”, which would see football clubs held legally responsible for the behaviour of supporters.
“The Old Firm fixture has always been marketed by the clubs and PR machines as being more than a football match,” said David Scott, campaign director of Nil By Mouth.
“Sadly, amidst the undoubted pride and passion which swirls around the game, this all too often proves to be the case and its impact is felt in communities, A&Es and police cells across Scotland. We fully agree with the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents that cultural change is required across the game to improve this situation and the associated costs being passed on to the taxpayer.
“That is why we have been campaigning for the introduction of strict liability into Scottish football which would see sanctions imposed on clubs for the continued misbehaviour of fans and actions within the ground which antagonise rival fans. The Scottish Parliament will debate this proposal next year and the clubs need to be made to step up to the plate.”
Police Scotland is bound by legislation to assess the policing needs for public events based on a risk assessment. Currents rates for policing inside football stadiums range from £98 for a chief superintendent and £84.50 for a superintendent through to £23.50 for a special constable. Police Scotland says that it has been trying to reduce police numbers at football matches by encouraging clubs to employ stewards.
Speaking for Police Scotland, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “With games involving Rangers and Celtic, additional policing resources are deployed throughout the country in order to maintain public safety and order and the cost of this is not recoverable.
“The number of policing resources deployed is dependent on current and emerging intelligence up to, during and after the match is concluded to ensure an appropriate, balanced and dynamic response capability.”
The cost of policing Scottish Cup games are met by the Scottish Football Association (SFA), who deduct them from gate receipts. The Scottish Professional Football League is billed for the policing of League Cup matches while individual clubs cover the costs of policing league games inside their grounds.
Celtic and Rangers were approached for comment on this story but did not respond.