Scottish football clubs paid nearly £2 million to police in order to keep games safe last year, official figures have revealed.
The clubs with the largest grounds and numbers of supporters tended to have to pay the largest bills.
Together, Rangers and Celtic account for £912,681 of the police bill in the 2017-18 football season. The combined total for Hearts and Hibs was £246,497. Whilst Aberdeen had to fork out more than £115,000.
At the other end of the scale, junior side Auchinleck Talbot were billed just £250 for the whole year, whilst Stranraer paid £770.
Police Scotland is required by law to assess the policing needs for public events based on a risk assessment, but they are barred from billing for costs outwith the immediate vicinity of a football stadium.
The figures covering the the 12 month period to March 31 2018 were released in a Freedom of Information request.
The Ferret has previously reported calls from both senior police officers and anti-sectarian campaigners for changes to public policy that would allow the police to recover more of the costs associated with football related disorder.
Police fees for events range from £24 per hour for a special constable, to more than £100 per hour should a chief superintendent be required.
Large matches may also have an impact on other public services, such as the National Health Service.
In 2011, Strathclyde Police released figures which suggested that the true costs of policing Old Firm matches were far higher than the fees paid by the clubs. Of the £1,968,840 overall cost of policing Old Firm fixtures in 2010-11, Celtic and Rangers paid £301,263.80.
But Paul Goodwin, Co-founder of Scottish Football Supporters Association, said the latest figures represented a “huge contribution from Scottish Football clubs” to policing, especially when compared with the amounts paid by other large public events, such as music festivals.
At smaller clubs there should be more games that are police free given the minimum risk involved. Paul Goodwin, Scottish Football Supporters Association
In recent years, moves by clubs to cut their bills by using more stewards were working, he said – and he urged Police Scotland to continue to help clubs with this.
“At smaller clubs there should be more games that are police free given the minimum risk involved – even at certain premiership games there should be moves towards making them virtually police free,” he said.
“For example last season is there any need at all for any police at Partick Thistle v Ross County? A fixture with few travelling fans and a history of no previous arrests.”
John Finnie MSP, the Scottish Greens’ justice spokesperson, also argued that a balance must be struck. “The public, I think, are right to expect that football clubs continue to make a fair contribution to the cost of policing inside stadiums,” he said.
“Nevertheless, the police have a duty to protect the public outside of grounds and it’s reasonable to assume that the cost for the this will continue to be met by the public purse.”
Nil by Mouth Director Dave Scott said: “We know from previous FOIs that the average cost of policing an individual ‘Old Firm’ game alone is well over £300,000 so even though the clubs are paying a combined £900,000 for a season’s fixtures the taxpayer is still paying a hefty sum for policing of 4 or 5 Old Firm games a season.
“So it’s right that the clubs should foot the bill for stadium policing and this should continue to be the case. It will be interesting to see next season what impact the scrapping of the OBFA will have on police costs inside the stadium.”
Police Scotland were contacted for comment on this story, but did not respond by the time of publication.