The Rangers Fans Working Group had a meeting with FoCUS (Football Co-ordination Unit for Scotland) officers this week.
In attendance from FoCUS were Marian MacLean the 2IC at FoCUS, Partnerships Officer Inspector Matt Gemmell and Operations Sergeant Eleanor Murdoch.
There was an agenda drawn up by FoCUS which included the following;
- Role of FoCUS at deployments
- Smoke bombs/Flares/pyro
- Offensive Singing
- Alcohol on buses
- Online hate crime
This was pretty much in line with what we had asked to speak to them about, but it is fair to say the nature of discussions meant that we jumped about from any strictly set agenda throughout the meeting.
A major discussion point was the stopping of buses on the way to every one of our away matches this season. FoCUS said this was carried out by the local force but contradicted themselves slightly by admitting it was part of Operation Osla (not sure on the exact word) in which FoCUS want to set these things in play. Some stats regarding stopping of buses this season was given.
Brechin – 12 buses stopped, 4 people reported.
Peterhead - 13 buses stopped, 5 people reported.
Stirling – 18 buses stopped, 2 people reported.
The point was made that while there is a 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 ratio generally (their figure), buses will continue to get stopped. It was pointed out that if you say an average of 40 people are on each bus, then the statistic is nearer 1% of people stopped were then arrested/reported, and we asked if this was really good use of resources. The cold fact is that they see drunk fans as potential troublemakers in or around the ground, and as long as they continue to get buses pulled in with plenty of drink/empties on it then the process will continue. FoCUS are very keen to set up a meeting with bus convenors to discuss this matter. We will take this to our RSC reps and ask their opinion on this.
It was put to FoCUS that they need to have better PR to manage supporter’s perception of FoCUS and their tasks. Most fans will see FoCUS as the special Police unit set up to film and then jail fans for sectarian singing, and are only interested in the old firm clubs. FoCUS explained that they deal with known pockets of fans, and gave the example that they have been following Ayr Utd fans at every away match as they have an unsavoury element within their support. It was again suggested that they should have a lot of information and statistics about what they are doing, what games they have been at, what arrests have been made etc on a web page either within Strathclyde Police website or a stand alone website. This would help with the perception and image problem of FoCUS and would help fans understand what their role is, and would assist fans with what FoCUS can help us with in cases where we are mistreated or abused at our matches.
FoCUS advised that they only go to matches at the invitation of the Match Commander, or in certain cases as a particular exercise to try to identify fans that have caused trouble at a previous game. An example of this was when some fans were stopped before entering BF1 at a home match this season and asked for ID and their photo taken on camera before they were allowed access. This was as a direct result of incidents at our previous away game in relation to sectarian singing which looked as if it came from the BO/UB groupings at an earlier home and away game.
FoCUS confirmed that they have been to, and at the moment intend going to, every celtic game both home and away, and will continue to do so as long as offensive behaviour continues. This remains the case for us as a club also.
We informed FoCUS that we have been working hard in the last few weeks with our support to try to eradicate crowd-surfing, smoke bombs, and the rare occasions of offensive singing that has crept back in small doses this season. BO/UB have been working hard on this in particular and we have seen at our last home and away match a considerable improvement, which FoCUS agreed on. At the Stirling match there were no smoke bombs for the first away match this season. We informed them that we will continue to try to eradicate this from our support but we indicated that we have 7,000 new season ticket holders this season who either are new to coming to Rangers games or have not been for a number of years, and that the landscape has changed considerably since they were last regular match-goers. It has been noticeable to us that there is a much larger percentage of young supporters going to games, especially away games, and we believe that this requires more work on educating fans who were perhaps not aware of the high standards we try to adhere to and we would say we got to last season.
FoCUS were happy to accept that we were working hard on these issues and they were happy to look at them taking a reserve position at our next few home games and to allow us the opportunity to self-police and to work on these things from the inside.
In relation to offensive singing, FoCUS have said that they have on tape instances of Rangers fans singing Follow Follow with the FTP add-on, and Super Rangers with the offensive line included, from both home and away games this season and were disappointed that this had crept back into our songbook and reiterated that these are arrestable offences under the new act and that anyone caught singing these will be arrested and prosecuted.
When asked for clarification on offensive singing, the list remains the same as we were advised in March, but FoCUS were keen to ensure we were aware that the PF are taking the view that all terrorist organisations songs, either in favour of or against, is now illegal. This includes all versions of the IRA and UVF and it was indicated that there is a desire to eradicate all songs which either glorify or decry terrorist organisations.
We asked for FoCUS to take our concerns again to the PF regarding the offensive term Hun which is used commonly as an offensive term for a Rangers Supporter and also Protestants. At the moment the PF would deem the word Hun (and Fen'ian for that matter) not to be illegal on its own but when used in context can become offensive. When the word bastard is added to Fen'ian it becomes criminal. When Fen'ian is used in context of being up to your knees in their blood it is offensive, but not on its own. Similarly being called a hun is not illegal but Hun bastard is. We have asked that this be reviewed and gave a very strong case for it to be outlawed in its entirety. The legislation is about offensive and Hun is deeply offensive to all Rangers fans. Unlike Fen'ian we don’t call ourselves it, or have songs about it. We hate it and we want it’s use to stop in today’s society.
We briefly spoke about online hate crime and the advice to our supporters is simple. If you wouldn’t get away with saying it in public, don’t say it on the internet. FoCUS will work with forums to identify people who use offensive language online, where it has been brought to their attention via a complaint. FoCUS do not go looking for this, it is only when brought to their attention. We would ask forum admin/mods to continue to be vigilant on these matters.
It was put to FoCUS that the 2 page article they done on Supt McAllister’s appointment regarding the return of casuals was not helpful or accurate. It was suggested that the paper took some of it out of context but it was accepted that it didn’t help and that FoCUS would try to ensure a better PR image going forward.
At the station incident at Annan it was a four way police operation involving BTP, G Division, FoCUS and D&G police. Information had been obtained and had been verified that known trouble makers were on a train heading for Annan. It was decided that an operation was launched to meet them at Annan and advise them that they were being watched and not to try anything. Unfortunately this meant around 60 Rangers supporters were forced to give personal details and have photos taken as a result of this. During a lengthy discussion about this, contradictory information arose from what we had been told by local police, and the club’s security and we will continue to try to ascertain what exactly happened that day, now that we have another view on it from another angle.
It was agreed that we would continue communications between the group and FoCUS, and look to take the issues raised tonight forward in the near future.