I live in Scotland. Or at least I do for the next five days, after which I shall be living the life of a landed aristocrat in the Norfolk broads as I move to a big old country thatched house with some land and a mooring for a boat.
I’ve always loved Scotland and living in Edinburgh has been great fun. However, after the Old Firm game on Wednesday I’m sure people who don’t live up here must look on and wonder what the hell is the matter with Scotland and the Scottish people as they abuse and kick seven shades of sh*te out of each other before during and after Rangers v Celtic games.
It doesn’t stop at the football; reports of domestic abuse rise by 70% after an Old Firm game presumably as supporters of the losing side, tanked up on drink, come home and take it out on their partners. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious; so dangerous. There is no excuse for it, everyone knows that from the fans to the government and the police. But everyone just puts up with it as though its inevitable.
And to be honest, a lot of the words of condemnation are just hot air. They’re not really meant because some Scots rather like this image as being tough, hard and wild. It plays to some national spirit of rebellion that goes back centuries.
To outsiders it looks like thuggery but to some it’s a badge of Braveheart honour.
Football in Scotland is much closer to the 1970s than to the 21st century. It is an unreconstructed working class game on the terraces and on the pitch. They’ll never sell prawn sandwiches to Scottish fans, not until they are deep-fried anyway…..and even then. Have ye’ nay pies, pal?
To be honest, as an outsider, I’ve always rather liked this old-fashioned culture. It gives you a more intense experience at games; yes it means that things are a bit more aggressive but that’s the edge that many of us like and we’d rather have that than the quiet, bland, polite version of the game that has become the norm at some English grounds.
But none of that is a reason to commit random acts of violence. It’s possible to have passion for the game without it spilling over into anything that draws blood.
However Old Firm games are something else all together. I’ve only been to two, one in the late 80s and one in the mid 90s and they were both terrifying experiences. You can’t be a neutral no matter how much you might protest you are; you will be judged as on one side or the other and from then onwards in danger of a kicking of some description from the other side. The whole city feels under siege from the night before the game. There is a palpable tension in the air.
The sheer level of bitterness, fury, anger and outright hatred between sets of supporters is unparalleled in British football. The contorted faces of one set of fans as they abuse another isn’t funny or in any way enjoyable. It’s not just frightening, it’s vile, or it was to me as a Sassanach. As an Englishman I looked on astonished at the level of aggression. How could you pull this sort of emotion out of your own tripe just over football? It’s just not in me to do that. The opposition fan is a human being too, remember.
I often wonder once the game has passed and tempers cooled if some even remember what they were doing. When I went it was as though a collective hypnosis descended on the 60,000 in the ground.
Where does this hatred come from? It’s just football, after all. It’s nowhere near as bad here in Edinburgh for Hearts v Hibs derbies. Still feisty but not as manic. The west of Scotland sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants plays a big part, or at least, it’s used as an excuse by some. Others blame poverty and booze.
However, there’s an alternative idea that some dieticians recently offered up.
It is the Scottish diet that causes these violent problems.
Some areas of Glasgow have an average male mortality rate of around just 59 years. The health of the Scottish people is the worst in Europe according to most statistics.
Twenty percent of children are obese. The typical diet is high in sugar, nicotine and carbohydrates, low in vegetables and good quality protein. This in essence, makes them prone to burst of anger as their digestive systems are permanently on a roller-coaster of sugar peaks and troughs. Add in a lot of strong drink and you’ve got an explosive situation ready to happen.
In some American jails, it was found that when prisoners diets were changed from being high in sugar and carbs, their behaviour modified markedly. Incidences of violence dropped, concentration levels even improved on a diet higher in vegetable matter, good quality fats and proteins.
Given that in every single way we are what we eat and that there is no escaping the relationship between what we consume and our physical and mental health. This interpretation of the unique madness of the Scots makes an awful lot of sense.
However, if true, it means solving these problems is even harder and more long term than simply banning booze or increasing police numbers. It means nothing less than a revolution in the Scottish way of life. It means giving up a diet of cigarettes, chips, Irn Bru and greasy pies. It means not considering a pint of lager as one of your portions of fruit and vegetables and frankly, that is not going to happen overnight, it will take a lifetime and a complete cultural revolution north of the Border.