Yesterday two of the most arrogant men in Scotland came face to face.
By the time they were done talking both felt a little bruised, but that was mostly their egos. The real damage is yet to come, and it will fall on ordinary football fans.
The Scottish Government (which I voted for, by the way) has previous for this of course.
Their hated and diabolical legislation, the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, was and remains one of the grossest assaults on freedom of expression (and freedom of political expression at that) that I have ever seen in a democracy. I have no doubt whatsoever that they paid a price for that at the ballot box, when they lost their overall majority last month.
To see their Justice Minister, Michael Matheson, strutting to the cameras to threaten Scottish football yesterday, like a parent chiding a naughty child, was abysmal.
It becomes ever clearer that he and his colleagues have a horrendous view of the Beautiful Game here, and everyone in it.
It’s equally clear that they’re not done using it as a punching bag just yet.
I’m not writing a political piece here.
There are bigger issues at play than Scottish football and my vote was based on those things, but I am not blind to the way football is being used to frame a debate which has little bearing on the sport itself. The SNP are not the first administration to see an opportunity to advance policies on the back of disorder at a game; Thatcher did the same in England and Jack McConnell convened a “sectarianism summit” in the aftermath of one.
Thatcher refused to acknowledge that violence at football had roots in larger social issues, but I think for breath-taking cynicism you have to come to Scotland, because it’s only here that politicians talk the talk and make threats to football fans about the songs they sing and the banners they fly whilst they remain silent as the most vile manifestation of bigotry on these islands is allowed to march up and down the street two months out of every year and far from getting a grip on that, local authorities (Labour led Falkirk for one) are perfectly willing to spend tax payers money subsidising it.
In short, I’ll believe these people are serious about tackling bigotry when they get serious and actually start to tackle it.
Regan, of course, is just as bad, sitting there yesterday and basically using Matheson’s comments as his own big stick, wielding it against the clubs and the fans. The longer this joker is in office the further backwards our entire national sport slides.
He’s got some balls to be lecturing clubs on their responsibilities and their priorities when he and his association have been so scandalously lax on theirs., At a time when the Resolution 12 guys chip away ever closer to the centre, it really is something seeing him sit there and give out lectures.
And of course, if you want an example of their lax view on regulatory issues this is another case in point.
Because, of course, what Regan didn’t say yesterday and which neither Matheson or any of the press bothered to mention, is that there are already rules in place for dealing with stuff such as we saw at the Cup Final last month.
He just chooses to ignore them.
The current regulations say that clubs are already liable for the behaviour of their supporters unless they can demonstrate that they’ve taken “all reasonable action” to prevent bad behaviour. Have Hibs complied with that directive? Was their statement strong enough? Robust enough? Did they wait too long to get their condemnation into the public sphere?
We could argue about that all day long, but the SFA is unable to act on it anyway because doing so would impact on another club, one that made no apology, one that justified every excess instead of condemning it, one who’s managing director actually made excuses, pathetic, cowardly and sinister excuses, for the lamentable behaviour of his fans.
Under the current regulations Sevco would have no defence if the SFA opened a disciplinary proceeding in light of what we all saw and have read since. Furthermore, no other club would have been allowed to escape a disrepute charge for those shocking statements which embarrassed not only our national sport but the country as a whole.
Now, instead of punishing the guilty, Regan and Matheson are double-teaming the innocent.
Accept strict liability, which the clubs voted overwhelming against just a few months ago, or else.
Or else … what?
These people are playing a bad hand badly.
The Scottish Government is inflating this issue as part of their political strategy to protect the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, whose future hangs by a thread now they’ve not got a parliamentary majority. Regan is using the issue to put pressure on clubs to accept something they’ve rejected out of hand twice.
But neither can force this, no matter how much they might want to.
Their threats carry no weight.
They talk about consequences through mouths with no teeth.
Regan’s pathetic assertion that the Scottish Government could deprive the game here of £4 millions in grants is so daft as to push it into the realms of comedy.
Some of that money comes from the EU for a start, and the Scottish Government gets it on the condition that it sponsors certain initiatives.
The rest of it belongs to the Scottish tax-payer and in order to push through a cut like that they’d need the approval of the Parliament itself, which they purely and simply will not get.
Which is to say nothing of the ever-present threat of UEFA sanctions which will follow political interference with the running of our national sport like night follows day. Regan himself acknowledged those actual, real, quantifiable risks yesterday.
But we’d be daft in the extreme if we simply ignored what happened yesterday, secure in the knowledge that it will never come to pass.
Something is in the wind, and some change will come out of this, a cup final between only two clubs, one of which is yet to apologise or accept even the smallest portion of blame for what happened.
The rest of the game ought not to be made scapegoats for the appalling lack of bottle which led us to this sorry pass.
But that’s what the Scottish Government and the SFA aims to do.
Be on your guard.
This is a long way from being over.