Matthew Lindsay did an excellent series of articles some months ago on the issue of pyrotechnics in football grounds.
He approached the issue from every conceivable angle.
He spoke to fans here and abroad. He spoke to safety experts. He spoke to clubs and to regulatory bodies. I read all of those pieces. I listened to him talk about it on the Graham Spiers podcast.
Today he’s revisited the subject in light of the law passed by the Scottish Parliament last year, which will come into force next month, in time for the cup final, and honest to God, it is mind-numbingly bad because at the centre of it is a preposterous comparison which doesn’t stand up to even the slightest, most sophomoric, examination.
He ponders whether or not this new law is really OBFA in another form.
That’s like asking if a banana is just an apple in another form.
The laws are alike in only two ways; the legislative body which passed them is the same, and they affect football fans. But that’s where the comparison ends, and where it should have been left. The idea that one has anything to do with the other is actually idiotic and offensive because it presumes that the reader is too stupid to tell the difference between the two.
But for the record, here’s the difference.
The Offensive Behaviour At Football Act criminalised supporters for the songs they sung.
It was the invention of a new law with the specific purpose of limiting free expression at football events in a way that it was not limited or restricted in any other part of our lives.
It was blatantly illiberal and not only granted the police subjective powers they ought never to have had and which even some in the judiciary said were brazen over-reach but it was vague and sinister in its creation of theoretical “people who might be offended” – a catch-all no open democracy should ever permit.
The new fireworks regulations are a measure designed to grant the police additional powers to limit the sale, transport and use of fireworks. They are not explicitly designed to target one group of people. They were not written with the specific intention to keep dangerous items out of football stadiums, although they do give police new options for enforcement in that regard.
That’s it. It is a public safety measure.
The first law made illegal at games what would otherwise have been legal elsewhere, making it a blatant and undisguised attack on football fans, and for doing something that at rugby would have been perfectly fine.
It was a restriction on freedom of expression and one so selective that the European Court, had it ever got that far, would have annihilated it with scorching condemnation.
I believed then and now that it represented a grave threat to more than just those who were targeted by it.
A government which passes such a law is a threat to all of us.
It’s a mere hop, skip and jump from the kind of dire laws which are being used right now against those protesting the coronation, and it was condemned not only by bleeding hearts like me but even from some of the leading intellects on the right … one of the guys who wrote with breath-taking clarity and genuine passion against the OBAF Act was The Spectator’s Alex Massie.
The 2022 Pyrotechnics law will make it easier for the police to deal with something that is already a criminal offence, but one which people insist on committing regardless of the risks to themselves and other people.
Those who are, for whatever reason, transfixed by the sight of coloured smoke and sparkly things to the extent they can ignore that huge consideration will bleat about their rights, but it’s a ludicrous argument.
Besides, our so-called rights are already restricted in any number of ways when the greater public good is weighed up beside them, and that’s not something I’ll be getting protest banners made for.
This law will enable the council and the police to designate certain areas “firework control zones” and enable them to search anyone seeking to enter these areas.
An inconvenience for all of us, but one that is sadly necessary because those who do this are simply not listening to the views of other people at all. It is not a restriction of our freedoms in any way, except that it means we have to be at grounds a little bit earlier than would otherwise be the case. It also increases the potential punishments for offenders.
Those shouting about “human rights” have scant concern for the rights of their fellow fans, those who don’t want to have to cover their mouths as toxic smoke wafts around the ground, those who work in stewarding and don’t want to have to dodge flares, those of us who genuinely worry not only about this issue but what the steady upwards tick of certain types of lawlessness inside stadiums means for the future of the sport.
We do not enjoy lives of unrestricted freedom and we never have.
The entire criminal justice system exists to restrict the things that we can and cannot do; look out your window right now. That mostly peaceful visage exists, in no small part, because of that.
Without it, you might be seeing outtakes from The Purge.
There are safety related laws in place everywhere which people feel disinclined to obey but which offer the vast, vast majority of us protection from the wilful stupidity and egotism of others.
It’s why we don’t allow you to get behind the wheel of a car when you’ve had a drink.
It’s why smoking is banned in public places.
It’s why you need to go through airport security and why you aren’t allowed a liquid container in your hand luggage.
It’s why there are rules about noise pollution.
It’s why we have controls on dangerous animals.
For God’s sake, it’s the reason we obeyed lockdown and mask mandates and everything else that enabled us eventually to reclaim our lives from the impacts of this century’s first global health crisis.
Laws which exist to protect people from harm ask us to make small sacrifices. This is true. But those laws, by and large, have had a positive effect on the world. This one is fairly simple to understand, and for all the noise that has been generated around it, the law which criminalises the use of pyro in football grounds is a good and reasonable one.
Lindsay’s editors have chosen to use a picture of a fan banner calling out the “criminalisation of football fans”.
That is just as disingenuous as the piece itself.
You are not being “criminalised” by the system if you bring pyro into a ground; you are a criminal.
You are knowingly, wilfully, breaking the law, and it is not “harassment” when the police enforce that law any more than it is harassment when they stop someone driving at 70mph in a 20mph zone.
The Offensive Behaviour At Football Act turned you into a criminal if someone believed, or even claimed to believe, that your behaviour might – might – lead a theoretical “reasonable person” to be offended … it’s obviously preposterous to compare the two.
If we prosecuted everyone who might offend other people, I’d currently be sewing mailbags somewhere whilst the guards whistled that penal classic “You’ll Never Eat Steak Again” in my ear.
Lindsay, like others, thinks the answer for this is for people to talk.
About what? About which laws we should obey and not? About which other public safety measures we feel could be set aside in the interests of certain groups doing what they please? There is already enough dishonesty about this debate, such as the part pertaining to the use of “safe pyro.” It’s a complete misnomer because in fact there’s no such thing.
He wants common sense to prevail here.
So do I, and there’s a simple solution.
People should respect the law which protects the health and safety of those around them and obey the damned thing.
This effort at muddying the waters and pretending there’s complexity here and two sides to it skews what is, at the end of the day, an issue as black and white as any I’ve encountered since I’ve been doing this.
Pyro is dangerous.
An entire industry of experts has confirmed this over and over again, and really, use a bit of common sense; if you need an expert to tell you what is manifestly obvious in the first place you need to open your eyes wider.
The objective of every right thinking person who cares about public safety should be to remove it from grounds.
The government has asked fans not to do this. The police have urged fans to obey the law. Those who understand the issue live in perpetual dread of the day it seriously injures or kills somebody. The club have begged fans to stop, in no small part because little things like football sanctions and the potential closure of parts of the stadium are now realistic possibilities.
None of it has worked. The soft-soap approach has failed.
From here on in, the watchword will be enforcement.
This is not executive over-reach or heavy handed policing.
We’re here because a group of people like this stuff and prioritise that not only over the wellbeing and safety of fellow fans but the express, and clear, wishes of the club itself, the one they obviously love.
As such, as tough as it might be for some folk to hear, this is the truth; this is their fault.