Old Firm: good business?

The season of goodwill doesn't extend to Parkhead this evening (Wednesday), as the grudgiest grudge match in Grudgeland brings the Old Firm together again.

We're told the Celtic-Rangers derby matches are the big money-spinners of Scottish football, bringing the big audiences for broadcasters.

Clubs that regularly fill big stadiums, bringing people from around Scotland and further afield are also good for the Glasgow economy.

But are they?

There was a chilling festive message on Good Morning Scotland today from Les Gray, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, when he said that his advice is not to go into Glasgow city centre on the night of an Old Firm match.

So for all the benefit to the economy from the Old Firm, that warning means there are hospitality and culture businesses in Glasgow that are harmed by people staying away for fear of disorder.

And this is a time of year when they need to be doing good business.

Best of a bad lot

Here's how the exchange went, with GMS presenter Gary Robertson, when he asked why the Old Firm match is being held this evening:

"This would probably be an ideal time for this game, a midweek game - during the evening. From our point of view, from a policing and disorder point of view, this is the best time.


"Some people are at work today and tomorrow, whereas if you hold the game at New Year when people are off for a day or two days, it's not unusual for people to be drinking for two and three straight days, then go to the game, the pub or the club and watch it, having been consuming alcohol, and that's where the disorder kicks in.

"It's a better time for us, when people are still working. It's the best of a bad lot."

Is there a danger of disorder in the city centre?

"My personal advice is: I never go out on the evening of an Old Firm game unless I have to, through work.

"If I didn't need to go out tonight, I wouldn't. The disorder is as predictable as the game itself. You don't know what you're going to get".

Sometimes, said Les Gray, police officers at the game expect a lot of aggro, but it doesn't come to much, so it can be an unpredictably pleasant surprise.

"But my personal advice to my own family is not to go out in the evening. That's a sad reflection, but it's something I've done for several years".

Acceptable disorder

To be clear, that's a personal opinion, and Les Gray is not the senior officer in charge of policing.

And this is not to criticise him, because his advice may be sound.

But at a time when Edinburgh is welcoming many tourists to celebrate a Scottish new year, what does this offer those who travel west to sample its near neighbour?

What does it say for the city, its image and its economy when a senior policeman says to stay away?

And while sectarian singing is banned by law, why is this level of disorder seen as normal, and accepted with little more than a shrug?