Michael Matheson: Football booze ban here to stay

Michael Matheson was speaking to The Falkirk Herald at his office in the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Michael Gillen
Michael Matheson was speaking to The Falkirk Herald at his office in the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Michael Gillen

New Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has said he would require “a lot of persuading” to back calls to allow the sale of alcohol at football matches in Scotland.

Falkirk and East Stirlingshire are among several professional clubs in favour of scrapping the existing ban, which was introduced in 1980.

I think there is a long way to go in changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol

New justice secretary Michael Matheson

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has led a campaign for its repeal, arguing that stadiums and match day policing have significantly improved in the past 35 years.

Falkirk West MSP Matheson, a Partick Thistle supporter, regularly attends games but insisted the issue must be viewed within a wider context.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the continued problem we still have as a country in our relationship with alcohol and the impact that has,” he said.

Matheson was speaking to The Falkirk Herald in his first in-depth media interview since replacing SNP colleague Kenny MacAskill as Cabinet Secretary for Justice in November.

The full interview will be published online tomorrow.

“Any approach to considering this issue is not just about clubs being able to introduce alcohol because they simply want to make some more money - it’s got to be about how that fits with the whole matchday experience,” he continued.

“I’ve also made it clear that if the SFA want to have dialogue with Police Scotland on this then I’m more than happy for that to happen.

“I think there is a long way to go to in changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. Increasing availability in this way could set some of this work back.”

Matheson’s predecessor as Justice Secretary reintroduced the sale of alcohol at rugby matches in Scotland in 2008, but the 44-year-old has no plans to allow football clubs to follow suit.

“There had been no history of problems at rugby games,” he added. “When legislation was drafted to deal with issues at football, it was the rugby authorities that decided to opt into it as well. The history of both of the games is different. The rivalry in football and rugby is different and it would be foolish not to recognise that.

He continued: “It’s about what we as a country are trying to do in resetting our relationship with alcohol. The cost of the damage that alcohol is costing is Scottish society is nearly £3 billion a year - that’s about £900 for each taxpayer in Scotland to share because of the health and the crime and social impact it has on families, and the interventions that are necessary as a result.

“So in trying to change that, we need to be careful in any change to policy on alcohol. And I think the whole football issue has got to be looked at in that context.”