Raith chief at the heart of Scottish football talks

Raith Rovers chief executive Eric Drysdale. Credit - Fife Photo Agency -

Raith Rovers chief executive Eric Drysdale. Credit - Fife Photo Agency -

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All 42 senior football clubs in Scotland descended on Hampden Park on Tuesday for a key meeting on aspects of the game - with Raith Rovers chief executive Eric Drysdale at the heart of it.

Drysdale, an elected member of the SPFL board, has been part of a working group looking at tackling the issue of supporter misconduct following recent cases of sectarian chanting and the use of smoke bombs and flares.

Strict liability - where clubs can be punished for the conduct of its fans regardless of whether the club itself is to blame - was raised but widely opposed by clubs.

Facial recognition technology was also mooted, and subsequently criticised as over the top in some quarters, but Drysdale explained that SPFL’s proposals simply involve enhancing CCTV coverage at stadiums.

“There has been a number of high profile incidents of unacceptable conduct in recent times,” Drysdale told the Press.

“There seems to be a trend of deterioriating crowd behaviour again and we need to do something about it because it’s just not acceptable.

“We had a case last February when Rangers visited Stark’s Park and we had some singing of inappropriate songs which led to an investigation into the behaviour of Rangers fans in the away stand.

“There was found to be no case to answer because both Rangers and ourselves had done all we could to ensure the event was well stewarded and managed.

“That game is a case in point that strict liability doesn’t work.

“If applied, Raith Rovers as the home club would be heavily punished and that wouldn’t be right when we did all we could, as did Rangers.”

Drysdale revealed the Stark’s Park was used as a “guinea pig” during the close season for new hi-tech CCTV cameras that can identify and prosecute perpetrators from the opposite ends of the ground.

“We approached a couple of companies to come up with solutions to enable us to better manage the problem be it flares, singing or pitch incursions,” he said.

“There were a range of possibilities, and at the top of the range was the facial recognition scheme, which is airport-style security, very high-tec and very expensive.

“Other solutions may be more appropriate such as enhanced CCTV.

“One company provided us with a demonstration of the ability of their system and from a camera positioned on the top of our north stand, facing our south stand, you were able to zoom in to such an extent that you can have a very detailed close up of anyone in the opposite stand.

“Microphones can also be attached to pick up what people are saying, or singing.

“Technology of this standard is already in place at Celtic Park and Easter Road, but Raith Rovers do not have finances available to bring in such super-duper CCTV.

“Nor do Stranraer, who had problems with Celtic fans last week, or Forfar, who had similar issues during their Scottish Cup tie with Linlithgow in midweek.”

Drysdale explained that the SPFL would seek financial assistance from the Scottish government to help clubs install new CCTV systems.

“What we’re looking at is providing the hardware to enable clubs to do everything they possibly can to prevent this from happening - and if it happens, deal with offenders,” he said.

“If brought in, the current law - which is not effective - would be more effective as clubs will have that corroborative evidence of much more visually enhanced CCTV,” he added.

“Supporters need to know that when they come to Stark’s Park and any other ground that they are being monitored by CCTV.

“I don’t see how any law abiding citizen could object to that if it helps solve this problem.”

Drysdale also feels that a ladder punishment system starting with a warning, then a fine, then a points deduction should be used against clubs who fail to follow guidelines regarding preventing and tackling supporter misconduct.

“It’s very important that Scottish football does all it can to put its own house in order and not wait for government to legislate,” he added.

The issue of league restructuring was also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting although any changes to the set-up are unlikely to be decided soon, Drysdale stated.

“The unanimous view of clubs is that it’s not simply a case of deciding how many teams are in each division,” he said.

“That is the last piece of the jigsaw. There is huge work to be done on other aspects of the game taking into account the views of supporters, players, managers and all
stakeholders.

“This is viewed as a medium-term project to look at what is best for Scottish football.

“The current TV deal expires in 2020 and it’s important we have the best product available to market to TV companies in 2019. That’s the timescale we’re looking at to get everything right.

“There needs to be a comprehensive consulation process - not just the 42 senior club’s chief executives - but all who are invested in our game, and that includes the media.”

Proposals to revamp the Challenge Cup to include clubs from Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scottish Premiership under 20 sides - were also raised.

“It’s work in progress and all subject to number of things - one of which is UEFA approval - and may not be done in time for next season,” Drysdale added.