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Explained: The Scottish football pyro problem

Does Scottish football have a pyro problem? Football Ground Guide takes a deeper look here.

On Wednesday 6 December, the Scottish Minister for Victims and Community Safety dismissed the notion to appoint a Minister for Football to eradicate the perceived problem of pyro in Scottish football.

Instead, Siobhian Brown backed the SPFL, SFA, and Police Scotland to get on top of pyrotechnic use and “crowd disorder” in the Scottish Premiership.

The catalyst for sustained recent media coverage and a major talking point was the Scottish Premiership fixture between Dundee and Rangers on Wednesday 1 November.

Pyro at Dundee vs Rangers sparks a debate

On a night when the travelling squad was delayed in getting to Dens Park due to a combination of bad weather and traffic chaos around the city of discovery, the kick-off was delayed 45 minutes.

Once play got underway, it had stopped within a couple of minutes due to a mass pyro display in the Bob Shankly Stand, where the Rangers supporters were present.

The referee brought the teams back to the dressing rooms, under police instructions as fire alarms had seemingly been activated. Not only that, a major talking point had opened up as well as a moral panic or serious crowd safety issue, depending on your viewpoint on pyro at football.

It has to be said that football supporters using pyro is not solely present in Scottish football. It is a regular sight across many European countries, and further afield across the world. See the below picture, for example. Often deployed as part of a wider visual display or on its own in a large quantity, as in Dundee, it can produce an impressive aesthetic.

fans of Leverkusen burning off pyrotechnics during the 1. Europa League semi-final between Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs AS Roma at BayArena on May 18, 2023 in Leverkusen, Germany | Scottish football pyro problem
Bayer Leverkusen's pyro display vs AS Roma | Photo by Joachim Bywaletz/DeFodi Image/Icon Sport

Motherwell fans produce another pyro display

After the Dundee vs Rangers game, Motherwell supporters made a statement with their use of pyro at an away game against St Johnstone but that didn't get as much scrutiny or as many headlines. In the weeks that have followed, the Scottish print media has dedicated a lot of focus on pyro, including speaking to police, fireworks experts, and politicians.

This has ranged from healthy debate and legitimate warnings to hyperbole but there hasn't been much input sought from the fans. Even a summit at Hampden Park at the end of November did not include any supporter representation.

Fan opinion: Scottish football pyro is a form of expression

Understandably, the authorities see the issue as something that is outlawed, forbidden and unwanted but efforts thus far haven't been conducive to improving the situation. The pyro hasn't been stopped, the supporters are still using it, expressing their passion in this way and not for the first time.

While some don't like it, the use of pyro is a form of football culture and fan expression. It is occasionally conflated with hooliganism and while this is a mistake, there are blurred lines.

There is always a responsibility on supporters and that includes with pyro within a stadium. It has to be reasonable and there's no need for sustained use for the sake of it, or overkill. Pyro should never be thrown – that is a non-negotiable.

Police and football bodies may choose to strictly criminalise those who are found to be using pyro but is that the best option? The current approach isn't working, so something will have to give.

In the Holyrood debate mentioned above, flares, smoke bombs, strobes and rockets were all mentioned.

The obvious issue is that we aren't discussing a public fireworks display but the scenes accompanying Scottish football games. There is also the perspective of fans who don't want to be around pyro and some who may have breathing issues, with asthma for example.

Their voice deserves to be heard, especially older fans who have clocked up decades supporting their clubs.

Celtic fans pyro v Rangers at the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park
Celtic fans pyro vs Rangers at the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park | Photo: Icon Sport

Conversely, Scottish football has few strengths and that's a reality. It is well supported by its respective fanbases and per head of population, it punches above its weight. On the pitch, success is presently and historically dominated by Rangers and Celtic, thanks to the financial advantage that they have.

The Premiership sorely lacks quality, it is a two-horse race (at best) for the title, teams play each other four or five times per season and European progress is limited, to say the least.

One of Scottish football's unique selling points, then, is the supporters and the passion that they generate. Without them, there would be very much to get enthused about.

The use of pyro is intrinsically linked to the ultra culture that is present and thriving in Scotland. It has been there since the early 2000s and whilst organised support and choreographed singing hasn't taken off to any significant degree in England, you only have to witness the atmospheres and mass displays in Scotland on European nights, at key domestic games and even, though to a lesser extent, at run-of-the-mill league games, to see its impact and value.

Without supporters, Scottish football has nothing. Its fan culture is what makes it unique. It is time for a reasoned, rational discussion involving all parties, but that must include the supporters.

Graeme Hanna

A long-term Rangers season-ticket holder and switched-on football writer with a passion for fan culture, Graeme Hanna is a freelance writer who has featured in titles such as The Rangers Review, Glasgow Evening News and Give Me Sport, as well as having a long association with Follow Follow fanzine. He joined Football Ground Guide in September 2023 and stated that Juan Roman Riquelme is the best opposition player that he has seen at Ibrox. Graeme experienced a 36 hour supporters bus journey from Glasgow to Florence for the 2008 UEFA Cup semi-final and has attended games in several European counties with a particular interest in German fan culture.

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