First Minister steps in to help Old Firm clubs end ill-feeling

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The Independent Football

Celtic and Rangers recognise their responsibility to wider society but know they cannot tackle the bigotry and violence which surrounds the Old Firm fixture alone.

At the request of Strathclyde Police Chief Constable Stephen House, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday hosted a meeting where the fall-out of last week's Old Firm derby was discussed as government, police and football officials seek a resolution to the problem of sectarianism and bad behaviour both on and off the field.

An eight-point joint statement was issued by the attendees of the meeting, while Celtic and Rangers published their own six-point plan as the meeting was declared a success by Salmond.

The proposals tackle everything from considerations over alcohol availability to the scheduling of fixtures and the on-field behaviour of players and club officials.

With measures already in place and agreement that no football club was responsible for the widespread crime which surrounds the fixture, support was sought by the clubs.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said: "How much more can the clubs do? We need help. The stigma always attaches itself to Celtic and Rangers. How much more can we physically do?"

Lawwell and Rangers chief executive Martin Bain believe the media reaction to last week's volatile Scottish Cup tie at Parkhead, which saw three Rangers players sent off and coaches Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist clash on the touchline, was over the top.

However, the clubs admit criminality increases surrounding the match. Bain said: "I do think [the response to] some of the scenes was an over-reaction, but that's not in any way to say that I don't understand the responsibility we have as a football club to society."

Lawwell believes Lennon's personal situation contributed to his confrontation with McCoist, but that both Celtic and Rangers had moved on from the match. The Celtic chief executive said: "We need to understand what's going on in his life at the moment.

"He's a man who is under enormous pressure as Celtic manager, but other than that he's got to put up with the live ammunition going through the post, the bomb threats, 24-hour surveillance, the security measures the club are putting in place with Strathclyde Police. It's quite a lot to take on at the moment."

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