Supporter Abuse Not Academical in Scotland

By Brian P. Dunleavy

When news broke last week that Hamilton defender Michael Devlin’s family was on the receiving end of abuse from Accies supporters, were you like us?

Were you surprised to learn that Accies had supporters other than Devlin’s family?

In all seriousness, it’s unclear what was said, exactly, but reports suggest that Devlin’s father got into a shouting match in the stands with a supporter after the latter directed abuse at his 23-year-old son, appointed captain at the beginning of the season by manager, and former Hamilton player and skipper, Martin Canning. And it goes without saying that all is not well at SuperSeal Park, which will always be New Douglas Park to us.

A “little-club-that-could” under Canning’s predecessor Alex Neil, who was recently sacked at Norwich City, Hamilton will have to improve its form if they want to stay in the Premiership. With just one match to go, Accies sit 11th in the standings, which means that participation in the promotion/relegation playoffs is likely, if not a forgone conclusion. Their cause was hardly helped on Tuesday, with a last-minute loss at Ross County.

Worse, fans are already voting with their wallets—if not their mouths. Last weekend’s “derby” match against Motherwell drew just over 4,000 supporters, many of whom were voicing their displeasure with the squad, though most not as directly as those who directly engaged Devlin and his family.

With the loss in the Highlands, Hamilton Academical have lost five in a row, and will match-up against either Dundee United or Falkirk in the playoffs, with both of the two Championship sides in solid form (each are undefeated in six matches). United and Falkirk also arguably have more resources at their disposal—at least United certainly does—which doesn’t bode well for Canning’s men. To make matters still worse, Hamilton supporters don’t need to look too far to see smaller clubs doing well. Partick Thistle will soon be opening its own training complex, and to the northeast, Tommy Wright continues to do more with less at St. Johnstone. So it’s understandable that they want to vent their spleens—it would just be better if they did so in a less personal, and confrontational, manner.

Thinking “big picture,” this is at least the third supporter-player incident of recent vintage to generate negative headlines in Scotland. Granted, two occurred during the same Old Firm match at Ibrox at the end of April—where one supporter invaded the pitch and confronted Celtic captain Scott Brown and another directed racist taunts at Hoops winger Scott Sinclair—but that may be enough to convince players plying their trades in England or outside the U.K. that coming to Scotland isn’t worth the potential hassle.

Which would be bad, of course, for a league already struggling to remain relevant.

From that same big picture perspective, the elevation of a club like Dundee United back into the Premiership—at the expense of Hamilton Accies—wouldn’t be the worst thing for Scottish football. United, after all, are a much bigger club.

However, from a small-picture, feel-good perspective, we’ll be rooting for Devlin and his mates in the weeks to come.

After all, haven’t they suffered enough?