POLICE chiefs today said they would target any football fans singing songs or waving flags intended to cause “deliberate offence” at tomorrow’s clash between Hearts and Celtic at Tynecastle.
The pledge was made in the wake of this week’s crackdown on football hooligans in the Capital, which saw 12 men arrested over sectarian chants following last month’s friendly between Hibs and Sunderland.
Chief Superintendent Gill Imery, the divisional commander for Edinburgh, said fans who turn up to games with the “sole purpose of inciting violence or causing offence to rival supporters, players or management teams” will be pursued by police.
A heavy police presence and tight security is expected at tomorrow’s match, the first between Hearts and Celtic in the city since Neil Lennon was attacked by a fan in May.
Extra stewards will be deployed around the dugouts while security staff are working with police to boost safety.
Chief Supt Imery said: “We are delighted to see families, groups of friends and any other supporters come along and cheer on their team and we will do everything in our power to ensure your experience at the match is an enjoyable and, more importantly, safe experience.
“However, there will be those who turn up with the sole purpose of inciting violence or causing offence to rival supporters, players or management teams.
“As has been demonstrated in the past few days, we will use all the resources at our disposal to trace these people.
“I want to make it perfectly clear, however, that police will not be targeting fans for the songs they sing or the flags they wave. But if a song is sung, or a banner is unfurled with the intention of causing deliberate offence, those responsible will be robustly dealt with.
“Football has an incredible ability to unite and we will continue to work closely with the football clubs, stewards and other groups to make sure matches are enjoyed in the proper spirit.”
Police chiefs launched the operation against suspected Hibs casuals on Wednesday morning with a series of dawn raids at homes in Leith, Hyvots, Pilton, Mayfield, Gyle, Lochend, Brunstane and Musselburgh.
It followed a running battle in Easter Road after the match with Sunderland in August. Video footage captured by officers during this incident was used to identify the suspects, who were each arrested for taunting rival fans with racist and sectarian chants.
Police have pledged to use video cameras again to record any fans singing sectarian songs before and after matches involving Hibs or Hearts.
Chief Supt Imery also moved to calm fears among some football fans about the Scottish Government’s clampdown on sectarian singing. Rangers fans protested against proposed anti-sectarian legislation on Tuesday by raising banners, such as “Football Fans Not Criminals”, during a match at Ibrox.
She said: “Recent well-publicised protests have voiced a concern that proposed new legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism and other forms of hate crime is an unfair crackdown on football fans, and I want to take this opportunity to assure all real fans that this is not the case.”