THE father of a boy who narrowly avoided being struck by a burning flare during last week’s fiery Edinburgh derby has told how his son “could have been disfigured” by the device.
Andrew Walker’s child escaped serious injury by inches after a flare was thrown into the Hibs support amid ugly scenes at Tynecastle which saw a ball boy being spat on and coins thrown by both sets of fans.
The nine-year-old Hibs fan – also called Andrew – fled the stand as acrid smoke swirled around him thinking the device was set to “go off” and was left “teary and shaking” after the near miss.
Police are now investigating the incident and have appealed for witnesses to come forward. Today, Andrew Snr, 33, said the reckless actions of one rival supporter could have blinded his son and urged greater respect between Edinburgh football fans.
“If this thing had hit him in his face it could have disfigured or blinded him,” he said. “It’s maybe not the first time this has happened at a Scottish football ground, but it should be the last because is it going to take someone getting seriously hurt before something is done?”
The eight-inch flare, which is understood to have been launched from among Hearts supporters in the Wheatfield Stand, ricocheted off a barrier on the front row of the upper tier of the Roseburn Stand before landing at the feet of young Andrew.
His father kicked it into the concourse and began stamping to extinguish it before stewards arrived with sand to snuff out the embers.
Mr Walker, from Gracemount, said: “It happened right after the spitting incident when the atmosphere seemed to turn from rivalry to hatred.
At first, Andrew was asking me: ‘Dad is this going to be OK?’ because he thought it was a firework about to go off. He was seriously upset. After I had dealt with it I went back to my son who was in tears and shaking.
“He was nearly hysterical about it and when I confronted the police about it they said: ‘It was probably one of your lot.’”
Before the end of the match, police took details of the incident from Mr Walker and scheduled a meeting with CID officers.
It is understood detectives have been scouring fans forums and CCTV networks to try to trace the culprit. A police spokesman said: “Police are investigating an incident where a flare was thrown during the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle Stadium on Thursday, January 3. Anyone with any information that can assist us in tracing the person responsible should contact Lothian and Borders Police.”
Young Andrew, a striker for Tynecastle Boys Club under-tens, said: “I didn’t see it being thrown, but it landed just at my feet and I was upset because I was thinking it was going to explode.
“That was scary, but I would like to go back to Tynecastle for other games.”
But Mr Walker, who works as a sales consultant, had a message for the thug who launched the flare.
“He has got to think about the potential consequences,” he said. “Everyone can get caught up in the atmosphere of a game like that when it can reach fever pitch.”
He added: “I wanted a better response from the police when the flare was thrown. There was not one police officer in the stand and it seemed to me that there were missiles being thrown and the police and stewards were just hoping nothing bad really kicked off.”
British fans follow lead of ‘ultras’
FLARES can be bought simply and legally from stockists of marine and survival equipment, with a pack of two costing around £20.
They appear to have become increasingly prevalent in UK football grounds, having been a staple in the arsenal of ultra groups across Europe for decades.
Fans of Italian sides Roma and Juventus as well as Turkish giants Galatasaray have long been known to light flares during fixtures.
The Public Order Act 1986 indicates any person carrying fireworks or flares into a designated sporting event is guilty of an offence. This applies to possession of any substance whose main purpose is the emission of a flare or the emission of smoke or a visible gas; and in particular it applies to distress flares, fog signals, and pellets and capsules intended to be used as fumigators.