SPL chiefs must revise the scheduling of evening kick-offs for powderkeg clashes in the wake of ugly scenes at the Edinburgh derby, the Justice Secretary has warned.
• A ballboy was spat at by at least two supporters
• Claims Hibs’ Irish defender Tim Clancy was spat at during the game
• Reports of sectarian chanting
• A barrage of coins were reportedly thrown by both sets of supporters
• Widely reported accounts of a lit flare landing at the feet of young Hibs fan
Kenny MacAskill MSP said the level of disorder witnessed at Tynecastle on Thursday night – which saw fans allegedly spit into the face of a young ballboy and reports of a flare being hurled at Hibs fans – demonstrated a clear link between all-day drinking and widespread thuggery inside football grounds.
Speaking just hours after the “unacceptable” scenes, Mr MacAskill called for football chiefs to launch a review into late kick-off times which created the conditions for prolonged drinking and fuelled disorder.
Mr MacAskill said: “There is no denying the link between public disorder at football matches and alcohol abuse, and late kick-off times do nothing to help this – these matters need to be addressed.
“These most recent incidents of crowd disorder only reaffirm this. The behaviour witnessed last night is totally unacceptable and clearly shows the football authorities that the problem is not just an Old Firm one but is more widespread.
“I would therefore strongly urge the football association to review the issue of fixture timing.”
The timing of the Justice Secretary’s intervention has raised the spectre future evening kick- off times for Edinburgh derbies could be kicked into touch.
Hibs-supporting Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said the timing of certain fixtures should now be called into question. She said: “I don’t think the timing of all evening games need to be reviewed – just certain ones. This fixture was moved to a time to suit television which allowed people who had been drinking too much because of the holidays to display reprehensible behaviour. Violence and flare throwing have no place in football. It’s disgusting behaviour.
“It could be that this is a welcome juncture to review the timing of our most problematic evening kick-offs.”
SPL bosses are yet to receive the match report from their own monitor, and are wary of commenting on events and the possibility of a review of evening kick-offs before viewing this dossier – the report is expected to be lodged early next week. Evening kick-offs have drawn heavy criticism in recent weeks after trouble also flared during Celtic and Dundee’s Boxing Day Clash at Dens Park.
Fighting among fans, coin throwing and fireworks offences were all reported and five people have been reported to the procurator fiscal over alleged offences at the match.
Derby match commander Superintendent Jim Leslie, of Lothian and Borders Police, believes fans had too long in the pub before kick-off. He said afterwards: “What we had was an evening kick-off on Boxing Day where football fans had ample time to get through a lot of alcohol.”
This latest warning from the Justice Secretary comes after police confirmed they are questioning a schoolboy over allegations he spat in the face of a ballboy during the ill- tempered match.
The 13-year-old, who is understood to have handed himself into police following a backlash on the social network site Twitter, is the second suspect to be investigated over the incident after police yesterday confirmed an arrest had been made inside the ground.
Hearts security chiefs are understood to be reviewing CCTV footage of suspected crowd trouble amid claims of coin throwing and a lit flare being hurled into the Hibs support in the Roseburn Stand and landing at the feet of a child.
Hibs fan Danny Sweeney was sitting just feet away from the device, which he believes was hurled by home fans in the Wheatfield Stand.
He said: “It hit a barrier on the middle concourse and dropped at the feet of a wee boy. I think it was his father who jumped up and kicked it away. It was either a flare or smoke bomb. The kid was very upset. There’s no need for this kind of thing at football, it could have been a lot worse.”
A second Hibs fan, John Paul Blair, condemned the throwing of the flare. The eyewitness to the shock incident said: “The flare was emitting maroon smoke. It was actually a true flare, and not a smoke bomb. It hit a Hibs fan walking on the Roseburn stand concourse, and landed at the feet of a six-year-old fan. This is a serious criminal offence which carries a prison term. The child, or someone else could have been seriously burned by the flare. As it is, the Hibs fan has a scorch mark on his jacket which saved him from physical injury.”
Hearts FC have confirmed they are aware of a flare or smoke bomb being thrown during the game.
It is understood the club is carrying out inquiries to establish exactly what happened during the incident.
Meanwhile, Hibernian FC has vowed to take “appropriate action” against the spitting offenders but would not be drawn on whether sanctions could mean a lifetime ban. A club spokesman said: “Hibernian FC cannot condone any form of unacceptable behaviour. Once we have been notified of the individual’s details through the protocol agreement we have in place with Lothian and Borders Police then appropriate action will be taken against the individual.”
Mike Reilly, chairman of Hibs Supporters Association, said: “What happened at the derby was disappointing. Maybe the players on the park don’t help much when you see some of the ridiculous tackles that were going in.
“The vileness was there at that game which never used to be there in years gone by. There’s a bit of hatred coming across now and it’s hard to pinpoint why that is.
“Some games seem to be on a knife edge with trouble. I wish it could be like Liverpool and Everton, where families sit together in the same stands.
He added: “To be brutally honest, we were worried there might be problems when the late kick-off was announced. I would have preferred it to be earlier but I think all football fans would like to go back to 3pm fixtures on a Saturday.
“The Hibs Supporters’ Club in Sunnyside wasn’t any busier than usual and I didn’t see any more drinking than normally would have been done before a game. But I agree with the Justice Secretary that drinking all day before a 7.45pm kick-off on a holiday is maybe not the best thing. I don’t see why you can’t have an afternoon kick-off.”
Lothian and Borders Police have vowed to hunt down people who take items such as flares to games. They said: “Unacceptable behaviour extends to sectarian, racist or homophobic chanting and we will pursue those responsible – either during the game or after.”
Troubled times at night matches
A NUMBER of evening SPL fixtures have been marred by trouble over the years.
On Boxing Day, yobs threw coins and set off fireworks at Dundee’s clash with Celtic at Dens Park. Police had to mop up skirmishes among the 3000-strong travelling support, right.
In January 2002, crowd trouble marred a late match between Aberdeen and Rangers. The game was held up for 20 minutes as home fans climbed on to the pitch after Dons player Robbie Winters was hit by a coin thrown from away fans.
In February last year, a 13-year-old Hearts ballboy was struck in the lower back by a coin thrown from the Celtic crowd during a late-night clash.
This came less than a year after Hearts fan John Wilson ran on to the pitch at Tynecastle and lunged at Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
During that same match, a 14-year-old ballboy was also reported to have been hit by a 2p coin.
In March 2002, police dogs and CS spray were used to subdue derby fans following a Saturday night match at Easter Road.
Police across the Capital were called to deal with a “major disturbance” between Hibs and Hearts supporters following the game – the first derby to be switched to a Saturday evening kick-off to accommodate live coverage on satellite TV.
In November 2012, six men were arrested for sectarian chanting and one teenager was charged with letting off a smoke bomb during a Hearts v Celtic match at Tynecastle.
Twitter reaction: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’
THE game prompted a huge response on social media platforms.
On Twitter, Matteo Margiotta, @matteo_m10, said: “Lets not forget a flare was thrown into the Hibs end....two wrongs don’t make a right.”
@ScottPlaysBurns posted: “Makes me sick.”
Kieran McGraw @kieranmcgraw tweeted: “Every team has their a*******s.”
While @lewis1234 said: “Spitting on Tom Clancy and chucking a flare into the Hibs stand is not fine.”
On Facebook, Daniel Rintoul posted: “I find it rather laughable all these Hearts fans attempting to seize the moral high ground after large swathes of their own support once more indulged in their ‘up to our knees in Fenian blood’ chanting as well as launching a smoke bomb into the Hibs end. Add that to Clancy being clearly spat upon, and the various items thrown by elements on both sides, and you can quite clearly see that both supports had their share of undesirables present.”
Hibs fan Ricky Thomson asked: “Given the number of incidents that have taken place there, is Tynecastle not fit for the purpose of holding SPL matches?”