Hearts fans back Budge in Celtic supporters row

Ann Budge said she was appalled by the behaviour of the Celtic fans. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Ann Budge said she was appalled by the behaviour of the Celtic fans. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Hearts fans have backed owner Ann Budge’s condemnation of intimidating scenes and sectarianism that marred ­Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie against Celtic.

The club chairwoman said she was “appalled” by the behaviour of a number of fans from both sets of supporters after sectarian slogans were daubed on the walls of the stadium and close to 100 seats ripped out of the stands.

And today fan groups said they would “absolutely” back her comments, with a leading anti-sectarian charity praising her “swift and decisive action” in banning a Hearts supporter arrested for sectarian abuse.

Sunday’s clash saw Celtic sweep into the fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a 4-0 victory.

But off the pitch the match was marked by abuse and vandalism, with five Celtic fans and one Hearts supporter arrested for sectarian offences, drunken behaviour and assault.

Hearts staff also reported feeling “intimidated” by Celtic fans as they worked to clean up sectarian slogans scrawled on Tynecastle’s Roseburn Stand.

Derek Watson, chairman of the Hearts Supporters’ Trust, insisted the rivalry between the two clubs has become increasingly bitter.

He said: “I would absolutely back Ann Budge in what she is saying. This has been an ongoing thing for many years and it’s probably worse with Celtic than other clubs.

“It’s got more bitter between the fans since Hearts and Celtic have both been vying for the league title. And I think it’s positive that the Hearts fan has been banned for his sectarian abuse.”

Iain Mercer, son of former Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer, insisted a hard-line approach needed to be taken if sectarianism was to be tackled.

He said: “It’s both sides, and there’s no excuse for it. I think it’s refreshing that Ann Budge is deciding to tackle these issues head on, and has made a statement publicly about it.”

And Dave Scott, campaign director at top anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth, said he applauded the chairwoman for her statement and hoped other clubs would follow Hearts’ example in banning fans arrested for sectarian offences.

A statement released by Celtic last night pointed to sectarian abuse directed at their own staff and players on Sunday, as well as “missiles” thrown into the Celtic support – injuring one fan who was hit by a coin.

Celtic player Anthony Stokes tweeted: “Maybe Ann Budge should worry about her own fans, never had so many sectarian comments directed at me in a ground.”

But the club insisted it would work with Hearts to combat offensive behaviour.