Derby fallout: What could change for future Hearts-Hibs clashes?

Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley holds off his Hearts counterpart Oliver Bozanic. Picture: SNS Group
Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley holds off his Hearts counterpart Oliver Bozanic. Picture: SNS Group
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It goes without saying that the SPFL, Police Scotland and both football clubs will be holding discussions on how to try and avoid a repeat of the unsavoury events which marred Wednesday night’s Edinburgh derby, but several measures have already been suggested by fans or players.

Play the derby behind closed doors

Peter Haring - Hearts’ stand-in captain on the night - discussed this as a possibility in an interview with the Evening News after the game.

The Austrian said: “Everyone who comes to Tynecastle for the first time, they love it. It’s something really special that you’re close to the pitch. That’s how it should be and why we have that atmosphere in our stadium.

“But if things like that happen, what happened to Jimmy Dunne against Aberdeen [he had a microphone thrown at him], what happened to Bobby [Zlamal], they’ll put supporters behind anything.

“I think the atmosphere here in the Edinburgh derby is really, really special but things like this shouldn’t happen in a football stadium.”

His manager, Craig Levein, branded talk of locking out fans from the next clash “nonsense”. He added: “There’s idiots everywhere and it’s very difficult to control 20,000 people.

“When something happens we go right to the other end of the scale. There have been worse situations in Scottish football. We just have to take a step back and consider the best way to deal with it rather than everyone getting too excited.”

It’s extremely unlikely that this option would ever be entertained by the authorities. Taking this step would very much be punishing the majority for the actions of a few.

Strict liability

This has been put forward as a possibility by former players, pundits, politicians and former referees.

The measure is in place in European competition - Hibs were fined following their trip to Greece to take on Asteras Tripolis in this year’s Europa League qualifiers - but no such rule exists on the domestic front.

Former top flight referee Steve Conroy believes bringing in strict liability - where clubs would face sanctions for the actions of their supporters - could be a step forward.

He told the BBC: “If there’s repeat offenders, do you start banning supporters, do you have empty stands? It is up to the clubs to stop them. It is their liability and it’s up to the other fans to be policing people among them.

“There has to be some kind of sanction to stop people doing this and if it falls on the clubs and they’ve got the threat of empty stadiums or revenue being taken off them then maybe that’ll make people think more forcibly about it.

“It is getting out of order,” he said. “Is there a way of guaranteeing anyone’s safety absolutely? When you’ve got people involved and spectators, no. But there’s certainly a lot more that can be done.”

There has already been talk of a greater police presence, and stronger stewarding, but making the clubs culpable could diminish the threat of disorder. Hearts and Hibs released a joint statement the day after the derby in which Jambos owner Ann Budge and Easter Road chief executive Leeann Dempster urged supporters to shop fellow fans if they were responsible for any disorder.

Rope off the front rows

Part of Tynecastle’s attraction as a stadium is how close spectators are to the action. The arena feels like a cauldron, with fans on all four sides of the pitch all leaning towards the action and creating an almost claustrophobic atmosphere for the players. But we saw on Wednesday night how easy it was for players to be struck by missiles, and how quickly fans could enter the field of play. We also, unfortunately, saw the attack on Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal by a Hibs fan in the front row of the Roseburn Stand, and the coin thrown at Hibs head coach Neil Lennon from a section of the Hearts support in the Main Stand behind the away dugout. More alarmingly, there were reports of a glass bottle being thrown towards the Hibs support, along with reports of flares being hurled as well.

One way of trying to limit the contact fans can have with players or opposing supporters would be to rope off the first few rows of seating as an additional barrier between spectators and the pitch. However, while this could work in the away end at Tynecastle - visiting teams would however have fewer tickets to sell and thus fewer fans - a problem would arise in the three stands for home supporters, where season ticket holders would have to be relocated which, in a packed stadium for a derby, would likely be nigh-on impossible.

Change the kick-off time

Much has been made of the evening kick-off time for the first derby of the 2018/19 campaign, with some supporters claiming that holding the match in the evening increases the possibility of pre-match drinking and, as a result, the risk of disorder.

The next derby, at Easter Road, is scheduled for 5.30pm on December 29 - in the middle of the festive season.

The kick-off time has been given the green light by the clubs and authorities, while broadcasters can also be a factor.

It remains to be seen if the kick-off time for the next derby will be brought forward in a bid to curb the risk of disorder, or whether the 5.30pm start is maintained but in the long term, scheduling derbies for lunchtime kick-offs may be on the table.

Bring the derby forward

Two years running the first derby of the season hasn’t taken place until October. During the 2017/18 campaign it was held on October 24, while this season’s match took place a week later, on October 31. Does this long wait see tensions reach boiling point?

In previous seasons, the first meeting between the two Capital clubs has taken place in August or, in some cases, late July.

The format of the Betfred Cup means that the start of the league campaign tends to be fixed for the first week in August.

The first Old Firm match of the current season was held in early September - could we see the Edinburgh derby played earlier in the season in the future as a result of Wednesday night’s events?

What happens in December?

There are a raft of measures that are available but the clubs and authorities will not want to rush into making a decision.

It’s clear that action of some sort will need to be taken to prevent a repeat of such events in the future but any developments will need to have been discussed and evaluated, and shifting the December derby at this relatively late stage may not be feasible.

Moving the kick-off times forward, and avoiding scheduling derbies on weekday nights would seem to be the easiest course of action but, as mentioned, that would require clubs, the league, police and potentially TV broadcasters to come to an agreement with which all parties are satisfied.

For now though, it looks as though the meeting on December 29 will at least have a greater police presence, heightened security with more stewards and increased pre-match searches and - hopefully - better behaviour from both sets of fans and a better atmosphere.