Craig Levein has called for supporters to play their part in weeding out trouble-makers at football matches as he dismissed any suggestion that future Edinburgh derbies might have to be played behind closed doors in the wake of the shameful scenes at Tynecastle on Wednesday night.
The goalless draw in Gorgie has made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past few days after Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal and Hibs manager Neil Lennon were on the receiving end of unsavoury incidents involving fans.
While disgusted by the behaviour of a minority of supporters at a match where five people were arrested, Levein insists a sense of perspective needs to be maintained when trying to analyse and get to the cause of the problem. The Hearts manager has been involved in the Edinburgh derby for more than 35 years as a player and a manager and has witnessed several flashpoints. He believes it would be an overreaction to punish the majority of well-behaved supporters by closing stadia or putting barriers up, but called on those in the stands to play their part by self-policing.
“This has happened for years,” said Levein. “I remember playing at Tynecastle and the away fans threw golf balls at me. Over the years, there have been flashpoints. This is the latest one. But rather than going to the other end of the scale and putting nets or barriers up, why don’t we try to educate people? I put some of this back on the supporters who are near these people. If they point them out to the police, that might help as well. I know it’s difficult.”
Levein backed the decision by Hearts and Hibs to release a joint-statement condemning the unsavoury scenes on Wednesday. “Any sensible person would read the statement and see that the two clubs have agreed ‘this is nonsense.’ It’s a show of unity to say, ‘look, come on...behave yourself’.
“There were 20,000 people enjoying themselves and five were being stupid – that’s not a bad stat to look at. Everybody talks about Scottish football and that passion, that’s what is good about it. It’s really passionate but what happened the other night is just idiots.
“I have played and managed in these games since 1983. I could tell you half a dozen situations that were worse than Wednesday. There has been loads of stuff over the years. Every now and again, it just goes too far. Both clubs just want to say, ‘We need to cut that out’. Let’s have all the atmosphere and tension that gets us to the point where the place is bubbling. But don’t overstep the line.”
Levein wants the assailants of Zlamal and Lennon to be heavily sanctioned. “Anybody who has deliberately thrown a punch or coin should be banned for life,” he said “I have no sympathy with them. And that might send out a message to other people too. These are serious issues and I can’t think why someone would do it.”
Lennon was floored by the coin after celebrating a chalked-off Hearts goal by gesturing to the home support to sit down. While Levein was keen to stress that Lennon’s antics don’t excuse the coin-thrower in any way, he admits he doesn’t understand why his Hibs counterpart chooses to get involved with the crowd. “I get enough stick without trying to interact so I try my hardest not to get involved,” he said. “It’s his choice. He can decide to do what he wants to do but I don’t know how he can be bothered with it. I’ve been in football a long, long time and I get as much stick as anybody else. I’ve been in situations where supporters have thrown things at me, people have shouted things at me, I’ve been spat on, but reacting to it is the worst thing that can happen. That’s my view. Neil can behave in any way he wants. I’m not saying in any way that he contributes to what happened. I’m not saying that. I’m saying I don’t know how he can be bothered. All this is going on behind you and you’re trying to focus on the game. He’s got more capacity in his head than me if he can deal with all that and deal with what’s going on on the pitch. Good on him. I wish I was as capable.”