Ann Budge is hopeful that Hearts supporters will respond to her repeated pleas to abide by the rules inside Tynecastle Park as she declared that Section N of the main stand is close to being closed.
The chairwoman recently wrote to season-ticket holders in that area of the stadium to warn them over unacceptable conduct, including the use of pyrotechnics and standing during games.
When asked by shareholders at yesterday’s annual general meeting about the “embarrassing” misbehaviour of a section of Hearts supporters, Budge said: “I have written to all of the season-ticket holders in the section where we have the biggest problem, basically saying we will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour of any kind. We have written to them twice so the discussion now is: do I send one more letter saying ‘last chance or we close the section’?
“We are THIS close to closing a section to our own support because we don’t believe the behaviour is acceptable and we don’t want to be associated with it. I’ve been trying to find another way, whether through improved CCTV to identify individuals, but that is not as easy as it sounds. So right now we are on the verge of closing the section.”
Speaking with media afterwards, Budge remained hopeful that such drastic action wouldn’t come to fruition but she admits it has been difficult trying to maintain harmony within the support when some don’t appreciate being told how to behave and others want the supposed disruptive element of the fanbase removed. “I can see, to a certain extent, both sides of the argument,” she said. “But a simplistic way of looking at it is there are rules and the rules are being broken for no reason, as far as I can see, other than ‘we’ve always done it’. If it didn’t cause any harm to anybody else, if it wasn’t a safety risk, I wouldn’t be uptight about it. But it is causing a problem for other supporters who can’t see. You heard what was said in the AGM. The supporters are almost embarrassed by some of the stuff that’s going on. We all are. It would be the very last resort if we chose to close the section. We are trying everything in our power to let common sense prevail but, at the end of the day, there are certain things that we have to take a stand on. I hope it doesn’t come to that. We’ll keep trying.”
Budge was also asked at the AGM about the possibility of reducing the ticket allocations of Rangers and Celtic in response to sectarian singing. “We would do that but we are trying to find other ways around that because of the financial implications,” she said. “We have additional capacity and we do need to maximise that - however, that being said, we won’t do that at the expense of unacceptable behaviour. We talk about it as a club, and at SPFL level, and there has been some discussion about what clubs do in terms of allocation of support. It’s a difficult one and we don’t have a straight-forward answer. We share your concerns.”