Rudi Skacel claims his “5-1” gesture to Hibs fans last month was fuelled by a sense of grievance about abuse from the stands which he felt went beyond an acceptable level.
The Hearts icon found himself cast as the pantomime villain on Raith Rovers’ visit to Easter Road on Christmas Eve when he signalled the scoreline of the 2012 Scottish Cup final – in which Skacel helped the Tynecastle side beat their city rivals 5-1 – while being jeered as he was substituted in the 74th minute of the 1-1 draw.
This move further angered a home support who had already been irked by a couple of heavy tackles from the Czech, with Hibs midfielder Dylan McGeouch suggesting afterwards that Skacel could easily have been sent off for a combination of fouls and his antagonistic gesture.
However, the 37-year-old, speaking for the first time about his tempestuous trip to Leith, insists the focus should be on the continuous vitriol he feels he is subjected to from Hibs fans as opposed to his own relatively harmless retort. Skacel claimed that he was again branded “a refugee” – he has been the subject of chants to this effect in the past from Hibs fans and former players Derek Riordan and Leigh Griffiths – and described his treatment as “embarrassing for all of Hibs’ community”. Asked why he made the gesture, Skacel said: “I was not happy I didn’t score against them, and I wanted to pay them back a bit. I waved to our supporters, I showed them [Hibs fans] 5-1. I was just showing them that they can’t change history. It was just a number. But I’m shocked that such a big deal was made about what I did when no-one cares how they treated me for ninety minutes out there. They called me a refugee and other names.
“Instead, you [the press] should care about how they treat people. I had young kids and their parents calling me names, and they think it’s fine. I think it’s embarrassing. You should write about these things instead [of the 5-1 gesture]. Of course, it is painful for them [5-1] but it is just football. The abuse is always bad [at Easter Road]. There are guys dressed up in suits [shouting abuse]. The kids repeat what they hear from the adults next to them.
“How would you react if people called you a refugee? But I do a gesture and they react by criticising me and saying I should be banned from football. I was shocked. It is embarrassing for all of Hibs’ community, in my opinion.”
Skacel, who scored five goals against Hibs in his two spells with Hearts, insists he understands the emotive nature of football rivalry, but believes there has to be a boundary to the level of abuse which he and other players can be subjected to from the sidelines.
“I played for Hearts and we beat them on so many occasions and I scored a few goals against them, so I understand why they don’t like me, but it should be more about banter,” said Skacel, who will hope to play a part when Raith Rovers host Hearts in the Scottish Cup on Sunday. “There needs to be a line, and I think in every game, they [Hibs fans] are crossing it.
“We are human beings. If you go to rugby, it shows a different example of how people support their club. It can be a war on the pitch and there can be fun and banter about what is happening on the pitch, but in soccer stadiums, I think what is happening sometimes is embarrassing. It doesn’t bother me too much, but it is a shame for football generally.
“Scottish football needs these big derbies between Celtic and Rangers and Hearts and Hibs. You play football for big occasions like that and like this Sunday’s game [between Raith and Hearts], but you have to be sensible.”
Despite living in Edinburgh throughout his time in Scotland, Skacel has generally managed to steer clear of trouble away from the pitch. Asked if he had ever encountered hassle on the streets of the Capital, he said: “No. Edinburgh is a big city but the bigger half is Hearts supporters. All the Wee Team [Hearts fans’ nickname for Hibs], they just live on the other side. I’ve not had any major trouble. Hopefully, touch wood.”