Comment: Hibs can't clean up all of Scottish football - but can improve Easter Road experience for home fans

A view from the away section at Easter Road. A view from the away section at Easter Road.
A view from the away section at Easter Road. | SNS Group

There will, of course, be faux outrage aplenty from the apologists and the wilfully ignorant. Whitabootery inevitably abounds, whenever someone raises the specific issue of sectarianism in Scottish football, with the usual suspects dragging the discussion down a rabbit hole of semantics, pretend politics, culture wars and counter-accusations.

How dare Hibs cut some clubs’ ticket allocation for games at Easter Road in response to “abhorrent behaviour and chanting” by visiting supporters? What about … what about … what about …

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Well, let’s get one thing clear. One SPFL club has neither the responsibility nor, almost certainly, the appetite for tackling the wider scourge of sectarian singing, pyrotechnics and other unacceptable behaviour in Scottish football. That’s not their job. And they probably wouldn’t take it on, alone, if you offered it to them.

What the Hibs board of directors can do – and have done - is listen to their customer base. Home fans are sick of listening to the same old bile. They’ve made it absolutely clear that they find the behaviour of some visiting supporters entirely beyond the pale. It’s an unpleasant part of the “match day experience” they could do without.

At the recent AGM, the only subject that generated the same interest as billionaire Bournemouth owner Bill Foley’s investment was a discussion about sectarian singing, with specific mention made of the impending - at the time - Scottish Cup quarterfinal against Rangers at Easter Road. Shareholders called for points deductions and complete bans on repeat offenders.

Speaking after the meeting, chief executive Ben Kensell told the assembled media: “There was a very clear view that came from the floor. It’s our prerogative in the SPFL to reduce allocations if we wish. I think clubs should get together. I think we, as clubs, should discuss it before taking it to league level. I think it’s something that we, as a collective, need to understand. How can we eradicate this from our game? Because it should be about what happens on the pitch.”

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If those are arguments for another day and a wider forum, Hibs took another important step by acknowledging problems among their own support. Not just the travelling fans who spent much of the recent Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle throwing missiles – including a corkscrew – at Hearts players.

In Sunday’s 2-0 home loss to Rangers, referee Steven McLean collected and handed over a sizeable looking object thrown at visiting goalie Jack Butland. Every club attracts a thuggish element. Realising that any attempt to raise standards starts with teams addressing their own problems, the Hibs statement said: “Understanding that the behaviour of certain sections of Hibernian FC’s own support has not been good enough at times this season, the club has been taking the strongest possible action against those who behave in an unacceptable manner, working with Police Scotland and colleagues at other clubs.”

Cutting away allocations is hardly a brand new response to an old problem. A number of clubs have already gone down this route, with the Old Firm even enacting a tit-for-tat blanket ban on opposition supporters. And the threat of applying reductions to the Edinburgh derby – not something being considered by Hibs, as yet – has been used in an attempt to cajole fans of both capital clubs into improving their behaviour when the teams meet.

Will Hibs taking a stand have much of an effect, beyond attracting a few likes and some statements of support from politicians, plus the inevitable abuse from the hard of thinking? Probably not. But that’s not the point.

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As we’ve established, they aren’t responsible for rehabilitating the behaviour of every football fan in Scotland. They CAN protect their home fans from being subjected to sectarian and racist nonsense, among other offences. The management reserve the right to refuse admission to those who consistently and repeatedly foul the air and poison the big-game atmosphere.

So do what you like, lads. Sing your songs of hate, and dare anyone to request a change of tune. Knock yourselves out. But go do it somewhere else. Hibs fans don’t want to hear it.