Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom on banning hooligans, lessons learned from Celtic loss, and the bad side of social media
Paul Heckingbottom says the image of Scottish football is being damaged by the idiotic behaviour of those fans who hurl missiles at players.
Hibs found themselves under the microscope after a bottle, thrown from among the home support, whistled past Scott Sinclair while television pictures also highlighted a coin just missing the Celtic winger in the Scottish Cup quarter-final tie at Easter Road.
Chief executive Leeann Dempster later revealed the club was to spend “no small amount” to upgrade the CCTV system within the ground, vowing there would be “no hiding place” for those seeking to tarnish Hibs’ reputation.
The Capital club, however, were not alone in a weekend of Scottish Cup shame, Aberdeen fans at Pittodrie unfurling an offensive banner aimed at Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos while Partick Thistle have launched an investigation after allegations of coins being thrown at their manager, former Hibs defender Gary Caldwell, during the quarter-final tie with Hearts at Firhill.
Heckingbottom, however, is adamant such problems are not confined to this side of the border, citing incidents during the “Steel City derby” between Sheffield clubs Wednesday and United at Hillsborough this week.
And, he conceded, such loutish behaviour was possibly an extension of what is happening on social media. The former Barnsley and Leeds United boss said: “Social media can be brilliant, you guys [reporters] will use it in your profession, others in theirs.
“But there is a consequence and downside especially in a performance sport like ours. It can be so negative and damaging. That’s why your impressions of it will be totally different from mine. I can see how it can limit performance and affect people.
“Where’s the consequence? Where’s the punishment? People are brave and fearless on social media, then you meet them face-to-face and they couldn’t be nicer. I’ve got experience of that myself and that’s what I don’t like about it, giving people free rein to behave in a way that isn’t really acceptable.
“Does that progress on the pitch? Possibly. But it has never been perfect, and part of the appeal of our game is the passion of it. So you put people in a football stadium with a couple of beers down their neck and they can act in a strange way.
“A lot of that might not be to do with alcohol. The fact they are in the stadium just watching their team, supporting their team, but there has to be consequences for behaving like that.”
Heckingbottom revealed he feels such problems have escalated and need to be “sorted out”. He said: “When people do get found by their clubs or the police or whoever it is, there has got to be bans because we want the best possible product.
“You want to be able to bring your family to games. You want to be able to promote our sport in your own country. You want the best possible TV revenue, the best possible access to it from all over the world to bring even more money in and make your product even better.
“But you are not going to get that for negative reasons, you’re going to get it for the positives. That’s the bigger picture.
“So while we are talking about individual incidents and, of course, we don’t want anyone getting injured, that’s why I’d encourage the SFA to get involved because it’s damaging the product.”
Heckingbottom is aware that Hibs and their supporters will be under intense scrutiny tomorrow night with the television cameras back at Easter Road for the visit of Rangers.
While the cameras will no doubt be scanning the crowd for any signs of trouble, a close watch will also be kept on Heckingbottom’s players to see how they react to being knocked out of the cup by the other half of the Old Firm last weekend.
However, while repeating the disappointment felt by all at Easter Road, Heckingbottom stressed that defeat hadn’t cost Hibs anything in terms of the Premiership, his side having climbed to sixth place with three straight league wins since he succeeded Neil Lennon as head coach.
He said: “The quarter-final of a cup is such a big opportunity and some of those boys have tasted what it’s like to go all the way. We spoke about that and tried to get that feeling across to the boys and say to those who haven’t ‘this is your chance’.
“It was a tough ask, but to win a cup you need to beat the best teams and, in that respect, we are disappointed. But it is gone, finished and it was a different competition to what our focus is now. We’ve not been hurt in the league by that defeat, which is important.”
Heckingbottom will be looking for his players to make better use of the possession they enjoy against Rangers, admitting being “wasteful” had been their downfall last weekend.
“If you look back at the game, both keepers had very little to do,” he said. “We had a couple of shots on target, they had three. Their keeper made a couple of easy saves Ofir [Marciano] makes one in the first half, then we conceded two.
“But apart from that, we were strong without the ball. However, we were wasteful with the ball. I tend to be harsher on ourselves but, looking back, Celtic did play really well. But we could have been better in lots of situations and made fewer unforced errors.
“We played into their hands a little bit. We could have controlled moments of that game which not many teams do against Celtic. We were quite comfortable when they had possession but when we had the ball we did not take the opportunity to control it as often as we should. When we won it back within one or two passes we were trying to score a goal.”
While 28-goal Morelos may be the obvious dangerman for Hibs, Heckingbottom pointed out the threat of Ryan Kent, the on-loan Liverpool winger who he once had at Barnsley. He said: “He was a big part of what we were. We used his pace a helluva lot in how we countered.”