Hibs v Hearts: Behind the scenes with Police Scotland at massive Edinburgh derby operation
Policing nearly 20,000 people and ensuring safety in the otherwise uncontrolled environment of a football game is never going to be easy.
And with repeated crowd trouble an issue across Scotland throughout the season, a high-profile game like the last Edinburgh derby of the season is always going to have eyes on it.
At the game between Hibs and Hearts yesterday, perhaps because the honours on the pitch were shared, the relatively low off-pitch “score” of just nine people arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs and two flares set off in the away end, with one causing firefighters to attend, proved testament to hard work behind the scenes.
And the man in charge of stewarding and policing at Hibernian FC, Match Day Safety Officer Alan Marshall, was satisfied with a job well done.
But it hasn’t always been like this.
During this season alone at Easter Road, Rangers defender James Tavernier was confronted by a fan on the pitch and a glass bottle was thrown onto the pitch during a cup game against Celtic, while at Tynecastle Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley suffered racist abuse and former Hibs manager Neil Lennon was hit by a coin during the Halloween Easter derby.
The 2018-19 season has therefore been a regression for Scottish football fan behaviour.
Mr Marshall’s task for the day, after starting his shift at 6.30am, is to meet the challenge of reducing the risk of crowd trouble and being able to react to issues to keep spectators, players, and staff safe.
Zero-tolerance policies covering everything from drunkenness to drugs to flares and flags are in place, with stewards told to use their judgement when turning fans away.
For Mr Marshall, keeping the trouble outside the stadium is paramount, a point reinforced to staff at several pre-match briefings.
Nearly 300 staff, including 260 stewards, 30 police officers, four sergeants, four fire marshals, and a chief inspector are at the ground throughout the day.
The first main briefing takes place at 9.45am between the supervisors of the different groups, before each section is given a separate briefing with any additional intelligence or any last-minute questions shared.
Ahead and during the game, however, the control room, situated in the south stand, becomes a hive of activity and surveillance.
Screens cover one wall, with detailed maps of the streets surrounding the ground and schematics of the stadium itself pinned on the wall.
Anything can happen, with two minor dramas involving poorly parked cars and a rogue drone, eventually tracked to BT Sport, causing concern.
CCTV covering every angle of the stadium can be controlled remotely by security staff, who are able to zoom in to help identify any hooligans or any potential criminal activity, with several groups of fans warned about their behaviour prior to the start of the match.
At 30 minutes to go before kick-off, only 3,000 fans are in the ground meaning if fans continued arriving at that speed, it would take nearly two hours for the stadium to fill.
Searching for potential pyrotechnics or dangerous objects becomes more difficult the closer to kick-off as the rate of arrivals increases, with 17,000 people arriving in the last 15 minutes before kick-off.
However, the stewards’ jobs are helped by the existence of two Police Scotland sniffer dogs, trained in the art of detecting drugs and other controlled substances or items such as flares.
During the match, only two fans are ejected, both for going over the barriers at the edge of the pitch following the goals in the 1-1 draw.
Flares are a common sight at derbies and becoming more common in Scottish football and this game was no different.
Following Hearts’ equaliser, a flare was thrown onto the pitch and another flare was also set off in the concourse of the away end, causing the stadium’s fire alarm to be set off with the fire service also having to attend.
Reflecting after the match, it is a job well done and a comparatively well-behaved derby from Mr Marshall’s perspective, despite the drug arrests and the flares.
He said: “I would say the Hearts fans were pretty well behaved. There were around 28 seats broken but no major destruction.
“There were a few of the things we didn’t want to happen, but we will go through the CCTV and see if we can identify them.
“From my point of view, apart from the pyro, it is a typical derby. It is the tribalism between both sets of fans. From my perspective on the match, it was a well-run operation.”