A glorious Hibees win left tarnished at the end

A glorious Hibees win left tarnished at the end

by Brian Monteith
article from Wednesday 25, May, 2016

HIBERNIAN Football Club has at last won the Scottish Cup – after a break of some 114 years and many cup finals along the way where the team proved to be despondent runners-up.

It should have been a joyous occasion for Hibs supporters, and probably most neutrals, but the euphoria was tarnished by a pitch invasion that, while initially celebratory had a darker side to it of loutish violence and vandalism. The sad result was that the after-match presentations were much delayed, the Hibs team did not get to parade the trophy or take a lap of honour – a great pity for the players, the club and its supporters who could not savour that moment. It also meant the Rangers team felt unable to collect their runners-up medals, a sour ending to what had generally been a sporting occasion.

It could all have been so different, if the pitch invasion had not take place – and it is on this point I feel not enough focus has been given by post match commentary.

Two instances that I witnessed before Saturday’s Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Hibernian summed up the good and the bad of what afflicts Scottish football that does not attach itself to rugby or any other sport.

The first was when my wife and I, together with my sons and a few douce upstanding Edinburgh figures were sitting out on the lawn of a Glasgow hotel finishing our beers minding no one’s business other than our own. It was then that three coaches of Rangers supporters parked immediately opposite us, and the contents spilled out on to the street and we became the subject of some chanting and taunts.

One gentleman in particular, initially holding the hands of his young sons, issued a tirade of filthy abuse at us with some arm pumping thrown in for good measure. He appeared oblivious to the example he was setting his children, or at least I like to think he was. Maybe he was actually quite proud of himself, he certainly seemed so as he strutted off.

Some twenty minutes later, as our group walked up the segregated route to the stadium there was a Hibs supporter in a wheel chair who was needing assistance to get out of it and on to his crutches but his friends were having difficulty because of his size. Suddenly a lone Rangers supporter, who must have taken the wrong route and was walking the opposite direction, stopped at the scene and immediately helped the Hibs fans get their disabled friend out of the wheelchair.

From hateful abuse to compassionate help; there is much good in the behaviour of Scottish football followers but there is still too much of the old-style mindless machismo that is fuelled by ignorant sectarianism and exacerbated by the madness of crowds. Once the Cup Final kicked off the latter was soon to dominate.

For instance, before the first ball was kicked there were flares set off at the Rangers end. That in itself would normally be enough to justify an inquiry into security procedures, were it not to be overshadowed by the events after the final whistle.

The football match was a spectacular advertisement for Scottish football. It had an early goal from the underdogs Hibs, which ensured the match would have to open up, and it did. It was end-to-end for most of it, there were goal-scoring chances galore and the behaviour of the players was exemplary, being competitive but not dirty.

For Hibs supporters like myself there was a belief that if ever they could finally break the hoodoo of not winning the Scottish Cup for over a century then defeating Rangers on this occasion was their best chance. They had beaten their rivals earlier in the season and had been playing fixtures while Rangers had a forced lay-off once the league games had ended. Such hope was tempered, however, by the knowledge that Hibs have a habit of losing big matches in the last few minutes, if not seconds, coining the phrase to have “Hibsed it”.

Throughout the game the Rangers sections of the stadium regularly sang their traditional songs of hate. I say that with every intention for they are not sung in the spirit of folksy Presbyterian camaraderie or nostalgia but are hurled at opposing supporters irrespective of their religious beliefs as a taunt and a statement of group superiority. It is this group hate that makes Rangers the most hated team in Scotland despite, as I have already noted, the individual kindness of people who display genuine humanity without any asking.

So it was that with Hibernian, losing 2-1 with ten minutes to go came back to score two late goals with the winner two minutes into stoppage time and created Hibsteria that was to overflow and distract from their finest hour.

There can be no excuses for running on to the pitch. It just should not be done. It should be the hallowed turf that only the players and officials grace. When a few are allowed to do so then others will follow, and it was here that there was a significant failure in security and policing.

Serious probing questions have to be asked of the commands given by the police to the stewards and their own officers. Why, with five minutes to go were significant numbers of police not deployed around the perimeter of the pitch to deter any invasion that might happen from the supporters of either team? I go to enough football matches to know this is often the procedure where tensions are running high. I saw no evidence of such a precaution on Saturday.

Indeed it has been reported to me from a witness that knows his policing that rather than make an attempt to stop the thousands of fans going on to the pitch the police advised the G4S stewards to let fans through – and how they did. More in celebration than with any malice, but with such numbers there was always going to be some louts who would want to taunt the Rangers fans at the other end, and worse shove and assault Rangers players.

This outcome cannot be doubted, I have seen the videos and it brings some shame upon the team I love. There can be no condoning of such violence and no reasoning can excuse it. The culprits should be identified and they should face the severest penalties available to the courts with the clubs backing them up with lifetime bans of their followers who resorted to thuggery.

I witnessed thugs fighting each other while police officers adjacent simply stood and watched. I saw young women putting their children in danger by taking them on the pitch for selfies, as if it was a Sunday school picnic. People were actually using their teeth to try and bite off sections of goal netting as souvenirs! Fans were posing for press photographers as if they were doing the right thing, not realizing the photographers were realising they were committing public disorder.

None of this should have happened, and would not have happened if the policing had prevented the pitch invasion. All large games are potential tinder boxes and offer the possibility of a pitch invasion when a team wins – or even scores. This usually leads to supporters from the other team attempting to do the same and that is when the threat of real violence becomes real. Had there been enough police officers – not just stewards – at the perimeter and in the aisles then the invasion would not have even been attempted and the trouble avoided.

We should recall that it was these type of events that first led to football crowds being penned in, and that this was the road that directly led to the Hillsborough disaster. Pitch invasions should be prevented, not dealt with once people are on the turf.

Examination of the whole sorry episode by the authorities should not therefore just focus on the disgraceful behaviour of some football supporters, but ask how it was allowed to escalate into such a situation.

Why, for instance, did it take so long for the pitch to be cleared – which only began to happen after Hibs supporters started chanting "off, off, off" to their fellow fans? Why was it an age before any official public announcement appealed for the pitch to be cleared and explain there would be no presentation until that happened?

Do we now have a police force that is so governed by health and safety that it allows public disorder to occur rather than intervene to prevent it? And who is going to conduct the inquiry into the performance of the SFA, whose oversight needs to be reviewed alongside that of the police and stewards?

To strike the right tone and show public displeasure about such loutish behavior it is not enough to prosecute those that ended up fighting. A public examination of what went wrong is required to regain public confidence. In that case only the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament has the ability to act quickly and crucially – impartially – and such an inquiry should be placed on its agenda as soon as it convenes. 

This is the full version of a shorter article that first appeared in The Scotsman on 23rd May 2016.

 

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