The graffiti that says Hearts versus Hibernian is now Scotland’s most toxic derby clash
- Carnage in the Edinburgh derby has taken the fixture to a dangerous level
- A player has been hit by a fan in each of the last two games at Tynecastle
- Hearts may need to consider shutting off the front four or five rows of seats
The most dangerous fixture in Scottish football? It’s a title that few clubs would proclaim to actively pursue. Yet we rarely seem to be short of contenders.
As a result of Wednesday night’s disgrace in Gorgie, the Edinburgh derby has nudged temporarily clear of the chasing pack.
Trailing in its wake are all those pretenders who think the odd pyrotechnic and ‘haud me back’ charge towards the barriers makes them so big, so clever, so terribly, terribly tough.
The disturbing graffiti painted in the colours of Hearts on a wall close to Tynecastle
The sight of a Hearts goalkeeper and then a Hibs manager being laid prone by petulant and pea-hearted punters unable to contain their perma-rage should be enough, obviously, to inspire a degree of introspection on the part of both clubs.
And, surely to goodness, those with power and influence at Tynecastle and Easter Road must find a way to let the better angels of their supporters’ collective nature prevail. Or else.
If you live in the city and visit both grounds regularly, you will undoubtedly be aware that the banter between Hearts and Hibs folk is — for the vast majority — restricted to just that.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon is helped to his feet after being struck by a coin at Tynecastle
Friends and family divided by footballing loyalties love to wind each other up. Then they get on with getting on, working together, living together, enjoying genuine footballing debate with a touch more self-awareness than certain other rivals might bring to the table.
But there can be no doubt that, over the years, a nasty element has been known to creep into game day. Or night.
It does no one any favours to pretend that this doesn’t exist, or to downplay the venom that comes spewing forth when these two meet.
If Hearts fans are absolutely honest with themselves, they will admit that their core support retains an element who are, if not overtly sectarian, then undoubtedly happy to play the role of part-time bigots.
Lennon was struck in the face by an object thrown from the crowd on Wednesday night
The same guys who targeted Neil Lennon when he was Celtic manager, the blokes who only pull out the much-loved Union Flag for specific matches, have always found him too easy a target for the worst kind of abuse.
Now that he is Hibs manager, well, how could they contain themselves? Especially when he refuses to keep his head down and take the verbals without answering back.
Oh, and Hibs fans feeling smug can get off that high horse right now. Because they surely can’t pretend that some of their regulars aren’t just as bad… maybe even worse.
Rudi is a refugee? Hardly your finest hour. Or, more recently, that song about Craig Levein having a ‘dodgy organ’?
Hearts keeper Zdnek Zlamal was apparently hit by a visiting supporter as he went for the ball
If the standard of ‘debate’ at Scottish football grounds never reaches any great heights, with regular references to paedophiles and rapists leaving parents struggling to explain the horror to their kids, there’s a real danger in crossing even that obscene line.
Because, as we all know, the first step to throwing a coin or a punch is often the simple, casual, even careless dehumanising of ‘the other lot’. Arguing that they don’t deserve respect. That they don’t help themselves. They’re asking for it, even.
No doubt policing and stewarding will be doubled or trebled to Old Firm levels for the next meeting of the clubs.
Suddenly, playing that game at half-five on December 29 seems a great deal more risky. Even if security people will always maintain that Easter Road is an ‘easier’ venue for their purposes.
You see, the very thing that makes Tynecastle so great is also its biggest flaw.
Rumpus sparked by the sending-off of Florian Kamberi seemed to tip Tynecastle over the edge
Having fans right on top of the action, within not just shouting but throwing distance of players, runs a risk.
The away section is hard to contain, with the fact that a Hearts player has been hit in each of their last two home games pointing to the need for drastic action.
Credit Zdenek Zlamal, incidentally, for not following his first urge on being struck by a Hibs supporter. As the goalkeeper so serenely pointed out: ‘Our kids are watching the games and surely they can recognise their real heroes.’
For future derbies in Gorgie, then, do Hearts need to consider shutting off the front four or five rows of seats, at least in the away end, just in case some gormless chump decides to act the hard man?
Perhaps, in response to the missile throwing, we need stewards and police to search every single home and away supporter on the way in, removing every potentially dangerous object — each coin, lighter, vaping contraption or asthma inhaler — just in case.
That’s crazy. But, faced with outbursts of temporary insanity from people who genuinely don’t care who they hurt, then maybe crazy is just where the response should be pitched.
Because a goalkeeper being knocked over when he goes to retrieve a ball isn’t on. Not in anyone’s idea of what ‘real fitba’ should be.
Nor does the sight of a manager sprawled on the touchline, felled by a thrown coin that genuinely could have blinded someone, enhance the image of Scottish football.
Nobody wants our game to become completely sanitised. If we want to see ‘lifelong fans’ taking selfies during matches, we can buy tourist tickets for the Nou Camp or Bernabeu.
We’d never accept the kind of half-hearted support witnessed at Old Trafford earlier this season, when Manchester United ‘punters’ lined up for photographs with the Spurs player who had just ripped their team apart.
But surely there’s a middle ground. A way to stay true to our roots without turning Scotland’s national sport — and one of its genuine box-office fixtures — into some kind of bad Thunderdome tribute.
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