Ann Budge blasts Hearts-Celtic sectarian behaviour

The Hearts owner has called for Celtic to be equally tough as she has been. Picture: SNS

The Hearts owner has called for Celtic to be equally tough as she has been. Picture: SNS

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HEARTS owner Ann Budge has criticised the behaviour of both sets of supporters during and after Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie between her club and Celtic, and vowed to do all she can to ­improve the atmosphere at a ­fixture which has long been one of the most toxic in Scottish football.

The Tynecastle club’s executive chairwoman said the one Hearts fan arrested for sectarian abuse would “not be allowed back into the stadium”, and added that she would do every­thing in her power to ensure that five Celtic supporters who were arrested – “for sectarian abuse, coin throwing and disorderly behaviour” – would also be refused readmission to the ­Gorgie ground.

In a long and carefully worded statement on the Hearts website, Budge said her aim was the creation of a safe and friendly environment at games for both sets of supporters. Celtic, who won the tie 4-0, responded on their website last night, confirming that senior officials had already discussed the matter with Budge and her colleagues, reiterating their condemnation of any misdemeanours by their own fans, and citing other incidents involving mistreatment of those fans.

“Many of our fans are supporting our efforts to improve the overall experience at Tynecastle and to create a truly family-focused culture,” Budge wrote on www.heartsfc.co.uk. “For this to work, we need to do everything in our power to ensure our opposition on the day also enjoys the experience of coming to Tynecastle. Friendly banter is acceptable – some might even say desirable. Threatening and intimidating behaviour between supporters is not.

“However, we also need our visiting fans to behave accordingly. Based on emails and communications received into the club it would seem both sets of supporters had cause for complaint on Sunday.

“At Hearts, poor on-field behaviour is scrutinised, disciplined and, where appropriate, punished. The same approach must apply off the field.

“The police report confirms that one Hearts supporter was arrested at the match for sectarian abuse. That is unacceptable and dangerous.

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“In line with my previous statement of zero tolerance, that individual will not be allowed back into the stadium. The same police report confirms that five Celtic supporters were arrested for sectarian abuse, coin-throwing and disorderly behaviour. I hope that Celtic will take appropriate action against those individuals who let them down. Certainly, at Hearts, we will do everything in our power to ensure they are never again allowed into Tynecastle.

“I was appalled at the vandalism carried out by our visiting supporters on Sunday. Having recently spent significant sums to replace broken seats in the Roseburn Stand, for the benefit, primarily, of our away supporters, I was hugely disappointed to witness the destruction of close to 100 seats. Similarly, the graffiti on walls, tiles, doors – basically all types of surfaces – was quite disgraceful and this is not to mention the damage to toilets.

“I have discussed all of these matters with members of the Celtic executive and we are working co-operatively to address the issues. No club should be on the receiving end of such unacceptable behaviour and no club should be put in the position of having to defend such behaviour.”

In a statement on www.celticfc.net, bylined Newsroom Staff, the Glasgow club said: “As recent years have shown, the fixture between Heart of Midlothian and Celtic at Tynecastle Stadium has become a difficult one. This follows various incidents, including an attack on the Celtic manager and continued sectarian abuse directed at Celtic management, staff and players.

“Celtic representatives met with Ann Budge and her executive team yesterday and were made aware of particular issues which arose at the match on Sunday. In addition to these issues, missiles were thrown into the Celtic support, a Celtic supporter sustained injuries at the match after being hit with coins, and sectarian abuse was again directed at Celtic staff and players. We are also aware of a home supporter again attempting to enter the field of play at Tynecastle, this time to approach one of our players. We are addressing these matters with Heart of Midlothian and welcome the desire of Ann Budge to seek a positive and enjoyable matchday experience for all football supporters at Tynecastle. We look forward to working with her to achieve this. Celtic supporters have a long and proud record of positive support for the club. Our fans have an excellent reputation and this is something we cherish and wish to preserve.

“It is very important to note that the vast majority of Celtic supporters and Scottish football supporters behave impeccably at matches. With regards to the reported incidents at the match on Sunday, we would like to re-iterate that any form of offensive or inappropriate behaviour is contrary to our core values and the club will deal with those responsible in the appropriate manner.

“We share the concerns expressed by Ann Budge and her aim to eradicate all forms of offensive behaviour from Scottish football. We can assure Heart of Midlothian that we will be pleased to continue to co-operate with them fully to ensure that all issues from this match concerning both sets of supporters are addressed.”

Celtic striker Anthony Stokes earlier offered a less nuanced analysis. “Maybe Ann Budge should worry about her own fans,” he said on Twitter. “Never had so many sectarian comments directed at me in a ground like Tynecastle the other day.”

Besides criticising both sets of fans, Budge also suggested that stewards and police could have done more to deal with the situation. “The most distressing emails/reports I have received are of intimidation both to fans and to staff from away fans. Everyone gets frustrated when officials and police appear to take little or no action.

“This is something I will discuss with the authorities but as many of us know, their response is often influenced by a need not to further inflame a situation. The only real answer is to try to remove those people who cause the problems and who spoil the whole experience for so many others.”

Asked to respond to that section of Budge’s statement, a spokesperson for Police Scotland said: “We police any event that requires our attendance or response proportionately and professionally and work closely with stewarding colleagues and other relevant agencies to maximise the safety of the public at all times.”

While Budge referred to six arrests, another brief statement from Police Scotland mentioned seven. The offences are understood to have included drunkenness and assault as well as sectarian abuse.

“Seven males were arrested during the Heart of Midlothian vs Celtic match at Tynecastle Stadium on Sunday 30th November,” the spokesperson for the national force said. “Reports will be sent to the Procurator Fiscal in respect of these arrests.”

Budge added that she was particularly concerned by reports from parents about the effect on young children of the vitriolic atmosphere at the game, which she implied was undermining attempts to make the matchday experience at Tynecastle more family-friendly.

“I was pleased to learn that approximately 20 per cent of the Hearts supporters on Sunday were youths,” she wrote. “This is fantastic evidence that we are appealing to the family. The not so good news is that I have received a number of emails/letters from parents stating that their children were terrified/had to be removed part way through the game/were traumatised – and as such would be unlikely ever to want to return to a game. This is appalling.

“OK. These letters relate to a tiny proportion of the 12,000-plus crowd. The number is unimportant. We want to be a family-oriented club, offering a thoroughly enjoyable matchday experience for both sets of supporters – in a safe and non-threatening environment.

“I promise that this management team will do everything in its power to try to make this happen. This includes taking action against our own supporters who let the side down; vigorously pressing other clubs to be accountable for the actions of their supporters and where necessary petitioning the authorities to take appropriate action.

“I would urge Hearts supporters to stick with us and supporters of other visiting clubs to recognise that we want to offer a welcoming environment at Tynecastle where both teams can enjoy the matchday experience. For Scottish football to survive and develop, we need each other.”

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