ROBBIE Neilson believes that Tynecastle can maintain its unique atmosphere without descending to the kind of unacceptable behaviour criticised by Ann Budge this week. The Hearts head coach yesterday praised the statement put out by club owner Budge, and said he agreed entirely with her desire to create a family-friendly environment at matches.
Budge was critical of the damage caused by some Celtic supporters during the game between the teams on Sunday, and also said that a Hearts fan who had been arrested for sectarian behaviour would not be allowed back into Tynecastle. Both clubs have discussed the issues raised by the executive chairwoman’s statement, posted on the club website, and Neilson suggested that some others who had taken issue with Budge had not thought properly about its content.
“I feel like a lot of people didn’t read it,” he said. “I think Ann has put out a good, strongly-worded statement. We’re trying to push the club in the right direction, on the pitch and off it. Ann is very intelligent in what she does and she wants this club to go in the right direction.
“Yes, it has to be an intense environment – but not hostile or aggressive. Twenty per cent of fans at the game were kids: they’re the future of the club and the future of the game. We have to create an environment where families enjoy coming to the game, spend money at the game and then come back next week.
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“We’re under no illusions: there are a small minority of fans who go to games and act irresponsibly, but the vast majority of fans are well behaved and it’s up to the individual clubs to eradicate any problems they have within the club. Football is moving on, life is moving on – it’s not just the case that you can go on a Saturday and slate people.
“You need to be a bit more reserved. We want this to be a community club and a place for families. To do that, the environment needs to be enjoyable.”
The environment at many games between Celtic and Hearts has at times been far from enjoyable, but Neilson said there was little point in raking over the past to analyse the causes of the rancour. Instead, the emphasis should be on improving behaviour in the present.
“I think it’s getting highlighted a lot more, through social media and other news sources,” he said of the bitterness which has attached itself to the fixture. “There’s only one way to react to that: to make things better. There’s no point looking back over the last five, ten, 15 years. We need to deal where we are at the moment with Hearts, and Ann is attempting to do that. She’s trying to push the club in the right direction. We will try to get a brand of good football on the pitch, and hopefully we can create a good environment in the stadium as well.”
Budge’s statement was released on the same day that sports promoter Barry Hearn delivered a scathing assessment of Scottish football’s attempts to market itself, and Neilson added that the game here had to learn from the American example.
“I think she’s seeing things from a new perspective. You look at the game down south in the Premier League or over in America with the MLS, where it’s all family orientated. We want it to be like that here. You don’t want to lose the passion and the intensity, but you can’t have the other side of it – where people don’t want to come to the games for fear of what will happen. In America it’s families that go. They target the female of the house, who will take the whole family along to the game. They now have huge crowds. They had 1,500 when they first started a decade or so ago, now there are teams getting 50,000 every week. This is our model. We don’t want to lose the feeling of enjoying the football, but it needs to be the right environment. It will take time, but there needs to be a start.”
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