Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson has pledged that the Ibrox club will take action against any of their supporters found guilty of criminal behaviour during the crowd disorder which marred last Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final.
But Robertson has questioned Hibs chairman Rod Petrie’s response to the pitch invasion and insists the Easter Road club’s fans must bear the brunt of responsibility for the subsequent incidents. Those included physical confrontations with Rangers players, who Robertson says were shaken and traumatised.
The SFA has launched an independent inquiry into the scenes, while Police Scotland continues its own investigations and prosecutions.
Rangers could also face punishment for sectarian chanting from some of their fans who sang the proscribed “Billy Boys” during the trouble which followed Hibs’ stoppage time 3-2 victory.
But Robertson believes that offence is far less significant on this occasion than the behaviour of the Hibs fans which Petrie initially attributed to “exuberance”.
“If I recall correctly, the Billy Boys was sung after the Hibs fans came on to the pitch,” said Robertson.
“We don’t condone that kind of behaviour. However, if I had a choice between the fans singing a song or piling over the wall into a pitched battle with the Hibs fans, I know what I would choose.
“That doesn’t make it right, but you have to put it into context. I’d rather have that than two or three thousand piling over the wall and we have a riot on our hands.
“I don’t know when Rod made his comments. It struck me from what I saw that it was very clear what had happened. Whether he was aware of that or not, I don’t know, but I was surprised at the comments.
“In our dressing room, you saw how shaken up the boys were by the trauma that had been caused by the events. There was no doubt in our mind what had happened.
“We have since received an email from Hibs. They were just acknowledging and regretting what had happened. You have to remember that, when the final whistle blows, Hibs fans come over the top, run up the pitch and get to the halfway line, attack our players, continue running up the pitch and actually goad, taunt and provoke our fans.
“That’s just not acceptable. It’s not acceptable that we have players and staff attacked at their place of work. It’s just not right.
“Everybody was shaken up. We took the decision just to get out of the stadium, not because we couldn’t guarantee the players’ safety but because nobody could guarantee the players’ safety. I hadn’t seen anything like that in my life and [manager] Mark Warburton certainly hadn’t seen anything like it.
“Every one of our players coming off that pitch was pretty badly impacted by what happened along with three members of staff that I’m aware of.
“All of that has now gone to the police or is going to the police, so we’re going to step back about making much more public comment and just let the investigations take their path.
“We don’t condone any act of violence in football and some of our fans ended up on the pitch, but I think you have to go back to the provocation, the taunting and the goading. I’ve seen some of the footage from close up and they felt threatened.
“They saw players being attacked by the Hibs fans. Let’s not forget that the Hibs fans came over the top. The Hibs fans initiated everything that happened. But the investigations will inevitably lead to some of our fans who were on the pitch being punished and we will take appropriate action against those fans and do the right thing.
“There’s a responsibility on the authorities, there’s a responsibility on football clubs. There’s a responsibility on everybody who goes to a football match to behave in an appropriate way.
“Hopefully, what the investigation will identify is what went wrong – why were the Hibs fans allowed to come on to the pitch and attack our players and staff? How can we deal with it in future? How can we prevent it happening again? Nobody wants to see those scenes. It will send out a negative message about Scottish football at a time when the SFA and SPFL are trying to attract sponsors and grow the business again.”
Robertson, who has confirmed he will stand for one of the vacant Premiership places on the SPFL board of directors this summer, was speaking at the launch of Club 1872.
It is a new united fans group which merges previous organisations, including the Rangers Supporters Trust, Rangers First, Rangers Fans Board and Rangers Supporters Assembly. By doing so, Club 1872 aims to increase the collective supporters’ shareholding in Rangers to at least 25 per cent.
“It is massive for the club,” said Robertson. “When you think what the supporters have done for this club, over the last four or five years especially in fighting against previous regimes, they have contributed to getting the new board in which has moved us forward massively.
“By keeping their independence, they are also going to keep this board accountable to the fans. So we will never see again what happened in the past three or four years.”