Hibernian FC are believed to be the first Scottish football club to relax turnstile controls and allow supporters to leave the ground to smoke lawfully outside the stadium at the interval.
Armed with digital scanners, club stewards will skim tickets of exiting fans at gates E5 and E10 who can re-enter the ground at turnstiles 37 and 38, where their briefs will be reactivated.
Fans in the East Stand will trial the scheme – launching this Saturday in the home fixture against Dumbarton – but club chiefs have vowed to roll it out throughout the stadium if it proves a success.
It follows a club summit with fans who highlighted concerns and made proposals to improve their match day experience.
Hibs director Garry O’Hagan said plans to loosen rules on half-time access to the stadium had been brewing since smoking was banned in Scottish public buildings in 2006.
“This is something we’ve been discussing with our supporters ever since the smoking ban,” he said.
“But the reason we’re only able to implement this now is because we had to create a mechanism to do it.
“Because of how we’re regulated, the club has a duty to provide these sort of services in the safest way possible.
“That’s why we’ve come up with this ticketing mechanism that finally allows fans to do it.”
The ticketing technology was trialled at Hibs’ last match against Raith Rovers following a software upgrade allowing automated entry at the stadium.
Mr O’Hagan added: “At the end of the day, it’s about providing good customer service.
“We recognise that a large part of the population still chooses to smoke, and we believe that all supporters should be able to come to a football match and enjoy themselves.
“For those people who find it difficult to go two hours without smoking a cigarette, E-cig, cigar or whatever, that means providing a mechanism and an area so that they can do that and still enjoy the match, without impacting those supporters who choose not to smoke.”
Supporters said the half-time smokers’ plan was “a long time coming”.
Kevin Flynn, an ex-smoker and chairman of the Hibs’ Supporters Club in Dalkieth and Bonnyrigg, welcomed the move and said he would often have to leave the game entirely to get his nicotine fix.
“I just never understood it,” he said.
“At other grounds they let you have a smoke right there behind the stands, and so I think a lot of supporters have been wanting this to happen for a while.
“This will certainly make a lot of supporters happy.”
Robbie Wilson, a stalwart of The Hibs Club in Sunnyside, said the new policy would slash the number of fans enjoying a crafty cigarette inside the stadium and improve the environment for non-smokers.
He said: “I’m not a smoker myself, but a lot of supporters are.
“At matches you’ll often get people sneaking a cigarette inside of the stadium, and so I think this new trial will definitely discourage people from doing that.”
Half-time half or short back four and sides?
By Nash Riggins
THEY say everyone’s entitled to 15 minutes of fame . . . and I’ve achieved mine putting Hibs’ new smoking policy to the test for the Evening News.
News that fans will be allowed to leave Easter Road to light up at half-time instead of sneaking a cigarette shrouded in the nooks and crannies of the famous ground is part of a move to ensure the stands are entirely smoke-free.
But the half-time break is not just for those seeking a nicotine fix, as Hibs director Garry O’Hagan said the new scheme will enable fans to “stretch their legs and do whatever they need to do”.
With that in mind – and a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock – I marched to a string of venues surrounding the stadium to see what other pursuits could be achieved before the game restarts.
The alcohol ban across Scottish football means many fans will quick-step to the nearest bar to steel their nerves ahead of the second half. On a brisk walk, I arrived at Middletons Bar on Easter Road in around four-and-a-half minutes using Crawford Bridge, allowing six minutes for a quick sup before heading back in time to watch the teams re-emerge.
With the Lifestyle Express corner shop a stone’s throw from the ground, there is ample time to snap up a half-time copy of Edinburgh’s favourite daily.
Fifteen minutes also leaves plenty of time for a munch.
Smokey Jim’s takeaway on Albion Road is a three-minute walk away from the stands, and boasts a swathe of matchday specials.
The clock will be ticking so a quick bag of fresh chips – taking into account the three-minute frying time – will keep hunger at bay and even ensure you’re back in your seat five minutes before play resumes.
The style-conscious fans among the Hibees’ support might even wish to nip across to the Trim and Trig hairdresser for a quick seven-minute chop and still return in time to watch their heroes exit the tunnel.