John Hartson believes a lack of action from the football authorities has led to supporters’ abuse of players becoming an accepted part of the Scottish game.
The ex-Celtic striker was speaking after Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd was hit by a coin and a target for sectarian abuse from a section of the away support while warming up at Rugby Park on Sunday.
Police Scotland have confirmed an investigation is underway as they review footage of several incidents during Celtic’s dramatic 1-0 win, including pitch invasions at both ends of the stadium following Scott Brown’s 90th minute winner for the champions.
Action from the Scottish Professional Football League is less likely to be forthcoming with the organisation hamstrung by the refusal of its own members to introduce a strict liability policy which would allow clubs to be punished for the behaviour of their fans.
Hartson, who recalls being on the receiving end of sectarian abuse during his time as a Celtic player, insists it will continue to be a blight on the Scottish game under the current regulations.
“In Scotland, it’s almost accepted, isn’t it?,” said Hartson. “Some fans seem to think once they’ve paid their money to get in, they can say what they want, they can shout the biggest amount of bile that you’ve ever heard in your life.
“They are stamping down on racial abuse but there is personal abuse as well. We have all heard it at Scottish grounds and it’s almost accepted now that they can scream and shout whatever they want. “The SPFL don’t do anything about it. They haven’t taken any action for years.
“I remember being subbed once for Celtic at a certain ground and there was a grown man leaning over from just behind the technical area, with his young boy of around nine years old, and the language, abuse and venom coming out of his mouth was just shocking.
“He was there with his little kid - what kind of example was he setting to the next generation of football fans? That’s the danger - the youngsters at the grounds hear these grown men screaming abuse at people and think it’s okay.
“I don’t think we can do a lot about it as it stands. It’s hundreds, thousands of them shouting it. How do you stop it?”
Hartson is equally dismayed by the spate of coin-throwing incidents in Scotland this season. Former Hibs manager Neil Lennon, assistant referee Calum Spence and Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos were all struck by coins in previous cases during matches at Hearts, Livingston and St Mirren respectively.
“We’ve now seen it several times this season,” said Hartson. “It’s unacceptable. It’s a shame there is a small minority who do these things because it is ridiculously dangerous.
“A coin could take a player’s eye out. Is that what it’s going to take before we really stamp down on it?
“I don’t know what the authorities can do. Because if there’s one idiot in the crowd prepared to thrown a coin, are we going to check everyone’s pockets before they go into grounds? Is it going to become almost like an airport security check? That’s what it looks like now.
“If someone decides to take a coin out of their pocket and launch it at a player, it’s just not right. But I would say I think it’s a small minority.”