Moira Gordon: Something far wrong when fans fear going to the match

Hearts' Zdenek Zlamal approaches a flare in his net. Picture: SNS.
Hearts' Zdenek Zlamal approaches a flare in his net. Picture: SNS.
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It was author William Golding who said that what a man does defiles him, not what is done by others.

The mind behind the Lord of The Flies classic wrote about the descent into savagery when man is left to his own devices and explored the tensions between rational and emotional reactions.

The book sprung to mind in the midst of the capital derby mayhem on Wednesday night and as it became the subject of widespread debate yesterday.

As flares and bottles were thrown from one stand to another with no regard for the people under fire, when everyday objects such as coins, keys, lighters and pens were turned into hate-fuelled missiles and men going about their jobs were punched, pelted or panned by angry, emotionally-charged fans who masquerade as civilised members of the public outside the football ground, it was hard not 
to compare the floodlit space in Gorgie to that dystopian island.

For a couple of hours people simply lost the plot. Before the match fans scrawled graffiti calling on a man to be hanged, pyrotechnics were let off with reckless disregard and police were left darting from one hotspot to another in the hope that they could keep order. Inside the ground fans were huckled from the arena before the game even kicked off. If there was any 
reason in some of those minds, they had lost it.

After all, this was a football match. It was entertainment, sport. But, in the view of some, only in the way that gladiatorial bouts were considered sport in days gone by. The safety of all involved was not considered paramount.

In short, it was shameful and uncivilised. But it was not, sadly, a one-off. Scottish football has a lot to be proud of these days, it is thrilling, engaging and competitive. The fact that so many clubs have something to play for makes for interesting times but it also seems to be bringing out the worst in some. Tales of moronic behaviour are increasingly commonplace.

Whether it is away fans getting boozed up and making life uncomfortable for air and rail staff and fellow travellers, or fans who spend matches standing with their backs to the action hurling abuse and gesturing at opposing supports, unperturbed by the fact they are obscuring other people’s view and abusive if that is pointed out, Wednesday was just another example of people not giving a thought for others, hate dulling their humanity.

That is why it was deemed okay by someone to punch a goalkeeper, another to throw a glass bottle into a packed stand, or a lit flare at a mass of people, most of whom only wanted to watch a game of football. That is why someone emerged from a crowd, who had been goading a manager throughout the derby with jibes about his mental health or expressing a wish that he would die, and thought it reasonable to pelt him in the face with a coin because he laughed at them when they celebrated a goal that had been ruled offside.

What a man does defiles him, not what is done by others and two wrongs don’t make a right. Even if they did, the culprit would have used vocabulary, even gestures as a weapon, not whatever currency he had in his pocket.

Both clubs have come out and condemned those involved and vowed to weed them out because, although in the minority, they are embarrassing their clubs and threatening the future of a game they claim to love.

People were scared at Tynecastle on Wednesday night. Even heading to the ground many were cognisant of the damage done to an elderly woman on the way to the weekend semi-final, a 70-year-old lifelong football fan who spent hours in A&E after her face stopped a bottle thrown by another idiot trying to look big,but definitely not clever.

In the ground children were hurt and parents have said they will not be back at a game again, certainly not a derby. Ball boys/girls are being abused by players and fans and Hearts, for one, have been known to tell children not to take up their usual positions in front of the away fans in certain fixtures.

With so much competition from televised games it is already a battle to entice kids to Scottish football and if they can’t soak up the experience of big games because parents don’t want them exposed to the unsavoury extremes, that tussle
will become even more difficult.

Which is why fans need to start policing themselves. No-one wants a completely sanitised environment and banter and outbursts will always be part of a game that toys with emotions and delivers highs and lows. But at the moment some individuals are crossing the line.

But we aren’t quite at Lord of the Flies levels yet. The vast number of people who took to fans’ forums yesterday to condemn the thugs offers hope that civilisation and humanity still exists in the majority of football fans. They are the ones who enjoy banter but are fed up with the fighting, the stealth flare attacks, the insidious return of sectarian and unseemly songs. They just want to support their team. And yes, sometimes they will lose the rag but they are sensible and grown-up enough to channel that in a way that does not risk harming others or landing themselves a police charge. They are the ones we need at games. The others should just stay away.