The security operation for Saturday’s World Cup qualifying clash between Scotland and England at Hampden will be the biggest ever for a football match in this country.s
Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan yesterday described the game as “the most heightened or up-weighted security operation I’ve been involved in during my time in Scotland”.
He also revealed that Police Scotland had tried to get the fixture moved.
Regan admits that, even prior to the recent terrorists attacks in London and Manchester, there was a bid to have the high-risk Group F World Cup qualifier rescheduled.
Concerns had been building in any case about the 5pm start decreed by Uefa, who have sold broadcasting rights for the fixture on the guarantee it is scheduled for that time slot.
Police Scotland contacted the Scottish FA “three or four weeks ago” to investigate whether the kick-off time could be moved forward or the fixture switched to a different date altogether.
Police officials initially asked the SFA to make representations to Fifa, believing the World Cup qualifier was under the world governing body’s jurisdiction.
“They [police] expressed concern about the fixture taking place on a Saturday afternoon and taking place at 5pm,” said Regan. “The police had concerns, as you would expect, they shared those concerns with us and asked us to make representations to Fifa, believing it was a Fifa match, under the 2018 qualifiers, but the match is under Uefa’s jurisdiction.
“We made representations to Uefa, and their view, like ours, was that this match had been in the calendar since 2015, it is still going to take place on a Saturday, and to shift the kick off time in our opinion wouldn’t have made a material impact.
“They have accepted that position and as the police normally do, because we have a very good working relationship with them, they have agreed to police the fixture the best way they possibly can.”
A series of outer cordons will be set up around the stadium to ensure only ticket holders enter the area, while bag and body searches will be in place. Police with firearms will be in attendance, as they were for last month’s Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen.
Scotland fans will be directed to use trains to Mount Florida station before and after the game, while England supporters, who have been allocated just under 5,000 tickets, will use King’s Park.
The Hampden turnstiles will now open at 3pm - half an hour earlier than originally planned. But Regan confirmed police would have preferred the game to kick-off at 3pm – or even earlier, as per Old Firm games in recent times, and with concerns over levels of alcohol consumption.
However, this request was an apparent non-starter due to broadcasting deals already struck by Uefa. Regan queried whether bringing the kick-off forward two hours would have any bearing on those wishing to come and cause trouble in any case.
“The fixture was announced back in 2015,” said Regan. “It has been sold as part of a centralised rights deal as one of three kick-off slots in what Uefa call their week of football.
“The issue really is in pre-empting any potential issue which may take place in Scotland, will a two-hour time difference make any material impact on people travelling to Scotland?
“Should they want to do something what difference would make it 5 o’clock as opposed to 3 o’clock? The main issue isn’t the kick-off time it is the fact that the fixture is taking place on Saturday 10 June. But there is a very robust security plan in place, which we have put in place with the police and with Group 4 Security, and our team at Hampden Park Ltd.
“People should be reassured that it is a very up-weighted security plan and as robust as we can make it.”
“Certainly it’s the most heightened or up-weighted security operation I’ve been involved in during my time in Scotland,” the chief executive added, in a briefing following yesterday’s SFA agm at Hampden.
“It has come on the back of attacks in Manchester and London but also the previous attack at Westminster, Stockholm, St Petersburg, Nice, Paris. There has been a wave of attacks, as we all know. As much as we feel Scotland is a safe place to be and our stadia are safe places, you can’t be complacent.
“You have to treat every match as if it’s a major event, something could happen and therefore you have a robust plan in place.
“They don’t get any bigger than Scotland v England, it was the first every international fixture in world football. It’s the oldest rivalry there is and it’s going to be a massive game and we’ve just got to make sure it’s all about the football and nothing else interferes with the event.”