Interview: Eamonn Bannon - Still a cage fighter

Eamonn Bannon is no stranger to pitch invasions, but sees no need for fencing

WEDNESDAY night was not the first time a fan's idiotic actions had prompted discussion of how to prevent spectators breeching the boundaries at Tynecastle. Eamonn Bannon remembers previous occasions. He was a kid on the Gorgie club's books in 1976 when a good-natured pitch invasion followed a European tie with Lokomotiv Leipzig and while no-one was attacked, Hearts were still sanctioned by UEFA, who fined them 1,000 Swiss francs.

Two years later he was in the home side when they played host to derby rivals Hibs. With Jim Jefferies and Donald Park already red-carded, they lost an injury-time equaliser to the Easter Road side, sparking trouble and a pitch invasion. This time it was more menacing than celebratory and prompted the Tynecastle club to bring forward plans for crowd segregation and perimeter fencing and both measures were in place in time for the next home game, against Morton.

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Bannon does not want to see a return to the days when supporters were penned in, but having been on the receiving of one angry fan in his own playing days, he does think that security measures have to be reviewed.

"It is frightening. It happened to me at Ibrox once back in the 80s, around the same time that Gordon Strachan had been attacked by a fan at Parkhead," said the former Scotland international who was, by then, playing for Dundee United. "But the strange thing was it didn't even make the papers. It wasn't even reported and, in those days, there were no TV cameras picking it up. What happened was that I crossed the ball and the keeper caught the ball and booted it up the park so everybody else followed the action up the park but my momentum took me on and suddenly this guy came running out from behind the goal and came right at me. I ended up lashing out at him with my boot, kicking out at him, and he seemed to change his mind and was escorted off by stewards. But he came about five or six yards onto the pitch and I got the fright of my life.

"Afterwards I was speaking to my team-mates and no-one had seen it but I met my mate in the players lounge and he said 'what about that guy coming on?' And I was relieved that someone had seen it. But it's strange how in those days it was just dismissed as some nutter running on and running off again. Now it is so high-profile."

He thinks there is no harm in that, given that the situation on Wednesday night could have been even worse if the punter had expressed greater malice.

"The worrying thing for me is that someone is basically willing to have a swipe at a manager, this time the manager of Celtic, while he is in a technical area. That guy has wound himself up to such an extent that he thinks that's acceptable and if he had gone on there with a club or a knife or bottle and smashed it over his head then it is a whole new can of worms and the thing is, the person on the receiving end of it doesn't know whether he has or hasn't got any of those things. That's why it is so scary. Luckily this time the guy almost missed him as he lost his footing and it almost turned in a comedy farce but we have to be careful.

"Tynecastle is a wonderful stadium for atmosphere in big games and we don't want to see anything done that will change that. The majority of Hearts fans are good people who just want to support their team, without attacking anyone, but there's always one nutter. Hearts are going to be hammered for this and they will probably be fined but we can't go back to perimeter fences (because of] Heysel and Hillsborough.

"What we can do is increase security round the dug-outs because if it's a player they want to attack they usually have a lot further to go and (stewards] have a better chance of catching them as they run on to the pitch but the managers are so close to the crowd. I think one thing we could do is ensure that the areas around there are family areas where you are less likely to get these kind of nutters."

But he feels sorry for the club and the majority of fans whose good name has been sullied and hopes a run in Europe, and Tynecastle crackling with the kind of intensity those nights bring, will restore the ground's and the crowd's reputation.

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"I made my debut against Hamburg and it is still the best memory I have of playing at Tynecastle.

"The atmosphere was amazing. Those European nights are great and you just hope they stay in Europe long enough next season to get past the minnows and enjoy some more of those nights without anyone in the crowd letting them all down."