Scotland politics

Scottish Cup Final report: Consider making pitch invasions illegal

Pitch invasion at Hampden
Image caption Fans invaded the pitch at Hampden after the Scottish Cup Final

The Scottish government should consider making it a criminal offence to run onto a football pitch, an independent report into the Scottish Cup Final trouble has concluded.

The Scottish Football Association asked Sheriff Principal Edward Bowen to investigate May's pitch invasion.

Fans clashed on the field following Hibs' historic win over Rangers.

Rangers claimed there were "a number of factual inaccuracies and contradictions" in the report.

The club said it would be "urgently" seeking a meeting with sheriff principal Bowen.

Hibs have so far made no official comment.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said its board would "consider the report in greater detail", and was "committed to ensuring that there is no repeat of the scenes that detracted from this showpiece occasion".

A number of people have been charged and one jailed following after-match events, which saw supporters invade the pitch and fights break out.

The report's main findings and recommendations:

  • Police and steward numbers were appropriate
  • Neither club to blame for crowd trouble
  • Call for debate on criminalising pitch invasions
  • Physical interaction between players and fans to be discouraged
  • Retractable tunnel could improve player safety
  • Pitch invasion sparked by Hibs fans' high excitement
  • Overwhelming majority of Rangers fans behaved properly

In his report, the sheriff principal said the pitch invasion was caused by "an exceptionally high degree of excitement" sparked by Hibs' last-minute winning goal, and that the "vast majority" of fans who ran onto the field did so "in a spirit of jubilation".

However, he said a small number had "behaved in a manner which went well beyond a manifestation of high spirits". This led to "direct physical confrontation with Rangers players" and "the hurling of obscene language and sectarian abuse".

During the match, the report said sections of fans in the section housing Rangers supporters had "merited greater police attention" than that containing Hibs supporters, due to "the discharge of pyrotechnics and the singing of sectarian songs".

He said that while "the overwhelming majority" of Rangers fans "behaved properly" and left the stadium at full-time, a small number had "allowed themselves to be taunted by the Hibs fans to the point of invading the pitch for the purpose of physical confrontation".

Image copyright Getty Images

Sheriff principal Bowen said the layout of Hampden Park, which has a running track around the pitch, left police officers and stewards stretched and unable to deter the large number of pitch invaders.

He made a number of recommendations, including the installation of a "retractable tunnel" to create a secure path onto the field for officials and players at Hampden.

He said the number of stewards and police deployed at the stadium was "appropriate", saying there was "no basis for criticism" of stewards or security staff, and also said neither club was to blame for the incident.

The sheriff principal did not criticise stewarding or policing at the match, saying all agencies "played an appropriate part in seeking to clear the pitch". However, he said it might help to have a reserve of extra police officers at future high-profile matches who could be deployed onto the field in the event of a pitch invasion.

'Automatic sanction'

The report said there should be "full debate" about making encroaching on the pitch a criminal offence - similar to the law in England.

The sheriff principal said it could be argued that existing laws were sufficient, and that a specific offence would not have affected the actions of those who invaded the field in May.

However, he said "the very existence of a statutory prohibition might serve to send home the message that proceeding onto the field of play is likely to result in automatic sanction under the criminal law".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The sheriff principal's report did not blame police or stewards for their handling of the incident

The report continued to say that it would be unfair to suggest that Hibs players running to the fans after the winning goal had caused or led to the pitch invasion, but said that it "may have contributed to the impression that direct physical interaction between players and supporters was an appropriate component in the celebrations".

He said referees should "continue to take a strict line with players who leave the field of play to engage physically with spectators", to "discourage the notion that physical interaction between players and fans is acceptable".

SFA boss Mr Regan thanked the sheriff principal for the "comprehensive" review, and said he was pleased that the report "acknowledges that the processes and procedures of the match operation were robust".

He said: "We are committed to ensuring that there is no repeat of the scenes that detracted from this showpiece occasion and will give full consideration to the recommendations set out by Sheriff Principal Bowen in respect of the Scottish FA's future planning of major sporting events under our jurisdiction."

Police investigation

The SFA's compliance officer is conducting a separate inquiry into the events of the match, while police are also investigating.

Rangers issued a statement saying they did not wish to do anything which would detract from the team's upcoming Scottish Premiership season opener.

However, they added: "It is imperative that we gain insight into the underlying basis for the findings in the report given that we consider it contains a number of factual inaccuracies and contradictions.

"It is right that the club gives the author and requisitioner of the report the opportunity to comment on our concerns prior to making a conclusive statement."

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