THE concerning rise in incidences of crowd disorder at Scottish football matches this season has been attributed to reduced policing levels inside stadiums and clubs warned that stewards are not enough to deter potential troublemakers from causing unrest.

Hearts captain Lawrence Shankland had several missiles – including a bottle opener with a blade at one end – hurled in his direction by Hibernian supporters during a fiery Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle on Wednesday night.

Hibs striker Emiliano Marcondes, who had opened the scoring in the first half of the 1-1 draw in Gorgie, was also struck by an object which was thrown by a Hearts fan during the cinch Premiership match.

The trouble flared the day after Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell revealed the capital club were considering reducing ticket allocations for Celtic and Rangers’ supporters at Easter Road due to their extensive use of pyrotechnics.

A Celtic fan had his hair set on fire after a flare which had been discarded by one of his fellow supporters landed on his head after a coordinated display was staged before kick-off in a league game in Leith last month. 

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Members of The Green Brigade ultras group had their season tickets withdrawn indefinitely and were banned from attending any of the Scottish champions’ matches in October for “an increasingly serious escalation in unacceptable behaviours”.

These included setting off pyrotechnics, rushing turnstiles and forcing exits, illegally gaining access to their ground to bring in an unauthorised banner and violent and intimidating conduct towards stewards.

Glasgow Times:

The group were allowed back in December following talks with senior club officials after agreeing to comply with an updated rail safety seating section code of conduct.

However, Celtic released a statement on Wednesday which stressed the new guidelines had been broken by a banner – which contained the words “End Zionism” - which was unfurled at their Premiership encounter with Kilmarnock this month.

And they also revealed they had received complaints from fans who had been “adversely affected” by supporters without valid tickets attempting to gain entry to their matches against Aberdeen at Pittodrie and Motherwell at Fir Park in recent weeks.

David Kennedy, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, warned the Scottish government last year that cutting the number of police officers in the country to under 16,000 would prove “catastrophic for the people of Scotland”.

He suspects that stretched resources could be contributing to an increase in crowd disturbances at football matches.

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“The concern we have got with the policing of all football in Scotland is the resourcing of it,” he said. “We have to be mindful of the fact that the more they reduce the number of police officers the more clubs are falling back on their own security. That for me is where potential issues can arise.

“Stewards are not trained to the same standard as police officers, they don’t have the same protection, they don’t have the same authority. That is something which has been missed or maybe not looked at.

Glasgow Times: “If people are going in to games with pyrotechnics or even, as we saw at the Edinburgh derby on Wednesday night, knives, is it really appropriate if you haven’t got enough police there?

“If you are stopped going into a football ground by a cop who actually has the authority to arrest you for what you are carrying, that is a massive deterrent. If it is a security guard who can only say ‘you’re not getting in’ where is the deterrent? The opportunity is there to try and sneak stuff in.

“There is potentially a bit of work which could be done to look at that. I know the police service have been looking to see how they can reduce the amount of police officers attending matches at football grounds. Maybe this is an unintended consequence of that.

“It shouldn’t be the case, but the service are looking more and more to see how they can reduce the amount of police officers that have to attend. That is simply down to the fact that there are not enough cops.”

Kennedy added: “Historically, whenever a Celtic v Rangers game was played, every single cop within that area would be getting their rest days cancelled to police it. But they are looking more and more to see how they can reduce numbers.

“That might have unintended consequences. Perhaps what we are now seeing is a consequence of less police officers being visible at football matches.

“I can recall standing at the gates of Ibrox taking prohibited items off of members of the public. Often they didn’t know they were taking prohibited items in. I can remember once telling a woman she couldn’t take three cans of hair lacquer into a ground because they were containers.

“It has gone from one extreme to another. You could now have people who want to take prohibited items in seeing loopholes which enable them to get them in. If the police are there and the police are stopping supporters that is probably a bigger concern to somebody who wants to cause trouble than a steward who is turning you away.

“Over the years, they have looked at reducing the number of police officers who are in the ground, have asked if it is necessary. Maybe we are at a tipping point now. I have certainly got a real concern if somebody is coming in to a football ground with a knife.

“It is, if you have a crowd of 20,000 people or so, very hard to stop it of course. You would need to have metal detectors as you walk through the gates. We are also talking about a tiny percentage of individuals who want to cause trouble. The vast majority of members of the public are law abiding citizens.”

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Kennedy feels that clubs also have to accept responsibility for ensuring there is sufficient policing at their matches and stressed that stewards are not adequate replacements for officers.

“A problem you have had in the past is that a lot of the clubs would want to reduce the amount of the policing at their matches,” he said. “That is maybe something they should look at and say, ‘Is that really appropriate?’.

Glasgow Times: “Clubs have to pay for policing. For any event, the police will look at the risk involved and say, ‘We need x number of police officers there’. They might be told, ‘We only want three’. There is negotiation which goes on.

“Ultimately, the police have to sign off on the safety licence. If they aren’t happy, they won’t sign off on it. But if there are less cops then the clubs have to pay less money. So I think it is coming from both sides.

“The clubs obviously want police there if they feel there is a threat of trouble. But if they believe there is no need they will say, ‘We don’t need that many’. Over the last 30 years or so clubs have been using stewards more and more. Before it would have been cops policing matches.

“So clubs might not think they need as many police officers there as they have had in the past because of the stewards they have in place. But some individuals may see that as an opportunity to get in and to smuggle in prohibited items.”