Russell: Attack on players ‘poor’
B OBBY Russell thought the days of police horses being required to restore order after national cup finals were long gone. The former Rangers midfielder, a veteran of the infamous 1980 Scottish Cup final which ended in a massed riot between Celtic and Rangers fans on the Hampden pitch, wasn’t at the national stadium yesterday, choosing instead to watch the match at a city centre pub with his brother and their sons.
While the comparison with that incident is a far from perfect one - for a start, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and alcohol ban which followed that match means that bottles and beer cans were no longer at hand for easy weaponry – it is the only one Scottish football has got. While there were only 11 arrests at the ground – more will surely follow when footage is analysed – Saturday’s match was at least a modern variant of the phenomenon.
Unlike events 36 years ago, when the presentation ceremony had actually taken place and the players were all to Russell’s knowledge safely back in their dressing rooms, this time even players and backroom staff found themselves caught up in the hooliganism. Indeed, considering the intervening period, and the fact that half a dozen Rangers players and backroom staff were attacked by the invaders, it could be said to be even more depressing.
“I think the emotions got the better of the Hibs fans, to be fair,” said Russell. “Having not won it for 114 years they lost control and ran on to the pitch. But attacking the players is pretty poor. It is just unacceptable.
“We weren’t really privy to what went on,” recalled Russell, when asked to think back to those 1980 events. “We were all in the changing rooms so we didn’t really see how much it escalated. The main thing I remember was being very disappointed firstly by the way we had performed on the day and having lost the game.
“When we got back to Ibrox there was a lot of anger being vented,” he added. “Look, we were all disappointed by how it went but at the end of the day we had tried our best, it just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until the news that you realised how bad it had got.”
For all the differences between the two incidents, once again the trigger for events was a decisive goal late in extra time, and that first wave of spectators entering the field of play. While yesterday it was David Gray’s 92nd minute header, back in 1980 it was a George McCluskey shot, deflected in from a Danny McGrain shot, late in extra time which gave Celtic a 1-0 win. Soon waves of hooligans from either side were charging at each other, as a hopelessly outmanned police corps attempted to deal with the situation, the spark apparently a young Celtic fan blasting a ball into the Rangers net. In commentary, Archie McPherson described it as a football equivalent of WWI battle Passchendaele.
“In 1980 it was more pent-up anger,” said Russell. “It was a poor game, neither team deserved to win it and that just skewed the situation. It just took a few mindless people to run on the park in the first place then it all kicks off from there. “It was like the Hibs fans yesterday – it all starts with a few mindless people running on to the pitch. Once a handful do it then the rest think they are doing it. But the fact the players are still there and ended up getting attacked makes it worse.”
The SFA and Police Scotland launched an investigation into the incident last night, but Russell reluctantly reckons one piece of remedial action is required. Quite simply, it must be made more difficult for supporters to enter the field of play.
“I don’t know exactly what it is like in Germany but it is a fair guess that it is nigh impossible for spectators to get onto the pitch,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many stewards you put there, it is just too easy for them to get on. Perhaps they [the authorities] were caught by surprise, because it was 30-odd years since it last happened,. Lessons, you would think, can usually be learned.”