Following the events that transpired on Friday 16th January at the fixture between Rangers and Hearts, we have examined the comments and complaints received from supporters and have endeavoured to ascertain the facts of what happened and as far as possible, why certain decisions were taken.
Some of you may know that in advance of every SFA/SPFL football game, a pre-operational match briefing is held by the home club. This is normally attended by Safety Officers from both clubs, representatives from Police Scotland, one of whom will usually be the Match Commander for the planned game, representatives from the stewarding companies and where possible, the appointed SPFL match delegate. The main purpose of this meeting is to ensure everyone is happy with the security and safety measures being proposed, based upon known intelligence regarding previous fan behaviour and any other pertinent external factors.
That meeting took place at Ibrox on Wednesday 14th January 2015 and all relevant parties were in attendance, including Friday night’s Match Commander, the SPFL match delegate and our own Safety Officer.
Given that there is no recent history of crowd trouble between Rangers and Hearts supporters… as indeed has been demonstrated twice already this season, there was certainly no reason for the police or the two clubs to expect anything untoward on the night. However, due to certain intelligence received, additional police resource was assigned to the game. There was still, however, no reason, nor police intelligence, to believe that disorder would take place between rival fans.
At the beginning of this week, we received the official report on the match which was submitted to the League by the SPFL match delegate and I have reviewed it in some detail. I have also spoken personally to the Chief Superintendent of Police Scotland in Glasgow. In addition, we have discussed the events with the Head of Security for Ibrox and with our own Safety Officer, both of whom were involved in decision making regarding safety issues on Friday evening.
The SPFL match delegate report states unequivocally that the events of Friday night were in no way caused by poor or ineffective match operation preparation on the part of the home club. Our own Safety Officer shares that view.
This is an important point and one that is accepted by the club. That said, specific answers to your more specific queries are given below.
Questions and Answers
Rather than respond individually to letters and emails, I have attempted to address below the main issues raised.
However, I would preface these answers with the following statement:
While we may not all agree with some of the decisions taken on the night, I am confident that those decisions were taken in good faith, by appropriately experienced professionals using their judgement, and taking the big picture into account.
Weather related questions
Q1. Why were the roads not gritted around Ibrox?
A1. When the SPFL match delegate arrived he personally checked the road/pavement conditions around the stadium and at that time there was no issue. When weather conditions deteriorated dramatically, the Match Commander requested gritters to be sent to Ibrox. However, as conditions rapidly deteriorated in and around Glasgow, coupled with the normal Friday night commuter traffic, topped up by the football traffic, it was simply not possible to treat Ibrox as a priority.
Q2. Why was the pitch not cleared?
A2. The ground staff were confident that, given the under-soil heating had been on and given that no further snow was forecast, the snow would break up once the players started to play. They advised the referee on this basis, and both team managers were happy to go ahead on that assumption. The fact that the air temperature dropped, causing the snow to turn to ice, meant that it didn’t break up or melt as expected.
Game related questions
Q1. Why was the start of the match not delayed to allow fans time to reach Ibrox?
A1. Hearts did request that the start of the match be delayed, when it became clear that so many supporters were stuck in traffic. However, taking everything into consideration (the numbers already in the stadium, the external issues the police were dealing with at Ibrox, the fact that the teams had already warmed up, the uncertainty re how long any delay would need to be, etc.) the Match Commander in consultation with security officers, decided against postponing the start.
Q2. Why were the Hearts fans not held back, when the game was abandoned?
A2. Had the game continued to a normal end it is likely that the Hearts fans would have been held back. This had been discussed at the pre-operations planning meeting and it was agreed that the decision would be made on the night. However, with the game being abandoned, the weather and conditions being deemed to be deteriorating, all exits were opened with the intention of letting fans get away as quickly as possible. Both sets of fans immediately turned their frustration on their rivals and the decision to try and evacuate the stadium of all fans was taken. At this time, there were hot-spots the police had to deal with all over the stadium, both inside and out. This was a very difficult call. With the situation escalating, was it better to try to get the Hearts fans away as quickly as possible. I am not sure there is a clear-cut right or wrong answer to this one.
Segregation related questions
Q1. Was the segregation inadequate in the stadium?
A1. Segregation arrangements were agreed at the pre-operations meeting in light of the additional tickets issued to away supporters. There were 14 rows of vacant seats on each side of the away fans, with segregation barriers in place. In addition, the first 6 rows of seats above the Hearts support, were kept vacant. A “steel curtain” was in place on the concourse area. Stewards were in place in the segregated areas. This was all in place as agreed on Friday evening. When fans, from both sides, agitated at those segregation points, more police officers were sent to the area and, I understand, fans were kept apart.
Q2. Why was there no segregation of fans exiting the stadium?
A2. Given the incidents that happened on the night, the steps taken outside the stadium were clearly inadequate. Alternative measures will be insisted upon at the rearranged fixture.
Car Parking / Buses
Based on comments received and incidents that occurred, provisions for parking of supporters buses were clearly inadequate. The weather conditions did, of course, contribute to the problems.
The police are treating the incidents surrounding the bus park very seriously indeed and this is to be included within the active investigation on-going.
I will be discussing the issues / requirements for safe parking in detail in advance of the re-arranged fixture.
With regard to my discussions with the Chief Superintendent, I can confirm that a full and very active investigation is underway, headed by a Detective Inspector, with a view to detecting and arresting anyone who engaged in acts of disorder or violence, before, during and after the game.
Both we, and Rangers' security staff, will be working closely and co-operatively with the investigation, to assist in any way we can. As well as trying to identify those responsible, we will work very closely with all parties to try to ensure there is no repetition of this behaviour at the re-arranged fixture.
To summarise, lots of questions have been asked about what went wrong on Friday night. As I stated earlier, extenuating circumstances conspired to turn what should have been a showpiece football match into what was at times, a very frightening experience for many supporters.
I have agreed with Police Scotland that we will personally discuss every aspect of the re-arranged fixture in detail, in advance of the pre-operational planning meeting.
We will focus closely on segregation issues both inside and outside the stadium, as well as car park security and on ensuring safe ingress and egress from Ibrox.
Last Friday was not a good experience for any of us, for many reasons. We must all do our best to ensure no repetition in the future. As ever, I have to ask that all of our fans play their part in stamping out unacceptable behaviour.
Thank you once again for your continued support.