Heart of Midlothian F.C. have never been and will never be, “my club.’ That said, I have had a soft spot for them ever since the day- almost two decades ago now- when my then girlfriend and I snuck into Tynecastle through an unlocked gate and took our pictures with the empty park as the backdrop. We were spotted by a groundskeeper, but when he saw that we meant no harm he just smiled, waved, and went back about his work fixing divots on the pitch.
That experience- my first time in a “proper” football stadium- left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that never really went away. I liked the clubs’s kits, I loved their badge (truly one of the world’s best), and I liked that they were part of a derby that seemed to lack the unseemliness of the Old Firm Derby.
I was also impressed with the way that the club handled its recent financial problems. Nearly ruined by a renegade owner and relegated from the top flight as punishment, the players who remained (many were sold off to cut costs) continued to play hard despite the doom brought about by a points deduction, the supporters raised funds to see the club through the tough times, and new ownership and leadership were brought in to set things right- which they have largely done.
All of that said, I obviously hoped that Ross County would travel down to Auld Reekie, get result, and return north to prepare for tomorrow’s cup derby with Caley Thistle. I was disappointed that County lost, and even more so when I learned that they were a man up for almost the entire second half. That disappointment quickly turned to sadness (and what an emotional gulf there is between those two words…) when I learned of what took place after the match.
As best I can put together a group of neds who apparently consider themselves “hard men” despite their youth- and who had been unruly during the entire match- were waiting for County’s away supporters as they left the stadium to board the coach back to Dingwall. These young toughs confronted the County supporters, attacking the coach driver, and, after the County supporter as on the bus, opening the cargo area and stealing the drum which has become a symbol of County’s away support in recent years. At this point enough was enough and several County supporters gave chase, eventually recovering the drum as the cowards abandoned it to aid in their retreat.
According to multiple accounts- all of which were strikingly similar- no serious injuries occurred (including to the driver) and, just as worrying, the match stewards refused to intervene in the situation because once outside the ground, the it was a police problem, not a club problem. According to some accounts the stewards also refused to call said police when asked to by the County supporters. Before going any further, I think I should say a few words about County supporters- of which I am one.
The simplest- and most accurate- thing I can say about Ross County supporters- particularly those who go to away matches- is that they are the club equivalent of Scotland’s “Tartan Army.” They are known for their good humor, their good behavior, and for traveling in numbers that, proportionally, out-do any club in the country. By most accounts over 400 made the trip to Edinburgh on Saturday. Does the County support contain some crabby old timers who are never happy with anything? Yes. Does the County support contain some loudmouth youngsters? Undoubtably. The difference is that these are small groups and that, when any behavior comes close to “crossing the line,” it is shut down by the majority. I like to think that this is because, have had to wait so long for their club’s success, the supporters want to prolong and protect it.
Lest you think the County support is made up of altar boys and nuns, they can have an edge to them when provoked. I particularly recall a bunch of Hamilton supporters who didn’t like the County fans singing, “We can see you sneaking out!” and responded with some unkind words, at which point somebody(ies) in the County support responded with some choice words about methadone clinics, abandoned buildings, and the like. Appropriate? Probably not. But still, hysterical. Still, in my experience, this kind of thing is the exception and I have certainly never witnessed any County fan doing anything threatening towards a member of the opposition. This is, after all, an away support that will don costumes at any opportunity and conga around the pitch.
Which brings us to today and the official statement of Hearts about the incident:
It is with considerable disappointment that the club, once again, is put in the position of having to apologise both to our own supporters and, in this case, to Ross County Football Club and their travelling support for the appalling behaviour of a small group of 15-25 young so-called “Hearts supporters”.
Let us make it clear…the club does not need these individuals and, most certainly, does not want them if this is going to be the way they continue to behave.
Ann Budge has contacted the Ross County chairman to personally apologise and to ask that this apology is passed on to the supporters and to the coach driver, whose trip to Edinburgh was so badly tainted by the behaviour of this group.
Apologies are however not sufficient. The club is doing everything in its power to put an end to this type of behaviour. We have been working closely with Police Scotland and other agencies to gather sufficient evidence against the individuals involved to enable the appropriate action to be taken. It gives us no pleasure to say that a number of fans will be banned as a consequence of their recurring bad behaviour. We will now be working additionally with other agencies including schools and social work departments to try to take a more holistic view of the problems facing our football club and the wider community.
Within the stadium at all forthcoming home games we will have a greater stewarding presence and on some occasions, Police will be monitoring certain areas directly. We are also now looking at implementing much more strenuous ticketing control measures. We realise that these measures may then cause some inconvenience to other Hearts fans however we know that the majority of supporters at Tynecastle are as keen as we are to address these problems. For instance we find it incredible that even following the terrifying ordeal a young Hearts fan had at Celtic Park due to pyrotechnics in “our” section, an incident which led to him receiving medical treatment, certain individuals still chose to repeat this utterly irresponsible action again on Saturday.
Once again, we had a home sell out on Saturday with almost 16,000 Hearts fans in attendance…and yet, instead of talking about a great performance, our great supporters and the club’s great initiatives, we are instead apologising for the appalling and, in some cases criminal, behaviour, of 15-25 individuals.
Our inbox at Tynecastle is filled with emails from Hearts supporters asking us to take action and we want to assure them, that we will not rest until we have satisfactorily addressed this problem.
It seems that many football clubs have to deal with this problem…the actions of a few, besmirching the reputation of the majority of their decent supporters and all clubs are doing their best to address these minority problems, which can only be for the good of the game. We will certainly never accept it as “an inevitable part of the game” here at Tynecastle.
As these things go, it’s about as good as it can be- and I don’t mean that as a criticism. Ann Budge has done everything the “right way” since taking over at Hearts and I’m confident that the club- at her direction- will indeed, “get to the bottom of this,” and take the appropriate action against the offenders when they have been identified. All I mean is that, in the end, it’s just a press release and probably doesn’t provide what many County supporters find themselves in need of following these unfortunate events.
If there is one word to describe the feelings of those who were at the match or are part of the larger support, it is that of “betrayal.” For a group of supporters who do their best to follow the “Golden Rule,” being on the receiving end of such treatment was heart-breaking. Pun intended.
To those who find themselves with a bitter taste in their mouths even a few days later, I would ask two things. First, keep in mind that in the wake of this disappointing turn of events Hearts supporters were all over social media and supporters’ forums apologizing to County supporters for these idiots and calling upon their own club to be accountable. Second, keep in mind something that my friend Luke used to say to me, “There are two kinds of class- first class and no class.” County supporters have always belonged to the former category and we would be doing ourselves and a club a disservice by letting this lot take away from our enjoyment of a Saturday out.