The 2016 Scottish Cup Final: Losing The Moral High Ground
All protagonists in the pitch invasion and crowd trouble after Hibernian’s first Scottish Cup triumph since 1902 have cases to answer. The soon-to-be-appointed SFA Independent investigatory Commission will be busy. Police and stewards were swamped by Hibernian fans and bust approximately no guts to stop Rangers fans. Fans can’t entirely be excused by the day’s emotions; the Hibernian fans who goaded Rangers fans; the Rangers fans who responded; nor anybody who, physically or otherwise, confronted Rangers players or officials. Yet Rangers, on this occasion demonstrably more sinned against than sinning, lost the moral high ground with official statements containing views normally only heard in pubs before the words “I think you’ve had enough, sir.” And Scotland’s football press added their usual dishonest hysteria. “We should be talking about the match,” said Sky’s Andy Walker, over-and-again. Well talk about it, then!!!!
There were two post-match incidents. A celebratory pitch invasion, the product of breaking a remarkable Cup final hoodoo in the most dramatic circumstances, against what many fans would consider the ideal opposition. Then the ugly confrontations involving fans. Yet the media couldn’t distinguish between them. For Hibernian, four times champions and top-tier members for all but a handful of seasons, not winning the Cup since 1902 is ridiculous. Hence the over-exuberance of the early celebrations, which included snapping the crossbar beneath which captain David Gray headed the winner, and digging up the pitch for souvenirs. This didn’t shock seasoned football fans. Five days previously Hull City fans invaded the KC Stadium pitch after winning the chance to return to England’s cash-drunk Premier League, in which they’ve not competed since… erm… 2015.
There the comparison ended. One Hull fan confronted Derby County’s Richard Keogh and is banned for life. Otherwise, Derby’s players and staff side-stepped through the celebrations to their dressing-room. The on-field scenes at Hampden were far worse. However, Hibernian chairman and SFA vice-president Rod Petrie seemed unaware of the sporadic fighting when his post-match press conference began. Early in the Scottish Television (STV) clip, one reporter mentioned “players and staff” being “assaulted.” Petrie said he was “not aware of any complaint” but promptly added: “If something has happened to a player or member of staff that’s a very serious matter.”
He gave “great credit” to Rangers “players and coaching staff and the people I have spoken to for the way they have conducted themselves. We’ve lost a number of finals, we know how they must be feeling.” And he was “very sorry that Rangers players felt unable to come back out and receive their medals.” Clearly, if the “people” he had “spoken to” knew all that had happened, they’d not said. He said Hibernian were “very ready to contribute” to any “detailed examination of what’s happened.” But then he was asked for his thoughts “when the fans brought down the crossbar and were ripping up the pitch.” And he clearly answered subsequent questions in that context. He was, for example, surprised to be “in a minority of one” in “playing down” the incidents, despite calling the pitch invasion “unacceptable, not something anyone would condone.”
The collective journalistic instincts present didn’t spot this. And Petrie was only set straight when asked about “several assaults on Rangers players we could see from our vantage point.” He said: “I didn’t see any physical things (but) behaviour which is unacceptable should be punished” and “(taking) your testimony that that’s happened, that is…absolutely unacceptable.” This answer was “absolutely unacceptable” to STV’s Raman Bhardwaj. Hibs fans were “disgraceful.” No other words would satisfy him. Bhardwaj asked: “If it is proven, as Rangers claim, that two players and a member of the coaching staff were attacked by Hibernian supporters, would you accept it’s disgraceful?” Petrie, correctly, replied: “If that is what happened, that is unacceptable.” “It’s disgraceful,” Bhardwaj interrupted, momentarily forgetting he was being paid to ask questions, not argue over semantics. The confrontation continued:
Petrie: “Anybody that can be identified will be punished appropriately…” Bhardwaj: “It’s disgraceful.” Petrie: “Well, you call it that…” Bhardwaj: “What do you call it?” Petrie: “I say it’s totally unacceptable. I don’t condone it in any manner.” Bhardwaj: “You don’t think fighting on a football pitch is disgraceful?” Petrie: “I think fighting on a football pitch is unacceptable, absolutely.”
Graeme Macpherson’s 500-word Herald newspaper article disingenuously claimed Petrie “played down the gravity of the situation” and “only when pressed did he belatedly agree that it was “a disappointment” and “embarrassing.” And Macpherson said Petrie “would not use the term “’disgraceful’,” as if Petrie did not find the events disgraceful…a curious logic which would suggest Bhardwaj found the events partly acceptable because he would not use the term “totally unacceptable.” The Sunday Mail newspaper’s Gordon Waddell called Petrie “mealy-mouthed” and “pathetic,” adding that he “should resign from the SFA with immediate effect.”
Presumably Waddell believes Police Scotland chief superintendent Kenny MacDonald should resign, for calling fans’ behaviour ”totally unacceptable.” Anything else would be hypocrisy. Waddell wanted “honesty and an admission that his fans were the cause of disgraceful scenes.” And he said Petrie lied about not seeing the fighting (“he was watching every minute of it”) which didn’t explain why Petrie denied seeing it but still willingly condemned it on the, doubtful, word of Scottish football journalists. And anyway, how could Petrie be more condemnatory than “totally, absolutely unacceptable.” Totally “unacceptabubble”? “Utterly, phantasmagorically unacceptable”?
In his Record column, Keith Jackson said Gray “should be remembered as the captain who conquered one of the longest running hoodoos in football.” But outside Jackson’s world, Gray will be remembered thus and it isn’t “impossible to look at this crowning moment without also being bombarded by grotesque flashbacks of all that is ugly and shameful about football in this country.” Jackson said: “Gray…also deserved the honour of walking his team up the steps to lift the oldest trophy in the game without the embarrassment of doing so against a backdrop of thuggery and carnage.” But he got that honour…and looked supremely un-embarrassed. The “backdrop” was a packed Hibernian end and an empty Rangers end, i.e. the backdrop after nearly every final the old Rangers lost.
Jackson claimed Hibs boss Alan Stubbs “handled” matters “with a statesman-like touch” while “his oafish chairman…(appeared to) cast aspersions on claims Rangers players and backroom staff were assaulted.” However, Stubbs said: “I can understand the euphoria surrounding (the invasion). I don’t condone it but…it’s not going to take away the pleasure and the pride of what we have achieved.” Petrie’s description was “unacceptable and not something that anyone would condone.” Jackson draws a fine line between “statesman-like” and “oafish.” And you will search STV’s video in vain for evidence of Petrie casting aspersions on the assault claims.
Of course, Jackson includes no quotes in his article. Doing so would expose his dishonesty. And more damaging Jackson dishonesty followed: “Sources at Ibrox insist not one of their players escaped up the tunnel without being spat on, kicked, punched or shoved.” Alas, those who “cast aspersions” on this story included Rangers striker Kenny Miller’s wife Laura, who tweeted (twice) that “Kenny wasn’t touched” and wished people “would stop telling lies,” Kenny Shiels, who told the BBC his son Dean was not assaulted, and Hibs player Dylan McGeouch, whose “good friend” Andy Halliday “was standing with the referee…(and)…I stood beside him to make sure nobody did anything.”
The danger here is that unravelling Jackson’s narrative belittles actual events. That eleven players were not assaulted etc… is way less important than the fact that some were. Even Jackson, however, couldn’t out-loonball Rangers’ official website. Eyebrows were raised when Rangers initially “commended” their fans “for the restraint they showed under severe provocation.” Middle-fingers were raised at their next statement. Parts of it were correct. Rangers expected a “full and independent investigation,” and they concluded: “When players are unable to accept medals… because of fears for their safety… every step must be taken to ensure that this is never repeated.” But the rest was nuts.
“Rangers finds it incomprehensible that no one, either from within the Scottish FA or Hibernian Football Club, has condemned Hibernian’s supporters.”
“We have not even had the courtesy of any contact whatsoever from Hibernian to ask after the wellbeing of those who were attacked by their club’s supporters.”
“…Hibernian’s fans went over the top in their thousands.”
“…a tiny minority of Rangers fans encroached on the pitch…to protect our players and officials who were being visibly attacked in front of them. Any club’s supporters would have done the same.”
“It…was not at all helpful to see leading members of the Scottish Government, including the First Minister whose parish is Govan, passing comment on social media without any attempt to condemn…Hibernian’s fans. These failures are unbecoming of our elected representatives.”
“Media outlets have also attempted to distort reality. In the case of the BBC this is, of course, not news. BBC employees, in particular Stuart Cosgrove, believe Rod Petrie’s comments to be ‘balanced’…Tom English, who was not even at the match, would prefer the authorities to focus on Rangers fans’ reaction. We will not endure this insult.”
This codswallop suited the fruitloops to which it pandered. Glasgow Evening Times Rangers correspondent Chris Jack claimed it was “lucky only a few hundred Rangers fans came onto the park.” No…really. Extremist Rangers fan group the Vanguard Bears set up a crowd-funding scheme to raise £10,000 to “help any Rangers fan with legal fees or fines resulting from any (Cup Final) arrests.” And, via petition, 15,000 fans called for Hibs to be banned from “European… and Scottish Cup competition” next season while 700 want the “resignation of Nicola Sturgeon” as “MSP of Govan” and “First Minister,” for “her diabolical lack of support for the Govan club.” Although 1500 have petitioned to “Please for the love of God stop Rangers starting petitions,” properly ridiculing the situation.
The statement deflected attention from fans’ songs about wading “in Fenian blood” and Stubbs being a “Fenian bastard.” And helped by compliant hacks, it distracted from the players’ unprecedented post-match silence, manager Mark Warburton’s disappearance (a major news story in itself for any credible journalist) and a defeat for which no Rangers fan, media lackey or, perhaps most significantly, finance director had budgeted. However, journalists such as STV’s Peter Smith, who virulently condemned Hibernian fans, stayed focussed: “Rangers criticise people who physically and verbally attack their staff, then single out and attack individual journalists…(Rangers claim) their fans only went on to protect staff…that’s not what I saw.”
The statement’s opening sentence was untrue. Thousands of Hibees going “over the top” snatched “the daftest Great War analogy of the weekend” award from Sky’s David Tanner likening police horses on the halfway line to the conflict (Hampden’s recent muddy pitches have hardly been Passchendaele). Citing Sturgeon’s parish was bizarre. And English lambasted has-been ex-hack James Traynor of Rangers’ PR firm “Level 5,” wondering if the statement’s personal attacks were “an honest mistake” or “something more sinister” and asking Traynor (“normally a man who has a lot to say for himself”) “why did you make that stuff up?”
English called the statement “utterly bonkers.” BBC Sportsound producer, Douglas McNeil, said English was “by far the most critical of the Hibs fans actions of everyone on the show.” And English described Traynor’s eventual texted response as “more garbage than a rubbish dump. And there’s the rub. Hibernian fans were primarily responsible for Saturday’s disorder. Only World Eye-Patch-wearing champions could deny that. Rangers rightly “demanded” protection “from the violence.” And Hibernian’s measured, appropriate official response shirked no responsibility for their fans’ wrong-doing.
However, Rangers’ and their media mouthpieces’ borderline-insanity and intermittent dishonesty dilutes sympathy for their grievances. Their trademark supremacism attracts appropriate ridicule and derision but explains why they have to “endure” insults. Their statement also “demanded” protection from “hatred of supporters of other clubs.” Yet they could protect themselves if they weren’t so hateful themselves. Their incessant contempt for others means that even when the moral high ground was theirs, for a change, on Saturday evening, it wasn’t theirs for long.