In defence of pitch invasions
Hibernian’s 3-2 Scottish Cup Final victory over Rangers at Hampden Park has sent every football chief and sports commentator in Scotland into a frenzy. Not because it was the first time Hibernian had clinched the trophy since 1902, but because of the reaction of the team’s jubilant supporters.
In the aftermath of the match, journalists and Scottish Football Association spokesmen were furiously competing to convey their outrage at what were described as ‘contemptible’, ‘appalling’ and ‘disgusting’ scenes, and a ‘scandal reminiscent of the 1980s’. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Hampden Park was razed to the ground. In reality, what they were all so appalled by was a pitch invasion.
The final whistle signalled Hibs’ first Scottish Cup victory for more than a century, and, inevitably, it was also the signal for Hibs fans to go a bit crazy. Tens of thousands of them swarmed past the stewards and police and charged on to the pitch, attacking six Rangers players in the process. They then made their way to the Rangers end and a few hundred Rangers fans responded by invading the pitch and battling with the Hibs fans for a few minutes. Order was restored when police deployed mounted units and formed a line across the halfway line – everyone was back in their seats within 15 minutes.
There is, of course, no excuse for violence. But the reaction to this event was hysterical, and oddly preoccupied with the pitch invasion itself. One writer for the Scottish Sun described the ‘madness’ that ensued as fans ‘raced on to the pitch’, ‘tore up turf’ as souvenirs and – most shocking of all – ‘goaded Rangers players’. In a statement, Scottish Labour made no mention of the fighting at all, simply saying ‘questions must be asked’ about ‘how fans were able to make it on to the pitch’.
But it was obvious to anyone at the game, and those of us who watched at home, that the vast majority of this unrestrained, uncontrolled mass of Hibs fans were on the pitch to celebrate a long-awaited victory, not to cause trouble. Describing their actions as ‘disgraceful’ is nothing but moralistic posturing, revealing a low view of football fans.
This snobbery is also reflected in Scottish legislation. Under the Football Offences Act (1991) it’s illegal to enter the ‘playing area’. Like the media, the law makes no distinction between the violent minority and the jubilant majority. Football fans – all of them – are an undifferentiated, unpredictable mob, and those who invade the pitch to fight are just as guilty as those who invade the pitch to celebrate.
This is a great shame. A celebratory, exuberant pitch invasion is a wonderful thing to see. Football stadiums are among the last places where such uninhibited outbursts of emotion and excitement are still possible. Enforcing such heavy-handed restrictions will only kill the exciting, unpredictable nature of the sport. As a Hibs fan myself, I’ll remember that day for Hibs’ win and the jubilant fans.
Blair Spowart is a writer and a student at the University of Edinburgh. Follow him on Twitter: @blairspowart