Rangers have criticised an inquiry into the Scottish Cup Final pitch invasion and subsequent violence at Hampden Park in May this year, after it found a minority of both Hibs and Rangers fans were behind the trouble.
Commissioned by the Scottish FA following the disorder, the report found a group of around 200 Hibernian fans sparked trouble by inciting and goading of the Rangers support in the wake of their 3-2 defeat. With the report also highlighting that the same number of Rangers fans invaded the pitch in retaliation to confront them on the pitch – sparking the violent scenes.
The inquiry also highlighted Hibernian fans having ‘direct physical confrontation’ with Rangers players – which also included the ‘hurling of obscene language and sectarian abuse’.
Rangers had issued a statement in the aftermath of their cup final defeat criticising the police and stewarding for failing to do their job to an acceptable standard, but the Scottish FA report found that it wasn’t possible to state the exact number of officers needed to prevent what happened and that the only way the pitch invasion could have been prevented was by the erection of physical barriers or a very large number of police officers, on a scale that would have been ‘wholly disproportionate to the overall risk’.
Sheriff Bowen added: “The fans who proceeded to the west end of the stadium engaged in abusive taunting of Rangers supporters, with a view to generating a hostile reaction.
“There were incidents of willful, direct and abusive defiance of lawful instructions given by police officers at the time of the pitch invasion. None of this can be justified on the basis of high spirits.”
With the Scottish Government facing continued opposition over the Offensive Behaviour in Football Act, Sheriff Bowen called on Holyrood to discuss whether it should be a ‘specific statutory offence” to go onto the pitch at a football stadium.
Sheriff Bowen said: “I acknowledge that this is a matter which requires full debate. It could be argued that the existing provisions of both common and statute law are sufficient, and that fear of conviction of a statutory offence would not have affected the actions of the large numbers who invaded the pitch on May 21.
“On the other hand, the very existence of a statutory prohibition might serve to send home the message that proceeding on to the field of play is likely to result in automatic sanction under the criminal law.”
However, the report faced criticism within minutes of publication from the Ibrox club as they demanded an ‘urgent meeting’ with the Scottish FA chief Stewart Regan, the compliance officer Tony McGlennan and the author of the report, Sheriff Bowen.
A statement published on the official club website, read: “It is imperative that we gain insight into the underlying basis for the findings in the report given that we consider it contains a number of factual inaccuracies and contradictions.
“It is right that the club gives the author and requisitioner of the report the opportunity to comment on our concerns prior to making a conclusive statement.
“It is to be hoped that the Scottish FA, as they begin considering this report and the appropriate punishments, remember vividly what actually occurred on Saturday, May 21, 2016, at the national stadium when Hibernian fans were allowed to invade the field of play and attack Rangers players and staff, who were offered little protection.”
The report also reported that the police were focused on the Rangers support inside Hampden Park, because of the use of pyrotechnics and the singing of sectarian songs.
Bowen highlighted: “There was evidence that in the course of the match sections of the crowd in west stand merited greater police attention than those in the east. This was because of the discharge of pyrotechnics and the singing of sectarian songs.
“That said, when the pitch invasion occurred the overwhelming majority of Rangers supporters behaved properly and many simply left the stadium. A small number allowed themselves to be taunted by the Hibs fans to the point of invading the pitch for the purpose of physical confrontation.”
Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan, in a statement on the governing body’s website, said: “The Scottish FA is grateful to Sheriff Principal Bowen for producing such a comprehensive independent review of the circumstances immediately following the William Hill Scottish Cup final.
“The Board received first sighting at its meeting yesterday and we will consider the report in greater detail in early course. We are pleased SP Bowen acknowledges that the processes and procedures of the match operation were robust.
“Nevertheless, we will work closely with the other parties involved to ensure the commission’s findings are clearly and consistently understood.
“In the meantime, the Compliance Officer will now proceed with the investigation into the cup final from the perspective of the Judicial Panel Protocol.
“We are committed to ensuring that there is no repeat of the scenes that detracted from this showpiece occasion and will give full consideration to the recommendations set out by SP Bowen in respect of the Scottish FA’s future planning of major sporting events under our jurisdiction.”
A total of 58 supporters have been arrested so far, with the Rangers support making up the biggest proportion of those charged with offences by Police Scotland.