By SHAUN MILNE
TOP Scots whistler Steve Conroy shrugged off his bravery in stopping crazed Hearts supporters from reaching Hibs star Derek Riordan in Thursday night’s fiery Edinburgh derby saying he feared there could have been a RIOT if he didn’t step in.
The Grade A referee shielded Riordan from the angry fan, grabbing him by the jacket and pushing him away as two others were despatched from the field by raging Hearts players.
But with jubilant Hibs supporters also spilling onto the pitch nearby after Riordan scored what turned out to be a match winning penalty against all the odds, brave Steve only had a split second to decide what to do to stop the match ending in a battle.
He said: “To be honest, it was just a natural reaction.”
He added: “Riordan scored and I ran over towards the touchline to make sure he didn’t go anywhere near the fans.
“Because you’re mic-ed up, the other guys were shouting at me, ‘they’re behind you Steve, they’re behind you’.
“I turned round and there was these three guys heading straight for us.
“I just held my hands out and the guy landed on the ground and he had a burst lip. I’m not sure, but he was running full pelt and skidded into me.
“I think he’s hit my shoulder.
“It was hairy stuff, because I knew right then that there were Hibs fans on the pitch at the point too and we were stuck in the middle.
“All I was thinking was that we had to calm it down fast.
“Fortunately some of the Hearts players stepped up in along with the police and the club stewards or it could have easily got out of hand.
“I’m just relieved it was nothing more dramatic.”
Remarkably Steve, 42, an SFA official for 16 years now, revealed that it was his first ever Edinburgh derby in charge.
He said: “I was fourth official for an Edinburgh derby years ago, but this was my first one in charge.
“It’s certainly one I won’t forget in a hurry.”
Conroy, from West Lothian, began as a ref in 1993 and made a senior five years later. He has been a Category 1 official since 2000, his first SPL match coming at Inverness.
He previously helped save the life of Dumbarton star Chris Boyle after a sickening clash of heads with Hamilton player Robert Walker during a Second Division clash in 2004.
Boyle, then only 21, started suffering convulsions on the pitch after the accident in front of horrified team-mates and fans. He later admitted: “I thought I was going to die.”
However quick thinking Steve – a fully qualified doctor – put him in the recovery position, checked his neck for breaks and stopped him swallowing his tongue until medics arrived on the scene.
Remarkably, he’d done something similar during a Scottish Juniors tie between Ayrshire derby rivals Auchinleck Talbot and Cumnock Juniors as he was working up the grades.
But bashful Steve, who will also be the fourth official for this year’s Homecoming Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Falkirk on May 30, said: “Refereeing is one of the best jobs in the world.
“I guess I’ve just been lucky being in the right place in the right time.”