BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has ordered fans not to “cross the line” during this evening’s powder-keg clash against Celtic following a no-nonsense club statement.
The Tynecastle outfit have vowed to track down and ban any troublemakers after a Ross County supporters’ bus was allegedly attacked following Saturday’s Premiership fixture between the sides.
The behaviour of a mindless minority of fans was described as “appalling and, in some cases, criminal” before adding “we will certainly never accept it as ‘an inevitable part of the game’ here at Tynecastle.”
The conduct of supporters will be under the microscope this evening when Celtic visit the capital for the League Cup quarter-final, continuing what has become one of Scottish football’s most volatile fixtures.
When the sides last met in Gorgie – a 4-0 win for the Hoops last November – Hearts owner Ann Budge was moved to criticise both sets of supporters following scenes of vandalism and unacceptable abuse.
And Neilson has emphasised the need to create a balance between creating an intimidating atmosphere and “scaring” people away from Tynecastle.
He said: “We want Tynecastle to be a great environment for families to come and a difficult environment for oppositions – loud and energetic – but there’s a line that can’t be crossed.
“We need to make sure we are moving forward and can’t have things happening like at the weekend and previous weekends.
“I think the statement from the club was great, rather than accept it. We can eradicate this from the club and we want to make this a great venue for people with kids, wives and everyone to attend.
“People should not be scared to come to Tynecastle.”
Hearts, under the Budge regime, have underlined their desire to create a more family friendly atmosphere, previously citing the American soccer match-day experience.
Neilson added: “I don’t think that good work will be undone. The easiest thing in the world would be to sweep this under the rug but we want to highlight it and make sure it gets sorted and that the fans understand that we are trying to stop this.
“These things won’t change overnight but it is important we highlight it and show we are trying to make a difference. I hope the fans understand that and try to help us.”