BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Ann Budge has vowed to ‘clamp down’ on misbehaving Hearts fans after revealing that fighting at this month’s clash with Motherwell has forced the club to spend an extra £50,000 on security and policing at Tynecastle.
The Hearts owner and chief executive also condemned the supporters who it has emerged abused Dundee United manager, and former Hibernian player, Mixu Paatelainen to such ‘unacceptable proportions’ the Jambos are now the subject of an SPFL investigation.
In a ‘half-yearly update’, an angry Budge hit out at the behaviour of a ‘tiny minority’ she admits are damaging the reputation of the Gorgie club because of repeated incidents.
Budge revealed that police had to be called, for the third time this season, when brawling broke out between rival fans outside Tynecastle before and after Hearts’ 6-0 victory over Motherwell earlier this month.
Back in October, the Jambos apologised to Ross County and released a statement condemning the behaviour of supporters after a bus carrying Staggies fans was allegedly attacked outside Tynecastle.
Following meetings with the authorities in the wake of the most recent disorder, the Jambos have been forced into accepting they are now unable to host matches without a police presence, with Budge confessing the money spent on policing will have to be diverted from work to improve the stadium.
Budge explained: “We have made it clear over the past 18 months that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated by the club and have indeed gone so far as to ban a number of our supporters from the stadium.
“We have stressed repeatedly that we want Tynecastle to be a family-friendly stadium, where all supporters can come and enjoy the atmosphere in one of Scotland’s most iconic stadiums, in a safe and care-free environment.
“It was, therefore, with much regret that, for the third time this season, we had to call the police – in this case to the Hearts V Motherwell game – due to rival fans fighting in the streets, in the immediate environs of the stadium, both before and after the game.
“I cannot begin to tell you how angry this makes me, when we are working so hard to put the club back at the heart of the community.
“Instead of talking proudly about the team’s superb performance, or indeed our supporters’ unprecedented loyalty (following) yet another home sell-out, I am instead having to hold meetings with the authorities regarding how we are going to address this behaviour problem.
“The outcome of these meetings is, quite simply, that we have had to agree that we will have no police-free matches, between now and the end of the season. This will cost the club between £40,000-£50,000.
“Apart from the reputational damage that this behaviour causes the club, its employees and its supporters, this is £40,000-£50,000 that we cannot put towards our stadium and facilities improvements programme.
“Allowing a tiny minority of supporters to bring the club’s reputation into disrepute is something we will not tolerate. We will be clamping down on supporters who behave unacceptably. This will mean more stringent checks and more surveillance both inside and outside the stadium.
“While this is very disappointing, we are confident that the majority of true supporters will agree that action must be taken.”
It emerged last week that a formal investigation has been launched to look into ‘unacceptable conduct’ at Hearts’ 3-2 win over Dundee United on December 30.
Hearts were understood to be angered that news of the probe was made public before the club were informed, and Budge has promised to ‘robustly defend’ the Gorgie outfit’s position.
However, she has confessed she cannot excuse the fans who directed abuse at Paatelainen and insists anyone found guilty of similar incidents in future will be ‘robustly dealt with’.
In her message to supporters, she added: “On a similar note, many of you will have seen in the media that Hearts is under formal investigation because of a number of incidents that took place during the recent Hearts V Dundee United fixture.
“I will, of course, robustly defend the club’s position on this matter.
“But there is one area which I cannot defend. In particular, it would appear that excessive verbal abuse was directed at the opposition manager.
“While the manager (Mixu Paatelainen) was personally both understanding and pragmatic in his acceptance that ‘this happens’, it has been reported by the match delegate that this reached unacceptable proportions.
“As a consequence, additional stewarding will be put in place in this area of the stadium, along with video cameras, and any behaviour of this nature, in future, will be robustly dealt with.
“In summary, we will now have a police presence at all matches, along with additional stewarding – all at a significant cost to the club.”