Crisis talks called to ease tension between Celtic and Rangers
The Scottish government yesterday called an emergency summit meeting involving Celtic, Rangers, police and government officials following the events surrounding Wednesday night's ill-tempered Old Firm game at Celtic Park which saw three Rangers players receive red cards and Ally McCoist, the Rangers assistant manager, and the Celtic manager Neil Lennon having to be separated at the final whistle.
Stewart Regan, the Scottish Football Association chief executive, said that “the inflammatory and irresponsible behaviour” during Celtic's 1-0 win in a Scottish Cup fifth-round replay had caused “a degree of faith in Scottish football (to be) lost”.
The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, was already planning to hold a conference in response to the outbreak of disorder around the previous Old Firm game on February 20 after which 16 arrests were made at Celtic Park with a further 229 in the Glasgow area.
After Wednesday's events and 34 arrests in and around the ground, that meeting has now been brought forward and will probably be held in Edinburgh next week. Salmond said: “In terms of how people's actions have an impact on society, the fans of football matches are representatives of their clubs, the players at football matches are role models for society, and the management of football clubs have a particular responsibility.
“They are people in positions of responsibility and they must — absolutely must — behave responsibly.”
Wednesday night was a new low in a troubled season in Scotland, already marred by a referees' strike in November prompted by a lack of respect for match officials from players and coaches, and in which Lennon picked up a hefty six-match touchline ban after being sent off at Hearts.
Rangers' Steven Whittaker and Madjid Bougherra were sent off during the match, both for two yellow cards, and after the final whistle their team-mate El Hadji Diouf also received a red card for a second booking after confronting referee Calum Murray.
There was a fracas as the players went up the tunnel at half-time, and at the end Lennon exchanged angry words with McCoist which provoked another bout of pushing and shoving between the coaching staffs.
Regan has launched an immediate SFA investigation and said Wednesday night had “deeply embarrassed” the Scottish game. “The Scottish FA categorically condemns the inflammatory and irresponsible behaviour throughout last night's replay,” he said yesterday.
“We have already launched an investigation into all incidents that occurred and will do everything in our power to ensure there is no repeat. The events at Celtic Park, however, run deeper than the Scottish FA's Disciplinary Procedures. The unedifying sight of
two of the country's most recognisable and respected coaches engaged in an angry confrontation was not only unsavoury but exacerbated an already incendiary atmosphere inside the stadium and throughout the west of Scotland.”
McCoist, Lennon and Diouf are likely to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute but the Celtic manager claims he bears no ill-will to McCoist.
“We've both got a lot of experience of this fixture and know that sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things can be said,” Lennon said.
“It is a passionate game and both of us want our team to win. However, we were still able to sit down after the game and, as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed.”
Meanwhile, Celtic captain Scott Brown has aimed another verbal blow at Diouf following the Parkhead scrap.
Brown, in a statement on the sports social network website, www.talentnation.com, said: “Diouf was obviously trying to wind the boys up throughout the game and he even had a pop at me at half-time.
“To be honest with you, I didn't even know what he said because our fans were chanting so loudly. But I doubt it was anything flattering! That's three Old Firm games he's played in now and he's not really done anything to change the game.
“I know he's played in derbies down south, but the Old Firm clashes are different to anything any player can experience.
“Maybe it's frustration and that's why he's getting in people's faces, but the game isn't about him or me.
“It's about which team wins and, fortunately, we are the ones coming out on top at present.”
Brown added: “Obviously the match was full of controversial moments but that happens in games. I heard the police have urged for the games to be played behind closed doors but I think the Old Firm games need to be open to everyone.”