John Swinney has argued “every exhortation was given by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and Rangers Football Club” as he condemned the action of fans as “absolutely reprehensible”.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister spoke out against Saturday’s scenes which led to five police officers being injured and 28 arrests – with officers saying many more will follow.
Thousands of fans defied Covid-19 warnings against large gatherings and massed in George Square to celebrate Rangers winning their first Scottish Premiership championship since 2011.
The square was strewn with hundreds of broken bottles, plastic bags and spent flares after flag-draped fans had been seen attacking each other and launching bollards and other missiles at riot police.
Mr Swinney told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “Every exhortation was given by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and Rangers Football Club for fans not to assemble.
“But unfortunately 15,000 people did so and they started off behaving peacefully and then they descended into thuggish behaviour in George Square.
“I’m limited as to what I can say this morning because there’s an ongoing police investigation but the conduct on Saturday was absolutely reprehensible.
“There was absolutely no need for them to gather, absolutely no need whatsoever, and the warnings were given very clearly… and then some of them went on to behave in a loutish and thuggish fashion in George Square – devastating property, circulating and expressing vile anti-Catholic bigotry in the centre of the city of Glasgow.
“Police officers were assaulted on Saturday, which is completely unacceptable, and obviously that will be a matter which is pursued vigorously by Police Scotland, and so it should be, and there’ll be various actions taken to address the behaviour and the conduct of the fans on Saturday.”
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), tweeted images of injured officers, including broken bones and lost teeth.
He described the scenes as “horrific”, also telling the BBC programme: “There are almost no polite words left to describe how bad the events [were] in Glasgow at the weekend – and indeed the wider west of Scotland.
“Many of the officers who are quite long in the tooth have probably quite rightly described it as some of the worst violence that they’ve experienced in over 20 years of police service.”
He said those criticising the police do not understanding policing tactics, adding: “There is no way that a police service of almost any size could have stopped that number of people moving and gathering – equally there may well be legitimate questions to ask about whether the gathering should have been broken up at an earlier stage, or notices to disperse the crowd should be given at an earlier stage.
“I don’t believe that the club is responsible for what took place yesterday, I absolutely believe the club has got a fundamental role to play in trying to make sure that the behaviour of fans – indeed football authorities, in general, have a role to play in making sure that these kinds of disgraceful behaviours, laying down what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable is addressed in the future.”
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Gary Richie said: “If we’re going to actually take preventative action, it’s going to actually cause a huge amount of disruption to the city, because we will need to close off roads and access points and you need to think about where the crowd, who would still be intent on coming, where they would be displaced to.
“I’m absolutely sure that the policing response that we put in place for the events in Saturday was absolutely the right one.”
He said those that gathered “took a selfish decision against the rules”, adding: “I don’t think the supporters who engaged in that type of behaviour are the types of supporters Rangers would want associated with them… I think they’ve besmirched the great name of the club and I don’t think they should be anywhere near a football ground after this.”
He said the injured officers are now “fine” following treatment but it is “shocking” they were injured at work.
In a statement the club said winning the title was an “historic day” and global support from fans has been “incredible”.
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It continued: “We are grateful to Scottish Government officials, Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland for the constructive engagement in the lead-up to the weekend’s game. We worked closely with the authorities for two weeks before Saturday’s match to ensure a consistency of message.
“Sadly, a small minority of people behaved inappropriately and in a manner not reflective of our support. Some of the scenes were unacceptable and have besmirched the good name of Rangers Football Club. These so-called “fans” should reflect upon the values and ethos of our club, and consider the damage this does to the reputation of the club. We will continue to engage with authorities as required.”
Scottish Football Association president, Rod Petrie, congratulated Rangers on their win but said the scenes in George Square were an “abomination not a celebration”.
“While the majority of the club’s fan base will have celebrated this achievement safely and in line with Covid-19 guidelines across the country and beyond, the scenes witnessed in and around Glasgow’s George Square have brought embarrassment to the national game,” he added.
“Those responsible for sectarian singing, for vandalism and for inflicting physical damage may attach themselves to football but cannot be considered football fans.”