As Hibs fans surged onto the pitch at Hampden on Saturday, and police did their best to hold back the tide, it was like watching a UN peace-keeping force leap into the breach between warring nations or tribes. Criticism has been voiced at the inadequate security at the Scottish Cup Final, but there can be no doubt where blame should be laid. The Hibees who invaded the turf and began to taunt the Rangers side out of their seats were looking for trouble.

Happy to oblige, the Glasgow club's more easily inflamed supporters leapt into the fray. As footage shows, goal posts were ripped out, a police horse thumped, a corner flag used as a cudgel, and a fallen man kicked in the head by a gang. You couldn’t make it up. These, sadly, are only a fraction of the incidents that are a cause of national shame and international opprobrium.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the police had not been there? The lust with which rampagers attacked their foes was sickening. Some, however, were undismayed. Hibs Chairman Rod Petrie described the scene as a display of “114 years of exuberance”, marking the end of the drought since his team last won the cup in 1902. He and other apologists should reconsider. Are they seriously excusing potentially life-threatening criminal acts as a lapse that can be justified by a long-awaited victory? If so, God help us all if Scotland ever wins the World Cup.

Make no mistake, thousands of law-abiding Hibs followers will have been despondent that evening when they should have been celebrating, knowing the club’s reputation had been tarnished. At least one family I know of won’t be going back. One of Hibernian’s finest hours since Victoria’s reign was ruined by the actions of a small but by no means insignificant army of louts. For feral hoodlums to go on the attack, assaulting players and presenting such a threat that Rangers had to be awarded their medals in the dressing room, is the work of neanderthals. They might as well have been painted in woad. As Hibs’ owners will be all too aware, their exploits are a far cry from the image it likes to promote, of a professional, resilient organisation with a noble heritage that brings hope and occasional glory to Edinburgh’s often down-trodden Leith.

It is ironic indeed that Hibernian’s origins lie in the days when young Irish Catholic immigrants had to be kept out of trouble. The team was formed by an Irish priest who knew they needed an outlet for their energy. All credit to that divine for creating a side so spirited and popular it became known as “the team who wouldn’t die”. Such is the romance attached to it that I have heard granite-hearted old men – the sort who would not weep if their toenails were being pulled out – go misty-eyed at the recollection of watching George Best electrify the stadium at Easter Road in the late 1970s. The most elderly can still reel off Hibs’ finest from as far back as the 1950s, demonstrating a pin sharp recall of fixtures and scores that makes one suspicious when they claim to forget it’s their round at the bar.

Hibs, like many clubs, has built its name not merely on its track record, but on legend, history, and associations. It stands for much more than a game, so deeply lodged in the psyche and affections of the capital’s port that it features in novels, films and songs as if it were a physical edifice, as tangible and immoveable as the Scott Monument. Following Saturday evening’s antics, however, the words of The Proclaimers’s plangent Sunshine on Leith, which has become Easter Road’s unofficial anthem, have proved unfortunately prophetic: “My heart was broken, My heart was broken,/ Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow...”

The problem, of course, goes deeper than Hibernian FC. What occurred at the weekend has nothing to do with football. It was a display of naked tribalism. Sporting allegiance was simply the fuse. Those who charged onto the pitch might look back and blame alcohol, but that is not the root cause either. Drink only exacerbates and accelerates a problem that runs throughout the game: a culture that accepts, tolerates and even condones extreme boorishness and aggression in the name of sport.

Though it’s hard to imagine, the men whose fists and feet lashed out might be decent enough individuals. I’ve known some of the so-called pillars of society – teachers, doctors, professors and lawyers – descend into adolescently obscene language and sectarian abuse when fired up by a result. It’s no surprise many women dread the big fixtures, knowing the belligerent condition in which their menfolk will return. Nor is it any wonder the police have begun to prevent serial domestic abusers attending Old Firm matches. In the early hours of Sunday morning when our dozy street was woken by celebrants returning to continue the party, I thought of some fans’ fearful partners. Our brief disruption was as nothing to what some tenements and closes, wives and children, would have been subjected to.

It’s understandable, then, that few women want to attend matches. Would you, after watching what happened? Or would you take your children, or grandmother and risk them being exposed to a situation like that? Even diehard Old Firm friends tell me they avoid their local supporters’ bus and travel by car because of the way match-goers behave before they even reach the stands. Meanwhile the rest of us are anxious about getting onto a train or bus filled with fans, especially when their side has lost.

Is this normal in civilised society? Well, if not normal, it is at least disturbingly common. In the absence of true enemies, there seems to be an innate urge to find someone with whom to pick a fight. Nursing a belief in the idea of them and us gives some people’s existence a purpose. One to one, such a primitive outlook might be harmless. When a crowd of like-minded unthinking folk gathers, however, then it can become nasty.

Pack behaviour has long been understood as uncontrollable, explaining some of history’s most frightening movements and deeds. When acting in a gang, personal culpability disappears, the mood of the herd taking over and directing events. Nowhere is this more frequently and vividly demonstrated than in match-day hooliganism. To listen to some sports pundits, though, you’d think violent, mindless fans are as inevitable and harmless as a summer shower. But they are not, and there is no excuse for any of it.

Behind regular embarrassing headlines, of which the Scottish Cup Final is only the latest, lies a country that is not sufficiently shocked, ashamed or angry. What this says about us is mortifying. That it is considered the responsibility of the authorities to safeguard these events, rather than relying upon the individual’s conscience and self-control, is almost as depressing as the scenes we’ve just witnessed. If the game’s followers cannot be encouraged or taught to keep themselves in check, then football becomes a stick of dynamite, needing only a match to ignite it.