GORDON Smith, the former SFA chief executive, last night criticised Police Scotland for their “very slow” response to the pitch invasion at the end of the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden on Saturday.

And Smith, who was at the game between his former club Rangers and eventual winners Hibs at the National Stadium, admitted he was relieved the outbreak of crowd trouble didn’t have far more serious repercussions.

Thousands of the Easter Road club’s supporters forced their way past stewards and police officers and onto the playing surface after Alan Stubbs’s side had come from 2-1 down to win the cup final 3-2 at the weekend.

Several Rangers players were physically assaulted by Hibs fans as they made their way off the field and many of the Ibrox club’s supporters then spilled onto the park and became involved in violent scuffles.

Smith, who played for Rangers in the 1980 Scottish Cup final against Celtic that ended in a riot which led to alcohol being banned from football grounds in this country, was unimpressed with how the police reacted.

“I must be honest, I thought the police were very slow,” he said. “They have obviously not anticipated what was going to happen. They had no inkling. Their reaction to what was happening was very, very slow.

“It’s shocking that Rangers players were assaulted and it only highlights how bad the response to the pitch invasion was. That should never happen.

“I think it was fortunate on the day that most of the Rangers fans were on their way out of the stadium because they had lost. If the Rangers fans had still been there in great numbers at that point then, with the way the Hibs fans have gone across and tried to antagonise them with gestures, it could have been a lot worse.

“Yes, there were a number of Rangers fans who came on and there was a bit of trouble there, but it could have been a lot worse. There were some assaults and some terrible scenes, but it was fortunate that we haven’t had more people injured than actually were.

“In that respect, we have to look at it with some positivity. But it spoiled a great day. I can understand the excitement of the Hibs fans about the whole thing. It was a momentous occasion. But there are two sides to it. Their behaviour should have been a lot better. They have wasted their own great day in that respect.”

The SFA confirmed after the match that they would launch an investigation into the alarming events in conjunction with Police Scotland and Hampden Stadium management.

Smith, who served as SFA chief executive from 2007 to 2010, believes that Hibs are certain to face “strong sanctions” as a result of the disorder when the inquiry has been carried out.

“It is a shame, but clubs get blamed for the behaviour of their supporters,” he said. “You feel sorry for them. What else can they do? They can’t anticipate that sort of thing happening.

“They might want to make strong sanctions. It spoiled the day. It was a great occasion. You don’t want to see fans getting away with things like that. From that point of view, there could be strong sanctions from the SFA.

“The club normally does carry the can. It is unfortunate the club does because very often you think ‘what can they do about supporters?’ Hibs couldn’t have done any more. They couldn’t have anticipated what was happening there.

“But the club does suffer. The sanctions which are put in place could be serious for Hibs. It will be a shame if it does happen when you consider what a great and momentous occasion it was.

“I don’t doubt that sanctions will be taken against Hibernian because of the behaviour of their fans. I accept that not all of the Hibs fans are to blame, but some of them are and they spoiled what should have been a great day. We can’t have that in Scottish football.”

Smith was astonished to witness incidents similar to those which took place following the Old Firm Scottish Cup final in 1980 when a George McCluskey goal in extra-time gave Celtic victory and sparked a pitch invasion.

“Having played in the 1980 final I never thought I would see these scenes again but here we are 36 years later,” he said.

“As I say, it was fortunate that so many of the Rangers fans had left because the Hibs fans had gone down the pitch looking for confrontation.

“If there had been a bigger number of Rangers fans there might have been scenes like 1980 all over again. So thankfully it was not as bad as it might have been, but there is no escaping the fact that it has tarnished our game very badly.”