SCOTLAND’S football clubs have been told they must do far more to prevent the illegal use of pyrotechnics by fans at matches - and warned they could face stadium closures if they fail to tackle the escalating problem.

Football across the United Kingdom has seen a significant increase in crowd disorder since Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted and supporters were allowed back through the turnstiles in 2021.

Statistics released by the Football Policing Unit – an organisation that operates in England and Wales – in September showed that incidents involving pyrotechnics at games in the 2021/22 season had risen by 394 to 729. 

The situation in this country is every bit as bad.

A nine-year-old Celtic supporter was taken to hospital for medical treatment after being struck and injured by a flare at the Champions League match against Spanish giants Real Madrid at Parkhead back in September.

The Glasgow club have issued indefinite bans to fans who have been found guilty of pyrotechnics offences and have also shut the safe-standing section of their ground in the past.

READ MORECeltic to 'shut down' Green Brigade section for Cup tie following Rangers display

However, it is clear the repeated warnings which have been issued and severe punishments that have been meted out by both clubs and the football authorities are not deterring the ultra element within the fanbases of Scotland’s clubs from breaking the law

Celtic, Hearts and Rangers were all issued with fines by UEFA this season for their fans setting off pyrotechnics at their Champions League and Conference League matches.  

Supporters of both Celtic and Rangers lit multiple flares in coordinated displays before their teams’ Viaplay Cup semi-finals against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen respectively at Hampden earlier this month.

Kick-off in the Edinburgh derby at Easter Road on Sunday was delayed after smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch by both Hibernian and Hearts fans.

The Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Articles (Scotland) Act 2022 which was passed by MSPs at Holyrood last year gives Police Scotland the power to search people they suspect may be carrying pyrotechnics outside of stadiums on match days. 

However, David Hamilton of the Scottish Police Federation has stated that clubs have to play a far larger role in the ongoing battle to make grounds safe for all spectators - or face the consequences.

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“Having pyrotechnics within a sporting ground has been illegal since 1985,” he said. “The Scottish Police Federation lobbied the Scottish government to give them additional powers and they were granted when the new fireworks legislation was introduced last year.

“They give police officers the power of search away from football grounds. Before they were restricted to the ground. We wanted to be more pro-active and to be able to act if we received intelligence and now we can do so. It is a helpful addition to our armoury of powers.

“But what we really need is for the football clubs themselves to be much, much stricter on the use of pyrotechnics within grounds and search regimes to be much, much tighter. Sometimes they have not been as tight as they should be.

“I would also really like to see a clear and unambiguous statement from football clubs that pyrotechnics are absolutely unacceptable within grounds and that people found with them will get bans, if not life bans, if they are caught with them.

“We now have the legislation in place, which is helpful, but we need to see a renewed and invigorated response from the clubs. They have to make it clear there is no place for pyrotechnics in football.

“If the clubs are not going to take responsibility then maybe we need to start looking at their ground safety certificates and asking if they are actually fit and proper organisations to be holding events like that.

“These certificates are there to ensure audiences can watch games in a safe environment. If you have got a proportion of your fans setting off flares and making it unsafe and you are not pursuing them actively enough then I would say there is a real question mark over the ability of clubs to be protecting people.

“That is a last-ditch resort. But our position is that everything should be on the table. What we need to see is clubs dealing very firmly with those who use pyrotechnics. There is a role here for clubs to play.

“People sometimes feel a bit cowed because it is big clubs, big money and a lot of people are involved. But we need to get over that. People cannot be put at risk going to watch a game of football. They need to be able to do that safely.”

Celtic were informed by the safety advisory group at Glasgow City Council that the renewal of their safety certificate – which is necessary for the operation of their stadium - was at risk after flares were lit underneath a banner display at their final league game of the 2016/17 season against Hearts.

Hamilton accused Scotland’s clubs of being unwilling to spend the money needed to extinguish the use of bangers, flashbangs, flares, rockets, smoke bombs and strobes by fans inside stadiums.

“There were very disturbing stories about weapons being stashed by fans who were let into a ground early to arrange a flag display before the game earlier this month (around a dozen items, including a baseball bat, were found stashed in a bin by police and security staff before the Premiership match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox),” he said.  

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“The clubs need to get on top of this and show leadership and direction to their fans. They have to make it clear what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and deal with fans who don’t comply with regulations.

“These grounds have good CCTV systems. Clubs know where the people who set off flares and fireworks are seated. If there is a willingness to tackle this they can do it. It is not hard. I suspect it comes down to them not wanting to spend the money doing it.

“I don’t understand the reluctance to deal with this. We need a reset. What do we want Scottish football to be? Is it going to be family friendly? Or is it going to be a fire and explosive risk? That is where it is rapidly going. There is far too much of this and it needs to be nipped in the bud.”

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Hamilton also feels that supporters can play their part in rooting out the troublemakers. “It needs to become socially unacceptable for people to be letting off fireworks at football clubs,” he said. “There needs to be a degree of self-policing by fans.”

Pyrotechnics can result in injury and even death if they are used inside football stadiums and can also cause breathing difficulties for supporters who have conditions like asthma, bronchitis or ephymsema.

Hamilton is concerned at the attitude of those who think they are an essential part of the match day experience and are oblivious to or don’t care about the serious harm which they can potentially cause. 

“There seems to be a complete denial of the fact they are dangerous products by some people,” he said. “There is still a bizarre attitude in some sections of society. Some people think it adds to the atmosphere.

“People seem to think they are sparklers. But they burn at a temperature of 2,000 degrees Celsius. Some of them are mild explosives which detonate. When you break it down, bringing incendiary devices into a stadium is absolutely nuts. I feel sorry for a lot of the groundstaff who have to deal with extinguishing the devices safely.

“There have been many instances of people being burned or badly injured by them. We gave evidence to the parliamentary committee and talked about how some of our officers have had permanent hearing loss as a consequence of pyrotechnics. We have seen many examples of people with respiratory conditions being very badly affected by the smoke that comes off them.”

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He added: “It is not just inside grounds where it happens. People going to grounds and leaving grounds do it. We have seen them thrown into gardens next to kids’ toys. We have seen people become alarmed at railway stations when flash-bangs go off because they think it is a terrorist attack.

“They can cause a lot of social anxiety and social problems as well as injuries both inside and outside grounds. At the end of the day, they are pretty high-powered explosives.

“Around the world, there have been some horrendous deaths, including deaths of children, caused by people setting off flares in football grounds. These injuries and indeed deaths are not uncommon and they are entirely avoidable.”

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The use of flares and smoke bombs at football matches is endemic in many countries in mainland Europe – where the ultra culture is far more established and pyrotechnics are easier to buy – but Hamilton has seen evidence that it is on the rise in Scotland. 

“We are dealing with a strange cultural phenomenon and need to educate people,” he said. “This idea that anyone can just trot up to a football match and let off a flame in a stand is bizarre. But it continues.

“It is beginning to grow as a problem again. It is creeping in more and more. We can see from the number of incidents which are reported that it is rearing its ugly head again. It is something that we need to tackle robustly because people are going to get injured, people are going to be maimed, people are going to get killed."

An SPFL spokesman said: "Our member clubs invest heavily in CCTV systems, stewarding and policing to prevent all forms of unacceptable conduct at matches, including the hugely unwelcome use of pyrotechnics.

"They have the potential to be extremely dangerous, and clubs have engaged directly with fan groups, and on club media, to try and stamp out their use at matches.

"Very regrettably, the use of pyrotechnics is on the rise in many leagues across Europe and we fully support the efforts of our clubs and police to stop the very small minority of individuals who engage in such irresponsible and wholly reckless behaviour."