TERRIFIED fans are being driven out of Scottish football grounds by ultra groups who are using threats and intimidation against supporters of their own clubs so they can stage illegal pyrotechnic displays at matches, it can today be revealed.

Key stakeholders in the game in this country are set to discuss how to tackle the increasing use of pyro at games later this month after the cinch Premiership encounter between Dundee and Rangers at Dens Park last week was stopped due to flares being set off by travelling supporters.   

The SFA, SPFL, Scottish government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service all issued statements condemning the actions of those responsible for triggering a fire alarm in the Bob Shankly Stand and forcing the players off the field.

However, the league meeting between St Johnstone and Motherwell at McDiarmid Park in Perth on Tuesday night saw several followers of the Fir Park outfit ignore the authorities’ stark warnings.

READ MORE'Safe pyro' is a myth - only stand closures will snuff out flare shame

The Scottish Football Supporters’ Association (SFSA), who conducted a survey last year which showed the majority of their 70,000 members were opposed to pyro, have been inundated with messages from fans voicing concern over what has become a major issue this season. 

Andy Smith, the chairman of the SFSA, revealed that his organisation has been contacted by numerous supporters who have been bullied out of their allocated seats at home and away games by the hardcore element among their own support and had been so disturbed by their experiences of “mob rule” they had refused to return.

“We survey fans all the time,” he said. “One of the surveys we did asked fans if they were in favour of pyro at football. Of those polled, 43 per cent said they liked to see it and 57 per cent were against it. That is almost 60-40, which would be a landslide victory in an election.

“But when you drill into it further, you find that younger fans tend to be more pro pyro and older fans tend to be against it. It originates from Europe, it is not a Scottish thing. They have seen it happen in Europe and are copying it.

The Herald: “But we have definitely seen this accelerating for the past six to nine months. We are at the start of an epidemic. If it is not addressed properly it will lead to a pandemic. We are on the edge of that. Neds are now coming to football just to let off pyros. And more and more fans are telling us they are getting scared by what is happening.

“The way that pyro works is like this. First of all, fans hide them down the front of their trousers. They are impossible for police and security staff to detect even if they frisk the fans who are carrying them.

“The fans then go into the ground and sit where they are supposed to sit. But they then swap their jackets and hats and put on their balaclavas and sunglasses and go and sit in a different part of the ground.

“It is highly organised. They know if they sit at their allocated seats and set off flares and smoke bombs then the police will be able to identify who they are. So they move. They intimidate their fellow fans in all kinds of ways and take their seats.

“The ultra groups are a club within a club. Ordinary fans aren’t part of it. Ordinary fans are told to bugger off. Only in slightly stronger terms. They then have to go and find themselves a seat elsewhere. It’s mob rule.”

READ MORESFA & SPFL Hampden pyro warning after Rangers fans' flares

Smith added: “One of our members is a season ticket holder at a top flight club. She has her seat in a section of her stadium where the ultras want to be. She has been told to basically just ‘f*** off’ twice this season. She has suffered from mental health issues because of how she has been treated.

“A Rangers fan has told us she has stopped taking her family of four to away games because of the ultras and the flares they set off. She told us, ‘I’m just not going back. No more away games. I am safe at Ibrox, I know the stewards, there is no trouble there. But I am not going to away games’.

“I got an email this week from an elderly Hearts fan who had been at the Viaplay Cup semi-final at Hampden on Sunday with his grandchildren and had left because the idiots beside him were setting off pyrotechnics.

The Herald: “Lots of fans are scared. We have had fans get in touch with us who have been threatened on supporters’ buses going to games as well as inside grounds. The weaker fans are becoming increasingly scared by the anger that is now present in the stands. And I think the situation is getting worse.

“I am a former Spartans player and go to watch their games. Even Spartans have ultras. When they get out of control somebody goes and has a word with them and they calm down. But you can’t do that with the bigger clubs because there is mob rule. Mob rule is firing it.

“Pyro is bringing in the wrong people for the long-term of Scottish football. The future of Scottish football is to move towards where America has been with sport for years now. You need families, boys, girls, women and men, coming in and enjoying. This is killing the chance of that happening.

“The ultras have got outrageous power at some of the clubs and that is an issue. The pyro boom is happening because a certain section of fans have been allowed to break the law carte blanche. It involves a high level of organisation and appalling behaviour.”

READ MOREMotherwell criticise fans for pyro display at St Johnstone

Many fans would like to see Scotland follow the lead of countries like Norway and the United States and introduce “safe pyro” sections - where specially trained supporters can set off specifically selected flares and smoke bombs in cordoned off areas at pre-arranged times if permission has been received from the host club, police and fire service – at stadiums.

Smith, though, is firmly of the belief that that there can be no safe use of flares, flash bangs, smoke bombs, rockets and strobes inside Scottish football grounds after speaking to stadium safety officers along with his SFSA colleagues.

He thinks that the SFA and SPFL introducing strict liability – which UEFA have in place for European matches and the FA have introduced down in England - and issuing punishments to clubs if their supporters use pyrotechnics would be effective in snuffing out the escalating and concerning issue.

“I have spoken with Robbie McGregor, who is the chairman of the Football Safety Officers Association,” he said. “One of the things he told us is that there is no such thing as safe pyro.

“We have done research and many fans definitely do like the spectacle. We have a lot of students who help us out. We have found that anyone under 25 thinks that pyro is great fun. But you are setting off devices which burn at extremely high temperatures and emit toxic fumes in enclosed spaces where there are plastic seats.

The Herald: “The Bradford fire was started by one cigarette end. And there are still wooden stands in Scotland. These devices also emit toxic fumes. So there is no such thing as safe pyro. It is highly dangerous. Even the flares which are called ‘cold’ burn at 600 degrees Celsius. 

“The only thing I can be certain of is that this is going to get worse before it gets better. This needs a full and open discussion and the discussion has to involve the fans, including those who think it’s a good thing. They have to be part of the solution. Why do they want pyro? What is so important about it?

“Education is certainly needed because youngsters think you can have safe pyro. You can’t. For me, education, some form of strict liability and self-policing are the answers. I think we should be developing our own strict liability. When you go to Ibrox or Parkhead for a European game, the sectarian song book isn’t there because UEFA have strict liability. It works.”

READ MOREOvercrowding in Scottish football is 'a disaster waiting to happen'

Smith added:  “I think docking clubs points will make a difference. If clubs are going to lose points because a fan sets off a flare then self-policing then comes to the fore. People say, ‘Well, I could dress up as a Hearts fan and go along to a Hibs match and set off a flare’. Or vice versa. But it is easy to check who somebody supports. That is not beyond the ordinary police officer.

“We need to literally look outside football for solutions, get the government working with football and the public. There are good people everywhere who want this stopped and would like to see punishments introduced. I don’t go to football matches to watch fireworks, I got to watch the football and so do lots of other fans.”

The Herald: