FRASER Wishart, the chief executive of footballer’s union PFA Scotland, has voiced his grave concerns about the number of players who have been pelted by missiles in the Scottish game this season and warned that clubs risk having their stadiums closed if fans continue to cause unrest in the stands.

The cinch Premiership game between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox on Sunday – a six goal classic which was broadcast live by Sky Sports - was marred by objects being thrown at Parkhead playmaker Matt O’Riley on the pitch and assistant manager John Kennedy in the dugout.

A glass bottle narrowly missed O’Riley after he had scored a first-half penalty to put the visitors 2-0 ahead and Kennedy was also struck by coins as he stood in the technical area.

The Scottish champions described the incidents, which are now being investigated by Police Scotland, as “totally unacceptable” afterwards and stressed they would be raising their “serious concerns” with their city rivals.

However, they were far from freak occurrences.

Hearts and Scotland striker Lawrence Shankland had a bottle opener with a knife at one end hurled at him as he waited to take a penalty during the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle back in February. Hibernian striker Emiliano Marcondes was hit by a missile after opening the scoring in that match.

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Hibs announced last month they were going to be slashing the ticket allocations they traditionally give Celtic and Rangers at Easter Road due to the “abhorrent behaviour and chanting” of their opponents’ supporters.

Their home matches against the Glasgow giants have been marred by large scale pyrotechnics displays in the past few seasons.

The Herald: Wishart has been alarmed at the treatment PFA Scotland members have been subjected to in recent months and stressed that hooligans are endangering the players they are cheering on as well as fans of their own team with their reckless actions. He also stated that yobs could face legal action as well as criminal charges.

“This is obviously highly concerning,” he said. “I have always struggled to understand the mentality of somebody who throws something at another human being just because they are wearing a different shirt from their team. It is just bizarre. You could go down a rabbit hole trying to understand the mentality of these people. Sadly, there are a number of them at most clubs in Scottish football.

“The football field is a player’s workplace. The person who throws something at a footballer wouldn’t accept somebody coming into their workplace and throwing something at them. They have to start looking upon footballers as human beings and workers like everyone else. Then we can maybe make some progress.

“It is what is being thrown at the players as well. It could hit somebody on the head, on their face or in the eye. It could scar them. This is, along with things like sectarian singing, racist chanting, discriminatory songs and the use of pyrotechnics, supporter behaviour that needs to stop.

“Fans need to take on board the damage that they could do to individuals, whether it be their fellow supporters or players. If a player ever gets hit and injured then he will come to me and we will get our lawyers on it. At that point, the gloves are off. The individual responsible will not only be facing jail time, there could be litigation as well.”

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Hibs announced they would not be giving Celtic and Rangers fans the entire South Stand in future after a supporter of the Parkhead club had his hair set on fire by a flare which was ignited by one of his fellow fans during a Premiership game in Leith in February.

A young Dundee fan was burned on the side of his face by a lit device which was thrown during a league game against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park at the end of last month.  

The Herald: Wishart keeps in close contact with players’ union representatives in other countries and he revealed how the increased use of pyrotechnics in the game has resulted in one club in Ireland having their supporters banned from attending two matches and players in Cyprus threatening to go out on strike.

“There was a game in Ireland this season and a Bohemians player got a pyro thrown at him,” he said. “It hit him and burned his arm. Bohemians got prevented from having any supporters at their next couple of games by the IFA and they accepted it.

“There was also a bad incident in Cyprus this season. A player got hit by a pyro and it damaged his hearing. I think it is only going to be short-term problem, I think he is going to be okay. But the players over there are going nuts about it and are demanding better health and safety. There is talk of a player strike over there.  

“People think that folk who are concerned about pyro at football are just old fogies. We’re not. These things are very serious. There have been meetings between the governing bodies and the authorities about tackling pyro use this season. But it continues.

“People think these things are harmless. Throwing a coin at a player? So what? Throwing a pyro from the stand onto the pitch? So what? But these things are dangerous to players. And supporters as well. They could hit their own supporters. We saw the kid the other week at the St Johnstone v Dundee game who got hit by a flare.”

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Celtic closed down the safe-standing section of Parkhead for two games in 2017 after the safety advisory group at Glasgow City Council – which issues the certificate the club needs to stage games at their stadium - voiced concerns about flares being lit underneath banners by the ultra element among their support.

Wishart fears that grounds could be closed unless decisive action is taken to stamp out growing disorder in the stands at matches across the country and protect players and fans.

“If we are not careful then the local authorities and the government are going to step in,” he said. “The governing bodies won’t take any action against the clubs. But the government, the police and the local council will if they are not careful. That is somewhere that we don’t want to get to. That is the worry, that is the danger.

“We think football is different. It isn’t. We think football players aren’t employees. They are. We think that games aren’t normal events. They are. They are run by the same rules. We shouldn’t dismiss the prospect of local councils looking at this as well.

“That is my concern – if the fans don’t stop throwing objects and pyrotechnics and singing racist and sectarian songs then somebody somewhere is going to say: ‘Why are we putting up with this? We wouldn’t put up with this at any other event.’ That is a real worry for the clubs. Fans need to start behaving.”

The Herald: