FRONTLINE police fear a zero tolerance clampdown on Old Firm fans today could leave officers seriously hurt.
Police Scotland have announced a tough stance on misbehaving fans when the two sides meet at Hampden today.
The crackdown follows widespread outrage at the antics of some supporters at last month’s Old Firm clash at Celtic Park, where effigies were hung from a stand.
Police were roundly criticised for making just one arrest inside the ground at the game and making no mention of the effigies in a public statement which thanked fans for good behaviour.
The crackdown will see the biggest deployment of officers “in decades”, with each stand having its own dedicated policing unit headed up by a senior officer.
Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation said: “This apparent change in approach will put more officers in the firing line and has the potential to result in more injuries.
“There’s an inherent danger when using a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach that it creates a heightened sense of anxiety before the match.
“All that does is affect those attending the game, those policing the game and those stewarding the game.”
In recent years, police have sought to arrest football troublemakers in the days and weeks after big games rather than during them.
And Mr Steele said: “Police tactics have evolved over decades to deal with the Old Firm and this does seem to be a sharp turn in the response to the criticism of the way recent matches have been stewarded.
“What we must remember is that Old Firm games and everything that goes with them have implications and effects far beyond just Glasgow.
“It’s not just about what goes on at the ground, it will have implications across the whole of the country.”
Both sets of supporters today will be subjected to detailed monitoring in a bid to prevent offensive materials, flares and alcohol being smuggled into the stadium.
Last month’s Old Firm derby – the first league clash between the sides in four years, which Celtic won 5-1 – hit the headlines after sickening stunts by yobs on both sides of the divide.
Hoops fans taunted Gers with doll effigies in Rangers scarves and an offensive banner, while Gers yobs smashed up toilets at the ground.
In the days after the match a picture of mayhem emerged, including one police officer being bottled on the back of the head before the game had even kicked off.
Joe O’Rourke, general secretary of the Celtic Supporters’ Association, attended a meeting with police and fans representatives ahead of today’s game to discuss policing around the fixture.
He said: “Police have said they will search buses and will be looking at extreme actions and behaviour.
“We hope they won’t be heavy-handed.
“A lot of supporters are intelligent and know the law and know what police can and can’t do.
“We have voiced our concerns and hopefully the police have taken them on board.”
Craig Houston, director of Gers fans group Sons of Struth, said: “Fans have the responsibility to behave in the appropriate manner on both sides. It’s equally important a working relationship with the police can be maintained.
“Over-the-top tactics would be a backwards step.”
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