In those days there was no strict segregation and while I was slightly uncomfortable among the majority of Hearts fans where I stood. They were mainly soberly dressed, mature, middle-aged men of a type similar to their middle-class peers seated in the stand section behind them.
As a fairly regular visitor to Tynecastle it was my experience that in this central part of the ground arguments with visiting fans, let alone scuffles were very rare.
The covered terrace opposite the main stand was another matter and the trouble there usually came at the rear, in line with the half way line, where the opposing young bucks usually congregated.
On this—cold and rainy night if memory serves me correctly—singing was the catalyst to trouble, which if I recall started with the Sash, joined by the Soldier’s Song (could have been the other way round) and then the crowd spilled onto the playing field to escape the pitched battle that ensured with fisticuffs, boots and beer cans/bottles flying.
As usually happened in such events the terraces parted instantly leaving a large empty space caused by the non-belligerent adults fleeing the battlefield. This rapid exodus crushed the youngsters who normally stood at the front causing injuries, and it was not uncommon for limbs to be broken when this happened. The fittest hurdled the barrier onto the safety of the playing field.
The referee stopped play and the players retreated to the tunnel area while first-aid crews and eventually ambulances tended to the injured. These services were helped by the Celtic physio’s and Big Jock strode across the pitch to use his influence in restoring order and helping the injured.
Now to my memory the game was stopped for about a quarter of an hour but according to the Scotsman’s report of the game it was only stopped for 6 minutes as 100 police officers invaded the terracing and restored order.
What I can speak about with certainty—as it is indelibly etched into my mind though not mentioned in any press reports—were the actions of Jock Stein, and the reaction of many among the respectable Hearts fans in the main stand and enclosure where I stood.
As order was restored and the stretcher-bearers were removing the last of the casualties across the pitch towards the tunnel area and waiting ambulances one young Celtic fan dropped his scarf from a limp hand that dangled over the stretcher he was on; Jock, walking back to the dugout picked it up and trotted on ahead to place it alongside its owner with a comforting pat.
This action provoked an astonishing outburst from a large number of the douce Edinburgh citizens in the stand and around me in the enclosure. They shouted their fury to the effect that Jock was giving comfort to a Glesga keelie, a wee Fenian thug, etc.
Jock was having none of this and with jaw jutting out he strode up to the front of the stand remonstrating with the mob; making it clear by gesture and voice that could not be heard above the clamour that he was simply helping an injured and innocent young lad.
What followed has stayed with me ever since. Like rowdy school children in an empty classroom being confronted by the sudden appearance of an angry headmaster, the howling Hearts fans shut up and sat down.
This was truly remarkable and it demonstrated something that has puzzled me since; that one person can give out an aura that is tangible and powerful enough to quieten angry men.
I don’t believe in miracles or spirits or other supernatural phenomena but the power of Stein’s personality and his righteous rage was simply overwhelming, and truly awesome to see.
Stein saw what most decent people would see; a vulnerable laddie hurt by the actions of thugs in need of help, while his critics saw a bloodied thug who should not have been helped, but handcuffed. However when Stein forcefully mimed his point to them they seemed ashamed and sat down quietly.
I was reminded of this incident when Neil Lennon was attacked at Tynecastle and the media hype about the crowd trouble—not the attack on Neil—at that game, like the earlier Rangers cup tie at Celtic Park reached fever pitch. How would these exaggerating hacks have described the crowd trouble on that night in 1972?
As it happens there was hardly anything made of it at the time; only a short piece on the front of the Scotsman and a brief mention in the match report.
Back in 1972 no sectarian summits were convened, no senior policemen demanded new laws passed to give them greater power, and no politicians milked the events at Tynecastle to mask the real problem of sectarianism in society. The events of that March night do not even register on a Google search and I had to visit library archives to check that my memory didn’t deceive me.
So we have moved on a great deal since 1972 and there has been much progress for the better, but the attack on Neil Lennon and the televised image of a Hearts fan casually stubbing a lighted cigarette out on a Celtic fan before the match that night tells me that there is still a long way to go. Then again we have come a long way in defeating sectarianism—or to be more accurate anti-Irish racism and anti-RC bigotry—in the last 40 years.
Reflecting in a historical vein it is also good to see that in the 40-years prior to 1972 sectarianism had lessened. In 1932 the attitude towards Irish RCs and their descendants in Scotland was poisonous. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland annually endorsed their desire that the government ship us all back to Ireland, as we were an inferior race that threatened the purity of their superior Scots race.
During those troubled times Edinburgh saw a meeting of RC’s prior to a 1935 Eucharistic Congress threatened by a riotous mob, 10,000 strong, which stoned and overturned the buses of the attendees in Morningside. The following year 1936 saw John Cormack’s Protestant Action Society—which like the CofS wanted to ship us back to Ireland and close RC schools—gain 31% of the votes cast in Council elections in our capital city.
So things are getting better and we should not be slow to recognise those good people from the indigenous Scottish Protestant community, who in the past have rejected bigotry from the pulpit, orangeism and sectarianism, and instead welcomed Irish RCs and their descendants with tolerance and generosity.
I am reminded that my hero of that night in 1972 came from a staunch Scottish Protestant background, but he rejected the bigotry of some of his peers and embraced our community. We welcomed him with open arms and it was our gain, the rest as they say is history.
So think of the majority, those like Big Jock, and not the minority, such as the pathetic clown Jock Wilson when sectarianism in Scotland is under review.
Who knows, but if progress is maintained over the next 40-years might we reach the stage by 2051 where the televised and self-confessed attacker of an Irish RC in Edinburgh might be found guilty by a jury of his peers?
By 2051 we may even have a Justice Secretary who will have the courage to admit that he/she can hear a bigot choir of thousands singing of their desire to be up to their knees in our blood and how we should go home to Ireland.
And maybe, just maybe, events such as the attacks on Neil Lennon might not be laid at the doors of RC schools? If they still exist that is.