Bedecked in club red, white and blue colours and carrying union and Ulster flags, hundreds of fans left their homes contrary to Scottish Government pandemic restrictions and marched on Ibrox Stadium and Glasgow’s George Square to sing sectarian songs and let off smoke flares.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured above right, said the crowds were “infuriating and disgraceful” and could delay the end of the Covid lockdown.
Under current guidance, public gatherings are banned and a maximum of two people from two households are allowed to meet outdoors.
Football games are taking place behind closed doors at present with no fans allowed in the stadiums.
However, following Sunday’s game in Dundee, where arch rivals Celtic failed to gain the necessary points to keep them in the title race,.
Large numbers of police were drafted in as crowds of fans took to the streets.
Some supporters let off flares while others chanted and waved flags outside Ibrox.
In Glasgow city centre fans flocked to George Square to celebrate being crowned Scottish champions.
In a tweet, Nicola Sturgeon, who recently attracted criticism for her remarks about Celtic travelling to Dubai for training during the lockdown, congratulated Rangers on the title win, but added: “Gathering in crowds just now risks lives, and could delay exit from lockdown for everyone else. If those gathering care at all about the safety of others & the country, they will go home. In a later tweet she said: “I share folks’ anger at this.”
The First Minister added it was “infuriating and disgraceful” to see the crowds “risk our progress” in dealing with the virus after everyone complying with lockdown rules has made “so many sacrifices”.
Police Scotland Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland said officers made arrests and fixed penalty notices were issued for breaches of the Covid restrictions, disorder incidents and the use of pyrotechnic devices [smoke flares].
He urged supporters to make their way home.
The PA news agency reported that by 21:30 police officers had encircled a depleting group of fans at the base of the Scott Monument in George Square.
David Hamilton, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said he was “appalled” by the scenes.
He told the BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme that officers, many of whom have not been vaccinated, were placed in “jeopardy” by the supporters’ actions.
Mr Hamilton said he understood why people were frustrated by the Police Scotland initial lack of response but said that was an operational matter for the force, which would have considered factors such as wider public order issues and road safety.
He highlighted that it can take up to 20 minutes to issue a fixed penalty fine for breaches of the Covid restrictions.
Mr Hamilton said: “If we were to ticket everybody in George Square yesterday we would still be doing it just now.”
But he also criticised Rangers for being “silent” and failing to address the mass gatherings on its social media accounts.
He added: “There is a responsibility on the club here. It should not take the government to have to ask the club to tell people to go home. That should have been something the club should have taken on themselves proactively.”
The club tweeted or retweeted more than 50 times in the hours after they were crowned champions, but did not address the mass gathering of fans.
Social psychology expert Professor Stephen Reicher said the celebrations were “completely predictable” and “in some ways encouraged”.
The St Andrews University academic said it was “disappointing that the club did not have a dialogue with the fans about how one can celebrate but in ways that are safe, in ways that don’t endanger the public, that don’t endanger and, indeed, don’t endanger Scottish football”.
He warned that it undermined the argument for safely re-opening mass events including the Euros championship in Scotland.
Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White described the celebrations as “absolute chaos” and questioned what plans were in place to prevent mass gatherings.
She told Good Morning Scotland: “They [the fans] should never have been allowed to leave Ibrox and march into the city centre in large numbers. It could have been stopped there and then.
“People have lost loved ones [in the pandemic] and people can’t visit loved ones and yet this is being facilitated.”
Rangers fans in Northern Ireland also breached lockdown rules, with a large crowd gathering on Belfast’s Shankill Road to celebrate on Sunday evening.
Police Service Northern Ireland urged people to celebrate “at home safely and within the current health regulations”.
Earlier on Sunday Scotland’s justice secretary urged fans not to put lives at risk by flouting lockdown rules.
Scotland’s Justice Minisater Humza Yousaf also warned that Uefa would be paying “close attention” in anticipation of the European Championships coming to Scotland.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called the actions of fans outside Ibrox on Saturday “completely wrong”.
He added: “We’ve all done so much to get the virus rates down. I understand passions run high with football fans, but it clearly didn’t match what we expect people to do during a Covid period, while many people still can’t even leave their homes.”
One social media post late on Monday afternoon, accompanied by the picture of flag-waving, drum-beating supporters being “escorted” by motor cycle police from Ibrox to George Square to continue their “celebrations” said: Police accompanying a law breaking mob into #Glasgow city centre. No evidence of explaining #Covid rules. No attempts to break up crowd. No road blocks. No police horses breaking up the gathering. What a disaster.”
Unsurprisingly, there were also calls for Iain Livingstone, Chief Constable of Police Scotland, pictured above right, to resign.
His deputy, DCC Malcolm Graham branded the scenes “disgraceful”.
“I also strongly condemn the lack of support from Rangers Football Club over the messages we repeatedly asked them to put out to persuade fans not to go out celebrating and encourage those who did gather in large numbers to return home.”
Police made 28 arrests and seven people were issued with fixed penalty notices or will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal.
Reasons for arrest included assaulting police officers, breaching coronavirus regulations, disorder, use of flares and sectarian breaches of the peace.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, deputy first minister John Swinney said Rangers had a “duty” to tell fans not to gather and messages from them on Sunday could have helped disperse the crowds, adding: “The silence from Rangers was deafening.”
Chief medical officer Gregor Smith said there’s now a “real risk” of a rise in Covid-19 infections following the gatherings.
Swinney warned this could mean “difficult decisions” regarding lockdown easing.In a statement, Rangers said they had initiated open dialogue with key stakeholders in respect to a potential league win.
The club said: “We have proactively engaged with our local MP, the justice minister, the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the SPFL in relation to maintaining a cohesive message regarding public safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The club added that they understood the “jubilance” of their fans and highlighted “frustration” over the closure of stadiums.
The statement added: “We reiterate the message from our manager, Steven Gerrard, who highlighted that fans should adhere to government guidelines: stay safe, socially distance and look after each other in this difficult time.”
The club said they would continue talks ahead of future milestones to “maintain a cohesive message in relation to government guidance”.
DCC Graham added: “We’ve been planning for the conclusion of the football season for some time since the league was allowed to resume and the sport is in a very privileged position given the restrictions seen across the country for almost a year.
“It was very clear through the lack of messaging that Rangers did not take seriously their responsibilities in terms of seeking to persuade their fans to celebrate safely and responsibly.
“I commend the officers who delivered a policing operation which was entirely consistent with our approach throughout this pandemic to maintain public safety and minimise disorder, disruption and damage to property.
“They did this faced with considerable danger, all of which was completely unnecessary and avoidable.
“Where large numbers of people gather at an unplanned event such as this we use established crowd control measures to ensure we are keeping the public safe and manage those who are refusing to disperse.
“We will work with football clubs, local authorities and the Scottish Government to ensure we do everything we can to persuade people that none of these scenes can be repeated as the football season continues.”
Politicians are traditionally loathe to criticise Rangers or Celtic for anything they do for fear that the fans will withdraw their support from them at elections, the next of which for the Scottish Parliament will take place in eight weeks’ time on May 6. The media too is reluctant lest they are banned and boycotted by the club, which is what happens at the moment to The Dumbarton Democrat in the SNP’s Secret Scotland.