Peterhead manager Jim McInally has expressed his sadness after his team’s 4-0 victory over East Stirlingshire was overshadowed by allegations of racial abuse, writes Joshua King.
The target of the abuse, the visitor’s 17-year-old defender Jordan Tapping, was in tears as manager John Coughlin substituted him after 77 minutes to protect him from vile comments and monkey chants from behind Balmoor’s south goal.
Police Scotland have now launched a criminal investigation into the allegations.
The Blue Toon boss spoke to the Buchanie on Monday morning. He said: “Football fans seem to think they’ve got the right to call you anything they want, they think they’ve got the right to abuse people.
“He’s just a young boy and I’m sad.
“I’m not even talking about football now because this has nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with football. It’s totally uncalled for.
“Whoever has done this has shamed the club but in my eyes that shouldn’t sully the good name of the Peterhead supporters.
“I think the world of the Peterhead supporters. I’m proud of them and there’s no way they should be tarnished by one person who shames the club.”
The incident happened in the second half when East Stirling were defending the south goal.
At several points, Shire players approached referee Gavin Duncan who stopped the match to speak to Balmoor stewards.
Players from both sides were seen consoling and applauding Tapping as he left the field of play in tears.
Mr Duncan included the incident in his match report and East Stirling will contact the SFA and SPFL to raise the matter.
After Police Scotland launched a criminal investigation, a police spokesperson said: “Racial abuse in any form is not only completely unacceptable, it is also criminal.
“We will be liaising closely with both football clubs to thoroughly investigate this incident which, at this time, would appear to have involved a small minority of people.”
Police are said to following positive lines of enquiry and Tapping’s team mates Graeme McGregor and Chris Townsley have come forward to help identify the perpatrators.
All matches at Balmoor are filmed for a highlights programme and, once the referee alerted the stewards, the cameraman focused on the spectators behind the south goal for identification purposes.
Club officials will now review the footage.
Any supporters who may have heard the remarks have been urged to contact Police Scotland on the 101 non-emergency number.
Both clubs have made formal statements, and the Buchanie understands senior Peterhead officials unreservedly apologised to Tapping on behalf of the club immediately after the game.
The Peterhead statement said: “Peterhead FC reacted swiftly to the alleged racist comments at yesterday’s game against East Stirling.
“The club would like to emphasise the very strong anti-racism policy laid down by the club.
“We will continue our investigation in an attempt to source the alleged perpetrators. We sincerely apologise for any upset this has caused.”
On Sunday Peterhead FC’s safety officer Gavin Mundie spoke to the Buchanie.
He said: “I was made aware of racial abuse, directed at an East Stirlingshire player, by the match referee, and I went to investigate along my head steward.
“Unfortunately although some members of the public confirmed they had heard comments coming from the area behind the Catto Park goal, they could not identify individuals involved.
“The admission price to a football match does not entitle people to behaviour in such a disgusting manner.
“I trust all decent members of the public that attend Balmoor to assist the match day safety team in helping identify individuals that can’t or won’t comply with the clubs standards so that Balmoor can remain a welcoming venue for all irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation or ability.
“All the officials at the club are extremely upset that the positive work the club does within the community with Grampian Racial Equality and Show Rascism the Red Card Scotland has been compromised by the moronic behaviour of some individuals.”
Peterhead’s statement came after East Stirlingshire issued a strongly-worded statement early on Sunday.
The statement on their website said: “East Stirlingshire Football Club is aware of incidents which occurred at yesterday’s SPFL Scottish League Two match at Peterhead which involved a small number of spectators directing racial abuse at our player Jordan Tapping.
“The club can confirm that these incidents caused extreme distress to our player and this led to our coaching staff substituting the player from the field of play to protect him from any further possible recurrence of this abuse.
“East Stirlingshire FC will lend every assistance possible to Peterhead FC in trying to pick out those responsible.
“Above all, though, the club has offered its complete support to Jordan and his family after what has been a very distressing episode.”
East Stirlingshire secretary Tadek Kopszywa added: “Jordan was visibly upset by the incident and great credit is due to his team mates and our coaching staff for dealing with the situation at the time it happened.
“If any young idiots who go to football matches and think that making racist comments is just a bit of fun, then they might care to consider the emotional impact this has had on a 17-old school kid who is trying to make his way in football, before they open their mouths.”
Mr Kopszywa stressed that the Tapping family do not want the incident to be ‘simply dealth with behind closed doors.’
Peterhead’s Unacceptable Conduct Policy states that anybody found to have made discriminatory remarks or gestures could be indefinitely banned from matches involving Peterhead FC and reported to the police.
Peterhead have made a direct appeal to any member of the public that witnessed the incident to contact Police Scotland on the non-emergency number 101 or the club office on 01779 478256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.