The More Things Change…
The League Cup Final of 2011 came soon after the so called ‘Shame game’ at Celtic Park during which three Rangers players were sent off and the away support indulged in an orgy of sectarian and racist singing. The media and Scottish Politicians went into mock-shock mode and bleated that something must be done about the big bad ‘Old Firm.’ This ‘Old Firm’ tag was used despite the fact that Celtic FC and their fans were guilty of nothing more than actually being at the ‘shame’ game. So we trotted along to Hampden safe in the knowledge that a posse of Politicians and churchmen were in the main stand to observe the game. What we witnessed that day was truly astonishing. Despite knowing they were under the spotlight, the Rangers (in Liquidation) fans treated them to bile such as the ‘Famine song’ and the ‘Billy Boys’ throughout the game and generally disgraced their club and the sport. Astonishingly, SNP Justice Minister, Kenny McAskill, stated after the game that it had been a great occasion and a credit to Scottish football. Those of us who follow Celtic were astounded at his apparent deafness to the sectarianism and racism which poured from the Rangers end for most of the game. The Police too had promised not to tolerate such vile behaviour that day and yet stood back and did nothing. They even praised the fans for their behaviour on the day! Why are sections of Scottish society deaf to this dreadful racism and yet feel it appropriate to over react big time when the Green Brigade march to Celtic Park?
Let me take you back about 90 years. In 1924 Celtic were losing their way. Bill Struth was building a powerful and occasionally brutal team at Ibrox who were determined to dominate Scottish football. His tenure at Ibrox coincided with the Club’s decision to ban Roman Catholic players from representing the Club and is a major stain on his record. Rangers came to Celtic Park that year and beat Celtic 2-1 in a game described by the press of the day as being marked by Rangers decision to stop Celtic using any means necessary including the ‘most crude of tactics.’ What stuck in the throat of the Catholic Press of the time was the manner in which the Police stood and watched the away fans indulge in sectarian singing and made no attempt to intervene. To modern Celtic fans the language used in the press report from the Catholic Observer is as amusing as it is biased but the message, that the blue hordes seem to get away with anything, is clear. Consider this colourful description of the Rangers fans of 1924…
‘On the terraces at the Dalmarnock end on Saturday was congregated a gang, thousands strong, including the dregs and scourings of filthy slumdom, unwashed yahoos, jailbrirds, night hawks, won’t works, buroo barnacles and pavement pirates. All of them in the scarecrow stage of verminous trampdom. This ragged army of insanitary pests was lavishly provided with orange and blue remnants and these were flaunted in challenge as the football tide flowed this way and that. Practically without cessation for 90 minutes or more the vagabond scum kept up a strident howl of the ‘Boyne water’ chorus. Nothing so designedly provoking, so maliciously insulting, or so bestially ignorant has ever been witnessed even in the wildest exhibitions of Glasgow Orange bigotry. Blatantly filthy language of the lowest criminal type assaulted and shocked ears of decent onlookers. There was no getting away from it, chanted as it was by thousands of voices in bedlamite yells. The stentorian use of filthy language is a crime against the law of the land. Policemen lined the track and listened to the hooligan uproar, yet nothing was done to stop it. The Scandal was renewed with increased violence on London Road after the match. Is it possible that the blue mob can do just about anything and get away with it? Prompt official steps were taken to suppress and prosecute the Green Brake Club lads (Celtic fans) who dared sing ‘Dear little Shamrock’ in Paisley Road. Yet thousands of foul-mouthed and blasphemous Orange ruffians are free to run amok in the East end of Glasgow! How do you account for it?’
(Glasgow Observer, 1st November 1924)
Amid the hyperbole and insulting language used to describe the Rangers fans of the period there is an underlying feeling that the ‘Blue Mob’ were allowed to sing their bigoted songs with impunity while the ‘Green Brake Club Lads’ were subject to harsher treatment if they sang Irish ballads. Those of you who witnessed the last ever Old Firm game at Celtic Park in April 2012 when Celtic won 3-0 will recall the vile songs pouring from the Oldco Rangers end that day as the Police watched and did nothing. Compare this to the inexcusable denial of freedom to walk the streets the Green Brigade suffered at the Gallowgate and you would be tempted to ask if things have changed much since 1924? Why is a law which most people thought would target sectarian and racist behaviour at football being used to persecute fans guilty of nothing more than occasional expressions of Irishness or Republicanism? Neither is a crime yet the ‘Pest Control’ section of Strathclyde Police harass them vigorously. Simultaneously there seems to be little action when it comes to tackling the ongoing problem with the Newco away support who regularly treat us to songs that would not be out of place in the dark and ignorant days of 1924.
The 2011 League cup final and the 1924 Old Firm game had one thing in common. In both cases chanting of the vilest kind was ignored by the Police. The 1924 press report puts it like this, ‘Policemen lined the track and listened to the hooligan uproar, yet nothing was done to stop it.’ If laws designed to eradicate such chanting at football are to be worth the paper they’re written on then they must be applied fairly and aimed at the actual offences they seek to target. Expressions of Irishness are not sectarian despite some attempting to claim this. Criminalising any such expressions is in itself an act of intolerance. In the case of the Green Brigade, it seems to me that Strathclyde Police are using a sledgehammer to crack at nut when it would be better aimed at the real bigotry which still hangs around sectors of Scottish society like a bad smell.