Welcome To Modern Day Scotland
As most of you will have no doubt heard, commentators at sports broadcaster ESPN announced during the weekend’s tie between Berwick Rangers and The Rangers, that they would be contacting the police and the relevant authorities regarding the sectarian singing emanating from some of the travelling supporters at Shielfield Park.
The new Ibrox Club soon responded via Twitter, midway through the second half, by saying “The club is disappointed by certain outbursts of inappropriate singing by a section of the support at Berwick. Our fans have been excellent this season both home and away and we do not want to see this tarnished.”
Now, I must say that I had absolutely no idea the new Ibrox Club were even playing at the weekend until this story broke. In the past, when the old Club were the direct competitors of Celtic, I kept an eye on the scoreline, but nowadays, with the new Club playing in the fourth tier, I do not. However, that does not mean that the story itself should be ignored, because the behaviour of some supporters not only tarnishes their Club, but the image of Scottish Football as a whole.
In the last forty eight hours, manager of The Rangers, Ally McCoist, has said that “They [the songs] are unacceptable and there is no place for them in a modern society.” Whilst I would perhaps criticise his choice of words there, as “no place for them in a modern society” suggests they were acceptable once upon a time, I cannot argue with his overall sentiments. He has since discussed the potential introduction of a list for supporters, highlighting to them what is deemed as acceptable, and what is not. However, Mr McCoist should know, as many people do, that the old Club tried this with their “Wee Blue Book” some years ago, and yet the problem persists.
The Head of Security at the new Club, David Martin, had this to add, “The Rangers supporters have been magnificent at Ibrox and on our travels this season and it was extremely disappointing that a small number of fans chose to engage in inappropriate singing at Berwick on Saturday.”
This, of course, I would also question in some regard, as by all accounts these songs rarely involve “a small number of fans”. One only needs to cast their mind back to a recently televised match at Hampden Park, as The Rangers visited Queen’s Park, to find examples of widespread bigotry within the support. Despite the fact that many will try to purvey an image whereby only a minority of supporters are in the wrong, it is clear that, at least on certain notable occasions, this has simply not been the case. When songs such as “The Billy Boys” are being belted out by thousands upon thousands of individuals, it staggers me as to how anybody, whether they are directly related with the Football Club in question or not, can come to such a rosy conclusion.
However, the true crux of the issue comes the next time the songs are heard, and the time after that, and the time after that, and so on. If Mr McCoist et al are really, genuinely serious about the end of such singing then they must be willing to stand up and condemn it every single time it occurs, not only when a television broadcaster decides it is so bad that they must highlight it, apologising to their viewers in the process.
In saying this, it is not simply those inside the walls of Ibrox Stadium who have a responsibility in addressing this issue, but those within the newspaper offices and media outlets across Scotland. For too long have such events been swept under the proverbial carpet, having been deemed as non-newsworthy, allowing silence to breed acceptance.
On Twitter today, a link to a short opinion piece from the Evening Times Online began to circulate. In this article were the views of two sports writers, Richard Wilson and Matthew Lindsay.
Beginning with Mr Wilson, he states that fans of the new Club have “generally behaved impeccably this season”, before going onto mention how only a “small minority” hold these “extreme views”. Proceeding onto the thoughts of his colleague, we see that Mr Lindsay states, “The conduct of a minority of supporters in Northumberland came out of nowhere.” In addition to this, on Twitter today, in a conversation with one user, Mr Lindsay said “I have been at the majority of Rangers away games this season. Can honestly not recall hearing a single sectarian song.”
Now, perhaps neither of these men were at Hampden Park at the aforementioned Queen’s Park match, or perhaps they, as so many of the sports journalists in Scotland seem to, suffer from predictable periods of sustained deafness, whenever the Ibrox Club take to the field of play. Of course, this isn’t simply a criticism of journalists, but of governing bodies and political figures as well. Whilst UEFA punished the old Rangers for sectarian singing, the domestic bodies within Scottish Football have never handed out such punishment, to either the old Club, or the new Club. Also, let’s not forget that Scotland’s own Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill MSP, discussed the “positive example” set by fans at the much maligned CIS Cup Final of 2011 between Celtic and the now defunct Rangers (one of the worst and most widespread displays of sectarian singing and bigotry for several years), before saying it had been “a great advert for Scottish Football”.
To only blame fans of The Rangers for the entire problem of sectarianism in Scottish Football would be naive and incorrect. I know that, personally, I have come across a small number of bigots within the Celtic support in my time at matches. The presence of such morons can only be condemned, regardless of where they choose to spout their hatred. However, it is clear that the majority of the blame does lie with many of the fans of the new Ibrox Club, who continue to persist with a songbook which would have looked out of place in the Dark Ages, let alone now.
To put this in context, the Daily Record published a list of acceptable and unacceptable songs, sung by Celtic and Rangers fans, in December 2011. Whilst “The Billy Boys” and “The Famine Song” were notable examples of songs sung by the Ibrox support which were to be banned, the equivalent pieces referring to the singing of Celtic supporters were “Glasgow Celtic IRA” and “The Ibrox Disaster Song”. Now, whilst each one of the four songs listed about are wholly reprehensible they are quite different in their prominence amongst their respective supports.
For example, a quick browse on YouTube will see you find several examples of thousands upon thousands singing the first two songs, but you will struggle to find more than one or two videos showing more than a handful of people singing the latter two. In my decade or so of regular attendance at Celtic matches, I have never heard either of the aforementioned songs emanating from our support. Never. I couldn’t even tell you the words of the final song, although I would be the first to say that anyone who does glorify either of the Ibrox Disasters has no place at any Celtic match.
There is also an ongoing debate as to what songs are truly “appropriate” for Celtic matches, albeit they do not have the same elements of sectarianism attached to them. Personally, I have never sung about the IRA at the football, and I have no intention to do so in the future. However, this remains a contentious issue amongst our fan base, and while I hold my own views on the matter, I feel I must respect the opinions of those who disagree with me. In summary, I feel discussion and debate in this regard remain the way forward.
If you browse through the videos of old Celtic matches, particularly those around the height of the troubles in the North of Ireland, you will hear a dramatically different selection of songs from that you do at matches nowadays. However, across the city at Ibrox, you will find that, on the grand scheme of things, little has changed. If we are brutally honest, the singing in Berwick this weekend was far from an isolated incident, even if some may attempt to make it out as such.
With the death of the old Rangers, and the birth of a new Club, came a fantastic opportunity for both the supporters, and the current regime, to take advantage of the clean slate in front of them and condemn, without question, the sins of the old Club. Had Mr Green stood on the steps of Ibrox Park and said “Our new Club is, and forever will be, open to anyone, whether they wish to play for the team, or simply support it. Any fan who indulges in the sectarian singing that blighted the old Club is not welcome here any more”, then I reckon most fans of Scottish Football would have felt a significant amount of respect for that action. However, unsurprisingly, no such statement has been made.
All in all, one can spout as much rhetoric as they like about “things moving forward” and “progress”, but to truly tackle the scourge of sectarianism in Scotland, it can no longer be considered as a regrettable fact of life by those in positions of power, regardless of whether they hold their power within the football authorities, media organisations, or political offices.
The “heads in the sand” mentality, clung to by so many, simply has to change. To abuse someone for the faith you presume they hold, regardless of what that may be, is equally as bad as abusing somebody for the colour of their skin, the country they hail from, their sexuality or any other discriminatory factor. Thankfully though, there are those within the Ibrox support who do agree that things must change, and the sooner they find their voices as an organised body, the better.
Fundamentally, whether someone is a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh, an Atheist, or anything else for that matter, they are just as human as you and I. Fundamentally, whether someone is black, white, or any variation in between, they are just as human as you and I. And fundamentally, whilst differences of opinion are perhaps inevitable within any society, we must be willing to acknowledge such problems openly, and work together towards a brighter future for the generations yet to come.
However, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if very little changes…