Glasgow Rangers football club are an institution, similar to their great rivals across the Clyde, Celtic; despite the obscene wealth available to English clubs there are few clubs in Britain bigger than both and not many throughout Europe, amazing stadiums, worldwide fan base, European history and unequalled success in Scotland, no other country in Europe with a population of 5m has two clubs the size and stature, and they represent, what the late, great, Tommy Burns once said, ‘a cause and a community’, but that is where the comparisons end.
Last weekend Rangers were presented with the SPL trophy at Ibrox; we are in the middle of a pandemic and social distancing is of the essence yet their supporters gathered at Ibrox in their thousands and then marched to George Square in the centre of the city, there 15,000-20,000 of their fans took over the place.
Union Jacks were in evidence everywhere in a city which has rejected rule from London and the Saltire flies proudly; street drinking was engaged in on a massive level despite Glasgow City Council bye laws banning it; the behaviour of the assembled crowd made it apparent that drink wasn’t the only substance taken; statues all around the square were climbed on, pissed on, vomited on, or spat on; the crowds that had walked from Govan to George Square did so in an aggressive manner, almost like the fascist Lazio fans who walked from the Merchant city to Parkhead two years ago.
It wasn’t a carnival approach but a threatening and violent one; anyone who might have looked ‘different’ was attacked, this mob traditionally are, ‘up to their knees in fenian blood’, but immigrants, homeless and gays might have satisfied their hatred despite some singing, ‘I’d rather be a Paki that a ‘Tim’, a form of reference for Scottish Catholics!
Anyone who watched the scenes from George Square on Sky News would have been shocked; it started off peacefully enough but then descended into an orgy of thuggery, gangs of youths attacking others, all Rangers fans by the way, individuals attacked by groups, savage, vicious, beatings handed out to the victims, knocked to the ground and kicked about the head, beer bottles thrown, shop windows smashed, young guys and girls urinating in public; young girls especially with just Union flags covering their modesty, oblivious to the passing shoppers as the main shopping area in Glasgow became a virtual war zone, a den of iniquity, it was pathetic, and of course no respect for anyone, the mob culture took over, and the massed ranks of so called football fans didn’t regale us with the classic Freddie Mercury, ‘We are the Champions’; no, the assembled bigots rattled out the regular Ibrox ‘hymn’ sheet, ‘the Sash’, ‘Derry’s Walls’, ‘Up to our knees in Fenian Blood’, ‘The Famine is over why don’t you go home’, ‘Do you want a dinner Bobby Sands’.
It’s disgusting, xenophobic, anti-Irish, sectarian bigotry; it’s like turning the clock back 300 years to the Battle of the Boyne, even further to Martin Luther, Calvinism or local icon John Knox; the hatred for Catholicism is manifested every other week on the terraces of Ibrox; for 100 years they wouldn’t even sign a catholic player, the bigotry knows no bounds, the unfortunate thing is that the young people who were involved in the disgraceful scenes in George Square, last week have been born into this crap, I mean how could young 18 year old boys and girls I seen become entangled in this disgusting hatred unless their parents and families bred it into them.
What sort of society in the 21st century should have to tolerate communities who hate others because of their religion or Irish background? What do the Scottish Government, media and society have to say about it all?
We hear all the time about racism but have you ever seen a Government Minister or the media calling sectarianism out for what it is? Did you ever see footballers take the knee because someone was called ‘a fenian bastard’? Look at the abuse James McClean gets in England where they are supposed to be above all this crap; he is targeted all the time because he’s an Irish catholic from Derry who refuses to wear the Poppy which is his right.
How many times have you heard someone say, ‘ah he brings it on himself’? That’s exactly what they used to say in Glasgow about Neil Lennon. Always blaming those who were attacked rather than the attacker. That’s always been the way in Glasgow and Belfast for a century or more and we could probably add in Gaza now.
Anti-Irish and catholic bigotry has been part of life in Scotland and the 6 counties since famine times. Both Belfast and Glasgow had a small catholic population at the start of the 18th century, in Glasgow there were more anti catholic societies in the city than there were Catholics. Over the next century rural Catholics flooded into Belfast and après famine over on the boat to Glasgow, but they weren’t welcomed with open arms by the indigenous Scots and sectarian bigotry became a byword for both cities.
The shipyards became major employers but only if you were of a certain religion, discrimination was rampant, ‘what school did you go to’ became the most important question. Sectarian pogroms in Belfast in 1920 set the tone for the new partitioned statelet, in Glasgow in the 1930’s razor gangs were rampant, the protestant ‘Billy Boys’ the most vicious, cut throat blades weren’t the preserve of Sweeney Todd.
At Celtic-Rangers games throughout the century battles would take place regularly on the terraces and around the Gallowgate culminating in the Hampden riot of 1980; in ‘69 another pogrom from the Shankill onto the Falls set the scene for the modern era, but times ‘were a changing’, the demographics of both Belfast and Glasgow were showing that the majority/minority stats weren’t as vast; up to the 1980’s it was dangerous for Celtic fans walking through Glasgow after a game, similarly in Belfast for nationalists walking through the city centre with a GAA top would be risking assault.
The sectarian bigotry in both cities and indeed in places like Portadown or Ayr has been an ongoing problem right through the 20th century and into the new millennium, that it is ignored by the media and Government sources is part of the problem, or even worse is the cop out we hear all the time, ‘both sides are as bad as each other’.
How many times did we hear that here in the Republic back in the 70’s/80’s when people were discussing the conflict in the 6 counties. When Rangers are challenged about their fans singing, up to their knees in fenian blood’, what is the response? ‘but sure Celtic fans sing about the IRA’? Now whether people know much about Irish history or not if they checked they would find out that the Irish origins of the football club which is what defines it and the songs they sing are about the famine, ‘Fields of Athenry’; ‘Grace’ about the marriage in 1916 in Kilmainham; ‘Boys of the Old Brigade, about the Flying Columns in the War of Independence; none of the songs has anything to do with anti-British, Protestant, sectarian bigotry, all reflect periods in time and part of our history, but still media and apologists will spin out the old line about mad sectarian bigots on both sides, all the time allowing Rangers football club and their fans the freedom to continue to cause mayhem and spew their sectarian hatred as witnessed in George Square last week
Amazingly last week was the second time in just two months, back in March when they clinched their first title in a decade they did exactly the same thing and the Scots ‘polis’ just let them get on with it, now you’d think surely it couldn’t happen again but once more the Glasgow ‘polis’ adopted a softly, softly, approach and let them turn the centre of the city into cesspit of hatred and bigotry.
On an even bigger scale back in ’08 Rangers played in the UEFA Cup final in Manchester and 100,000 caused mayhem in the centre of Manchester; similarly back in ’72 they played in the European CWC final in Barcelona and once again wrecked the place, there is a mentality that exists that needs to be examined, it’s a form of fascism, superiority over people of a different religion or colour, it stems from a colonial history of empire, the ‘we are the people’ mentality they espouse is to remind others they perceive them as second class citizens, it’s disgusting, pathetic, evil and wrong.
In case anyone thinks I’m writing this article from a partisan position of bias then it goes without saying, it’s not. I absolutely deplore sectarianism, along with racism it’s the most abhorrent exhibition of bigotry imaginable. I’m a Catholic by birth but it’s with a small ‘c’, equally I have loads of protestant friends, similarly with a small ‘p’. I’ve played golf with many friends who call home ‘Londonderry’ at Dunfanaghy over the years who ‘kicked with the other foot’ as they say, never once had we a bad word between us.
One of our best friends at Dunfanaghy was Brian Craig, as big a Rangers fan as you would meet, on match days we would meet up and he would have a royal blue golf jumper on as we had emerald green. We would give him golf balls with a Celtic logo as he would hand us blue tees. Après golf we would head to the Carraig Rua to watch the game, that’s the way it should be, and I’m sure there are thousands of Rangers fans who are like that in Scotland but the problem is that it’s not a minority who engage in the sectarian shit, it’s a massive problem within their club and followers worldwide, in fact even last week as the players celebrated in Ibrox they were filmed singing, ‘fcuk the Pope’, don’t know what their foreign catholic players made of that, maybe the north’s Steven Davis could explain it.
I understand sectarianism better than most; I grew up immersed with it in Belfast, in fact you can’t do otherwise, it’s in your DNA but you have to get it out of your system, you have to work at it. My parents were country people so they didn’t have time for any of that nonsense, but like everyone in Belfast we lived in a divided society, it was a sectarian statelet as James Craig and Brookeborough declared, ‘A Protestant state for a Protestant people’, it defies comprehension.
I had friends killed by loyalists in the 70’s; Jimmy McCallum was only 16 when killed by a UVF bomb in the pub he was working in ’71, six months later Norman Campbell was shot six times in the head by the UDA on a building site he was working, that was sectarian bigotry at its most vicious, they weren’t killed for anything else only their religion, neither were involved in any of the armed groups, just killed at their workplace which should have been neutral and safe, probably murdered by guys who never worked a day in their lives.
During the conflict everyone killed and no one has clean hands, but while British soldiers and the IRA were ‘at war’ and combatants, the loyalist UVF and UDA killed 1000 Catholics for no other reason than only their religion, republican militants they killed might be about 20 out of the total.
In the 70’s/80’s the ‘Shankill Butchers’ led by Lenny Murphy went on a sectarian spree which was beyond comparison. They kidnapped and killed up to 30 Catholics, but not only killed them but they used butchers knives, hatchets and spades to cut their throats and try to decapitate them, the book ‘Shankill Butchers’ by Martin Dillon is the most horrific reading you will ever come across.
How anyone could descend to those levels but that’s what sectarianism and racism does, whether it’s loyalist paramilitaries, Klu Klux Clan, white Afrikaners, Nazis, fascists, Zionist Israelis, they see their ‘enemy’ as not being human and they can treat them as such, that’s the problem with ideologies that sees a white supremacy lording over Catholics, Blacks, Arabs, Africans, in a sense we might be grateful that in Scotland they limit their sectarianism to 90 minutes on a Saturday although many a young Celtic fan had his throat slit walking through Bridgeton, and indeed just three years ago
I brought an English friend over to a Celtic-Rangers game, his first time in Glasgow, after the game we were having a beer with a German friend in a pub near the Merchant City; just around the corner a gang of Rangers fans attacked a Celtic pub and slashed three guys with Stanley knives with a guy around our age almost killed; like the Irish guy at Anfield, you could just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sectarianism is evil, we know all about it in the 6 counties just as much as Scotland. I know there are some bigots within the Celtic support in Ireland and Scotland just as much as there are bigots within nationalism here, but thankfully it’s a minority, the hatred we witness at what they used to call ‘Old Firm’ games comes from the Rangers support, why, it’s impossible to understand. On the Shankill Road or the stands at Ibrox in Govan you will find 5 year olds singing ‘up to their knees in fenian blood’, what sort of parent would allow their child to do that.
Generations have been immersed in this sick bigotry, why would anyone hate another human being because of their religion, even worse, why would anyone kill another person because they had a different religion, it’s disgusting and makes you wonder about all the religious wars down through the centuries, what was it all about?
Over the years society covered it up, the media in Scotland didn’t recognise Irish migrants as a cultural identity, if as was usually the case a Celtic fan was attacked or killed the media would say, ‘football hooligans’, they would never say he was catholic killed by Rangers fans.
In Belfast if the IRA killed an RUC or UDR man the media would say ‘a protestant killed’, if loyalists killed a catholic the media and RUC would announce, ‘reason for death unknown’, it was blatant but subtle avoidance for the obvious reasons. I’ve experienced sectarianism personally, I’ve mentioned it previously but you can’t say it enough to expose the bigots, living in a loyalist area I went up with protestant friends to the 12th bonfire, a bigger lad stopped me going near it, ‘f**k off you fenian bastard’, I was 8 years of age. Don’t know if he was defending the Protestant Reformation or King Billy riding his white stallion across the Boyne but sectarianism was embedded in his mind, even at 14.
In the mid 60’s a group of us went across Belfast to watch Glentoran play, a dozen token ‘fenians’ in the midst of a majority loyalist support but we never had any trouble, but then they weren’t Linfield, and no offence to big Paul Smyth who I golfed with in Dunfanaghy and is a good Linfield guy, but ‘the Blues’ are the Belfast equivalent of Rangers and Windsor was always a cold house for nationalists, although Letterkenny’s Anthony Gorman had a lucrative career with the perennial Irish league champions, don’t know if like the Dub Pat Fenlon, did he wear a Celtic t-shirt under his jersey while training at Windsor?
In 2005 along with 30 others we spent a week at Ypres and the Somme visiting the WW1 graves. It was organised by the late Glenn Barr, essentially by the UDA. Our group was mixed, Catholics, Protestants; Donegal/Derry; a British soldier and UDR man; UVF and IRA ex-prisoners; a SF organiser; HSE CEO, Teachers, Writers, Poets, Musicians; it was the most eclectic group ever. The week was spent visiting graves and debating conflict, sectarianism and division. The religious mix was never a subject even when the UVF and UDA leadership landed to talk peace after yet another feud in Belfast. Meeting a skinhead muscle bound Johnny Adair in a pub in Ypres was like having lunch with Hannibal Lector.
So there is hope. This week for the first time the Scottish Government have come out and condemned Rangers and their fanbase. Nicola Sturgeon said she was ‘disgusted by Rangers fans that rampaged through Glasgow’. SNP deputy First Minister John Swinney said they ‘indulged in vile anti catholic bigotry’. The ‘Scotsman’ newspaper, a broadsheet not known for radical thinking, called for action to end the ‘superiority syndrome’ which even former Manager Walter Smith referred to. The Justice Secretary in Scotland, Humza Yousaf, called on Rangers to ‘sack any player or staff member found guilty of anti-Catholic hatred’.
The Scots Green Party leader Patrick Harvie said Rangers fans ‘were a bunch of thugs’. BBC Scotland said ‘it was disgraceful’ and SFA President Rod Petrie called it, ‘an abomination not a celebration’. Even Rangers in a limp grovelling statement said, ‘some of the scenes were unacceptable and besmirched our name’. The main tabloid the Daily Record, known colloquially as the ‘Daily Ranger’ by Celtic fans, said, ‘sectarian songs, violence, vandalism, disgraceful scenes in the middle of a pandemic’.
Glasgow and Scotland like the 6 counties is a changing place, while the country as a whole remains predominantly protestant, 5 to 1 ratio, in Glasgow itself the catholic Irish population is between 30% and 40%. Traditionally Scotland was Labour territory with the Irish strong supporters, but the surge of the SNP has changed the whole demographic.
Previously with a Tory background the Irish vote wouldn’t go near the SNP for fear that Scotland would end up like a version of old style Stormont rule. But the modern SNP has morphed into a new progressive party which dominates Scottish politics, appeals to young people, and is preparing for Independence, the Tory and Labour vote has died a death and the Irish vote has transferred to the SNP.
It creates a new Scotland and with Independence and back within the European community, hopefully there will be a Government who will tackle the issue of sectarianism head on. The Irish community in Scotland have now taken their place in society as equal participants, heavily involved in politics, law, media and the business community. If the words of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon after last week’s disgraceful scenes in George Square are setting a path for a future independent Scotland then hopefully the spectre of unbridled sectarianism might be tackled at long last.
It won’t be easy, just as preparing for a unity referendum in the 6 counties won’t be easy. We are all aware of the behaviour of the Orange Lodges followers during Battle of the Boyne celebrations; the 11th night bonfires; the siege at Drumcree; 3 children burnt in their beds in Ballymoney; Neil Lennon sent bombs and bullets; and Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell’s house attacked with petrol bombs as his wife and children slept inside, like last week’s events that’s not celebrating your culture, that’s out and out sectarian bigotry which must be stamped out.
Who is to blame? We tend to think that it’s unemployed working class youths who left school at 15, uneducated, illiterate maybe, going by some of the slogans painted on walls; city kids from dead-end rough estates as you get the world over but throw in the sectarianism you find in Glasgow. But is it only confined to them? When the Republic played England in ’95 at the old Lansdowne the English fans caused a riot as they did across Europe at the time. When those arrested appeared in court they weren’t unemployed working class kids but lawyers, accountants, businessmen, yuppies living in £1m pads in Chelsea.
Reading about Peter Lawwell reminds me of Consultant Dr Muhammed Sattar in Beaumont hospital, I owe my life to him. He brought me back to life ten days after a brain haemorrhage, when I met him later and thanked him profusely for saving me, he replied, ‘God saved your life’! A few years previously as he worked to save someone else’s life in Dublin, bigoted racists attacked his home in Leicester with petrol bombs and his wife, daughter and two sons were burnt to death.
Lawwell’s family could have faced a similar tragedy, this time bigoted sectarianism, there is no place in 2021 for it, how we eradicate it is for society to decide but it can’t be allowed to fester any longer and create another generation of bigots.
Paddy was born in Belfast with Donegal and Tyrone parents. He spent the 70’s in Long Kesh. He has been going to Paradise since the Benfica game in Nov. 1969. He lived in Donegal for 30 years but now lives in Galway. He returned to University at 50 and became a secondary school teacher of history and English.
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