Today I am holding my head in my hands about the state of Scottish football and the problem of sectarianism in this country. This season we have seen some absolutely dreadful actions and seen a pretty ugly atmosphere surrounding the game. It has also exposed a greater malaise in parts of Scottish society of violence, drinking and hatred.
The situation and tensions in football are not entirely straightforward and not everything has to do with sectarianism.
First, Neil Lennon has been on the receiving end of some disgraceful and shameful bigotry over the years! This is, and has always been, appalling - the way he has been treated by some very bigoted people.
Second, as an entirely separate issue to sectarianism, Lennon’s behaviour as an adult and a manager has been pretty poor. This complicates things.
Third, Celtic, and some of those associated with the club, have made a full contribution to sectarianism this season. Trying to intimidate referees and the SFA. Seeking blue noses under every bed. Trying to draw everyone into their own paranoid murky west coast world of sectarian tension. And all of this has been accompanied with an ongoing narrative that they are more sinned against than sinner.
Last night my Twitter feed told me a long time before some idiot decided to have a pop at the Celtic manager, that there was a constant flow of pro IRA songs in full voice from the Celtic end. ‘Up the RA’ was blaring out across Tynecastle.
Finally, Rangers have some ghastly Orange bigots in their support and a terrible sectarian streak.
Added to this of course are some people on the loyalist side of the sectarian divide decided it was a good idea to send bombs to Neil Lennon and some other people associated with a football club and community they don’t like! Who do these people think they are!! This has been the single most disturbing and most serious episode in the whole affair. I see the police have raided some homes this morning. I hope this leads to finding these people and making some criminal convictions!
I have read a number of Celtic fans this season talking about having to get out of ‘this dreadful league’. They seem to me to want to escape some imagined great Protestant conspiracy against the Irish Catholic community and Celtic Football Club. What absolute tosh!
I always knew bigotry was a big problem in certain sections of the Glasgow Rangers support but what I have come to realise is that there is plenty of bigotry on the other side too. What I have really resented is the way some people seem to be trying to draw the rest of Scotland into this narrow world full of mire. Please don’t!
This is why the ‘ned’ who apparently tried to hit Neil Lennon last night is probably a bigger fool than he will ever be capable of realising. True, Hearts have an association with the Protestant side of the divide but have in recent decades managed to keep the rivalries to standard football tribalism and largely keep out of full blown sectarianism. Doing what that fan did last night just throws Hearts into the mix as well! That saddens me.
Football, around the world will always come with a certain tribalism. Anthropologists can have a field day studying this. There is a place for this sort of thing as a safety valve in society. There is a place for friendly rivalry. There is probably even a place for what the writer Graham Spiers calls ‘90 minute bigotry’. Some of the songs and chants of football teams in the English Premiership are pretty offensive taken out of context.
There is, it seems to me, little point in over simplifying things and there is a place for some of this as a safety valve – but the sectarianism in Scotland is intolerable and has created an ugly atmosphere well beyond football! Something needs to change.
King Alex, our newly re-installed First Minister, has already started to play a role in addressing this problem and I think he can do much good in addressing the problems. This is one issue that unites us across the political divides and across all Scotland as a whole. I also think many, many people associated with both Rangers and Celtic want to solve these problems too. All power to Alex Salmond in this regard!!
One final thought. This is tribalism and has nothing to do with religion any more!!