Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

Celtic F.C.The charity Nil By Mouth has called on Scottish football clubs to accept “strict liability” when the SFA next puts it up for debate and a vote.

The organisation founded by the fiancé of Mark Scott, the Celtic fan murdered at Bridgeton Cross by the psychotic Jason Campbell has long concentrated its guns on football fans and was a vocal supporter of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which has done little more than criminalise free expression and political singing of a sort much of Scotland doesn’t like.

This statement came on the same day that Stewart Regan is all over the papers trying to push the issue. This suggests more than a little bandwagon jumping going on.

Before we know it, politicians who’ve not been in the papers for a while will be all in favour … just watch.

I want to be clear that I have no issue with Nil By Mouth per se.

How could I have?

The organisation exists to combat sectarianism and hate in our society, but I have a problem with the way in which they and other organisations – including Police Scotland – conflate these matters with legitimate political expression … the kind that supports Irish nationalism as opposed to, say, Scottish independence.

I support Scottish independence, and it infuriates me how some people can make all sorts of allowances for one whilst making none for the other. Granted, that isn’t as widespread as the anti-Irish sentiment which courses through many supporters of the union, but it is definitely there, in small ways, and in big ones too like the SNP’s much hated law.

I get tired of trying to educate people on this.

It seems that some folk just don’t want to bloody well hear it, and I find their attitudes entirely dishonest as a result of that.

Nil By Mouth’s statement was picked up by, amongst other media outlets, The Scotsman, where Andrew Smith’s opening paragraph was “Anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth has backed calls to introduce strict liability rules to Scottish football, with campaign director Dave Scott stating yesterday that “people are fed up to the back teeth” with behaviour that the group maintains fuels religious bigotry.

Let’s separate the fact from the fiction here.

First fact: Celtic fans do not engage in sectarian singing.

There is one song – a so-called version of Roamin’ In The Gloamin’ – who’s lyrics are so excruciating, waxing lyrical about how good it is to “be a Roman Catholic” that it’s certainly offensive (especially to Catholics) but even it doesn’t openly stray into hatred although it is mind-numbingly ignorant.

It’s the kind of thing that once passed for wit and which someone probably made up in a pub fifty years or so ago without any thought as to what the lyrics actually mean.

Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

It’s a collection of words with no coherence.

There’s a reference to St Patrick, who was born in the 5th Century, John Knox, who was born in the 16th Century and to King Billy, who was born in the 17th Century. I don’t know how you feel about a song that mentions all three drawing no connection whatsoever between them, but to me it’s the trademark of barely literate goons.

Most people realise this, and find the song crawl-under-the-bed embarrassing.

I haven’t heard it sung, by more than handfuls of drunk arseholes, for years.

There’s a chant you used to hear a lot, but which has also been on the wane for years, referring to dirty orange people of questionable parentage; I recommend those offended by that speak to the Orange Order, to which it’s a clear reference.

They are a sectarian organisation and a secret society, rabidly unionist and affiliated with the far right of British and Irish politics.

That chant is generally used in relation to referees, a number of whom have been proven to be members of said secret society, and whose professional ranks behave more and more like one with every year that passes.

The key term is “Orange”.

Not Protestant.

There is no sectarian connotation to that chant.

Then there’s the H word, which I rarely use and which has never been a reference to any religious affiliation but more about a set of behavioural norms; rioting, nazi salutes, spreading fear and taking part in general disorder … things for which a certain Scottish club’s fans were once famous. It’s also about having no respect for traditions, or loyalty, or lacking a certain moral character.

I have had long brainstorming sessions with people on this subject, and on the etymology of the word itself, tracing it back to Attila and to the Germans in World War I and 2 … and I’m always asked, in the context of Scottish football, who I regard as fitting the bill.

I once answered thus;

I consider Graham Souness to be one, but Trevor Steven not. I know for a fact Maurice Johnstone is one, but never thought Brian Laudrup was. Davie Provan, Charlie Nicholas and Jim Traynor are definitely amongst their number but I never for one second thought Graham Speirs, Alan Davidson or Ian Crocker were. Large sections of the Sevco support fit the bill. A small section of the Celtic support does too, and there are numbers of them at other clubs like Hearts, Motherwell, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Inverness and elsewhere.

I agree with the general sentiment behind Nil By Mouth’s statement, but that organisation is like so many others in this country; it tiptoes around things when it ought to stride forward with purpose.

There is bigotry in Scotland, sectarian intolerance that is both broad and, in some places, deep.

The fault isn’t to be found in football stadiums, although some of its practitioners go to games.

Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred is still a profound problem, and one of the reasons it remains so is that those who practice it often hide behind seemingly legitimate initiatives like this one.

Which brings us to the second inconvenient truth: there was no need to pass the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Laws already existed to confront those who engaged in sectarian behaviour; the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act changed nothing except that it placed singing Republican songs into the same bracket as someone singing one of the more horrible hate anthems you’d expect to hear from the people who hailed Jason Campbell a hero.

What that law did is created a moral equivalence between the two, and that’s one of the most tragic features of it.

Because there is none.

The issue is bigger than just Nil By Mouth, but they have a high profile and they get a lot of attention whenever they put out a statement like this. They might not want to further the agendas of the very people they deplore, but I’ll tell you what … they do.

There are people who live in this country who would love to see every expression of Irishness outlawed, who would love every Catholic school closed, who blame us for creating intolerance when, actually, it stares back at them from the mirror.

No other religious or social group in this country is subject to this constant sniping and questioning of its values.

We don’t have a profound problem in this country with anti-Islamic sentiment; in fact, in comparison to certain parts of England things are positively harmonious. We also don’t have a serious issue with anti-Semitism.

Anti-Catholic hatred is Scotland’s own peculiar little fixation, and that has long had its roots deep in anti-Irishness.

The difference is that in some ways it’s now public policy.

Listen, I understand full well that there are people who don’t enjoy hearing the Republican stuff in football grounds. But I don’t mind saying I know those songs by heart, and I defy anyone to tell me where one of them – even one – promotes hate.

Supporting a “proscribed organisation” isn’t the same.

The people who do the proscribing once had the ANC on that list.

The Republican movement now plays an active part in government.

The ANC is the South African government.

The difference is, they were never fighting the British.

You get the point?

You understand why one of those organisations is now feted and the other remains banned to this day?

Here’s a challenge I’ve laid down many, many, many, many times and I do so again with no doubt that the result will be the same as it’s been on all those other occasions; if someone can tell me where in those songs hatred is promoted I’ll close these websites the same day.

No-one will answer that. No-one ever does.

So whilst I do understand that people don’t want to hear this stuff, I’d say to them that, sadly, it’s just too bad because one of the prices we pay for living in a free society is that we often have to tolerate things we don’t actually like. I’m not suggesting they go and look the lyrics up and try and understand the context of them … too much to ask, by far.

I’m asking that they actually embrace understanding of another subject; tolerance itself. Because whether they know it or not, their own attitude is profoundly intolerant. It’s close-minded, insular and yes it’s also arrogant; that the freedoms other people enjoy should be stymied and limited because they dislike certain of their opinions and ideas.

Tolerance means embracing diversity. Hammering everyone into the same mould doesn’t come close to the definition of that. That’s called enforced conformity and I don’t think that’s a country any of us actually wants to live in.

My problem with what Nil By Mouth and other apparently well-meaning organisations are doing stumbling into this minefield is that they aren’t really talking about sectarianism at all … they’re talking about shrinking the definition of what they find “acceptable” and if they don’t understand the danger inherent in that I can’t explain it to them.

The third fiction is that strict liability has been a success for UEFA.

It’s not true.

Strict liability doesn’t reflect well on UEFA at all.

It was introduced to combat right wing extremists using football grounds as recruiting posts. I understand why the sport considered that an issue, but in trying to find a way to ban those groups they did what governing bodies always do when they try to ride the middle lane … they overshot the runway and passed rules where any form of political expression was banned.

Except those which suit them, of course.

One of the recent obscenities was their decision to fine Celtic for our fans flying Palestinian flags. I don’t know what our club’s official response to that was but it was a scandal that UEFA ever considered such a ludicrous action in the first place. Another example was the “F*** UEFA” banner the Celtic fans flew, and which resulted in another sanction.

A refusal to allow criticism is one of the defining characteristics of fascism.

It would be different if they actually took the rule seriously, but they don’t because they can’t.

There are a number of overtly political football clubs in Europe who’s very existence flies in the face of UEFA regulations and there are other clubs whose fans have adopted overtly political views; they stretch across the continent, from France to the farthest corners of Russia.

They are openly ideological and UEFA can’t come close to policing them and doesn’t even try.

Not only does strict liability not work, but it’s barely enforced.

Celtic is not an overtly political club.

Our fans reflect a broad sweep of society, and we pride ourselves on being “open to all”.

Yet some of our own supporters consistently fly in the face of that concept, and make a nonsense of it, trying to tell other fans what they should be singing and what flags they should be flying.

I sympathise with them, to a degree.

Because some of it does get the club into trouble, and that’s wrong.

But it’s the regulations I think are the problem here, and whilst I think they should be obeyed, as long as they last, I think our club should be committed, along with others, to changing them to better reflect the reality; football and politics have always been closely linked and always will be.

This isn’t about flares and smoke bombs.

Those are banned for entirely legitimate reasons and don’t belong in football grounds, and I am wholly supportive of any measure that removes them from the sport entirely.

This is about political expression, and existing UEFA rules on it are as wrong as they can be, and Nil By Mouth and the SFA now want those extended to cover Scottish football too, a country where Irish political expression is already punished enough and where the governing bodies and others don’t even try to hide the intent, which is to restrict the rights of supporters to properly express themselves inside stadiums.

Every Celtic fan should oppose this, and let the club know it, not that they have to because Celtic has never been in favour of it and that hasn’t changed.

This is my last word on this subject for a while.

For the record, I don’t expect “strict liability” to pass.

The clubs in the main don’t want it, because they understand that there will always be idiots in any support and the clubs can only do so much to weed them out. Only someone who doesn’t really understand football could believe otherwise.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

18 thoughts on “Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

  • 13 January, 2016 at 11:17 pm
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    Fine sentiment but why go to a football game to express your political views and aspirations?
    Here\’s a novel idea, why not go to CP or away grounds and sing your hearts out backing the team??? If you want to show how politicised you are get a bus to Holyrood and leave the football supporters to support.

  • 13 January, 2016 at 11:42 pm
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    I am a season ticket holder and I was at the Stranraer game on Sunday with my son. We chose this game for an away experioence at a small ground.

    As we were moving towards the turnstile, the fans around us were singing …… “for we wont be mastered by no o…..ge ba……d”. What is this, if not sectarian singing?

    I was brought up RC with a respect for all other faiths and many of my Celtic supporting friends are Presbyterian, Agnostic, Atheist or Buddhist. I do NOT wish to hear this when I go to watch Celtic. Most Celtic fans abhor this, but it happens with some of our support, especially at away games. This is indefensible.

    I suggest that you listen to the very sensible comment by SCEETS above. Let’s hear songs about the TEAM.

  • 13 January, 2016 at 11:43 pm
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    Should be ‘experience’ in line 2 – apologies for the typo.

  • 13 January, 2016 at 11:58 pm
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    Is it not still the case that it is a Sevco fan from Northern Ireland, who tried to ban the word ‘HUN’ by saying it was racist and sectarian. Not all RIFC fans are HUNS, only the sectarian racist bigots themselves and they don’t get a chance to define what we/I think of them. I believe HUN is called an adjective, which can be even subscribed, to members of other clubs that can act HUNISHLY. The nil by mouth mob must have too been to busy enjoying themselves at the recent game against Hibs, by being party to a 40,000 ‘community heritage hate infested arena sing song’. Not just offensive, but illegal and nil by mouth know this yet keep shtum. HH

  • 14 January, 2016 at 12:36 am
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    James, a great piece again.

    There is one thing I would disagree on and that is your point of view on the use of the term \’orange bastard\’ at games. This is not simply a statement on the bigoted and archaic organisation that still exists like some bloated jobby that won\’t flush away. I fully believe that it is used as an insult to Protestants and Rangers oldco/sevco fans in general.

    I recall to mind when I have heard several of the peepel trying to condone the use of the term \’Fenian\’ in a derogatory manner. They claim it\’s political when we all know it is used to mean Roman Catholic or, more specifically, Irish Catholic. Use of the orange term by Celtic fans is, to me, the other side of the coin.

  • 14 January, 2016 at 12:42 am
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    Excellent read James! I hope your right about the “strict liability” being voted against. It sickens me that the only time we hear from Reagan, SFA or SPFL is when so called Celtic fans step out of line, any other support and it’s never such a big deal especially when it’s from a team playing out of Ibrokes. Their hypocrisy is shameful! Their unwillingness to see the difference between political songs and bigoted songs is just them living in denial and that seems to fit their agenda. Shame on them! HH????

  • 14 January, 2016 at 12:43 am
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    Frank, I’m in some agreement with what you are saying … except, and this is where I get in trouble at times haha, I don’t regard their use of the word “fenian” as being sectarian either.

    It doesn’t become sectarian simply because the halfwits who use the term don’t understand what it means; others use it knowing exactly what it means and what the context is.

    They see some of our support as being “terrorist sympathisers” and in that context the phrase is clearly a political expression.

    For others, yes, there’s no doubt in their warped minds it’s associated with Catholicism. But there’s no helping those people, and laws exist to deal with it.

    Likewise, I don’t believe the majority of Celtic fans associate Orange with Protestantism.

  • 14 January, 2016 at 12:47 am
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    I don’t believe that it WAS sectarian singing.

    Moronic, for sure, because being “mastered” by dirty orange people of questionable parentage really doesn’t have anything to do with football at all.

    I accept that you don’t wish to hear it. In a perfect world there would be no Daily Mail.

    But it exists in the zeitgeist, and I live with it. Not simply because I have to but because a free society allows it, as it should.

    Because a lot of people would ban what it is that I do. They accuse me and others like me of “stirring hatred” and “promoting hatred.”

    I will even stand up for the rights of the absolute low-life to say what they want to … because if their rights to free expression are being safeguarded I never need to worry about mine.

  • 14 January, 2016 at 9:37 am
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    Excellent James,
    I was just like you wondering why the Celtic Club and fans get dragged down when it do`nt suit them, why was there no stink at the same ground by Dundee Utd, after what went on last season, why was there no big headlines about fans invading the park same fans at Airdrie, why has it took so long for report on Sevco v Hibs, lastly why has the Compliance Officer got off his backside so quick to look into us,
    On another note I see there mates from Falkirk getting into this we want a bigger league ? why they have been happy up till now,
    hail hail,

  • 14 January, 2016 at 10:09 am
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    Can you clarify if Fenian is bigotry or political expression?

  • 14 January, 2016 at 11:22 am
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    I would say there is an ever increasing anti Irish sentiment in Scotland. Mainly because, in Scotland celebrating ones Irish heritage seems to be based on the ability to belt songs about the IRA or the UVF.

    The fellow from Nil by mouth is correct. People are fed up to the back teeth of this crap. No one cares if the songs are political or sectarian they just don’t want to hear them in our football stadiums or on our streets.

    You are correct, not being mastered by orange or Fenian bastards should have no place within a sporting arena. Nor should songs about battles and uprisings. It’s a football match for goodness sake .

  • 14 January, 2016 at 12:26 pm
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    Jamie, I have sympathy with your view. I get it, and I get that a lot of other people feel the same way.

    But as unpalatable as some of it is, any attempt to restrict free experession in a public place should simply not be on.

    I also agree that the main way a lot of people celebrate their Irish heritage is in song. That is not unique to Scotland, or to the Irish. Song has long been, and has traditionally been, one of the ways in which people around the world have celebrated their heritage. Furthermore, a lot of countries folk music – including that of Scotland – is of a similar type to that found in Ireland, songs of revolution and of struggle against an occupying force.

    Do I think it BELONGS in a football stadium? No.

    Do I think anyone should have the RIGHT to tell me or others they CAN’T sing in a football stadium, because I happen not to think so?

    Hell no. This is still a free country. Last time I looked.

    I say again what I’ve said before … the price of living in a free country is having to tolerate things you don’t like.

    I don’t like Pop Idol or anyone who has any remote connection with making “poverty porn”.

    But these things are the price we pay for a free exchange of views and ideas.

  • 14 January, 2016 at 12:28 pm
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    I personally don’t believe the word is sectarian, although a Hell of a lot of people use it in that context.

    It’s not the word which is bigoted. They are.

  • 14 January, 2016 at 4:19 pm
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    Problem is James, they don’t tell the truth to kids in school.

    Richard Gott in his book “Britain’s Empire”, says, “…. the rulers of the British Empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the 20th century as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale.”, and again,
    “For much of its history the British empire was run as a military dictatorship.”

    Commenting on the book, Richard Drayton,”Guardian” says “….violence was a central, constant and ubiquitous part of the making and keeping of the British empire.”

    Stephen Howe ofthe “Independent” describes British imperial history as a “Shameful record comparable to the exploits of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, or those of the twentieth century’s worst dictators.”

    So we have the little Englander perception of all things Britannia being good, and the long list of folk heroes from George Washington to Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela and Menachem Begin being branded terrorist. Oddly enough, but maybe not, current Ibrox fans love Begin’s party and present leader.

    Our problem is that Scotland and a part of Ireland are two of the few remnants of empire, and we’re still being fed the benevolent Britannia pap.

  • 15 January, 2016 at 8:12 pm
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    I agree with the overall theme of the article that the “Offensive Behaviour at Football” Act is an ill thought out piece of legislation, which should be repealed. Any disturbances caused by football fans singing songs can be handled under existing legislation.
    However, the title of the piece is “Celtic fans know the difference between bigotry and political expression.” I would query that claim as the fans at Stranraer were alleged to be singing songs in praise of the Provisional I.R.A., an organistion which demonstrated its bigotry during the recent “Troubles” in N. Ireland in the most obvious way possible by carrying out numerous individual and mass murders of people, simply because they came from the Protestant community. So if you sing songs in praise of this organisation you are condoning activity of a bigoted/sectarian nature. There must surely be other ways to express Irish Nationalist affiliation, than singing songs in praise of people who tried (unsuccessfully) to murder and maim their way to a United Ireland.
    By the same token I think the phrase “Orange Bastards” is usually used in a wider way than just to refer to members of the Orange Order. But even if it is just used to refer to O.O. members the fact that these people are all from, at least a nominal, Protestant background must mean that the phrase is used as a sectarian insult.
    The claim that “anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred is still a profound problem” in Scotland is also increasingly difficult to sustain. All the recent academic studies that I’ve read would claim the exact opposite, that it (sectarianism) is no longer a problem and that the only manifestations of it are the singing of certain songs at football matches, which doesn’t carry over into behaviour in wider society. Organisations like “Nil by Mouth” exist to counter a problem, which is no longer a problem, but, of course, they have a vested interest in trying to prove that it still is.
    I personally couldn’t give a toss what Celtic or Rangers fans sing at football matches because, lets face it, even during the “Troubles” Celtic fans who sung pro-Provo songs didn’t then go out and shoot or bomb, while Rangers fans who bawled the “Billy Boys” didn’t go out and act on the sentiments expressed in that song, as there have been no pogroms of people of Irish Catholic descent in Scotland.

  • 17 January, 2016 at 1:47 am
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    You state Celtic are not overtly political yet you wish to make them exactly that. I agree with much of your sentiments in relation to anti-Catholic and Irish feeling but it is a minority of the country if not of the Sevco mob. Some of the songs you refer to by Celtic fans are sectarian and are no different to those of the other side. Irish rebel songs are not sectarian and neither is the Sash or Derry’s Walls…indeed I remember sitting in a Dublin pub in 1966 where all kind of Irish songs were sung by the Wolfetones (yes they go back to that time) including The Sash which was sung enthusiastically and with some humour by the audience. The point is you are encouraging a section of our support to the detriment of Celtic FC and as a lot of the comments here testify is in opposition to the vast majority of decent Celtic fans. You are hurting the club I and generations of Celtic fans have loved and continue to love and support for many years. If this continues you will destroy our club. You may or not remember the day Jock Stein jumped the barrier at Anfield the home of Stirling Albion (not far from me) to castigate fans for IRA chants…that was 50 years ago and I was there and he was cheered by the decent fans. I know the history of Ireland and love many of the Irish ballads but don’t defend irresponsible chants and behaviour unacceptable to the majority of Celtic fans and the people pf Scotland. Nil by Mouth are a reputable and important institution challenging all kind of bigotry and sectarianism.

  • 6 August, 2016 at 5:28 am
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    Absolutely biased. No way out.
    What you Celtic fans start from is the main problem: anything that’s pro-Irish is ‘good’, anything that’s opposed to that is ‘bad’.
    You presume the Irish Nationalist cause as being democratic, non racist, intellectually approved ad so on. Thus, anything that’s not conforming to all that is ‘fascist’.
    If I’m a unionist, simply because I feel BRITISH, as well as Scottish, it doesn’t immediately mean I support the UDA, the Orange Order or the BNP and even the Tories.
    Labour is unionist, monarchist and British, and that’s what I am. I have NOTHING to share with any Ulster or Irish cause, I’m Scottish, that’s all.
    I’ll never understand why a Scotsman would like to fly an Irish tricolour, it’s just as well as flying St George’s flag to me… even less I’d understand why I should follow the Republic rather than Scotland national side…
    And yet no sign of fascism pops up from a socialist like me.
    What some lads (I AM a Rangers man) at both ends of Ibrox PArk show out or chant is simply taunting you. As well as you do with us. You won’t show Irish colours just because you love Ireland, be honest……………. it’s obvious taunting each other, then we’ll all always have minorities who team up with some stupid sectarian side. The majority of all of us, Rangers AND Celtic couldn’t care less about it, we’re there for the club, the colours, the rivalry.
    Out of our grounds, we ALL vote for the SNP or Labour, take a look at the polls…….
    Remember that: Glasgow is NOT Belfast.
    And ‘Irishness’ isn’t a holy sign or something ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. And if you really think it is, just because some other fellows abroad like you and not us (St. Pauli’s ultras and sorts), well, you’re definitely biased.
    As you can see, I’ve got nothing to defend on my own Rangers’ side, I simply said what happens to the lot of us. Try and do the same ‘at home’ and not sanctify Celtic, please, we’ve had enough of that.

    Mo Johnston’s a ‘hun’??? Poor laddie……….. wasn’t he a true blooded Springburn hooper?

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