Draining The Swamp

296331-beach-balls-passports-sombreros-fans-in-europeAt around eight a.m., one July morning in 1999 or 2000, I turned up at the Tollbooth Bar in the Gallowgate wearing a Hawaii shirt, shorts and sandals.

The shutters were down and I gave them a wee kick, knowing someone was waiting on the other side.

They went up at once, opened by an Irish barman who was wearing his own multi-coloured short-sleeve, topped off with a floppy hat.

I peered at him over the sunglasses I had perched on the end of my nose. His eyes were hidden behind his yellow rimmed ones. I wished I’d thought of that.

“Looking good mate,” he said. “Where’s your hat?”

I hadn’t brought one. You don’t want to look daft, after all …

The bar was about half full, and everyone looked like they were heading for the beach. There were a couple of blow up balls too, although I thought they would probably not get inflated. The pub would be busy that day, and having those things flying about wouldn’t have been safe.

Someone went up to the juke box and stuck a few quid in there. Get Back, by The Beatles, came on. There was no alcohol on sale that early, but Barry, the guy who ran the place, was handing out the chilled Irn Bru’s and, for those who’d been out the night before, the large mugs of coffee. We were a Hell of a sight on that crazy morning. Anyone who’d seen us would have thought we were going on holiday, or off on some wacky stag do.

Actually, that day was going to be pretty tense, as it was the annual Orange walk in Glasgow Green.

The Tollbooth Bar was, and is, extremely well known as a Celtic bar. Its unfortunate position, at the crossroads of High Street and Gallowgate, where the city centre meets the East End and goes down towards The Barras, puts it right on their route. They quite literally go by the front door, and the mood inside is always tense, to say the very least.

The year before had been nine kinds of mayhem; I was on the door a while that day and to call it dicey is an understatement.

When the last of the broken glass had been cleared and the ambulances and police were gone, those of us who were left in the pub locked the place up and had a long chat about what the Hell we could do to make sure it never got that bad again.

Someone jokingly suggested that we dispense with the Celtic and rebel songs the following year, and turn it into a jolly instead.

Someone else chipped in with “sombreros all round then”, and the suggestions started to fly, some hilarious and some just plain mad. If someone suggested jelly and ice cream I do not remember it, but it would have fitted the vibe.

The following year, someone remembered that chat and we decided to give it a go. All the regulars dug out their holiday outfits, and we brought them to the pub that morning, and tried our best to keep it relaxed.

That day passed in a very pleasurable haze, the finest memory of which was a group of us standing in the front of the bar as the bands outside marched past, all of us dressed in those crazy patterned shirts, all of us wearing shades, most of us, myself included by then, in the aforementioned Mexican hats. And we were singing to a juke box turned almost all the way up, at the tops of our voices … so loud, in fact, that the cops stationed outside could hear us clearly, as they later told us, still laughing their heads off.

The song we were singing was another Beatles number; All You Need Is Love.

Unless you’ve been on another planet these last few days, you can’t but help having seen the footage of Sevco Rangers fans storming the doors of Ibrox the other night, in protest at the club’s mismanagement at the hands of the current board.

Forget that Sevco Rangers isn’t mismanaged at all – that, in fact, it’s being run precisely as a company should be, as a profit making exercise for its principle shareholders and assorted cast of hangers on – and focus for now on that anger.

Our friend Auldheid said something really interesting on the last post, and over on CQN and TSFM, and that inspired my thinking on this game, and it, in turn, inspired the piece. My old man said something else, and that inspired the opening.

Auldheid said that those who claim to miss the Celtic – Rangers game, and are eagerly anticipating the 1 February match, and in particular those in the media … well, they aren’t looking forward to a football match at all.

They are “looking forward to a rammy.”

A fight, for those not familiar with the Glasgow vernacular.

He’s correct, of course, and so was my old man when he reminded me that we took 80,000 fans to Seville and there was not one arrest. The “rammy” which occasioned a “summit” at Holyrood, and the passing of a scandalous law, was handbags stuff compared to what happens in other countries at other games, but some people, and in particular our media, thrive on drama.

At the heart of every “Scottish football needs a strong Rangers” discussion is the idea that the rivalry between the DeadCo and Celtic was healthy for the game, when every person who’s ever been to one of the matches or, more importantly, been in Glasgow for the aftermath knows, in fact, that it was exactly the opposite. It’s the fixture that gave life to this awful “two heads of the same coin” crap, the fixture that gives the lunatics a totem pole to dance around, the fixture that was last played in 2012, and is never to return.

The Celtic fans have refused to acknowledge our “membership” of the Old Firm club for many, many years now. The phrase is still used, frequently, in the press, and an alarming number of our players still talk about the games in relation to that tag, but the day will come when it is consigned to the distant past. Even before one half of the rivalry died, the phrase was abhorrent to the vast majority of the Celtic support who object, strongly, to the laziness and intellectual dishonesty of the “two heads of the same coin” argument.

To be part of that “rivalry” was to be part of hyped hate. It was horrible.

To be part of this game now is to be part of the anger that exploded the other night.

Sevco fans believe, wrongly, that their club was given a raw deal by Scottish football, in that it was “relegated” and fined and investigated, and this happened because of hate spun out of jealousy. It is a paranoids wet dream, and it’s come about because for far too long the “institution” of Rangers thought it was something more than a provincial West of Scotland football club and started getting big ideas about its importance to the wider world.

Graham Speirs, writing in today’s Guardian, sums up the sweep and scope of their delusional self-regard in a single statement, the one he opens the piece with, which says more than every word that follows it combined;

“It was once said that there were three main pillars of Scottish public life: the Church of Scotland, the unique Scottish legal system and Rangers Football Club.”

Maybe he’s being ironical. But I don’t give him that much credit. He’s been ensconced in the West of Scotland bubble too long. When you read that nonsense you read a writer looking back in awe at what he, and others, imagines Rangers to have been …

I want to ask Speirs a question, and I’m fairly sure he knows the answer; exactly who was it who said that?

I can tell him who it was, right now, because I remember the quote well. It was the egomaniac, unrepentant bigot and crasher of companies, David Murray, who said “Rangers are the second biggest institution in Scotland after the church.” He then amplified the statement, and turned them into a central plank of living here in Scotland in the 20th century.

In his dreams, maybe.

Because, of course, in glorifying and overblowing the football club he ran, Murray was, as ever, shining a big light on himself. The version of the club he’s referring to is the one he created, using other people’s money, and so it’s more than a little preening.

If this guy were chocolate he’d have licked himself to death.

Murray aside, the statement is moronic. The suggestion is offensive, and has undertones of sectarianism about it, not to mention the whiff of the crime family. I would have expected a journalist to pick up on the interwoven nuances of the statement; first, that the Rangers he talks about viewed itself as a twin to a religious institution, and considered itself the equal of the law.

Neither elitist fantasy has done them any favours down through the years.

Sevco, a hastily cobbled together collection of rubble and spare parts from the calamity that befell Rangers, could have been different. If people had acknowledged the simple, and self-evident, truth of things they might have had a fresh start, following a club willing to live within their means, content simply that they had a football team still to follow.

The hubris and the arrogance was maintained, and a new layer – the anger of the perceived victim – has been added to the pot. That pot has been stirred, relentlessly, by some of the media and by sections of their support that is in no mood to “forgive or forget.”

That’s not confined just to the ordinary fan either. A dangerous arrogance and spite manifests itself in people of alleged intelligence and standing, people who ought to know better. Take the media campaign on behalf of The Three Bears, and this nonsense about the club needing “Rangers men” to restore Sevco to the dead club’s pomp and glory.

The “past glory” was built on unsustainable debt, that led to their destruction. It was smoke and mirrors. The club they think they remember didn’t exist, except as a shadow on the wall.

All this talk about “Rangers men” being needed to run the club is lunacy, because if you self-identify as that you’re already egregiously unsuited to the task of trying to transform Sevco into something that works. Unless you’re one of those people blessed with true self-awareness and the ability to remain detached, the superiority complex will already be ingrained in your thinking and impossible to fix.

Ponder, for a moment, the three chief virtues of Rangersitus, as espoused by Sevco’s former club chairman Malcolm Murray; “Honesty, integrity and unionism.”

Read, and marvel, at the words of Alistair Johnson, a former chairman of Rangers, when he said, recently, that “real Rangers men” were necessary because they would, invariably, be Scottish, and “Scots and people close to the club know one thing: Screw Rangers at your peril.”

If that was supposed to come over as menacing, it failed.

If you believe Johnson and others, this club ought to make you tremble at the mention of its name, but if it did, then no-one, least of all a Scot, would have “screwed Rangers” in the first place.

Tell that to Craig Whyte, a native of this fair land, who didn’t seem particularly bothered whether the Peepil were happy or not. Tell it to Scottish brothers Sandy and James Easdale, who go about their daily business uninterrupted and whose buses can be seen out on our roads. Tell it to the chairmen of numerous football clubs who voted No to the newco getting a free ride to the top division, who coped even with “Armageddon”.

This swelled up sense of who they are now feeds in to the fantasy of what the world did to them, motivated by our jealousy as regards their special status. Only a mug who believed in the former could buy into the latter, so already you’re dealing with people not quite connected to reality … and the results … well, they are all too predictable.

The other night, at Ibrox, the anger erupted full-scale. Even some of those fans not appalled at the violence of the occasion, at the Neanderthal behaviour of some of their fellow supporters, took comfort in an odd thing; the return of the kind of sectarian singing which blighted the club for decades and played no small part in the dislike some in this country genuinely do feel towards them.

It takes a truly twisted mind to think that equals “unity” or some form of progress.

Their club is being eroded from the inside. Their boardroom is at war with itself. Their fan base is divided. Their team on the park is a joke and the steep collapse in their financial projections looks like a Scottish Labour popularity graph … but what the Hell? The supporters are singing The Billy Boys. Once again, they are up to their knees in fenian blood, so all is right with the world …

The previous night’s eruption has given a lot of Celtic fans, and others in Scottish football, pause. They’ve wondered whether it might not be better for us all if the game on 1 February doesn’t go ahead.

Some have suggested that Celtic “do the right thing” and pull out of the match.

But why should they?

Why should our club give in to the anger and the hate? It would be cowardly, and it would be counter-productive.

Why should we legitimise it when there is a much better way of dealing with it, at least inside the stadium?

We can do nothing about what happens outside the ground … but the attitudes and moods of those who are there will have some influence over that, so why not make of it something better than the world expects?

Let some of the Sevco fans wallow in their own darkness. The rest of Scottish football does not have to follow them there.

The events of the other night were a profound embarrassment to them, and a demonstration for the watching world, in particular those who might be considering “investment” in this hollowed out institution stuffed full of its own arrogance, of what to expect for anyone who gets involved with them.

All the media spin and excuse making in the world – “these fans have suffered so much it was bound to happen” – won’t erase those images from the mind.

There are people, particularly in the Scottish press, those whose bread and butter it is to cover the mayhem, who would love this fixture to mean more than it does, to return this country to the dark days when the “Old Firm” game haunted the West of Scotland and beyond.

When our national sport was defined by a twisted rivalry built on the promotion of hate.

Let me remind those people of something they’ve forgotten or never knew;

The extent of that hate is largely a myth. In fact, it’s a downright lie.

I know all about “the enemy”, from living here, at close quarters with them.

I have worked with the enemy. I have drank with the enemy. I have family members on the enemy side. I have dated, and even fallen in love with, the enemy. I have spent many good nights in their company and consider any number of them good friends.

Two years ago, my family held the wake for my granddad Shug – himself one of the enemy – in one of the most notorious bars of the enemy in all of Glasgow. Inside that bar, his glass is still up on a wee ledge beside the whiskey, and there’s a chair not far from it which carries a plaque with my gran’s name on it, the place where the two of them would sit and drink every weekend.

There, surrounded by some of the hardest bastards in the city – all of them on the enemy side – she would slag off everyone within earshot about how “you’ll never beat the Lisbon Lions.”

She died on Christmas Day, eight years ago. The pub emptied for the day of her funeral, so they could all turn up. One of the regulars helped me and my old man carry the coffin.

Yes, I know all about the enemy, at close quarters.

There are corners of our society which need some light poured in. The gutters need to be hosed out, and the scum in them washed away, but I refuse to believe the whole of this land is tainted by their stench, and I refuse to be dragged into the sewer with them.

To boycott this game is to suggest it is more than it actually is, which is a match between Celtic and a lower league club.

It is not an “Old Firm game” no matter how much the press wants to dress it up as one. Some sections of the Sevco support might want to revive the old hatreds and grudges which sustained their former club, but Celtic fans are surely able to rise above that.

After all, this is a cup semi-final, the first of a new era with a new manager.

I was watching videos last night of wee Jay Beatty taking his penalty against Hamilton, and I realised, like I’d forgotten, that there is still something magical about Celtic, and about football itself, something healing, something good even amidst the arguments we have over it and the way it can divide us.

Wee Jay gets up every morning thinking about Celtic, and his association with this club has made a tremendous difference to his life. He has been embraced by the support, in the way wee Oscar was, and in the way the Thai Tims were … becoming a standard bearer for everything good about us. Why is that? Why do we do it? What makes us so open-hearted and warm, and why doesn’t that get recognition outside our own fan base?

One reason, I think, is that we are still tainted by this “rivalry” and that some people still use it to define us.

Yet I remember reading something Graham Speirs wrote previously, and which I thought was right on. He talked about how only Celtic fans could have chosen “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” as their anthem during the period of their greatest adversity.

At the same time, we organised and got serious about involving ourselves in the politics and running of our club.

One only has to look at how Sevco fans behaved the other night, and to listen to their own choice of songs, to see the difference.

When Rangers died, Celtic fans were accused of dancing on their graves.

Some in the press spewed about how hateful our reaction was. I always found that bizarre.

Hateful? This was a momentous event in the history of British sport, the death of one half of a deadly rivalry and we commemorated it with cardboard coffins and a kid’s party song!

Pass the parcel when Rangers die. Jelly and ice cream when Rangers die. Doing the Conga when Rangers die.

Has there ever been a less hateful way to say farewell to an old foe?

People tend to forget too who it is that’s played the largest part in warning first Rangers fans and then Sevco fans about the people trying to destroy their club.

Who was that again? Oh yes … it was us!

Yes, some relationship built on hate.

The game on 1 February, as far as I’m concerned, need not be a hate fest and it shouldn’t be.

There’s no need for it.

The fans of Sevco can travel to that one masquerading as Rangers if they like, and the media can try and turn it into a raging battle if they want … but it takes too sides to stage one of those and I think the Celtic supporters should treat it as a celebration of our own identity, rather than re-enact a rivalry that’s dead and gone.

We are not one half of a coin. We are not locked in a relationship based on mutual loathing. We are wholly separate. We are the club of Seville. The club founded for charity. The club of Oscar Knox, the Thai Tims and Wee Jay Beatty.

We are the club whose fans were “doing the huddle as Rangers died” and that is precisely how we should act.

Why can’t that day simply be about those things? A carnival?

A party which celebrates how far we have come, and about what makes us great?

I understand at times why supporters of clubs out with Glasgow look upon both sides as being exactly the same. The “Old Firm” game was the prism through which they viewed us, and the very worst thing that can happen here is that we give them, and the world, the spectacle all over again.

It would be a grotesque outcome when these last three years have been about denying the existence of such, and putting distance between our club and theirs.

Their supporters, and the press, are fully entitled to push any lie they want. It hasn’t helped them, as you can’t have failed to notice.

The sense of entitlement that still grips them will hold them back from making serious progress for years to come, and no amount of hankering after the distant past will alter that one iota.

To make this into that, we have to be on-board, and I say this is where we get off.

Yes, the press will hype this one like no other. The doom-mongers can predict blood on the streets, and they will. The atmosphere in one end of the ground will be poisonous.

But there is more than one end of the ground.

What they do in theirs is their own business. We can choose what to do in our own.

So I say this; let’s confront the world with the last thing it expects to see. Let’s leech the hate out of the game, like you’d draw poison from a wound. I suspect that the number of people who actually would like to drag this fixture into the Old Firm swamp is pretty low.

I think the majority of us, on both sides, would rather it evolved into something new.

I learned a valuable lesson that day in the Tollbooth Bar. There are times when the best way to keep the enemy’s guns at bay is to refrain from drawing yours. We turned what was usually a tense and ugly event into a fun experience which the police, and even a few of the marchers, thought had made a huge difference to how the whole day was experienced.

I can’t remember how, or why, The Beatles were chosen as the soundtrack for that day, but it was a perfect decision.

As the bands outside started down the street we weren’t all banging tables singing our usual tunes; we were singing Come Together.

Whilst their outriders were banging on the windows going by, we returned the gesture With Love From Me To You.

When, outside, they were blowing into their flutes and pumping out the hate, we were all swaying, arms around each other, blasting out Let It Be.

The finale, where we sang All You Need Is Love, is one of my fondest memories.

So sunglasses, sandals and Hawaii shirts it ought to be at Hampden.

The blow up balls and lilo’s should be dug out of the suitcases and brought to the match.

We ought to turn it into another Beach Ball Sunday, except this time the aim will be to drain the swamp forevermore.

See, this is the first game between Celtic and Sevco. I absolutely believe that, and I know my fellow Hoops fans do too. A newspaper ad, due to run in The Herald next Sunday, will make that crystal clear.

We perhaps haven’t fully grasped what that means yet. I know I didn’t, before watching wee Jay celebrate his goal yesterday, when I experienced one of those “my God” moments that hit you when something suddenly seems so simple.

We can bring a different reality to this game. We can make it anything we want.

If we accept we’re likely to see a version of this club playing against us in years to come we can decide the nature those games will take.

We can let the media and the haters define them or we can do that ourselves, and we’ve got enough to us that it can be a more enjoyable experience than its ever been.

The whole thing ought to have a laid back vibe. If the other side wants to wallow in the cesspit then lets leave them to it. The global TV audience for this game will show the world the difference between those who want to live in the past and those who accept the world has changed, and who’ve moved on accordingly.

Anything else gives legitimacy to the idea that this game is a continuation of a loathsome fixture events have consigned to history.

This can be a celebration of us.

Floppy hats are optional though. There’s no point in looking daft.

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22 comments on “Draining The Swamp
  1. As much as I’d like to agree with this piece, a blind man on a galloping horse can see that this is a powderkeg waiting to kick off. If, and it’s a big if, there was a carnival atmosphere at the Celtic end, it certainly won’t be reciprocated at the other end, and when the full time whistle is blown and the expected score being in our favour, a quid will get you a hundred that there will be a battle royal in and around Hamdump and in pubs, clubs and neighbourhoods across the country.
    Kidding on you’d like to live in some Utopia doesn’t mean it will be……unfortunately.

  2. James ,floppy hat doffed.
    I’m giving that game a miss ,will take the beloved
    away for lunch far from the madding crowd(good job the price of fuel has fallen)HH

  3. Great piece of writing James. I share your fears for this particular match and more importantly the aftermath.
    Some Editors are already licking their lips at the prospect of using the “Old Firm” headline to inform the World of the recommencement of “War”. They should ALL know better.
    Police Scotland and the Football authorities need to make clear that there will be a Zero Tolerance policy in force regarding potential troublemakers. I find it astonishing the lack of publicity surrounding the Snow Abandoned match on Friday when Hell broke loose. If these events had happened in the East end the coverage would have been deliberately contorted to suit the Agenda.
    Let us hope that all decent fans will abide by the Law and the simple rules of Common sense will prevail. Glasgow has had enough problems and Tragedies without self-inflicted pain emanating from a Football Match.

  4. I spoke to a lawyer in the states in 96 and was explaining to him about the orange walks and the trouble they brought. His idea was along the same lines of your Hawaiian shirt, get thousands of people to line the parade route dressed as Disney characters and wave, clap and cheer them on it would soon become apparent that we don\’t get upset with them marching and we have a laugh at them rather than be upset. The marches would soon stop. His thoughts.
    enjoyed your article today. Thanks.

  5. I remember that day in the Tolbooth,I was a regular in there in those days.I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments although the number of our own still referring to the upcoming “old firm” game drives me nuts. The liquidation of Rangers gave us the ideal opportunity to completely disassociate ourselves from a deeply unhealthy rivalry,the only positive of which was financial. We all have friends and colleagues who supported Rangers and who continue to follow Sevco but it is an inescapable fact that we see our roles as supporters very differently. I have a sense of responsibility as a Celtic fan to uphold the name of the club. That goes way beyond simply singing and clapping along at a match. It involves vigilance at all levels. Whether it be a crowd of rowdy teenage fans on a train or a board of directors unwilling to pay a living wage to employees,we should all be willing to intervene in the interests of the club. The latter is a prime example of what sets us apart. Can you ever imagine a campaign from “Rangers” fans urging their club to pay the cleaners more money?

  6. It was indeed,they were spitting at the windows,we were blowing kisses in return! My fear is that a lot of sensible folk will give this a miss leaving the door open for dafties to fill the void. Hope I’m wrong but I’ve a feeling it could all end in tears. Bbc have started advertising it already….2 weeks in advance! Media are gonna crank this one up to boiling point then look on in feigned horror,laptops at the ready, if it goes tits up

  7. Comendable James but unfortunately our club, the ticket office and a vast number of our support have bought into the game returning.

    CSCs are drowning with requests for tickets from punters not seen for years. FB is awash with hoops posting pictures of their tickets.

    If we were playing Ayr United this wouldnt be the case.

    Weve had years of blawhards saying they dont miss them but as soon the circus roles into town they all want a ticket.

    Im going as I go to watch the celtic not the oppoistion.

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