Words are never mere words. They embody concepts, are charged with historical memories and associations, and shape our understanding of, and approach to, the world.
The new season is upon us and as we all wait in anticipation to see what new signings will be drafted in and how we will meet the challenge of the Whyte revolution over at Castle Greyskull (can I say that?) the hangover from last seasons events remain. There is apparently a new SFA structure to be tried out but the unsavoury taste of the vile abuse suffered by Neil Lennon lingers on and the new season will bring with it more I am sure. I recently listened to an interview by Eddie Pearson from celticunderground.net with Paul McBride QC (which you can find here and is well worth 60mins of your time) within which they reflect on last year and in particular the introduction of the perceived merits and limitations of the new Sectarian Bill in January 2012. This piece of legislation has arrived swiftly and, in my opinion, is an over the top, knee-jerk reaction to the events of the Scottish Cup replay in March 2011 following which a summit of Politicians, Police Chiefs alongwith representatives from Celtic and Rangers was convened due to events both on and off the field. It amazes me how only 2 clubs are ever summoned to such meetings when, as events at Tynecastle at the end of the season have shown, this problem is a national one as opposed to an exclusively West of Scotland one and until this is acknowledged very little head way will be made. The Sectarian Bill for me is nothing more than a PR, political point-scoring document which due to the haste of its introduction has glaring flaws contained within. It goes without saying that sectarian violence within the country has brought misery (and sadly on occasions, death) to individuals and their families. The problem requires to be addressed but is tackling football fans through the powers of the Sectarian Bill the right way to go about this? There exists 2 main strands to this discussion, both of which I believe stand in isolation so I will discuss them as such. In order to contextualise this discussion I will consider my own development as a Celtic fan through a generation which extends back to the 80′s and may ring true for some of you reading this.
Unfortunately throughout my younger years images of buildings destroyed and burnt out cars accompanied by the commentary advising of how many were dead or injured was commonplace. These images, typically being beamed from the streets of Northern Ireland, clearly highlighted the extent of ‘The Troubles’. My knowledge of the history and origins of these matters was shaped through the media as well as through exposure to Celtic FC and the ‘Pro-IRA’ songs and material associated with the club. Such exposure, through attending matches or celebrating major victories within local supporters clubs, led to an internalisation of the beliefs that the fight for freedom by the Republicans was right, just and should be celebrated. Personally, however, I had no association with these troubles but didn’t think twice about inserting an additional line or two within Celtic songs with no consideration for the real-life experiences being lived by those caught up in this war (a defence which will no longer be valid come January 2012). As I have grown older and hopefully matured I have now shed this youthful naivety and look back with some embarrassment but I would not say regret. Personal and professional experiences have shown me that a continued lack of tolerance would have denied me many achievements in life. The practice of singing such songs and celebrating such organisations, however, remains and who am I to condemn those possibly directly involved the right to such expression. Let us not be fooled into believing that such verbal expression through song is unique to this issue and does not extend into other cultures or countries. It is when this matter enters the football ground and attaches itself to Celtic that I begin to question its place. Celtic and Rangers fans have always built the foundations of their differences upon the religious card and as I have mentioned I indulged to a degree. Those in power within both clubs whilst publicly condemning this behaviour send out mixed messages (for commercial reasons I believe) with the playing of such songs as “Let The People Sing” and annual pre-season friendlies with Linfield. This rivalry has been passed from generation to generation but I do not truly believe that the existence or strength of such hatred remains within the wider context of society with the stigma of sectarianism now standing alongside the likes of racism, sexism and homophobia. Celtic fans have argued that their right to sing these songs lies within the club’s Irish heritage. Is such a view, therefore, transferrable to, as Harry Brady from celticunderground puts it, the Orangemens insistence that they will always march on the Queen’s Highway?
Let me now clearly separate out the other issue considered within the interview and one which the Sectarian Bill aims to tackle and that is the general outlawing of what is deemed to be offensive terms which may include the likes of ‘hun’, ‘tim’, ‘orange (insert word)’ or ‘fenian (insert word)’. Now I am not going to go all literary here and examine the origins and meaning of each word as defined by the English Scholars but would rather consider them within the context of a football match. Before I begin let me set the scene with this short clip which I found on ‘The Huddleboard’ and which sums it all up nicely for me…..
To this day I still refer to my Rangers supporting family and friends as ‘huns’ particularly around the time of a Celtic v Rangers match with the retort of ‘timmy’ or even ‘fenian’ being commonplace. I regularly check the fixture list for the next ‘huns game’ or during the title run-in ask “who have the huns got today?”. These exchanges and the use of this phrase, for my part, takes place within the context of footballing rivalry and is never rooted within intolerance or discrimination of any kind. As of January 2012, and if I am understanding Paul McBride correctly, my continued use of this phrase could see me in bother under the terms of the Sectarian Bill, something which I don’t think would do my professional career prospects any good! It is here that this Bill falls down and shows itself up for what it really is and that is an idealistic, vote-chasing piece of legislation which in practice is unworkable and unsustainable. I would be interested in how such a law will be enforced when we are 3-0 up in a match against Rangers and the stadium breaks in to a chorus of “Go home ya huns!” I would also be interested to see this law extended to the footballing rivalries which exist down South particularly between Man Utd and Liverpool! ‘Sticks and stones…’ and all that!
The need to address this cancer within our society is unquestionable and supporters from both Celtic and Rangers must abandon their ‘whataboutery’ stance if progress is to be made. Is the Sectarian Bill going to help us in this process? In my opinion it is a step in the right direction but it is an opportunity glaringly missed given the manner in which it is being introduced and the initial interpretation of what it will mean for us the football fans. Abandoning the bigoted songbook is a must but the attempted sanitisation of footballing rivalry is absurd and unworkable. Football is all about rivalry and the associated chants and banter – force this out of the game and we will be left with nothing!
Let me know your thoughts on this topic.