Fear and Loathing In Scottish Football

As I grew to manhood, got educated and travelled the world a bit, I would return and shake my head at the backward things I saw and heard at Scottish football grounds. But as I interacted with a wider variety of people I soon realised that much of the tribal chanting at football was empty rhetoric which only a few disturbed souls took seriously. There were and are deep rooted issues of ethnicity and identity in modern Scotland. The Protestant working class in particular have seen vast swathes of their belief system undermined. Industries they dominated have collapsed, few bother with the Kirk and echoes of Empire now seen trite and outdated. Ideas of inclusive Scottish-ness in the new millennium do not sit comfortably with the perceived aping of Ulster Unionist ideologies. The ‘No one likes us we don’t care’ mentality is honestly held by some who follow Rangers. They feel a little betrayed by a society which in many ways sped past them as they sat in time capsule Ibrox.

Alan Parker's exploration of the dark heart of 1960s America in his brilliant movie 'Mississippi Burning'' recounts the murder of three civil rights workers by white racists. As we are taken on a tour of warped attitudes and burning crosses, one of the characters looks through his thick 1960s spectacles and asks...'Where does it come from all of this hatred?'  The disease of seeing others in society as worthy of nothing but our contempt affects all cultures at all times. Even Scotland has felt the chill winds of prejudice...

Like many Glasgow boys, I was introduced to football via my Father and uncles. They took me along to Celtic park at a time when Jock Stein’s team were sweeping all before them. They passed on the stories and folklore of the club and like many kids I knew about players and events which occurred long before my birth. I’m sure it was the same for young Rangers fans of the same era. My first contact with Rangers surprisingly wasn’t looking them playing Celtic. In the late 1960s I lived in the accurately nick-named ‘Wine Alley’ part of Govan and when a goal was scored at Ibrox I would hear the cheer which sounded like a huge beast roaring. On some match days my brother and I would head for Ibrox at 4.30 when the big exit doors opened to collect ginger bottles from the huge terraces. I looked a bit of the football too and can honestly say that I’ve been to many Rangers matches. I was aware of the venom and anti-Catholic content in some of the songs in those days and always thought that the insidious drink culture didn’t help. Many of the fans were blind drunk and that can often release inhibitions. I also felt fans in those days were treated like unthinking cattle and it took a tragedy for this to end.

My first Old Firm game as a Celtic fan took place on a sunny summer day at Ibrox in the early 70s.  I recall a young Kenny Dalglish scoring a penalty as Celtic easily won a game which they totally dominated.  My first memory of Hampden was the 1971 Scottish Cup Final. I recall reaching the top of the stairs at the old Celtic end and seeing the vast bowl spread out before me and packed with a huge, seething crowd. It was quite a sight and it took my breath away. Celtic were winning that game when Derek Johnstone equalized and a huge wave of sound swept up the pitch from the Rangers end. We were then treated to the full range of songs from the packed Rangers end. The Billy Boys, Derry’s Walls (Strangely sung to the tune of amazing grace) and the Sash.  I can’t recall being particularly offended by the ‘FTP’ add-ons in those days as it was such a routinized part of football life. However, my Father would shake his head and say, ‘Listen to those ignorant Bastards.’

After that game I recall a lot of trouble and my youthful eyes saw a naked aggression and sheer hatred aimed at Celtic fans which was striking in its vehemence. Although I didn’t see it, I’m sure some Celtic fans returned the compliment but Rangers fans seemed to me to be particularly bellicose. Of course perception is everything and I was viewing the Rangers support from a perspective which was unlikely to see them in a positive light. In 1977 I was a teenager and travelled to Hampden with a few mates on a rainy day to see the Old Firm contest the Cup Final. The rather dreary game turned on a disputed penalty and Celtic won the Cup. After the full time whistle as we danced and cheered in the Celtic end, I looked up to the small stand which used to be above the north enclosure at the old Hampden. I saw there a smartly dressed, grey haired old man of about 75 leaning over and spitting on the Celtic fans below. His face was red with rage and contorted into a hate filled snarl. I recall asking myself, why does that old man hate us so much?

TIRNAOG

Of course one can’t separate football from its social context. From Rangers not playing Catholic players to Orange Parades and street gangs, from pubs to schools, everything seemed to have a sectarian echo in 1970s Glasgow. Social deprivation and poor education also played a significant, though not deciding, part in forming attitudes. I recall a conversation with a friend who was a Rangers fan in a pub back then. He stood there with his Rangers scarf covered in UVF insignia trying to convince me that I was a Provo lover and that we ‘Tims’  brought all this opprobrium on ourselves. Our Catholic Schools caused bigotry (Though not it seems in France, USA, England or scores of other countries) our Church was, in his words, ‘A nest of idol and devil worship with the Pope being the anti-Christ!’ and of course Celtic FC, was a sectarian club and a ‘recruiting ground for the IRA.’ I certainly didn’t recognise myself in this world view but he believed fully in his gross stereotyping and produced a small pamphlet fronted by a picture of King William which he claimed proved all his points. It turned out to be a misspelt, poorly worded polemic which Dr Goebbles would have dismissed as too extreme!

Now of course by this point in my narrative you will have picked up the phrase used in the last paragraph ‘Gross stereotyping’ and perhaps some of you will apply it to what you’ve read so far? Therein lies the problem. Human beings in conflict situations are often guilty of believing the worse about their enemies and best about their allies. We see this attitude in propaganda websites such as ‘If you know their History’ and ‘Follow Follow Filth’ which are set and run by people who avidly collect every negative story they can find on Celtic/Rangers fans and list them for all the world to see how wicked their enemies are. The followers of such sites have their prejudices confirmed and reinforced, thus the cycle goes on. Truth and objectivity are often abandoned as inconvenient or even irrelevant factors on such sites. In my own case, as a youngster, I saw the Rangers support as a homogenous mass (pardon the pun) and reasoned that if the whole terracing was singing the ‘FTP’ stuff then they must all believe those things?  On big European nights at Ibrox, I’d look TV wanting Rangers to lose as it was impossible to support a Club whose fans chanted foul profanities about Catholics and seemed to hate everything I was. There was no middle ground, it was a bigoted club followed by bigoted fans, wasn’t it?

As I grew to manhood, got educated and travelled the world a bit, I would return and shake my head at the backward things I saw and heard at Scottish football grounds. But as I interacted with a wider variety of people I soon realised that much of the tribal chanting at football was empty rhetoric which only a few disturbed souls took seriously. There were and are deep rooted issues of ethnicity and identity in modern Scotland. The Protestant working class in particular have seen vast swathes of their belief system undermined. Industries they dominated have collapsed, few bother with the Kirk and echoes of Empire now seen trite and outdated. Ideas of inclusive Scottish-ness in the new millennium do not sit comfortably with the perceived aping of Ulster Unionist ideologies. The ‘No one likes us we don’t care’ mentality is honestly held by some who follow Rangers. They feel a little betrayed by a society which in many ways sped past them as they sat in time capsule Ibrox.

The recent refusal of the SPL and SFL to accommodate the Newco Rangers in anything other than the lowest tier of Scottish football is viewed by some as symptomatic of the disdain Rangers were held in by many. Few believe that the support of the Division 3 option espoused by many Rangers fans is anything other than an attempt to hurt other clubs financially. The ‘We are the people’ ideology may have difficulty dealing with the fact that the other clubs rightly refused to break the rules for anyone. So we find ourselves in a unique situation. The new Rangers will begin again in the Third Division. There is a feeling that despite all the negativity the situation offers opportunities to renew Scottish football. Perhaps we can rebuild our national game and leave our petty prejudices and stereotypes in the past? Time will tell but the prejudices of the past are deeply ingrained in a sizable minority of people and it may be many years before football fans look back at the present day and wonder where such medieval attitudes came from. Change is always possible and as Michael Jackson once sang, it starts with the man in the mirror.