Friday, 18 October 2019

Have you no honour?

Have you no honour?

There is a scene in the epic historical drama ‘Troy’ when old King Priam of Troy watches in horror as the Greek warriors swarm into his holiest temple and begin smashing the statues and killing anyone who crosses their path. He shouts at them over and over, ‘have you no honour?’ In their bloodlust and frenzy they don’t hear him and continue the slaughter.

This week social media echoed to the recriminations of another revelation about a coach who abused young footballers. For years Celtic supporters have put up with fans of various clubs chanting about paedophilia in a most despicable manner.  A sizable group among the Rangers support was perhaps loudest in this due to their sheer numbers but they were not alone. It was and remains contemptable to point score over the abuse of young footballers. Young lives were blighted by these wicked men and it is totally abhorrent to use it as a stick to beat a rival club.

The revelations about what occurred at Ibrox in the 1990s sadly came as no surprise but instead of a depressing shake of the head and kind words for the victims, a minority sought a cheap and tawdry revenge. I can well understand the anger that the constant ‘weaponising’ of child abuse provokes in some Celtic supporters but to respond in kind simply lowers yourself to the gutter inhabited by those with no moral compass. It saddens me to see Celtic supporters respond in kind to the moronic jibes they themselves have endured for years.

How easy it is to become that which we claim to despise…

Any cursory search of the internet will soon teach us that these predators exist in all walks of life, all lands, all social classes, all faiths and none. They seek out the vulnerable and powerless, the weak and lost and exploit them for their own twisted purposes. All sympathy must go to the victims and the full force of the law must come crashing down on the perpetrators’ heads. Decent people would never contemplate using these crimes as a basis for point scoring at a football match or in conversations online. These crimes are a problem for our society and indeed for all mankind. No group or sect is free from abusers and it is everyone’s job to be vigilant and help protect the vulnerable.

The internet can be an ugly place at times and the anonymity it affords brings out the worse in some. Footballing rivalries often lead to harsh words online but the Celtic – Rangers rivalry goes way beyond most in that it is a complicated layer of football, politics, identity and history. The depth of naked hatred a minority feel for these two clubs means that nothing is off limits when it comes to goading the opposition. Thus we see a complete lack of balance and conformation bias on an industrial scale when any opportunity presents itself. This occurs when one drunken moron singing about Lee Rigby or some fool cursing the pope is passed off as typical of the whole group when nothing could be further from the truth. Or when a few folk for whatever reason don’t respect a minute’s silence and the thousands who did are ignored or tarred with the same brush. Conformation bias dictates that we seek evidence which supports our pre conceived bias and ignore any evidence which doesn’t. Thus as German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed…

"An adopted hypothesis gives us lynx-eyes for everything that confirms it and makes us blind to everything that contradicts it."

We human beings stereotype whole groups with our bias, subconscious or not. On social media platforms the ‘filter bubble’ magnifies this effect further as the ‘algorithmic editing’ cuts our diverse opinions and leaves us all in an echo chamber of like-minded voices. It’s important that we remain brave enough to call out in our friends that which we so readily condemn in our adversaries. The bitterness we see at times from a vociferous minority in Scottish football poisons the well for us all. It isn’t about the team you follow or the politics you hold to; it’s about decent people saying ‘that’s enough’ when the less inhibited go too far. This deplorable online ‘tit for tat’ debate on child abuse very often goes too far and the victims are reduced to pawns in a slanging match.

The National Association For People Abused In Childhood (NAPAC) suggests that one in 5 people will have experienced some sort of abuse in childhood. This abuse may have been physical, psychological, emotional or sexual. For some it is a combination of them all. Those who make a public display about such issues without thinking for a moment about the victims are reprehensible. The chances are that those who chant about such things at football will have survivors of abuse standing near them. Just as those who use abuse to attack others online will never know the hurt they cause victims who read their comments.

I love football; it’s a great game when played well. It also brings out genuine passions and rivalries which add to the spectacle. But there are some who lose their sense of decency when it comes to interacting with rivals. It’s not clever, it’s not funny and it’s not decent to chant about child abuse at a football match nor is it ever acceptable to use it to attack a whole community when those to blame are the perpetrators of these crimes and no one else. There is no guilt by association although lessons must be learned about how those who commit such crimes can be prevented from gaining access to our youngsters.

It was disheartening to see the slanging match on social media this week but there were those brave enough to say, ‘that’s enough- this isn’t an issue which football supporters should be using in this manner.’ There will always be a minority who don’t give a damn though and they are probably beyond redemption. Old King Priam would be wasting his breath asking them ‘have you no honour?’

 For the decent majority though, there is a responsibility to the victims of abuse to see that their suffering isn’t compounded by tolerating online slanging matches. This is about real people suffering. We should be much better than this.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Boys Keep Swinging

Boys Keep Swinging

John Doolin looked around the walls of the suite at Celtic Park where he was meeting a few friends for lunch before the league deciding game with Rangers; Brendan Rodgers’ side had swept all before them again and looked on course for a second straight treble. The walls were adorned with images of Celtic greats from the past and as life moved on and he got older he smiled to think just how many of those Celtic players he had seen play. ‘Getting old Johnny boy,’ he said to himself as he pushed open the door and entered the already busy Kerrydale Suite. He could hear the buzz of supporters ready for a game which could see Celtic clinch the title against their biggest rivals. Above the laughter and noise he could hear David Bowie’s distinctive voice coming from invisible speakers singing, ‘Boys keep swinging.’ He sure hoped these Bhoys would be swinging today.

His lifelong friend Paddy Murray waved him over to a table which was already boisterous and happy. Paddy’s boyhood red hair was now mostly grey and a fading scar on his left cheek reminded Johnny of a less happy time in their youth. ‘Aw right Johnny boy? Come and have a seat.’ A bottle of beer was pressed into his hand and he sat. ‘We’re just been asking what was the best league winning day you’ve attended? Alfie says Love Street in 86. Geezer goes for the centenary year against Dundee and big Tony reckons it was last year’s invincible season. What do you think?’ John smiled, ‘Ah that’s an easy wan Paddy. You’ll remember it well mate because you were with me,’ As he began to speak, his mind drifted back almost forty years to a very different Glasgow and a very different Celtic Park…

Glasgow 1979
Ma have ye seen my scarf?’ sixteen year old Johnny Doolin called into the kitchen. ‘I don’t think ye should wear a scarf tonight John. You know what that lot are like.’ Johnny sighed, ‘I’ll keep it under my coat till I get tae the game, noo where is it?’ His mother entered the living room of their second floor flat and pointed towards a cupboard with a sigh, ‘It’s in there, son but promise me you’ll be careful.’ He opened the cupboard and found she’d secreted his Celtic scarf in a plastic bag. ‘I’ll keep it in the bag till I get tae Celtic Park.’ Johnny said turning to face her. ‘I’ll be careful Ma, don’t worry.’  She smiled at him, ’I know ye will. Big finale the night, I hope yeez win, son.’  He hugged his mother rather unexpectedly and she smiled, ‘Whit’s that for?’ ‘I don’t need a reason tae hug my maw dae ah?’ he said before heading for the door, ‘I’ll be back straight after the game. I’m heading up tae meet Paddy noo.’

As he skipped down the dank stairs of the east end tenement block he zipped up his jacket, placing the bag containing his Celtic scarf inside it. He stepped out into a blustery but bright May evening and headed along the London Road towards his friend Paddy’s house. They’d been good mates since their day’s at St Mary’s primary school and were both Celtic mad. For Johnny it was inherited from his old man who took him to his first game when he was four years old not that he recalled much about it. He did recall though being perched on his da’s shoulders as they left games and made their way along Janefield Street through the noisy crowd. It was exciting for a wee boy and he’d caught the Celtic bug. The Macaroon bars helped as did the buttery rolls on cheese his old man bought from a guy who sold them outside the stadium from a huge cardboard box.  In the end though he’d just stare at the field watching those green and white hooped players giving their all as the crowd roared them on.

Johnny knew the east end well and knew where to avoid when Celtic hosted Rangers. There were bars, corners and even individual closes it was best to stay away from on such days. The mixture of alcohol and the strong feelings this match brought out in some often led to trouble. He made a habit of looking a good hundred yards ahead as he made his way to Paddy’s house which situated near the Barras Market. He could often spot problems before they occurred and would cross the road, turn a corner or even just do a U-turn if necessary. He could see the blue clad fans outside certain pubs but as he neared the Paddy’s house green became the dominant colour. He bounded up the stairs to Paddy’s first floor flat. The close smelled of urine and the lights were out again, it all gave the impression of dankness. He knocked on the door and Paddy’s long suffering mother smiled at him, ‘Hi John son, Paddy’s in his room. Will you tell him to turn that bloody music down when you go in?’

As Johnny approached the room door he could hear the dulcet tones of Debbie Harry singing, ‘Once I had a love and it was gas, soon turned out to have a heart of glass.’ He liked his music did Paddy. As he opened the door John saw Paddy in his hooped Celtic shirt having a wee dance to himself as he sang along. ‘Alright Paddy, still fantasising about Debbie Harry?’ Paddy turned a little embarrassed at being seen cavorting around his room. ‘Johnny Boy, who disnae want a wee ten minutes with the bold Debbie? Ye could hing a wet Crombie oan it when I think about her.’ Johnny laughed, ‘It’s always been the blonde yin fae Abba for me.’ The two friends laughed before Paddy said, ‘Must win tonight Johnny, no wanting that mob winning another treble.’ Before Johnny could answer the next single on the stack Paddy had set dropped onto the turntable of his record player. The unmistakable sound of David Bowie began to fill the room… ‘Heaven loves ya, the clouds part for ya, nothing stands in your way when you’re a boy….’ Johnny hoped nothing stood in the way of his Bhoys tonight. This really was a winner takes all game.

The two friends stood among the seething mass of Celtic fans gathered in the Jungle as the game began. This was it, the team would need to give their all and so would the fans. There was a ceaseless cacophony of noise in the old stadium that night as they roared and sang themselves hoarse. Rangers scored first but that just seemed to drive the Celtic players on. Under the TV gantry in the Jungle the two friends joined the huge Celtic support in roaring out their defiance. It was as if this mass of humanity became one and refused to accept defeat. The Rangers goal was under siege but somehow held out till half time.

The second half was much the same but things took a grim turn when Johnny Doyle was sent off for kicking Alex McDonald. Amazingly Celtic’s ten men still powered forward, roared on by three quarters of the stadium. When Celtic equalised the place erupted and there were bodies falling, strangers hugging and an incredible level of noise cascading onto the pitch. Johnny hugged Paddy for all he was worth as they literally jumped for joy. Less than ten minutes later Celtic took the lead and again Celtic Park erupted but no sooner had the celebrating fans settled when Rangers equalised; a shot from Russell somehow found its way through a forest of legs before nestling in the corner of the net. There were fewer than fifteen minutes left for Celtic to save the match and win the title.

The Celtic players sensed it was now or never and the 10 men threw themselves at the Rangers defence like men possessed. Waves of attack batted at the door but through luck and some desperate defending Rangers held on. Then with just five minutes left, George McCluskey weaved his way into the box and smashed a shot across the despairing keeper. It hit a defender and spun into the net. Celtic Park went wild! As the game entered its dying moments and fans just wanted to hear the final whistle. Murdo McLeod took possession of the ball on the right side of the Rangers box, ‘Put it in the crowd, Murdo!’ someone shouted but the young midfielder hammered an unstoppable shot high into the net! It was over Celtic had done it. The title was theirs and Johnny and Paddy celebrated like it was the greatest day of their lives.

The younger folk at the table who weren’t around in 1979 listened to Johnny relay this story with a look of awe. ‘What a game that must have been!’ one of them said. ‘Oh it was,’ smiled Paddy ‘but we’ve got a title to win today so another display like that will do just fine.’  As they stood to head for their seats in the huge north stand, Paddy smiled at his old friend, ‘We’ve had some times following the Celts eh?’ Johnny nodded, ‘Better that a date wi Debbie Harry?’ Paddy laughed, ‘It’s close but Aye, the Celts just win it.’

Saturday, 5 October 2019

The Ghosts of Cable Street

The Ghosts of Cable Street

Max Levitas was a child of Jewish refugees who had fled from the dreadful anti-Semitic pogroms in imperial Russia to begin a new life in Ireland. His father had worked with Jim Larkin in Dublin and fought for the rights of workers there although his activities saw him blacklisted and made finding work difficult. Max was born in Dublin in 1915 and his parents had to lie with him and his sibling on the floor of their tenement as the bullets flew during the 1916 rising. He moved to Glasgow when he was 15 due to his father’s difficulty in earning a living in Ireland. Glasgow had a major Jewish population in those times mainly in and around the Gorbals area. It was in Glasgow that Max developed further his own lifelong commitment to fighting for the rights of the ordinary working class people he saw struggling around him in the depression hit city.

His family moved to London in the early 1930s and settled in among the east end’s large Jewish population. Living cheek by Jowell with tens of thousands of Jews in the packed terrace houses of the east end was a large Irish Catholic population who had come to the city to work in the docks which were at that time the busiest in the world. Max recalled being told about the dockers' strike of 1912 when the employers sought to starve the workers into submission. Jewish families fed the children of striking Irish workers as it was plain that many were going hungry. Despite occasional friction between the communities this act of kindness wasn’t forgotten.

The rise of fascism in Italy, Spain and Germany in the 1930s found its parallel in the British Union of Fascists, a Political movement led by Oswald Mosely. Mosely had visited Italy, met Mussolini and saw fascism as the way forward for Britain. By the mid-1930s the British Union of Fascists claimed 50,000 members and adopted some of the hallmarks of European fascism. Anti- Semitism was never far from the surface and when Moseley announced that he would lead a march of thousands of Black-shirted Fascists through the east end of London in October 1936 there was genuine alarm in the Jewish community. They had watched Hitler and his followers terrorise the Jews of Germany and most Jews in the east end came from families who fled persecution in Russia and elsewhere. There was a determination that the black shirts wouldn’t be given free rein to terrorise the east end’s Jewish community.

Max Levitas, who had been arrested a year earlier for painting ‘No to Fascism’ in large letters on three sides of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, saw that a storm was coming. He was determined that there would be no pogrom in London’s east end and joined community leaders in discussing what they should do. When it became clear that Moseley and his Fascists would be funnelled down Cable Street, enabled by a huge Police operation, the local community decided to act. The Jews of the east end were joined by thousands of Irish workers who remembered the Jewish community’s support during the 1912 strike and together they set up barricades to stop the black-shirts. Max Levitas recalled what happened next…

‘Mosely and his fascists wanted to take over the east end, to run out the Jews and communists. We had to stop them. It was the people, united, and fighting together. Suddenly a barricade was erected there and they put an old lorry in the middle of the road and old mattresses. The people up the top of the flats, mainly Irish Catholic women, were throwing rubbish on to the police. We were all side by side. I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic Dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism.

As the Police attempted to clear the barricades they were resisted by thousands of ordinary people determined to keep the fascists out of their impoverished but proud streets. Children threw marbles under the police horses and some riders fell as their horses slipped and stumbled. Max and his brother Morri (Maurice) were involved for hours in the battles with the Police who were determined to clear the road and get Mosely and his Black-shirts through. Morri would later join the Connolly Column of the international brigades which went to Spain to fight Franco and his fascists.

As the battle of Cable Street was fought out, Mosely was giving fascist salutes from his Rolls Royce car to his followers who were positive that the Police would clear the road and let them march but the people of the east end were equally determined that it would not enter their streets. The barricades, flying bricks and bottles and above all the sheer determination of the people meant that Police officer in charge had to return to Mosely and tell him that there was no possibility of the march going down Cable Street; he would have to turn back. It was seen by the left in Britain as a great victory of ordinary working people over the powerful and insidious forces of fascism.

Bernard Kops was a ten year old Jewish boy in the east end of London then and he recalls that his parents had to review their opinions after the events at Cable Street. He said in a BBC documentary…

“My mother said there were only two types of people in the world. Jews and Jew-haters. Of course, when Cable Street came along, the Irish labourers and Dockers came out and it was them that really made sure Mosley didn’t get through. My mother and father really had to change their minds after that and accept that others did come to help us out.”

Mosely and his movement were far from finished and some UK newspapers supported him openly. He went to Berlin after the battle of Cable Street to marry society girl Dianna Mitford and his old friend Joseph Goebbels hosted the wedding. Guest of honour was a certain Adolf Hitler. The British Union of Fascists was closely allied to the Nazis and when the true nature of fascism became apparent it spelled the end of its seemingly inexorable rise. There was a time when it looked as if Fascism was the coming force in British politics but the horrors of the war demonstrated its true face.

Like many working class lads from Glasgow, my formative years introduced me to left wing politics in a way that seemed entirely natural. We didn’t have much and people with any intelligence would look at the conditions we lived in and asked why it was so. The only people living in the poorer parts of Glasgow who voted Conservative in those times were those of an Orange persuasion. I recall chatting to one such chap at a new year’s party and he told me it was all to do with the Tories being stronger on Northern Ireland than Labour which struck me as odd. To ignore the social issues he saw every day and view everything through the lens of his orangeism blinded him to the reality of the times.

Trips on the supporters’ bus to Celtic park and indeed all over Scotland and Europe also saw many interesting debates on politics. Of course the ongoing conflict in Ireland at the time was a regular topic of discussion and there was a surprisingly lively debate about the nature and place or armed struggle and whether it made reunification more likely or drove a wedge between the communities. There was and remains a smug assumption that football supporters lack the faculty for nuanced debate about complex political issues but trust me that wasn’t the case. I’ve heard men quote James Connolly or Jim Larkin to support their arguments and learned that the poison of sectarianism is not only divisive but detrimental to the progress of all working people.

The music scene then also saw bands with a distinct political message. In those days I saw The Tom Robinson Band, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and a variety of Irish and Scottish folk groups who often sang of working class life and the events which shaped it. Politics then was still largely influenced by social class and the political parties reflected this. Labour was still a party of the left then until the Blair years changed that irrevocably.

Life has changed hugely since those times but Brexit and populism has seen the rise of fascism and racism again across Europe and America. It may not have reached the levels Max Levitas saw in the 1930s but its face is just as ugly. It calls itself the ‘Alt-Right’ or other such pseudonyms but it remains the same in ideology. It is to be hoped that the ordinary people aren’t seduced by its message and resist it as Max did all those years ago.

Max died in 2018 at the age of 103 and never stopped working to improve the lot of ordinary people. To his dying day he warned working class people not to be divided by racism sectarianism or any form of intolerance. That message still resonates today.

We may not be called to the barricades as people were at the battle of Cable Street but we should still resist and challenge intolerance whenever we see it.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The Jewel in the crown

The Jewel in the crown
September 30th 1944 was a time of great upheaval in Europe as the war dragged on but in the working class district of Viewpark near Glasgow there was some cheer as a baby boy was born to Matt and Sarah Johnstone. He was their first child and four siblings would follow in the fullness of time. They named him James Connolly Johnstone. That baby born into a time of hardship and worry would grow up to become one of the greatest footballers these islands have ever produced. We know him of course as the magical Jimmy Johnstone and those who saw him play at his peak were blessed indeed.

As a boy he dribbled around milk bottles until he had a mastery of the football that few players of his generation possessed. He would run with pit boots on and swore it added two or three yards to his speed when he played games without them. He performed well and stood out in his Primary school team before going onto St John’s Secondary school were one of his teacher’s, Mr Cassiday, used his friendship with former Celtic player Sammy Wilson to get the Celtic mad youngster a role as a ball boy at Celtic Park. Being a ball boy was a way to get involved in the Celtic youth set up and Jimmy McGrory wisely signed up the flame haired youngster. Jimmy Johnstone had arrived at his spiritual home and he would dazzle supporters over the coming years with his virtuosity and willingness to fight with all he had for his beloved Celtic.

He was a skinny teenager yet to make a senior appearance when Celtic faced the mighty Real Madrid in a challenge match in 1962. The Spanish Champions and five times European champions had an almost mythical quality about them in those days. This was especially so in Glasgow where they had won the European cup 2 years earlier by destroying Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 with a devastating display of attacking football. 72,000 supporters watched as a talented young Celtic side put up stirring resistance against their illustrious opponents and despite going down 3-1 Celtic were cheered from the Park. The young hopeful looking on at the brilliance of Di Stefano, Santa Maria and Gento could never have dreamed he could play in such illustrious company and yet less than 5 years later Celtic’s misfiring but talented young team came of age and conquered Europe.

For most of the Celtic team who defeated Inter Milan in 1967, the chance to face Real Madrid in the Bernabeu stadium was an opportunity to display to the aristocrats of European football that these pale lads from north-west Europe could play football of the highest order. Many of them were in the side which lost 3-1 to Real in that challenge match in 1962 and now had the chance to show how the power dynamic of European football had shifted and that their success in Lisbon was no fluke. For Jimmy Johnstone, that match in Madrid in June 1967 demonstrated to the world that he was a world class footballer. He turned in a display which was mesmeric and full of the inimitable brilliance his fans in Scotland knew he was capable of. It was his stage, his chance to shine and as he tore the Real Madrid defence to shreds the knowledgeable Spanish supporters in the huge crowd warmed to him. There were chants of ‘Ole’ as he left another defender in wake. Some defenders used rough house tactics to try and stop him but he picked himself up and ran at them again. It was in many ways the pinnacle of a remarkable season for Scottish football; Celtic were European Champions, Scotland had beaten World Cup winners England at Wembley and now a Scottish side was outplaying Real Madrid in their own stadium.

The late Bishop Joe Devine used to tell a story of a freezing day at Celtic Park in the late 1960s. Celtic was playing a league match and Jimmy Johnstone had led the left back on a merry dance for the whole game. On one occasion Jimmy turned the full back inside out 5 times in as many seconds and a slightly inebriated fan sitting beside the then Father Devine turned to him and said, ‘Father, forgive me the bad language but see that wee man, is that no sheer fuckin poetry?’ The football Jimmy played when he was on his game was indeed poetry, it elevated football to an art form and those of us lucky to see him play knew at the time we were in the presence of greatness. Not that the ordinary boy from Viewpark had any airs and graces. Off the field he was just one of the lads but once he pulled that hooped shirt on; he elevated many a grey Saturday afternoon for the watching supporters into the happiest part of the week.

It helps supporters bond with a player when he has undoubted talent but with Jimmy it was more than that. He was Celtic to the core and had he not been on the field creating history with his team mates he would have been on the terrace cheering the team on. Hugh McIlvanney said of Jimmy…

 ‘’Johnstone will not be remembered simply as a footballer of electrifying virtuosity, though he was certainly that, with a genius for surreally intricate dribbling so extraordinary it is impossible for me to believe any other player before or since quite matched his mastery of tormenting, hypnotic ball control at the closest of quarters. As I have acknowledged in the past, other wingers might fairly be rated more reliably devastating but none of them besieged opponents with such a complex, concentrated swirl of deceptive manoeuvres or ever conveyed a more exhilarating sense of joy in working wonders with the ball.’’

There are so many wonderful tales to be told about Jimmy Johnstone that no article can do them justice. The destruction of Don Revie’s Leeds, his display against Red Star Belgrade, his tormenting of Rangers in so many derby games and his ability to make supporters gasp at his skills on a wet afternoon in the midst of a Scottish winter. The brutality of Atletico and Racing Club left their mark on him literally and metaphorically but as he washed the spit from his hair at half time in Buenos Aires not once did he complain or ask to be substituted. Nor did death threats on the phone in his hotel room in Madrid in 1974 stop him playing in the match. Jimmy was all heart and we loved him for it.

Jimmy’s brilliance was undeniably coupled with a more erratic side away from football. It can be hard when everyone is your friend and the pints are lined up. His time after football wasn’t always plain sailing and he knew dark and despondent periods in his life. There are players today who retire as millionaires and in honesty couldn’t lace his boots. However any time he strolled up to Celtic Park or joined his old comrades for a function he was embraced by the love the Celtic supporters still felt for him. He was Jimmy, their Lord of the wing, the jewel in the crown of Stein’s fabulous Celtic side. More than that though; he was one of them. It was fitting that a player who epitomised the Celtic way of playing should be voted by the fans as the greatest ever Celtic player. His old adversary John Grieg was given a similar accolade from Rangers supporters and demonstrated the different mind-set among fans of that club. Indeed Willie Waddell once said…

"Rangers like the big strong powerful fellows, with a bit of strength and solidity in the tackle, rather than the frivolous, quick moving stylists like Jimmy Johnstone, small, tiptoe through the tulips type of players."

Given the damage Jimmy did to Rangers in that era one wonders if Waddell had a grudging respect for Jimmy who was a tough competitor as well as a supremely gifted footballer. Most Celtic supporters would far rather win with the artist and entertainer such as Jimmy in the side than adopt the muscular approach Rangers often took.

Jimmy’s death from Motor Neurone Disease in March 2006 was cruel ending to a life which gave so much to others. The outpouring of emotion and affection for Jimmy that spring was as heartfelt and genuine as it gets. We knew we’d never see his like again and it was hard to let go of a man who gave so much of his body, heart and soul to Celtic. He faced that awful illness with the same courage and determination he demonstrated when he faced the more ruthless defenders he took on. It was the one adversary he couldn’t get past and he left us in March 2006 aged just 61.

Generations of young Celtic supporters will see his image immortalised in bronze on the Celtic way and will ask the older generation ‘What was he like?’ As one lucky enough to have spent my childhood years watching him play I can tell you that he was the best. We never forget our heroes at Celtic Park and as long as Celtic exists Jimmy will be remembered with pride.

In memory's view he is weaving past defenders, turning this way and that as the crowd roared out for more. From the old Jungle the refrain pours onto the field… Jimmy oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing….’

Rest in peace wee man there was no one like you and I doubt there ever will be.

Jimmy Johnstone (1944-2006)

Saturday, 21 September 2019



Following disturbances at two Irish unity marches in Glasgow there was a somewhat hysterical reaction from some in the media who spoke of the scourge of sectarianism being back again and the usual nonsense was talked about the ‘divisive’ nature of Catholic schools. We even had a former high ranking police chief, Tom Wood formerly of Lothian and Borders Police, call for their abolition. The idea that the prejudice is taught in Catholic schools is of course risible nonsense just as the idea of ‘segregated’ education is demonstrably false too. In an increasingly secular society the idea of faith schools is anathema to some while in others they awaken old prejudices. Most Scots are decent, tolerant people but for a small and vociferous minority a latent prejudice persists. A look at the history of Scotland will demonstrate clearly that historical prejudice against Catholics predates Catholic schools joining the state system in 1918.

Few countries in Europe adopted the reformation as completely as Scotland did. So successful were the reformers that the Catholic faith which had existed in Scotland for a thousand years was extinguished from the land and only clung on in a few northern and western areas. Scotland’s conversion to Presbyterianism left a residual hatred of Catholicism which was strong enough to cause chaos when Charles the first attempted to reform the Church of Scotland in 1637. His reforms were regarded by many as being too close to Catholic forms of worship and were met with scorn and violence. In popular legend, a certain Jenny Geddes heard Charles’s ‘Book of Common Prayer’ being read out by the Minister in St Giles church and shouted ‘Daur ye say mass in my lug’ and threw a stool at his head. Violence broke out in the church and spread to the town as a mob gathered. In the end Charles used force to try and crush the people opposed to his attempted reform of the Scottish church and this eventually led to all out civil war across his three Kingdoms.

Whether the events surrounding Jenny Geddes happened in the manner described above or not the story illustrates the more puritanical nature of Scottish Protestantism in the 17th century. Anything which smacked of ‘popery’ could lead to violence and often did. Little more than a generation earlier in 1614, Catholic Priest John Ogilvie travelled to Scotland in the guise of a horse trader using the name of John Watson to secretly administer to the 20 or so Catholics left in Glasgow. Catholicism had been outlawed in 1560 and any found practicing it were breaking the law and likely to face severe penalties. Ogilvie was captured and tortured but refused to name the secret Catholics he administered to. As he was led to his death at Glasgow cross he is said to have kissed the gallows and threw his rosary into the watching crowd saying ‘If there be here any hidden Catholics then pray for me but I will not have the prayers of heretics.’ He was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In 1780 the UK Parliament sought to ease the repressive anti-Catholic laws particularly the harsh measures contained in ‘Popery Act’ of 1698.  The ‘Papist Act’ sought modest easing of the discrimination Catholics in the UK had to endure then. It led to a mob of 60,000 marching on Parliament carrying banners bearing the slogan ‘No Popery’ and in the ensuing rioting which took place across Britain, some 285 people were dead. Catholic churches burned and the Embassies of Catholic countries were attacked by the mob. The rioting affected Glasgow which was said to have 43 anti-Catholic societies at the time.

The 1798 rebellion in Ireland which saw the disenfranchised Catholic majority joined by significant numbers of Presbyterians under the banner of the United Irishmen would also have repercussions in Scotland. Scottish soldiers who fought to repress the rebellion returned home and set up the first Orange Lodges in the country. They had of course come into contact with Orangemen in Ireland and found their ideals close to their own. Orangeism with its strong strand of anti-Catholicism found parts of Scotland to be fertile soil in which to grow.

The Penal laws in Ireland which sought to force the indigenous population to accept the Church of Ireland as their church failed miserably. Under them Catholics and Presbyterians had to pay for Anglican churches most of them would never use. Catholics were banned from holding public office, being members of Parliament, owning firearms, excluded from voting, denied education and should one of a Catholic’s children change faith he would automatically inherit all his father’s property. These laws were designed to disempower and impoverish the Catholic majority in Ireland. The Penal Laws were, according to Edmund Burke...

 "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.

It was the section of this population living close to poverty who were most affected by the calamity of an Gorta Mor which in the 1840s saw Ireland’s population fall by a quarter. The great hunger was the catalyst for mass migration from Ireland and tens of thousands arrived in Glasgow often to a less than friendly welcome. The industrial revolution needed their muscle but for the most part they languished in the poorest parts of town and suffered suspicion and hostility. For some native Scots, they were uneducated, uncouth and for the most part Catholic and this last fact reawakened dormant prejudices in some.

The Catholic Church in Scotland began to grow in and the hierarchy was restored in 1878 meaning that for the first time since 1560 the church had a formal structure in the land. Education was one of their chief roles and various religious orders were set up or arrived from abroad to try to educate their flock. The schools they set up were not ideal and were insufficient to meet the growing demand of a fast growing population. The 1872 Education Act made it mandatory for children of Primary age to attend school. The Act also saw rates levied on tax-payers to pay for the building of school board schools and something of a building boom commenced. The Act was interpreted in such a manner that the religious education to be taught in the board schools was to be Protestant in nature and for this reason the Catholic schools refused to enter the system. Thus in the years from 1872 to 1918 Catholic tax payers paid rates for schools which for reasons of conscience their children could not use. That 46 year period saw Catholic schools struggle as the state sector powered on and something had to be done.

The 1918 Education Act was designed to remedy this great injustice and finally brought Catholic schools into the state system. The ethos of the school and the religious instruction therein was to be decided by the ‘denominational body’ responsible. The 1918 Act doesn’t specifically mention the Catholic Church and thus Scotland has several Episcopalian schools and at least one Jewish School. Given the numbers of religious orders involved in teaching (Marists, Jesuits, Notre Dame sisters, etc.) the more strident bigots in Scotland decried the Act as ‘Rome on the Rates’ conveniently forgetting that Catholics were rate payers too and the 46 years during which those same Catholic rate-payers subsidised what were de facto Protestant Schools.

For Scottish Catholics the 1918 Act put their schools on a secure footing and the community began to use education as a vehicle for advancing in society. That continues to this day and Catholic schools do an excellent job particularly in areas of deprivation. In the last census back in 2011, it was noticeable that Scottish Catholics were more likely to live in areas of deprivation than any other group but also that they were despite this just as highly represented in higher education. For many, education was the engine of social mobility which improved their lives greatly.

Today Catholic schools are more diverse than they have ever been and some even have a non-Catholic majority attending them. They are popular with many because of the high standards they set and the religious ethos at their heart which contrary to the opinion of some who appear blinded by their prejudice are both inclusive and welcoming. Tom Devine, Scotland’s leading historian said recently of attempts to portray Catholic schools as guilty of creating sectarianism….

“You’ve got to distinguish between people who have done serious academic research on these issues and numpties.”

Devine cited the findings of the Scottish government’s advisory group on tackling sectarianism in 2013, which concluded that sectarianism did not stem from Catholic schools, nor would it be eradicated by closing them.

The above historical description clearly demolishes the idea of Catholic schools causing bigotry. That particular evil is learned at a father’s knee and perpetuated by people who have a very limited understanding of the conditioning they have gone through which makes them think like that. The sort of anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic rhetoric we still see occasionally in Scotland is an echo of a centuries old problem. It is on the wane and is increasingly seen as embarrassingly medieval by most Scots.

Those who caused trouble at recent Irish Unity marches were few in number and Professor Devine was scathing of them when he said…

‘The recent violence was driven by a hard core of bigots who felt threatened by renewed calls for a united Ireland and Scottish independence after the Brexit vote. Police should take a leaf out of the book of Strathclyde police, which dealt with the Ulster Defence Association during the Troubles of the 1980s.The chief superintendent responsible for policing them referred to the UDA as the Union of Dumb Amateurs. Infiltrating these people will be very easy, so they can be identified and face the courts. Intelligence, whether it is done by surveillance or undercover operations, will quickly bring an end to this problem. There were probably fewer than 50 people prepared to cause trouble and these are people with distant connections to Ulster on the Protestant side, some of whom belong to Orange lodges, many of whom support a certain football team, but they are a minority.”

As Scotland moves forward in the 21st Century and looks to find its place in the world it should leave some of its less savoury baggage in the past. When calls for the abolition of Catholic schools cease, we will know that we have reached a new reality. Some it seems will never change their ways but they are increasingly out of touch with reality and belong to the past. The future belongs to all decent Scots who utterly reject the dumb prejudice of the bygone days of yore.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Breathing Space

Breathing Space

There has been much talk about Glasgow City Council’s decision to call a halt to four planned Loyalist Parades in the city this weekend and one Republican march. The decision came in the wake of violence at two Republican marches in the previous week which were met by loyalist counter-protestors leading to ugly scenes on the city’s streets. The council stated that they needed some ‘breathing space’ to assess the situation, talk to the Police and try to find a long term solution to these contentious displays.

A letter to a Glasgow newspaper expressed an opinion which many in the city today would probably agree with…

’With the opinions of the Orangemen the public have nothing to do so long as they keep those opinions to themselves: but what right do the peaceful inhabitants of Glasgow have to be frightened out of their propriety by the wanders through the streets of a set of enthusiasts who are never against having recourse to violence.’

It may surprise you to know that despite the above comment sounding as if it was uttered yesterday; it was in fact taken from a letter to the Glasgow Courier and Chronicle in 1821. Such was the violence of those early Orange Parades the city fathers banned them for years. This occurred again later in the nineteenth century as Glasgow’s large Catholic population reacted to visceral displays of triumphalism marching through their neighbourhoods in a predictable manner.

Elaine McFarland dates the Orange Order’s first attempt at a Twelfth of July parade in Scotland to that troubled day in 1821…

‘Only three lodges took part on this first occasion, parading through the principal streets of Glasgow. Watched by ‘an immense concourse of spectators’ they were roughly handled and some had their sashes torn off. . . . In 1822 the pattern was repeated. Now seven lodges including those from Paisley and Pollokshaws assembled to march, contrary to the magistrate’s proscription, to Fraser’s Hall in King Street. The company met with little opposition during the march since it was unexpected. Once inside the hall, however, they were besieged by a number of ‘zealous Irish catholics, most ready to give battle’. Police and even military intervention was required and 127 Orangemen were taken into their safekeeping, returning home ignominiously ‘with sashes in their pockets’. A parade was again threatened for the following year but was cancelled and no public Orange processions seem to have taken place in Glasgow till the 1840s.’

It’s clear that the ‘zealous Irish Catholics’ of 1821 were not willing to play the passive victim but it’s equally interesting that in 2019 as in 1821 it is the threat of disorder on the streets which makes politicians sit up and pay attention to what is going on at these parades. In that sense those who attempted to disrupt two Republican parades in Glasgow this past month have unintentionally caused the cancellation of Orange Parades in the city this weekend.

The Order reacted angrily to the banning of their parades and as is their way continued to frame their response in a way which suggests they are the victims of political and religious intolerance in all of this. The language they use conforms to the terminology often heard in the north of Ireland and a ‘narrow minded band of anti-unionist nationalist councillors’ are blamed for the ban. (Glasgow has an SNP administration) The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland,  stated on their website…

‘It is a sad day for democracy when a narrow minded band of anti-unionist nationalist councillors, aided and abetted by Police Scotland, abuse the law and introduce illegal measures that curtail a citizen’s right of peaceful assembly. For over 200 years, Orange Lodges in Scotland have existed in many parts of Scotland, standing up for the rights of the working classes.  Our parades are the way we exercise our right of assembly, and our membership takes part in our parades with great respect and decorum.’

The idea that the Orange Order is a champion of the working classes and demonstrates ‘respect and decorum’ is laughable to many Scottish Catholics who hear tunes such as the ‘Famine Song’ and ‘Billy Boys’ played at Parades and see banners bearing images such as that of Bill Campbell the head of the Scottish UVF during the troubles. Campbell was jailed for bombing Irish Bars in Glasgow and in one darkly farcical episode his group blew up an Apprentice Boys Hall in Bridgeton when explosives they’d hidden in an oven went off when someone put on the oven to heat up pies. The actions of men like Campbell saw his group go to prison for a combined 500 years. His nephew was convicted in the 1990s for the shocking murder of schoolboy Mark Scott as he walked home from a Celtic match.

The Order has in fairness tried hard to disassociate itself from the rougher elements and there are many strands of opinion within it ranging from evangelical Christians who have no time for those who break the law through to those who use it as a vehicle for their prejudices. They would argue that their organisation had nothing to do with the disorder seen in Glasgow in the past two weeks but they are part of the context in which it all takes place. Perception is all and the manifestation of Orangeism most people come into contact with is the Parades which pass through our towns and cities each year and they are often unedifying spectacles. For those Scots with no time for such medieval triumphalism there is a sense that they are out of step with modernity and a leftover from times long gone. For many Scottish Catholics they are viewed as triumphalist and intended to remind them who ‘the people’ are.

The recent assault on a Priest at St Alphonsus church in Glasgow’s east end by hangers on at an Orange Parade demonstrated the atmosphere which pervades some of these parades. Despite all the protestations of the Orange Order about their innocence in this incident, the fact remains that their parades are often the focal point for less bright individuals who enact anti-Catholic prejudice in songs, words and actions. This is a responsibility they cannot shrug off.

Most people I’ve spoken to this past week are of the opinion that Orange and Republican Parades are divisive, whether they set out to be or not, and shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt their lives or the life of the city. Republicans will of course be angered by any description of them as ‘sectarian’ but as with Orangeism perception is all and most people simply view the spectacle of two groups playing tunes about the conflict in Ireland as an anachronism in modern Scotland. It did not go unnoticed that Glasgow now has more Orange Parades each year than Derry and Belfast combined. As Ireland stumbles towards a peaceful future do we really need camp followers in Scotland stoking the flames of old divisions?

Glasgow city council and the Scottish Police have a difficult task on their hands to reconcile the freedom of citizens to assemble and march with the possibility of disorder at such marches and all the attendant disruption they bring. One suggestion was to allow parades to take place only if those organising them meet the policing costs. With around 400 police officers, horses and a helicopter involved in policing the last Republican parade, that would all but end such parades. It is surely not acceptable that working class movements, however distasteful we find some of them, are priced out of demonstrating?  

I think a middle way will be found and that contentious parades will be reduced in number and routed away from areas of sensitivity such as Catholic churches. One suggestion was that parades should be allowed but should be taking place at times and in places where disruption is minimalised. The right to demonstrate is important in any society which calls itself free but so too is the right of people to go about their business without fear and alarm at the behaviour of some attending these demonstrations.

In a democracy the price of freedom is accepting that we may be exposed to views which we disapprove of. The old adage often ascribed to Voltaire pertains… ‘I hate what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’ Getting the balance between freedom to assemble and the rights of citizens not to be inconvenienced or worse remains a difficult task. Most Scots have no time for political extremism or religious zealotry and are quite frankly embarrassed by what they often see on our streets. They would echo the words of  a Glasgow newspaper which said almost 200 years ago….

What right do the peaceful inhabitants of Glasgow have to be frightened out of their propriety by the wanders through the streets of a set of enthusiasts who are never against having recourse to violence?’