Friday, 31 January 2014

Now and again someone out there in the wide world of football has a go at Celtic or their fans in a manner which disturbs my sense of fair play. It happened a week or so back when author Irvine Welsh fired off some ill-advised tweets in the wake of Hibs 4-0 drubbing from Celtic at Easter Road.

As a child of the housing schemes of Glasgow, many of the scenes described in Irvine Welsh’s darkly comic novel ‘Trainspotting’ were worryingly familiar. Like many city dwellers I know of many who succumbed to drugs, alcohol, violence and the sort of despair that life at the bottom of the pile can engender in some. Welsh’s book was moulded into an exceptional movie by the excellent director Danny Boyle. That thumping soundtrack set against the grim reality of the drug culture at its seamiest worst was always going to make for compulsive viewing. Whether you like Welsh’s work or not he certainly caused ripples in the calm pond of the British cultural scene. His exposure of the underbelly of society and earthy use of vernacular Scottish dialect led to him being hailed as a genius by some and damned by others as a foul mouthed scheme boy who should know his place. I liked much of his output and still have a few books on the shelves which had their genesis in his interesting mind. It’s never cosy or comfortable reading with Welsh but it’s seldom boring either. Welsh gave a voice to people who usually go unheard in our literary tradition and demonstrated again that ordinary working class folk are as capable artistically as any of the Ox-Bridge crowd. He didn’t do easy stereotypes, or so I thought until his utterances online after the recent Hibs v Celtic match. He tweeted…

‘Tough one for Hibs but we were always going to find it hard against the financially/sectarian doped club with our makeshift defence.’

When challenged about this by a few Celtic supporters he responded by tweeting the following…

‘However we have the satisfaction of being the first to wear the proud green of beautiful Ireland, so ram that right up your sectarian holes.’

These strange utterances left many bemused. Financially doped? Sectarian?  Welsh seems to imply that Celtic (and Rangers) played the ‘sectarian card’ to gain financially and become more powerful in Scottish football. It is undeniable that Rangers pandered to base sectarianism for a large part of their history, but Celtic? Look at any dictionary for a definition of ‘Sectarian’ and you’ll find it says something like…

A person strongly supporting a particular religious group, especially in such a way as not to be willing to accept other beliefs.’

Does that definition describe Celtic or the vast majority of their fans? Hell no! Anyone who reads a history of Celtic will know that our sides have been mixed from the start. Given that the club was founded by a committee formed by a Marist Brother in the hall of a Catholic church, it is laudable that they refused to go down the exclusive route which other clubs, such as Hibs, did in late Victorian Scotland. That Welsh is a Hibs fan makes his utterances even more odd as he must know that his club’s roots were in Catholic Young Men’s Society at St Patrick’s Church in Edinburgh and that players in the club’s first years were members of the CYMS and all Catholics. Indeed Hibs exclusivity meant that they were initially refused entry to the Scottish game on the grounds that they weren’t a Scottish club but an Irish one! Welsh must also know that many of the Glasgow Irish saw Hibs as their team in the days before Celtic were founded. Many of the Glasgow Irish attended their appearance in the cup final of 1887 and celebrated their success in great style. Indeed it was at a celebration dinner to mark Hibs Cup Final victory of 1887 which first gave inspiration to the Glasgow Irish to form their own side. This celebration in St Mary’s Hall in the Calton district of Glasgow saw Hibs players and officials invited as honoured guests to share their triumph with their compatriots in the west. Indeed they urged their Glasgow Irish community to ‘do the same and found a club in the west.’ Brother Walfrid heard their call and did just that.

Welsh’s boast that Hibs were…‘first to wear the proud green of beautiful Ireland,’ may or may not be true given the large number of clubs using names such as ‘Harp’ or ‘Emerald’ which were founded and then vanished in the early days of Scottish football. It is of course true that Hibs pre-date Celtic but Welsh misses the crucial fact that they were the proud representatives of all the central belt Irish community, east and west in the days before 1888. Their ‘wearing of the green’ in many a triumph in the early days of Scottish football was as much a cause of  celebration in the east end of Glasgow as it was in Leith. Of course, Celtic’s poaching of their best players led to bad feeling between the clubs which lingered long. The West of Scotland’s huge Irish population always meant that Celtic would grow to be a bigger club than Hibs. His casual labelling of Celtic fans who challenged his tweets as ‘Sectarian’ demonstrates a lazy stereotyping which goes against the grain of so much of his work. Celtic, like every club, has fans of all shades of opinion. A few idiots follow Celtic as they do all clubs but sectarian? It’s bad enough that we live in a society which seeks to ‘sectarianize’ any display of Irishness without his thoughtless waffling adding to the demonization of an authentic and keenly held identity. Anyone who has read my ramblings will know I don’t appreciate the singing of Political songs at football but I will never accept that Irish nationalist songs are any more sectarian than Scottish ones.  So where is this ‘sectarian doping’ Mr Welsh?

Of course some of Welsh’s more sycophantic followers commended him for ‘slinging out a hook’ and watching the ‘fish bite’ as if it were all a big joke. This is the standard online reaction when you realise you’ve tweeted a lot of nonsense; it was all to get the dafties to bite. The tiresome and puerile ‘bad old Glasgow Bigots’ line was trotted out as if it were true. They even trotted out statistics on domestic violence after ‘Old Firm’ (remember them) games as if this were proof that all fans of Celtic were pond life. Utter  tosh which displayed the sort of myopic intolerance they claimed to be attacking. But maybe I’m reading too much into Welsh’s comments. Perhaps he was just a disappointed fan with a few beers in him blowing off steam? But then as this wealthy man sits in Miami pontificating on Scottish football and society perhaps he should consider the fact that in recent years I’ve been on the receiving end of sectarian abuse at St Mirren, Hearts, Dundee, Aberdeen, Rangers, Kilmarnock and yes even Hibs. That blows the myth that it’s all a ‘Weegie’ problem eh? Thought you were better than that Irvine but then maybe your books are more interesting than you.


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