Friday, 11 April 2014

The Lies we tell ourselves…
A work colleague approached me one day and surprised me by asking if I ‘Supported people in Africa catching aids.’ I could see how agitated she was and despite being utterly mystified about what the hell she was talking about, I kept calm and replied, ‘Of course not, why do you ask?’ She then handed me a ‘SCIAF’ (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund) sticker she had removed from a child’s school jumper. ‘Then why are you supporting an organisation which refuses to give out condoms?  Taken aback doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. I had a SCIAF ‘Wee Red Box’ on my desk which children popped their coppers in to support the schools, hospitals, pre-natal clinics and the host of other good works SCIAF does in Africa. In return the children took a sticker which they wore with pride. A worthy and worthwhile cause I had thought and now I was presented with a colleague who had obviously been mightily annoyed by a SCIAF sticker in a non-denominational school. Her line of argument was so narrow and so obviously linked to the second word in the charity’s name that I was genuinely surprised at her vehemence. I told her in the politest of terms why it was good to support that charity and the others we helped throughout the school year. She had displayed such ignorance of what the charity actually does and focused instead on the only negative she could think up. She barely spoke to me after that episode. It was a lesson in how our innate prejudices can affect behaviour.

Social Dominance Theory describes a mode of thought which, among other things, uses what it calls legitimising myths to maintain existing social hierarchies. These ‘Legitimising myths’ usually take the form of stereotypical or insulting ideas about groups in society which dominant groups claim explain their low position in society or the need to keep them in ‘their place.’ Many groups have historically suffered from prejudice which, based on such legitimising myths, allowed ruling groups to maintain control. For instance, African Americans, along with all new recruits, were subjected to IQ tests when joining the US Army in World War 2 and the results suggested they were significantly less intelligent than the average white G.I. Of course this was patent nonsense as modern scholars looked at the tests and found them culturally unrelated to African American experience. They also found huge bias in collating results. They concluded that the test merely served to reinforce existing prejudice and offer some legitimacy to ongoing segregationist ideas then popular in some sectors of American society. It seems when we humans want to believe something enough, we will. By now you’ll be asking yourself what the hell has all of this to do with Celtic or football?

You will of course be aware of legitimising myths in our own society. Just as the Irish migrants to Scotland were once derided by some as dirty, drunken, disloyal, superstitious, disease carrying and lazy, etc.’ So too some of the new arrivals in Scotland face similar charges from a small minority of our less enlightened citizens. It can be bitterly ironic to hear a Scot with an Irish surname describe new arrivals using the same terminology others used about his or her grandparents in the past. In some ways this made Leigh Griffiths recent sing song all the more silly as he supports a club founded by migrants and plays for another with similar roots. But if we dislike stereotypes and seek more objectivity in our debates then we must also look to ensure we don’t practice the same type of mythology in our understanding of other groups. For instance, Marco Negri is alleged to have given the following interview to an Italian magazine (unnamed) about his time at Rangers…

Marco Negri Interview :

L.B. - Luigi Bruno (Interviewer)

M.N. - Marco Negri

L.B. - ' Marco, you left Rangers under very strange circumstances, why was that?'

M.N.-'Strange? There was nothing strange in anything that happened there, they simply did not want me there any longer'.

L.B.- 'Why was that?'

M.N.- ' The honest answer is that I didn't know then and I still don't know even today. Nobody ever explained why I had fallen out of favour.'

L.B.- ' Your goal record at Rangers was fantastic and when fit and available you were scoring for fun. I, and many others still do not understand why you left under a cloud'.

M.N.- 'Let's just say you are getting very close to why I think that I was frozen out. Scotland is a very claustrophobic place where everything is examined and analyzed endlessly. Scottish society is in many ways a backward place'.

L.B. - 'What do you mean by that?'

M.N. - ' The culture, the underlying culture of Rangers was not good. The first team players had a habit of drinking vast amounts of alcohol during the week. As you know here in Italy we have a different culture as professional footballers. We know that it is our duty to keep ourselves fit and healthy.
Some of the players there like Paul Gascoigne and Andy Goram would turn up smelling of drink before training!! I could not understand why such behaviour was tolerated by Walter Smith who was manager then'.

L.B.- ' Marco we are well aware of Paul Gascoigne's problems and it is sad to see his decline, we saw it earlier at Lazio. Are you saying that the players were out of control?'

M.N.- ' Absolutely, I tried to point this out to Walter Smith several times but he became very defensive and said that I needed to understand Scottish footballing culture. He would hear no criticism of Goram and especially Gascoigne who could literally do anything he wanted to and still get away with it! It wasn't just their drinking however, they had some really extreme political and religious views'.

L.B.- ' Could you elaborate on this please?'.

M.N. - ' Of course. They hated Catholics. All of them. I never understood why they were so filled with hatred. Several of us who were Catholic players and all foreigners were told upon arrival, never to bless ourselves at Ibrox as it could cause problems for us. I began to understand that Rangers was an extreme club very similar to Lazio here in Italy. You know, a right wing club with right wing supporters. I personally am not a practicing Catholic but my wife Anna Maria is, and it used to cause me pain when I heard what they said about my fellow Catholics. Lorenzo Amoruso and Jorg Albertz, just kept quiet and kept their heads down'

L.B.- ' What finally brought things to a head?'

M.N.- ' I was rapidly disillusioned by Rangers and especially their supporters. As part of my professional duties I was strongly encouraged to attend social functions which meant going to several Rangers supporters clubs. The last one I attended really brought home to me the fact that I had nothing in common with these people. The anti-Catholic feeling was venomous and the songs they sang that evening filled me with disgust. It was at that point I decided not to give my all for a club that condoned such behaviour. I went sick. Walter Smith knew the real reason for my 'illness' and he just ignored it. But I wasn't lying, I was sick, sick of Rangers and sick of what they stood for and that is the truth'

A very powerful and compelling interview, but despite being printed and reprinted on Celtic websites, not one single person has ever posted a link to its source or proved it to be anything other than a complete fabrication. I really don’t know if it is fake or not but have searched extensively online for the roots of this ‘interview’ without success. If it is genuine then I’d be glad to see it in its original context but my instinct is that it's fake. But the point is that many accept it as genuine without the need for proof as it fits into their pre-existing ideas of what life was like at Rangers FC in the late 1990s. I have seen it quoted often without the merest suggestion that it may be a fabrication.

As a support, we Celtic fans often have to endure the sort of mud-slinging and twisted reporting which has led many of us to despise elements of the Scottish sporting media. We expect it from hate sites such as the laughably bigoted ‘If you know their history,’ a site maintained by a sad individual who collects every negative snippet of news he can find on Celtic or Celtic fans, true or not and posts it as part of his ‘legitimising myth’ that whole groups in society are scum. No attempt is made at critical appraisal or judgement of these tales. They simply serve the function of legitimising the petty hatreds of certain individuals. The lack of any reasoned or balanced debate makes the whole project worthless and undermines the whole point of it.

We must also accept that we too may be guilty of stereotyping at times. We all know, work with or even share our lives with followers of Rangers and know most of them not to be knuckle dragging, Neanderthal bigots nor in the new phrase I see banded about; ‘Klan.’ Yes, there is clearly a problem with an uneducated group described by Journalist Graham Speirs as a ‘white under-class’ which attaches itself to Rangers but they are very much a minority.
No one is for a moment exonerating the disgraceful policies of Rangers football club which between 1872-1989, had played just 14 Catholic players who amassed just 25 years of service between them. I put that into context by reminding you that someone like Danny McGrain has himself served Celtic FC longer than those 14 players combined served Rangers. The sins of the past are rightly Rangers to bear and some will never forgive their attitudes or actions. Nor can we forget the massed choirs at Ibrox over the years pouring out their despicable songs. However, there can be no legitimacy to any condemnation if some of our own behave in a similar way. We can become deaf to some of the sentiments expressed by some in our own support and there lies the root of hypocrisy. It does us good to consider how others see us, to take a different perspective. I guess that is the whole point of this article; to remind us of Celtic’s founding principles and encourage us to be sporting, fair minded and above all not to allow hatred to warp our perceptions. We all have a duty to guard our club’s reputation.

Thankfully, Celtic FC, an ideal unashamedly born into the Irish-Catholic community, had an integrated team from its earliest years. I wouldn’t support the club if it wasn’t so. The vast majority of Celtic fans I’ve interacted with over the years in person or online have been rational and decent people. Of course there are the exceptions to the rule who through ignorance, bitter personal experience of wrong-headed parenting were taught or learned to hate but they were very few. The great majority can see through the stereotypes and myths and realise that we are all individuals and not labels. If Scottish football and indeed Scottish society is to improve in the years ahead then we all need start thinking for ourselves and making judgements based on our common sense and not any irrational prejudice. I have faith that the vast majority of you reading this will feel that way too. It is of course the right way, the best way and in my opinion, the Celtic way.







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