Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Chance

The Chance

Glasgow 2012
Andy Molloy, dressed in his smartest suit, walked purposely along the emerald carpeted corridor towards the empty executive box. He liked arriving early and making sure things were in order for his guests. He opened the door and glanced at the pristine white table cloths, gleaming wine glasses and silver cutlery. He opened the curtains and sat facing the lush turf of Celtic Park. A few yellow coated stewards were dotted here and there in the huge north stand and all seemed ready for the visit of Rangers. Andy smiled; he had come a long way since he had spent his childhood in a long gone house which once sat a hundred yards beyond that big stand. He glanced at the palm of his left hand and ran his finger along two thick silver scars which cut across his palm. Few would guess how one of Glasgow’s most successful businessmen had acquired those scars. It was a story he had told no one. As he gazed across the smooth, green field of the modern Celtic Park, his mind drifted back to days long gone…

Glasgow 1972
Andy Molloy sat on the second floor balcony of the small council flat watching the river of people flow out of Celtic Park and up his street. The songs and laughter echoing off the walls told him that this had been a good day for the men in green. For a teenage Celtic fan, living in Janefield Street had its advantages. He could head over to a game at 5 to 3 and still make the kick off. Today however as Dalglish and co were beating Aberdeen, Andy was staying home to look after his old man. Since his mother’s passing the year before, he and his dad had tried to pick up the pieces of their lives as best they could but the hole in their lives without her was a gaping one. His father, already ill with a lung condition caused by inhaling fibres in the factory where he worked, had lost much of his interest in life since the woman he had been with since they were 16 had gone. Andy knew how hard his mother’s death had hit his old man, he had wailed like a child at her funeral in St Michael’s at one point calling forlornly to the large crucifix above the altar, ‘Why her, why not take me?’‘ His anger at the intrinsic unfairness of life had not subsided in the 18 months since.

Andy,’ a tired sounding voice called from the back bedroom, ‘How did Celtic get on?’ Andy got up from his chair and went back into the house, which actually seemed colder than the balcony overlooking Janefield Street. He entered the bedroom where his old man lay wheezing on an ancient bed, his lungs struggling against his illness and the effects of 30 years of smoking and damp housing. Above the bed a ghostly icon of Jesus with sad, understanding eyes watched over the room. His right hand, bearing the wound of crucifixion, pointed to his heart from which a red and yellow flame burned. As a child Andy used to experiment by looking at the picture from every corner of the room and no matter where he stood those eyes seemed to follow him. He looked down at his father, so strong and vigorous in his younger days now seemingly grey and fading thanks to the unrelenting grind of poverty. ‘They won 3-1 Da,’ he smiled at his father. ‘Dalglish scored again.’ His old man smiled a weak smile, ‘He’s a good yin that Dalglish, Jock’s got some good young players coming through.’ Andy nodded, Celtic added some sparkle to the lives of so many like his old man. Life was tough for thousands of fans but for just that couple of hours on a Saturday they could lose themselves watching Jinky weave his magic or new players like Dalglish turn defenders and guide the ball home with that poise and grace he had been blessed with. Those same fans looked forward to their football so much perhaps because it gave them a chance to be winners for a change. Andy made his father tea and they chatted for a while about Celtic’s prospects of winning their sixth consecutive title. He liked these chats as the old sparkle returned to his father’s eyes as he recounted past victories and looked forward to upcoming games. They talked for a couple happy hours before his old man slipped into a contented sleep.

Later that night, long after the crowd had departed from the area around Celtic Park, Barrowfield became a very different place. Andy scanned the darkening street knowing that simple things such as getting to the shops on Springfield Road and home again in one piece needed careful planning. The two main gangs in the area, the Spur and the Torch were fiercely territorial and any trespassers on their turf literally took their lives into their hands. The use of weapons was commonplace and it saddened Andy to see so many young men whose faces bore the tell-tale scars of violent encounters. Graffiti marked out the areas each gang dominated and although Andy wasn’t a member of either, he did know school friends who had been drawn into that violent and destructive sub culture. Like the majority of decent people in the scheme, he hated the casual violence he saw around him and did his best to stay low on the radar of the local ‘Neds’ as his father called them.

Andy stepped out of his close and turned left and headed along Janefield Street, the cemetery on his left and the long wall of Celtic Park on his right. Things seemed quiet but he scanned ahead out of long habit knowing that trouble could often be avoided before it began if you read the streets well enough. He reached the newsagents on Springfield Road and bought the bread and milk he needed before heading for home. A group of young men stood on the corner passing a green wine bottle between then. They eyed him in a hostile manner as he studiously avoided eye contact. ‘Where you fae ya wank?’ one sneered in a drunken drawl at him. Andy ignored the comment and tried to remain composed, his fight or flight response had already counted six of them and flight would be the only option open to him if they pushed it. As he began to cross Springfield Road the voice called out again. ‘You deef ya dick?’ An empty green wine bottle whizzed past Andy’s ear and smashed on the road in front of him, it was the starter’s signal for the chase. Andy dropped his shopping and raced towards Janefield Street. The group gave chase but the hunted always have that extra motivation which adds a yard to their top speed. One by one his pursuers gave up till only the mouthy drunkard was on his tail. Andy glanced briefly over his shoulder as he ran into Janefield Street and in that spilt second saw the glint of steel which told him it was best to keep running. He ran along street until he reached the corner where the long wall of the Jungle enclosure at Celtic Park met the Celtic end. Ahead he saw the last thing he wanted to see at that particular moment. 50 yards ahead, a group of about 20 young men armed with a variety of implements stared at Andy as he raced towards them. ‘Shit’ he thought to himself ‘the Spur are out.’ He was now caught between two very dangerous opponents. He stopped, cheeks red, puffing from the exertion of his running and glanced behind him at the burly, shaven headed young man, openly displaying a knife in his right hand. He had slowed to a walk, his face wearing a mean, mirthless grin. Andy’s only chance lay in the hope that his pursuer didn’t know any of the Spur. His heart sank when the he heard him call out ‘Gak, haud that cunt there, am gonny rip him.’ Andy was out of options and could expect no mercy. In desperation he glanced around him and seeing the wall at the Celtic end of the crumbling old stadium ran towards it. He had one chance now and that lay in getting over the wall. Seeing what he was intending the gang moved towards him. Andy reached the wall and in one leap grasped at the top of it. A searing pain filled his whole body and he gasped in agony. Celtic, in their wisdom had cemented broken glass into the top of the wall to stop people climbing into the stadium without paying and the merciless glass pierced his hand. Despite this he threw himself over the wall and landed in a crumpled, bleeding heap inside the dark stadium. A couple of bricks flew overhead and landed somewhere in the darkness. A voice called from the other side of the wall, ‘We’ll get ye ya basturt.’ Then all was quiet.

Andy looked at his left hand which hurt more and in the gloomy light the blood which covered it looked almost black. He removed his jumper and wrapped it carefully around the bloody mess. He walked unsteadily up the concrete stairs towards the terracing and looked down at the dark pitch. The stadium was silent and deserted as he contemplated what to do next. If the gang was persistent they could break into smaller groups and circle around the stadium, blocking his likely escape routes. Andy realised that he was safer staying where he was. Perhaps they’d get bored and go home. He wandered down the terracing at the junction of Celtic end and Jungle and stepped carefully over the green barrier and onto the track. If they came into the stadium looking for him, he needed time to escape. In his confused and frightened mind he figured the centre of the pitch offered him the best view of the whole area. The grass was damp and lush as he walked slowly towards the centre circle. When he got there, he sat down and cradled his left hand which was throbbing painfully. He rocked back and forth like a hurt child. This was the lowest point of his life. What sort of society allowed the poverty which spawned all of this pointless violence? He lay back on the damp Celtic Park pitch feeling its coolness on the back of his head. Looking up at the sky he could see what appeared to be a million stars glinting down, their beauty contrasting to the ugliness of the world he inhabited.

A voice startled him, ‘Are you alright son?’ Andy sat up and saw an elderly man walking towards him. He wore a smart suit and a hat which might have been popular 20 years before in the 1950s. Andy could see that he meant him no harm and mumbled, ‘I’ve hurt my hand.’ The old man helped him to his feet, ‘Let’s have a look at it in the light.’ He led Andy across the pitch and towards the tunnel of Celtic Park. He then guided Andy into what looked like a physiotherapy room and got him to sit on the treatment table. Most Celtic supporting boys would have been delighted to get inside Celtic Park but Andy was just relieved to be safe. The old man, who smelled strongly of tobacco, fetched a small wooden first aid box before proceeding to ease the blood soaked jumper from Andy’s hand. In the light Andy could see two deep gashes had been gouged into his hand and a host of smaller cuts. His hand was badly swollen too but the bleeding had at least slowed. The old man cleaned the wound with cotton wool and a clear liquid from a bottle kept in the first aid box. Andy gasped as the liquid burned his wounds, ‘Sorry son,’ the man said, ‘but we need to disinfect it.’ Andy said nothing as the man then bandaged his hand with surprising skill and gentleness. ‘That’ll hold it for now but you’ll need stitches son. I’ll run you to the Royal Infirmary.’ He led Andy through the stadium, which seemed deserted apart from the old man. As they reached the front foyer, a voice called from an office, ‘Is that you off Boss?’ The old man replied, ‘Yes Jock, I’m taking an unexpected young visitor to the hospital.’ A burly man in a black suit appeared at the office door. ‘What happened to you, son?  Andy relayed the events of the evening to the man whom he had recognised from his voice even before he had seen him. The big man listened in silence his face betraying his anger at the story Andy told him. ‘That’s disgraceful,’ he said looking at Andy, ‘What sort of society is this?’ He turned back to his office and returned with a note pad, ‘Give me your name and address son,’ he said in that tough miner’s voice few argued with. Andy told him although he was a little mystified about why he wanted it. ‘Right, Boss,’ said the big man, ‘best get him to a Doctor.’ The older man, filling a pipe with tobacco nodded, ‘Right son, let’s go. See you on Monday Jock.’

As the older man guided his car through the dark streets of the east end he asked Andy about his life and despite not really knowing who the older man was, Andy saw no harm in telling him about life in the mean streets around Celtic Park. The old man listened quietly as he guided his car along Alexandra Parade towards the hospital. Andy told him about his father and the gang issues in the east end. As they neared the hospital he said in a quiet voice to Andy, ‘I was raised in the Garngad son, the same things went on back then, so many lives blighted. I was lucky football gave me a way out. If you don’t have a gift like that then you have to use education to improve your life.’ He parked the car outside the casualty department on Castle Street. ‘Pop in there and they’ll stitch your hand. Remember, it’s never hopeless you can work hard and improve your life.’ Andy stepped from the car, cradling his still painful hand. ‘Thanks Mister, I didn’t catch your name,’ The old man smiled, ‘McGrory… it’s James McGrory.’ Before he left he pressed a £1 note into Andy’s hand, ‘get a taxi home son.’ Andy watched as the old man indicated and pulled into the light traffic on Castle Street. ‘McGrory,’ he thought to himself, ‘Jesus,  Jimmy McGrory.’

The following week as his Father slept, Andy answered a knock at the door and a smart suited man smiled at him. ‘Andy Molloy? Can I talk to you for a few minutes?’ Andy thought he must be a Policeman but in fact it turned out he owned a printing business on the south side. He sat in that modest living room in Barrowfield and outlined a proposition to Andy which had him mystified. ‘You want to offer me a job?’ The man smiled, ‘I’m offering you a chance Andy. I want you to learn the business from top to bottom, that means hands on work at the factory during the day and night classes at the College of Building and Printing. It’ll be hard work but my uncle say’s you deserve a chance and that you seem the kind who won’t mind hard graft. So do we have a deal?’ Andy was completely mystified, ‘Your uncle? Who’s your uncle?’ The man smiled, ‘You met him last week, my uncle is Jimmy McGrory.’
Andy sat in the quiet of the executive box as these thoughts swirled into his mind. He recalled how he had relied on his Auntie Mary to look after his old man as he threw himself into his new job. He did indeed learn every facet of the business over the following three decades. He had founded his own company the year Celtic got to Seville and had by any standard become a wealthy man. He never forgot the polite, pipe smoking old man who made it possible. Laughter out in the corridor broke into his thoughts and he stood and opened the door. His guests had arrived.  A dozen teenagers, all of them from areas like the one Andy had grown up in, bustled along the corridor. ‘In here lads,’ he smiled. They sat around the big table, drinking alcohol free wine and joking about the coming game.  Some followed Celtic, others Rangers but all would be starting work with his company in a few weeks. He hoped they had the will and drive to change their lives as he did back in the days when he lived in Janefield Street. He’d give them every support he could. The way he saw it, everyone deserved a chance.





Saturday, 20 September 2014

Scotland's shame

Scotland’s Shame
There is an iconic photograph taken at an Irish solidarity demonstration in Glasgow in 1971. It shows a young man armed with a cut throat razor attacking a Police Officer who had gone to arrest him after he had tried to slash one of the people on the demonstration. The young man was a violent loyalist counter protestor who couldn’t accept that any opinion other than his should be heard on the streets of Glasgow. It is a picture of hatred in action. The mind-set which creates such hatred is sadly still with us. We saw it in the appalling murder of Celtic fan Mark Scott in 1996. His father, showing remarkable dignity in the circumstances hit upon a profound truth when he said…

‘There are two victims in all of this; my son and another young man who has been raised among such hatred that he could do such a thing.’

I consider myself to be a rational man devoid of hatred and prejudice. I may hold a bias of sorts when writing about Celtic but that’s to be expected in the polarised world of football. However the scenes witnessed last night in the centre of Glasgow were simply disgraceful. All of my life I have shared my city and country with the lowest form of bigoted bully you will find on these islands. We have seen them in action in many places over the years and their shameless bigotry marks them out as being the antithesis of the friendly, welcoming Scot. To see the flag of Scotland dragged from the hands of a young girl by the bully boys was sickening. To see others burn the Scottish flag and hear them call their fellow Scots ‘Nationalist scum’ and worse was depressingly typical of these people. The Police looked on as the Nazi salutes were given beside the war memorial of those who died defeating Hitler and the racist ‘famine song’ echoed of the fine buildings of George Square. The irony is that their sort of British nationalism is far more pernicious and aggressive than anything we witnessed from the followers of the yes campaign. Make no mistake about it these thugs are the heirs of that brand of brainless nationalism and racism which in other times we called fascism.  

Of course these people don’t represent any of the decent Scots who for whatever reason voted no. Nor do they represent the decent followers of that football club in Govan which seems to attract so many of this type. It didn’t go unnoticed that many decent fans of Rangers, yes, they exist, stated on social media that they had been sickened by the scenes they witnessed and wished to disassociate themselves from those responsible. One fan said that he had had enough of these morons and was never returning to Ibrox. I for one have seen them in action for more years than I care to remember and would be happy if the club they attach themselves to never returns to the SPFL. The bile they spout with such impunity is a stain on any decent society. Those who lament the absence of the ‘Old Firm’ games from the football calendar should think carefully about the likely outcome of the next time the two clubs meet. The hospitals of Glasgow certainly don’t miss the fixture and those who do should be careful what they wish for.
It’s only right that I state clearly again that most Scots despise and reject ‘the People’ and their abhorrent world view. Whether yes or no voters in the referendum, the vast majority would be ashamed to see the Square, so full of friendliness and positivity during the commonwealth games, turned into a bigot festival. These people represent no one but themselves and  much needs done to educate those journalist Graham Spiers once called the ‘white underclass attaching itself to Rangers.’ Some may be beyond redemption but we owe it to future generations to try to educate our children that such attitudes and behaviour is unacceptable. Of course home is the prime teacher and some still learn to hate at their father’s knee. Until that ends, such people will remain in our society and they will continue to be Scotland’s shame.



Friday, 19 September 2014

The Devil they know

Dawn breaks over Glasgow on a grey September day made greyer by the realisation that too many of our fellow Scots lack the self-belief necessary to run our own country. The poorest city in the United Kingdom awakes to find that it will, for the foreseeable future, remain part of that entity despite voting for change.  Of course as democrats we accept the result of the independence referendum with dignity but that doesn’t mean we should applaud the tactics used to achieve this result. For the Yes campaign to achieve the result they did in the face of an aggressively hostile media and project fear was laudable. The more disadvantaged areas voted in great numbers for change and perhaps some recalled the old Bob Dylan song which contained the line ‘When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.’ The more affluent areas voted as the petite bourgeoisie usually do, in what they perceive as their own self-interest.  For too many, fear trumped hope. Like the old man who told me that he was voting no because he feared an independent Scotland would be like 1950s Northern Ireland. Or the pensioner who thought she’d lose her bus pass in an independent Scotland. We expected what we got from the loyalist fringe too stuck in their medieval mind-set to ever really envisage that things could be different. The referendum told us much about how we see ourselves as a country and while 1,617,989 Scots had the courage to envisage change with all the challenges and possibilities it would bring, more sought comfort in what one no voter called ‘the devil they know.’

Make no mistake about it, Westminster really feared that it was indeed possible that Scotland would vote yes and every weapon in their arsenal was brought into play to help stave off what would be a catastrophe for them. The sight of Labour politicians sharing a platform with more right wing Conservatives and celebrating as the results came in was nauseating. Where is the party which once fought for the poor? Where is the party which strove to make the lives of ordinary people better? They will pay a heavy price for their actions when the next election comes along. In the eyes of many they sided with the establishment, with the biased media, with big business and that was not a part of their founding principles. Many yearn for a party more worthy of the values Labour once held dear.

So now we await the extra powers promised which will no doubt be watered down as London no longer fears losing Scotland and its resources. But the brave people who voted yes and dreamed of a better world are not going meekly back into their box. The people’s involvement in this process came very close to causing a seismic change in the politics of these islands. The involvement of so many in the process is laudable and it’s to be hoped that that engagement continues because there are fellow Scots out there still struggling, still on the breadline and they need hope.

Meanwhile most of the world looks on agog as a nation is offered its independence and says ‘No thanks.’ That must be a first.



Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Power to the people

One of facets of the Scottish referendum campaign which has surprised many is that despite a huge imbalance in media support for a ‘No’ vote there has been an undoubted surge towards ‘Yes.’ With over 90 newspapers printed in Scotland each week only one, the Sunday Herald, has come out in favour of independence. How then is one to explain the surge in support for self-determination among huge swathes of the Scottish people? The answer of course lies in that old Greek word, Democracy, which literally translates as ‘People-power.’ From meetings in school halls and churches to chatter in pubs and at football matches, the issues have been debated at length. The voiceless have found their voices; those turned off by bland party politics because they know it won’t change a thing in their often difficult lives have awoken to the fact that real change is indeed possible. The internet has allowed millions to see, discuss and judge the blatant establishment bias which has sought to frighten and coerce the population into returning to their master’s heel like an obedient dog.

Few journalists have had the courage to speak out against the huge bias in reporting of the referendum debate, rather most go with editorial guidance handed down by media moguls who support the Westminster elite and its self-serving club. This referendum has been portrayed as a choice between Alex Salmond and Scotland when it is clearly about self-determination for the Scottish people. Salmond has been compared to Robert Mugabe the dictator of Zimbabwe. Independence, usually slurred as ‘separatism’ we are told will lead to economic collapse in the world and create the sort of ‘Great Depression’ which saw the rise of the Nazis. This campaign of smear and fear could be expected from the right wing press which has, in the words of Quentin Letts, grown tired of…’Ungrateful Scots gorging on our money.’ While labelling Salmond as a ‘Sausage fingered radical’ he fails to mention the salient fact that Scotland has contributed more to the UK treasury than it has had in return for the past 33 year in succession. However, for little Englanders like Letts Scottish independence raises the prospect that an increasingly right wing England, devoid of Scottish MPs, will finally allow Westminster to roll back the welfare state created by what he calls ‘Celtic socialism. 

Such neo-con nonsense is to be expected from those who have gained most from our current social structures. What is more concerning is to see institutions such as the BBC allowing standards of fairness and balance to drop. On BBC Radio Scotland this week I heard Alastair Darling call Alex Salmond; ‘A liar out to deceive the Scots.’ This went unchallenged by the BBC Presenter as did the ridiculous smear from another Better Together Politico who suggested that what he called ‘Bully boy tactics,’ are orchestrated by Salmond personally. ‘This goes right to the top’ we were told, ‘Salmond needs to call off the dogs.’ We are wise now to such smear tactics and it actually harms the ‘No’ campaign to continue with this nonsense. Despite their best efforts to personify the ‘Yes’ campaign as being about Mr Salmond, most of us know it is about the people of Scotland taking back control of our own country from the so called ‘elite’ who have failed so many. It’s about a cause not a person. This is real grass roots democracy in action and they didn’t bank on this when in their arrogance they refused to even countenance ‘Devo Max’ on the ballot paper. The possibility of Scotland voting ‘Yes’ was considered remote six months ago and now that it seems a real possibility, the leaders of the over centralised UK are in panic mode making vague promises of change if we just give them another chance. Their friends in the media have thrown all their weight behind the ‘No’ campaign but still the people refuse to be bullied, belittled or blinkered. One laudable article by George Monbiot summed it up the media’s poor performance by saying..

‘’Here is the condescension with which the dominant classes have always treated those they regard as inferior: their serfs, the poor, the Irish, Africans, anyone with whom they disagree. “What spoilt, selfish, childlike fools those Scots are ... They simply don’t have a clue how lucky they are,” sneered Melanie Reid in the Times

That so many Scots, lambasted from all quarters as fools, frauds and ingrates, have refused to be bullied is itself a political triumph. If they vote for independence, they will do so in defiance not only of the Westminster consensus but also of its enforcers: the detached, complacent people who claim to speak on their behalf.’’

Whatever the result of the referendum, a significant number of Scots have been politicized and are much more aware of how our political masters operate. The cynical and calculated use of the media to form opinion and to try to manipulate us has partially failed in this campaign because it ran into a determined and well educated people who saw through the tactics they used. This has been the campaign of the ordinary citizen, the common man and woman asking themselves what sort of country they want to bequeath their children and grandchildren. The power of the media remains strong but it is at last being challenged by ordinary people who are starting to think for themselves. The media have shafted Scotland during this campaign and it remains to be seen if the bulk of the Scottish people have fallen for it. We need a balanced media which lays the facts before the people, not corporate driven agendas designed to preserve the prestige and privilege of the few.

The people of Scotland have at least done the entire UK a great service by reminding them that ordinary people have the power to bring about real change if they are motivated and discerning enough to see through the media spin. The leaders of the main parties are in utter panic that they misjudged the ‘plebs’ so badly.  Power should lie in the hands of the people not the Ox-Bridge elite or any other vested interest group. Whatever you vote tomorrow, make your choice based on facts and not spin. That is the essence of democracy.

Power to the people!




Saturday, 13 September 2014

A Different Country


A Different Country

The novel ‘The Go Between’ by LP Hartley begins with the line: ‘The past is a different country, they do things differently there.’ In that sense, we are all products of our times and it is difficult to judge people from the past from our modern viewpoint. The death this week of Ian Paisley saw the passing of a man who was very much a product of his time. He was a man whose most controversial rhetoric would be found offensive by most people today. He followed in the tradition of firebrand, rabble rousing Protestant preachers in the north of Ireland; Men such as ‘Roaring Hugh Hanna,’ who in the mid nineteenth Century addressed large outdoor evangelical meetings and often used anti-Catholic rhetoric to inflame sectarian tensions in Belfast. Paisley, who once said of Catholics that they ‘breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin,’ is regarded by some as an arch bigot and by others as a man of God. I’ll leave such judgments to history and to those who experienced first-hand his particular brand of fundamentalism. His near death experience in 2004 which some claim changed him into a peacemaker still can’t excuse some of his wilder actions and utterances.

 I only saw him once in the flesh and it came strangely enough in the fine city of Oxford where I lived for some years. He was standing at the Martyr’s memorial in the Centre of the city roaring at bemused passers-by and waving his bible. I stopped to watch from a few yards away as he spotted a passing Church of England minister and harangued him for ‘Being in bed with the Harlot of Rome.’ This comment related to ecumenical meetings between the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury. The man listened patiently before replying in that understated English way, ‘Mr Paisley, I’d put your hat on, there are a lot of woodpeckers about this year.’ The small crowd gathered laughed at this and the said Mr Paisley was furious. Demagogues do not like being laughed at.

My son saw a picture of this weekend’s pro-union demonstration and asked me who the man was on one of the banners being carried by the Orangemen. I explained that the Scotland of the 1920s and 1930s also produced a few Paisley like characters. The great depression which followed the Wall Street crash of 1929 threw millions out of work across the world and, as is the way of such things, a brainless minority went looking for scapegoats among the immigrant poor instead of looking in the board rooms of the banks where the real culprits skulked. In Edinburgh, John Cormack’s Protestant Action party sought to gain electoral success on the back of bigotry. They attempted to intimidate Edinburgh’s Catholic community by holding a variety of ‘No Popery’ rallies and used their more unruly elements, known as ‘Klan Kaledonia’ to engage in street battles with the Scottish-Irish community. Indeed there were several running battles in the Canongate, Grassmarket and Cowgate areas which the Police found difficult to contain. The local Catholic community, no shrinking violets, organised a defence force among its young men and on more than one occasion they confronted and drove the bigots from their areas.

Such was the feeling of the time, Protestant Action obtained 24% of the vote in local elections, and this rose to 32% in 1936. Similarly, Alexander Ratcliffe’s ‘Protestant League’ was gaining 23% of council votes in Glasgow. Ratcliffe, a convert to fascism, shared Cormack’s virulent hatred of Catholicism. This was also the era when the Church of Scotland General Assembly debated the need for deportation of the Irish from Scotland and released the now embarrassingly racist document The Menace of the Irish Race to Our Scottish Nationality.Things came to a head with the Eucharistic Conference held in Edinburgh. Cormack warned the Edinburgh City Council it would learn “what a real ‘smash-up’ was” if it granted the Catholic Young Men’s Society a reception in the lead up to Edinburgh’s Eucharistic Congress. The Council ignored him, and 10,000 protestors gathered at both the reception and the Congress, held in Morningside. Riots ensued, with missiles hurled and buses overturned. Archbishop Joseph McDonald wrote to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to protest that:

“Priests were savagely assailed, elderly women attacked and kicked, bus-loads of children mercilessly stoned and inoffensive citizens abused and assailed in a manner that is most unbelievable in any civilised country today.”

The Lord Provost of Edinburgh had had enough and warned the bigots in no uncertain words that the full force of the law would be used to end the violence and intimidation. It is to his credit that he would have no truck with bigots and law breakers. In an era where European Fascism was on the rise and the Jews of Nazi Germany were already being singled out for harassment, he said…
‘The sectarian spirit is a heady thing and some people seem to have lost their moral and mental balance over this subject. Every honest minded British citizen deplores Jew baiting in Nazi Germany, we want no baiting of Roman Catholics here. There is enough ill will in the world,  even in our own country, without adding the fires of religious fanaticism to it.’
The Lord Provost acted without fear or favour as did the Police who cracked down on the more extreme elements among Cormack’s followers. Few educated people of the time saw them as anything other than thugs and the courts dealt harshly with them.

Although sectarianism clearly lingers on in some dark corners of Scottish society, it is now the dying echo of a spent force. That is why the sight of those Orangemen at the pro-union parade in Edinburgh today holding aloft a banner showing Cormack was so incongruous. To celebrate a man whose sole political policy was opposition to all things Catholic in a parade aimed at maintaining the union was simply outdated nonsense. Do they not realise that 800,000 of their fellow Scots who will vote next week are Catholics? Or, as is more likely, do they not care? What place should men like Cormack hold in the Scotland of 2014? His attitudes and prejudices are the very antithesis of the progressive, inclusive Scotland most of us want to see. Like Ian Paisley, he was a product of his time and that time has passed into history.
While we should be wary of judging those born into a very different context from ourselves, we can still learn from their folly. Modern Scotland is a place for all faiths and none. Ideas of Scottishness have moved beyond blood and church to ideas of a more civic national identity where to be a Scot relies on accepting basic values such as fairness, democracy, respect and tolerance. It does not rely on ethnicity, religious persuasion or any other narrow definition. We are a much more open nation than we were in those ‘bygone days of yore’ and for that we should be thankful.  

We learn from the past, we live in the present and we hope for a better future.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The glass just got bigger

A stout middle aged man dressed in an ill-fitting Arsenal shirt squeezed into the seat beside me on the plane from Palma to Gatwick some time ago. Upon hearing my accent he proceeded to lecture me on how truly awful Scottish football was and how wonderful the English Premiership was. ‘Best league in the world, Jock,’ he intoned in that condescending manner we’ve all heard from time to time. ‘You got nothing up there, just two clubs and the rest playing at non-league standard.’ I mentioned the fact that for a nation smaller than Finland to have produced teams who have appeared in 10 European finals is unmatched. I mentioned the fact that my club holds the European record for attendances in a cup tie, League match and European club match. I mentioned the fact that we produced the first non-Latin European Champions and that most of the great English teams in the history of the game had a fair smattering of Scottish players in their ranks and for good measure, I tossed in the fact that his club, Arsenal, were founded as ‘Dial Square FC’ by four Scots, most notably David Danskin from Fife and that the instigator of the football league in England was a certain William McGregor, a Scot. Also the passing game currently played around the world was developed in Scotland and copied by England following the Scottish national team’s domination of games against England in late Victorian times. I threw in Ferguson, Shankly and Busby for good measure and the chap in the Arsenal shirt gave me a blank look and turned back to his Daily Mail.

The sort of casual prejudice some in England have for our game has little effect on me these days. The arrogance they display is akin to looking over your neighbour’s fence and telling him how crap his house is. Many small nations face such prejudice when bordered by a much larger state and it can breed an antagonistic relationship. For instance, the antagonism found between many Dutch football fans and their German counterparts is rooted in history and in that unequal relationship between the larger nation and the smaller bordering one. The Germans occupied Holland twice in the twentieth century and that leaves a historical echo. Footballing relations between the Dutch and Germans reached a low point with the infamous spitting incidents at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy when Frank Rijkaard was guilty of repeatedly spitting on German striker Rudi Voller. Some years later Ronald Koeman, the gifted Dutch player exchanged shirts with a German player after a game which the Dutch had won and proceeded to mime wiping his backside with it in front of delighted Dutch fans. All of this sporting and socio-political rivalry is of course an integral part of football but we have to accept that some take it a little far. Indeed, we have seen much worse excesses over the years from the multi-layered Celtic-Rangers rivalry.

Jock Stein took added delight in defeating Leeds United in the 1970 European Cup Semi Final precisely because he felt Scottish teams were not given the recognition they were due. He said, ‘Quite possibly we’ve not been given the recognition down there (England) for what we’ve achieved but that’s not important. We know when they play us they’ll give us due respect.’ How right he was as Celtic destroyed the ‘Invincible’ Leeds team of Don Revie at home and away. In that era we saw St Johnstone defeat HSV Hamburg in Europe while Dunfermline were doing the same to Everton and Valencia. Dundee beat AC Milan, Kilmarnock held Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw and Dundee United defeated Barcelona home and away. (twice) Hibs also ran a very good Liverpool side close before losing 3-2 on aggregate in a time which some see as the golden age of Scottish football. What has changed since those days is the huge disparity in financial resources between the English leagues and the SPFL. The Sky deals of the early 1990s heralded an era of huge financial power for England’s top clubs. Indeed a club like Newcastle United who have won nothing since 1968 can boast of a turnover 3 or 4 times greater than Celtic’s. Top English clubs always paid two or three times what the best in Scotland could offer but that gap has now grown to become a huge gulf. Manchester City recently hired a player for £340,000 per week and the wages in the top half of the English Championship now comfortably outstrip even Celtic’s. Of course all of this money has brought an influx of foreign mercenaries to English football and a recent survey found that 66% of EPL players were foreigners. The English national team has undoubtedly suffered because of this. The relative paucity of resources has seen Scottish clubs look to youth development and this is slowly improving the Scottish national team.

So what are the small nations supposed to do when faced with the financially bloated big teams who appear to be playing fantasy football in their squad composition? If we listen to people like the man on the plane we should pack up and go home but of course we don’t listen to such folk. Fans of smaller clubs like Alloa or Brechin don’t go along expecting to win trophies each season. They go along because they love football and they love their team. Bigger clubs in smaller leagues at least have the opportunity to joust with the giants in Europe and now and again score memorable successes. However the chances of a team like Celtic winning the Champions League is far more remote today than it was in the 1960s when the playing field was much more level. That is unlikely to change for as long as they remain in the low income strata of the SPFL. Ideally UEFA would ensure a little more financial parity between the various national leagues of Europe but the big boys need only threaten them with a breakaway and they would fold. So it appears the disparity will continue for as long as we allow the current financial model to exist. Some say it’s natural that the cream rises to the top but football, for so long the working person’s sport, is increasing coming to mirror the wider society as the rich get richer and poor get crumbs from their table. Pope Francis when commenting on the unequal state of human society could equally have been talking about football when he said, ‘The rich said that when their glass was full some would spill over for the poor but it didn’t, their glass just got bigger.’

Some hope the bubble bursts and we get back to what they refer to as ‘real football’ when any club with ambition could rise and win honours. As long as TV is in love with football, they will continue to plough billions into television contracts which have changed the face of football so dramatically. Here in Scotland we have pundits wailing that the absence of Rangers from the SPFL has been a great loss but that isn’t borne out by the facts. Attendances are generally up and there has been a greater spread of trophy winners. Mark Guidi on Radio Clyde spoke apocalyptically of 35,000 empty seats at Celtic Park for SPFL games this season. This conjecture simply isn’t borne out by the facts and his pessimism and constant talking down of our national game is poor coming from someone who makes a living from it. The attendances we saw in the ten years from 1996 onwards were not the norm for Scottish football. The Lisbon Lions in their greatest season 1966-67 played to an average of 36,000 fans in home matches. This ranged from 19,000 against Stirling Albion to over 70,000 when Rangers came calling. In the days when crowds of over 100,000 at Cup Finals were normal, both Celtic and Rangers still had average attendances of around 30,000. For Guidi to state that Celtic’s current 46,000 average crowd is poor is simply ignoring the fact that it remains one of the highest average gates in the history of Celtic and is unmatched in any nation of comparable size. He’d do better to challenge the high prices of tickets in Scotland which remain among the highest in Europe. £28 to see an SPFL game is simply too much and keeps some from attending games. My season ticket for the Hampden season in 1994-95 was £160. Today at Celtic Park it is just under £500. That is vastly over-priced but for as long as ticket sales make up such a large percentage of income in Scottish football, it will remain the norm.

Of course most of us would like to see a more competitive league and some miss the intense rivalry that went with the ‘Old Firm’ fixtures. Some in the media suggest that the presence of the new Rangers would help make the SPFL more competitive but the new club has to get to there on merit not on the back of some spurious media led campaign to revive Scottish football which actually seems healthier than it has been in some time. Remember these are the same people who told us 5 clubs would die within a year of Rangers going bust in 2012 and now glibly talk of the possibility of ‘Administration 2’ at Ibrox as if Rangers somehow survived administration 1. Scottish fans are increasingly realistic about what our game can aspire to in the current climate and despite the arrogance of the man on the plane or the pessimism of  so called ‘pundits’ like Guidi, most Scottish football fans will still follow their clubs because it’s a big part of their lives.
Armageddon isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Better Land

A Better Land
As a committed ‘Yes’ voter in the upcoming historic Referendum on Scottish independence, it was a little disappointing to see some Celtic stars of the past publicly back the ‘No’ campaign. The likes of Pat Crerand, Davie Provan, Billy McNeil, Bertie Auld, Frank McAvennie and Murdo McLeod  signed up to a rather clunky statement which was clearly drafted by less than gifted Better Together Campaign politico. It stated…

"We are proud Scots who have been proud to represent our country around the world. When Scotland calls, we answer. We are proud that Scotland has always stood on its own two feet but we also believe that Scotland stands taller because we are part of the United Kingdom. We urge every patriotic Scot to help maintain Scotland's place in the United Kingdom which has served Scotland so well."

Personally, rather than standing taller, I think Scotland is invisible when the UK struts the international stage still posturing as it did in the long gone days of Empire. As for the Union ‘Serving Scotland Well,’  do I really have to point out the destruction of Scottish manufacturing industry, illegal wars, health and wealth inequalities, food banks, trident nuclear missiles 25 miles from Glasgow, the democratic deficit which sees Scotland more often than not having a Government it didn’t vote for, etc. I could go on but you get the point. I disagree with the statement the various footballing personalities signed up to on many levels but I do feel it is important to respect their right to hold an opinion even if it is divergent from my own. That is one of the pillars of a decent democracy.  As Voltaire said…

I don’t agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.’

That is not to say that we stand quietly aside while some of the more extreme or racist parties try to use our open democracy to spout their bile. They should be out argued, out thought and their idiotic beliefs ridiculed for the tosh they are. The fact that such parties are allowed to exist is an aspect of democracy which some have difficulty accepting. However, as Churchill once said, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government apart from everything else which has been tried.’ It isn’t perfect but we accept that and continue to use our right to challenge things we disagree with.

The campaign has taken a more bitter turn in recent weeks and some Celtic fans even commented that Billy McNeil and his fellow Celtic players of the past were diminished in their eyes for supporting the no campaign. Like many, I was disappointed by their stance but if the new Scotland so many of us want to create is to live up to our hopes then it must start by respecting differences of opinion. Argue and disagree by all means but within the bounds of acceptable behaviour. The feelings of those voting no are in many cases based on genuine reasons and not some will to thwart the advancement of the Scottish people. Of course there are unthinking types who will vote no based on a knee jerk, uncritical support for Unionism but there are others who will do so for more thoughtful, honest reasons. What Billy McNeil and his fellow no voters are doing is simply exercising their democratic right and much as some of us disagree with their conclusions, we shouldn’t think for a moment that they want to see Scots struggling or relying on food banks because they don’t.

Whatever result we wake up to on September 19th, there has to be healing in Scotland. There has to be a coming together of the country to respond to the new challenges that are ahead. If, as I dearly hope, we wake up to a landslide in favour of independence I would like to see a Government of national unity brought together to negotiate the terms of Scotland’s independence. As Alex Salmond said when his party won a majority at Scottish Parliament in 2011…

I welcome the declarations from the opposition parties about constructive opposition because, although the SNP has a majority of the seats, we don't have a monopoly of wisdom.’

That is the spirit the new Scotland will need as we set out on the road to creating a better society. If we do become a nation once again, free to plot our own direction in the world then there must be a place for all Scots whether they voted yes or not. The Scotland I want to see should echo an old song popular with our Irish cousins… ‘North men, South men comrades all.’  This referendum isn’t about Alex Salmond or political parties despite the Better Together campaign trying to make it so. Rather it is about the will of the Scottish people. In that victory speech at Hollyrood in 2011 Alex Salmond said…

‘We are not fixed on the past in all its great colour – our eyes are on the future and the dreams that can be realised. I will govern for all of the ambitions of Scotland and all the people who imagine we can live in a better land.’

Let’s do this and let’s do it together as a united nation.
Let’s build a better land.



Friday, 5 September 2014

The Names

The Names
The phone jarred Paul out of sleep. He looked at the clock by his bed blinking in the darkness. It read 2.17am. He lifted the phone and pressed it to his ear, ‘Hello?’ It was the hospital who said simply that it was time and he’d best get there quickly if he wanted to say his goodbyes. He knew the call must come one day but still it hit him like a slap in the face. He hung up and quickly got dressed. The drive to the Victoria Infirmary was straightforward in the deserted Glasgow streets and he absentmindedly pushed the radio button as he waited at the lights on Pollokshaws Road. There were no cars on the road, no one crossing but he obeyed the traffic lights nonetheless, even in the middle of the night. The radio came quietly to life and an old song floated through the car… ‘But I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you…’ Paul Hanlon guided the car to the parking bay near the hospital and only as he pulled on the hand break did he realise that he was crying.

He composed himself before stepping into the chill of a wet winter’s night in Glasgow. The orange glow of streetlights was reflected in the puddles as he splashed through them on his way to the entrance of the old hospital, the automatic doors swished open and he quickly ascended the stairs to the second floor. The duty nurse saw him approach and smiled an understanding smile. ‘He’s in here Mr Hanlon, the Doctor has taken steps to ensure he’s pain free, it won’t be long now.’ Paul nodded and gently opened the door of the small room where his brother Vinnie lay. The light was low but he could see the familiar shape of his brother under the white linen sheets. The nurse closed the door and left them alone. He sat by the side of the bed and took his brother’s hand. ‘Vinnie, it’s me, Paul.’ He said quietly. He felt his brother’s hand grip his gently but his eyes remained closed. Paul let his mind drift back to happier times with his brother. They had been inseparable all their lives and he knew that Vinnie was not just his brother but also his best friend. They used to joke at school that if you fought one Hanlon you had to fight the other soon afterwards. They had gone everywhere together, followed Celtic all over the place and even lived a couple of streets apart as adults. Paul glanced at his brother’s face, made thin and haggard by his illness but still in its own way peaceful and familiar. He began to speak gently in the darkness.

‘Hey Vinnie, do ye remember that old Firm game when McStay played that pass to Morris and he squared it to McAvennie? Whit a goal that was. That was the day you met Maureen in that Irish Pub in St Vincent Street. Some day that was, beat the Gers and meet your wife all in wan day.’ Paul smiled a little thinking of the times he and his brother had shared. ‘Then when we went tae Seville and that big Geordie Celtic fan gave you his spare ticket and refused to take a coin for it. He could have got £500 easy but he did the decent thing. Then we met those Porto fans on the train and you borrowed a guitar aff wan of them and sang, ‘The Fields of Athenry.’ Coulda heard a pin drop mate, what a voice you had, standing ovation on that train. Dae ye mind that time we went tae Ibrox that year and covered the pitch in beach baws. That cop wouldny let ye in with yer lilo so you deflated it and spent 20 minutes blowing it up inside!’ Paul grinned, ’Then there wiz the time wee Bellamy scored and ye fell o’er the wall onto the track! You had some bevvy in ye that day Bro.’ Paul glanced at his brother’s sleeping face, he felt a warmth inside when he thought of the good times they'd shared, ‘Do ye mind up at Tannadice when we waited outside the Dundee United end wi nae tickets until the final whistle? Thousands of us were goin’ in while the Dundee boys were comin’ oot. A few even said ‘well done.’ We sang long and loud for Tommy Burns that night, Vinnie. Great days bro, great days.’  Vincent Hanlon exhaled deeply and with considerable effort, opened his eyes. Paul stood and leaned close to his brother, ‘Take it easy Vincent, don’t strain yourself.’ Vincent gripped his brother’s hand a little tighter and formed a word with great difficulty, in a weak hoarse voice he rasped… ‘Anfield.’ Paul smiled, tears dripping from his face. ‘Aw how could I forget Anfield Vinnie! You remember when big Hartson battered in the second and we lost our balance celebrating? We ended up on the deck wi everybody jumping all over us. But if was worth, by God it was worth it.’ Vincent Hanlon seemed to sink into his pillow a little and his grip weakened. ‘I’m gonny miss you Vinnie,’ his brother whispered, ‘I’m gonny miss you so much. You say hello tae my Da, tae big Jock, Tommy and Jimmy for me, ye hear?’  Paul glanced at the screen of the machine to his left and noticed that the lines were flat. Vincent Hanlon was at peace and a gentle smile seemed to crease his face.

Three months later Paul Halnon stood by the statue of Brother Walfrid looking down at the engraved names of all those Celtic supporters who had followed the club down the years. Hundreds of carved names covered the walkway around the statue and one of the newer ones said simply: ‘Vincent Hanlon, Son, Brother, Celtic Fan.’ Paul smiled, Vinnie would like that. He thought of the countless thousands who had walked up Kerrydale street to support Celtic since its inception in 1888. Most of them couldn’t afford a carved stone in the walkway but they were part of the story too, part of the lifeblood which still flowed in Celtic today. He began to read a few of the stones…

‘Matty Little, Gorbals Ghirl, Jim McBride, Patrick Charles Bonnar, Dennis Kennedy, Emilie Rose McNamara, John Aird, Ned  Donaldson. Billy Hand, Seamus Traynor-Newry Bhoy, Michal McGrory, Ged Barber, Peter Docherty 1948-2012, Thomas McKay St Mary’s, Calton…’

There were so many names ranging from those still proudly following the Celts to those like Vincent whose season was over. There were foreign names as well as those Scottish and Irish names common among those who had supported the club down the years. Every passing Celtic fan knew someone who had followed the club, who had endured the bad days as well as the good, who had passed their love of the green on to the next generation. Paul smiled at his brother’s stone, ‘There ye go Vinnie, I’ll say hello every time I’m up at Celtic Park. Hail Hail Bro!’ A roar behind him announced that the teams were entering the field and he turned and headed for the Jock Stein stand. Vincent and hundreds of thousands like him were part of Celtic forever. They needed no stone in the walkway to make that a reality. Rather they had filled Celtic Park with their dreams, their songs and their hopes since 1888. Their spirits filled the place still and nothing could change that. They were Celtic and Celtic was them.