Who do you think you are?
I visited a nice snooker club recently in Glasgow for the first time in a few years and discovered that I remain pretty inept at the game. After a few frames a few of us sat in the bar and chatted. We were joined by a few friends of friends and I got chatting to a chap I’d never met before who thought it appropriate treat me to a diatribe on what ails the country. He got pretty red in the face as he talked about people he called, ‘Foreign fuckers who come here to sponge off the country.’ He gave various examples, most of which involved foul mouthed abuse of Muslims. I told him that most of the Muslims in the UK were born here and were law abiding British citizens. His reply was, ‘Aye, but they don’t join in our society. They don’t want to be British, they don’t have any loyalty to this country. I’d send the lot of them back to fuckin’ Helmand or wherever they come from.’ It seemed lost on him that the referendum showed that at least 45% of Scots don’t want to be British either. It remains sad that such ill-informed prejudice exists in pockets all over our country. The chap concerned gave examples which those of us who are children of the Irish diaspora would be familiar with: They’re stealing our jobs and houses, they’re work shy, dirty, disease carriers, etc. Stereotypes, exaggeration and a willingness to accept any negative story about the ‘outsiders’ were all on show. I took the first available opportunity to tactfully leave his company.
This last week, Celtic Park has also provided a valuable lesson in the varied and complicated nature of identity in these islands. We had the Scotland v Ireland European Qualifier which was played out to a noisy, partisan but largely good natured crowd. The green clad Irish supporters must have had more than a few of the home fans thinking of the Celtic connection as they boomed out ‘Just can’t get enough’ and ‘On the one road.’ The Irish fans seem settled and clear about who they are. While the tartan clad home fans belted out a high pitched version of ‘Flower of Scotland’ which contained the line… ‘And we can still rise now and be the nation again.’ Ironically, all of this occurred in a land where 55% voted not to become an independent nation again. As one Irish wag commented on twitter ‘We took on an Empire to win our freedom, you couldn’t even take on a pencil in a voting booth.’
This week the English came to town and the atmosphere was distinctly different from that we encountered when the Irish were here. Those of us who live in and around Glasgow could see the warm welcome many of their supporters were receiving in Rangers bars around the city. I drove past one such bar a couple of hours before the game to see a crowd of England fans milling around chanting ‘No Surrender to the IRA’ as passive yellow coated Police officers stood and watched. Why they felt they needed to chant such things at a game in Scotland is beyond me but it came as no surprise to hear such songs emanating from my TV as they game progressed. For what seemed like an eternity the away fans chanted ‘Fuck the IRA’ in that depressing monotone way they do such things. Again the Police did nothing and reported in the press the next morning that they had ‘No complaints about offensive chanting.’ One has to ask; does law breaking need to be reported before it’s dealt with? Hundreds of officers were on duty and obviously heard the chanting but chose to do nothing. When one compares this to the hounding of the Green Brigade for singing songs such as ‘The Roll of Honour’ then you have to ask if the law is being implemented impartially in this country? It would be churlish to suggest that the group of England supporters who indulged in this foul mouthed chanting were unaware of whose stadium the game took place in. The irony of a large poppy being stuck onto a sign at Celtic Park wasn’t lost on many Hoops fans who were well aware that the club gave £10,000 to this year’s Poppy Appeal while it has been reported that the cash strapped ‘Quintessentially British Club’ gave nothing.
The English press were in fairness scathing about the chanting from a section of the England support and linked it to the fact that they clearly knew they were playing in the home stadium of a club with Irish roots. Paul Hayward in the Telegraph said…
‘Hundreds of England fans switched instead to a looping rendition of ‘F*** the IRA,” for 10 minutes at a time. Around that core chant, they sang ‘Rule Britannia’ and taunted the Scotland fans with: ‘British till you die, you’ll be British till you die.’ In Basel, for the Euro 2016 qualifier in September, they urged the Scots to vote yes in the independence referendum. Listening to some of England’s fans, many Scots who voted no may have wished they had ticked the other box.‘‘
The internet has undoubtedly aided the dissemination of ideas and allowed like-minded individuals to communicate with each other. Many of the bonds formed are positive and productive while others are not. Modern communications mean football fans all over the UK and Ireland can observe and comment on the behaviour of others. For some, pre-existing prejudices are reinforced as poor behaviour by supporters is magnified and disseminated widely on social media and fans forums. Thus the couple of unenlightened Celtic followers who attempted to talk over or sing during the minutes silence at Aberdeen is passed off as typical despite the fact that the 2000 other Celtic supporters at the game respected the silence impeccably. We had blogs unsympathetic to Celtic calling it a ‘new low’ despite the fact that video footage clearly shows that a local seagull was making more noise than the fans concerned. All of this is of no concern to those who see such events as yet more proof that their prejudice against all things Celtic is justified.
We may never get through to those Karl Marx once described the ‘lumpen-proletariat’ who are unlikely to become more aware of the real issues affecting their lives and the wider society. They remain locked into their sub culture of petty prejudice and seem unwilling or unable to embrace change. There has always been an intolerant minority in Scotland just as there is in every land. Ideas of ‘Britishness’ are, for some, becoming more important than their Scottish identity. The referendum on Scottish independence saw a coalescing of more extreme unionist/loyalist opinions into a mind-set which actually saw Scots burning the Scottish flag.
Ideas of who we think we are go to the very heart of any stable society. Each of us is rooted in our community and hopefully are comfortable about who we are. There can be shared values of respect and tolerance which all groups in society adhere to no matter their ethnicity or political outlook. For some though, their petty prejudices mean that their ideas of patriotism are warped into a narrow and exclusive view which sees the ‘outsider’ as a threat. They have yet to learn that you can love your country without hating anyone else.