You’ll know us by our noise
‘Much blood has been spilt over words and a great deal of it over the word ‘God.’ said French writer Jean Yves Leloup. He may have been thinking about the clashes between and within religions over semantic differences of belief but there is truth in his assertion that words can be powerful weapons. They can also morph and mutate as the years advance and subtle changes in meaning can be adopted. In the fish bowl of Scottish football with all its rivalries and petty hatreds, words can be deliberately misconstrued or even mean different things to different people.
Many years ago, my old man turned to me as the final whistle blew at Celtic Park on a wet and windy day, ‘Good win that, did you hear how the Huns got on?’ In those times there was no mistaking what the word meant. The ‘Huns’ were Rangers Fc and/or their supporters. In recent years that term has become less of a petty insult and more of a political football. In some senses the current floundering of the ill-conceived ‘Offensive Behaviour at football Act’ is partly based on there being no clear and accepted definition of what constitutes ‘Sectarian’ language. Defendants have claimed with some success that terms such as Fenian, Hun or Orange have no religious connotation. Therein lies the difficulty for Judges as word meanings can change with time or have different meanings in particular cultures using them. Consider the much debated term ‘Hun.’ There was a song once sung by Rangers fans which contained the following lyric:
‘If I had a Tommy gun
I’d shoot every Fenian Hun
Just for walking on the Queen’s Highway’
Not particularly poetic but you get the gist that the term ‘Hun’ is being used in a pejorative way to describe those of Celtic/Irish/Catholic persuasion. The meaning of the word in that context is bound up with propaganda from both World Wars about the bad old ‘Huns’ (Germans) and their uncivilised ways. My Father recalled a game played on a wet day where the Rangers fans chanted ‘The Huns are getting wet’ at Celtic fans. Around that time Rangers fans were involved in serious disturbances in Wolverhampton, Leeds and Newcastle. It was widely quoted that one English newspaper stated that Rangers wilder fans had ‘Crossed Hadrian’s wall like marauding Huns.’ The term was of course a reference to the Asiatic hordes, led by their leader Attila, which ravaged the Roman Empire. In the imagination of the average football fan in Scotland, the perception of Rangers fans as drunken and violent had found a suitable name. The term ‘Hun’ migrated and settled for decades as a descriptor used by many for Rangers and/or their fans. It may have been reinforced by the Ibrox fans’ seeming devotion to the Germanic House of ‘Windsor.’ The British Royal family adopted the name ‘Windsor’ during World War One as the house of ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ was considered by some as sounding too German.
The term ‘Hun’ was not, in the Scottish context, a word used to describe Protestants in general despite claims to the contrary. One Celtic fan explained this to me during a half time chat by saying simply and with a certain rough logic: ‘Look Big man, let me explain, Amoruso-Hun, Jock Stein- No a Hun! Novo – Hun, Kenny Dalglish - No a Hun.’ It’s clear from that line of thought that the term is certainly not thought of by that particular chap as sectarian but merely a derogatory term for Rangers or their fans. It may hold different connotations in the North of Ireland but in Scotland it traditionally meant Rangers and/or their fans.
On occasion a minority fans from clubs such as Hearts or Motherwell have aped Rangers fans by singing loyalist songs and have been referred to by Celtic supporters as ‘Huns without the bus fare’ (to get to Ibrox) or ‘Diet Huns.’ Few among their respective supports would want such songs to be aired at all their games and it is, as is the norm in football, an attempt at winding up the opposing Celtic support.
Much of the ‘mock-shock’ over the use of the ‘H’ word is, in my humble opinion, a reflex action by elements among the Rangers support who, no doubt weary of being labelled bigots, naturally sought some mud to throw at Celtic fans in return. That is not to say that Celtic fans are all angels or that some of them don’t harbour unhealthy prejudice but in many years of watching Celtic, I have not discerned any noteworthy anti-protestant chanting or opinions. How could supporters hold such views when so many of our greatest heroes are not from the founding Irish-Catholic community and likewise so many of the club’s supporters? Would we have it any other way? Of course not, from Sunny Jim young to John Thomson, from Jock Stein to Henrik Larsson, we have had heroes of all faiths and none. Of course, you will always get the odd ill-educated idiot mouthing off but they represent no one but themselves and the vast majority of Celtic fans are proud of the club’s inclusiveness.
That being said, I choose not to use the ‘H’ word these days. Not because I think it’s sectarian but because it’s derogatory and a little outdated. It is also being hijacked by mostly well-meaning but ill-informed Politicians and others and used as a counter balance to the bile we hear so regularly from a sizable proportion of the Rangers support. This portrayal of the ‘Old Firm’ as two sides of the same coin is grossly unfair. We could easily deny them the ammunition to fire at our support by simply not using the term. Many who follow the blue side of Glasgow call Celtic and their supporters much worse but it’s best to rise above it and not descend to their level. Often the terminology people use about others tells us more about them than it does about the target group. You’ll ‘know them by their noise’ right enough. We need to be better than that.
It’s a long time since my old man asked me how the ‘Huns’ got on. He wasn’t a bigot or anti anyone, he was simply using the language current in those times. We have moved on a lot in Scottish society in the past 40 or 50 years and many of the terms once common for racial minorities, religious groups and gay people are now considered vulgar or ignorant and that is a heartening sign.
Times change and people can change too.