Saturday, 28 July 2018

Welcome to Paradise

Welcome to Paradise

One of the pleasing aspects of being a Celtic supporter of a certain vintage has been watching our fan base become more diverse. In the early days of the club the average Celtic supporter was a product of the Irish community which gave birth to the club in the first place. That is not to say that all supporters in the early days fitted that profile but most did. My grandad on my mother’s side came from what you might call an ‘Orange’ family but he loved Celtic and told me as a boy that they played the best football. He liked nothing more than watching McGrory, Scarff and Napier attacking the opposition even though his brothers ostracised him and on one occasion burned his Celtic scarf in the fire. It may appear strange to modern eyes that supporting a football club could lead to rifts in families but Celtic elicits strong emotions in some and some of the prejudice the club met in its early years lingers on yet.

Today we see Celtic supporters coming from a variety of backgrounds which reflects the diverse nature of modern Scotland. Those of you who attend games regularly will have noticed the banners of the Polish Bhoys and the Polska Number 1 CSC at Celtic Park.  Relations between Scotland and Poland stretch back over 500 years and one Polish study records that….

One of the greatest figures in Scottish history, Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led an ill-fated attempt to regain the British throne for his family in 1745, was half Polish. His mother was Maria Klementyna Sobieska, the granddaughter of Polish King Jan III Sobieski. But the blood-ties between Scots and Poles are far more extensive than this royal link. A long history of Scottish migration to Poland, starting in the 15th century, means the country boasts several villages and districts named Nowa Szkocja or Szkocja (New Scotland), and Polonised Scottish surnames are surprisingly common – MacLeod became Machlejd, for example.

In more modern times one of the more epic journeys of the 20th century was that of the Poles who ended up in Scotland during World War 2. After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the UK and France declared war on Germany. The Poles fought gallantly but as the blitzkrieg cut deeply into their country things looked bleak. The final stab in the back came when Stalin sent the Red Army in from the east to brutally occupy eastern Poland. In order to pacify the newly annexed areas of Poland, the Soviets sent hundreds of thousands of Poles to the bleak gulags of Siberia where many perished in the dreadful conditions. In the spring of 1940, as Hitler launched his army against France, Stalin ordered the slaughter of more than 20,000 Polish army officers held prisoner in Russia. The Katyn Massacre is still commemorated in Poland today and remains one of the worst atrocities of World War 2. Things looked tough for Poland with the country annexed by two ruthless dictators. For the hundreds of thousands of Poles exiled in Russia the future was very uncertain but events in the summer of 1941 changed everything. 

Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 saw Hitler turn on the USSR with an invasion carried out by 3 million axis troops. Britain, who viewed the USSR as a despicable dictatorship now found itself an ally of Stalin. The Russians decided that the Poles in their country might as well go and fight the Nazis who were soon smashing their way towards Moscow. Many thousands of Polish men women and children under the command of General Anders began the long trek through Siberia, southern USSR and eventually through Syria to British controlled Palestine. The British happily enrolled the many thousands of former Polish soldiers into their own overstretched army and many of them were sent to Perthshire in Scotland for training.

Polish soldiers and airmen contributed hugely to the defence of the UK in the darker days of the war. The famous 303 Fighter Squadron of the RAF was made up of Polish Pilots and shot down over 400 German planes in the war. In Scotland the thousands of Polish soldiers were trained and formed into the 1st Polish Armoured Division.  Polish troops saw action in North Africa and in Italy where following a brutal battle the Poles stormed the German positions on Monte Casino and planted their red and white banner on the ruins of the old monastery. When the invasion of France came in June 1944 though, it was to lead to the finest hour of the Polish Armoured Division led by their beloved General Maczek.

By August 1944, the British, Canadian and Polish forces were closing in on the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army from the north while the Americans were moving up from the south in a huge pincer movement. The plan was to trap and destroy the entire German Army in Normandy. As the trap closed, it was the job of the Polish Armoured Division to be the ‘cork in the bottle’ and halt the German escape. They captured the vital high ground known as ‘Hill 262’ and then fought off a series of sustained and increasingly desperate attacks by Werhmacht and SS units who knew the trap was closing. The Poles suffered many casualties but inflicted many more on the attacking Germans and didn’t yield. This contributed hugely to the allied victory in France. After the battles for France, the Polish Armoured Division fought its way through Holland, liberating the city of Breda to scenes of great joy and eventually captured the German port of Willhelmshaven as the war came to an end.

For many Polish soldiers though their victories were bitter-sweet. The allies allowed Stalin free reign to dominate post-war Poland and the majority of Polish soldiers would never see their homeland again. Indeed the communist puppet government the USSR set up in Poland stripped many Poles fighting in the west of their citizenship. They gave so much defending their own land and liberating others and their reward was betrayal. Thousands of Poles who returned to Scotland after the war settled there permanently and after leaving the forces had to find jobs in mines and factories. Many married Scottish women and never saw Poland again. General Maczek ended up working in the bar of an Edinburgh hotel where former comrades would buy a drink and salute their former Commander before downing it.

The Poles in Scotland were generally made welcome as brothers in arms fighting a common enemy. They were grateful for the welcome they received and have left their mark in Scotland. In the Barony Castle Hotel in Eddleston,  (Scottish Borders) which was a Polish Officer training HQ in the war years. the Polish owner created a huge concrete map of Scotland in the grounds of the hotel in recognition of the welcome the Poles received in Scotland. 

In a quiet corner of Duns, a town in Berwickshire there is a memorial to the Polish Armoured Division which was unveiled by its former Commander, General Maczec. The old General lived to be 102 years old and when he passed on in 1994 he was buried beside his fallen comrades in the Polish military cemetery in the Dutch town of Breda which he and his men had liberated 50 years before.

So when you see the flag of the Polska Number 1 CSC or the Polish Bhoys CSC at Celtic Park, it’s worth remembering the contribution the Polish community made to this country. They join many other groups in Scotland who see Celtic as their team and we’re proud to call them fellow Celts.

Witajcie w rajskich chĹ‚opcach!  Hail Hail

Friday, 20 July 2018



Jim ‘Joker’ McCann’s coffin stood a little forlornly at the front of the small church. It was covered by a white ceremonial sheet which in turn was topped with a cross and a bible. A fairly sombre collection of friends and relatives shuffled in and began filling the pews. His two sons sat in the front row, looking a little uncomfortable in their suits and ties, and were joined in turn by their uncles and aunts. Joker had five brothers and sisters and they in turn had a dozen children between them and already a new generation of little ones was springing forth. Joker’s younger son, Barry looked at his older brother and whispered, ‘A good turnout, he’d like that.’ Tam’s face didn’t change from its usual glum appearance as he replied, ‘Aye, he was popular enough. Just hope his Will doesn’t cause a war.’ Barry exhaled, if there was one aspect of his big brother’s personality he disliked it was his continual obsession with money. The Priest entered as a bell rang somewhere refocussing Barry’s mind on the real reason they were there; to celebrate Joker’s life.

As the service progressed the Priest spoke about their old man’s life and was surprisingly well informed. ‘James Joseph McCann was born in Duke Street Hospital in Glasgow on October the nineteenth, 1957. It is said that his father James Senior was otherwise engaged as young James took his first breath on that bright autumn day being as he was at the League Cup Final between Celtic and Rangers. I think it’s fair to say that Joseph Snr was pleased with the result both at Hampden and at the hospital!’ There was a quiet laughter in the church at this as everyone knew how Celtic daft the McCann’s were. ‘He went to St Mary’s Primary school and it caused eyebrows to be raised when his father took him out of school for a few days in the spring of 1967 for a trip to Lisbon in Portugal where 9 year old James and his father watched Celtic winning the European Cup. Family legend suggests his father was part of a group of Celtic fans who invaded the field at full time and virtually dragged Billy McNeill’s shirt from his back. It was cut into pieces and everyone got a part of it to cherish, even nine year old James.’ Barry whispered to his brother, ‘Wonder where that bit of family history got to?’ As the Priest continued his description of Joker’s life Barry found himself smiling. His old man earned his nickname well and his constant steam of jokes and wind ups featured largely in life story

The Priest looked up and smiled a little as he continued painting a picture of the dearly departed Joker McCann,’ His humour and his practical jokes were a feature of his life and I was reminded of the time he decided to put a fresh spin on the old whoopee cushion joke by filling it with gravy. It was intended for his late wife but alas my predecessor Father O’Hara arrived unexpectedly at the house and sat on the aforementioned whoopee cushion with predictable consequences.’ At this there was more laughter from the congregation. It struck Barry that he’d always remember his old man smiling or wise cracking at parties or in the pub. He could be a very funny man and Barry recalled going to a garden centre to buy a Christmas tree the year before. A spotty faced youth looked at Joker and asked, ‘Are you going to put it up yourself?’ Joker replied with a straight face, ‘No, I was thinking in the living room.’

It was a strangely joyous funeral and he figured his old fellah would have wanted it that way. He had lived a full and happy life and the great loves of his life; his family and Celtic Football Club had given him a lot of pride and pleasure.

The following Monday morning Barry sat with Tam in the office of their father’s Lawyer, the grandly named Cornelius McBride. The Lawyer looked at them over the top of his glasses, his receding and rather unkempt grey hair and overgrown white eyebrows making him look like large bird of prey. ‘Gentleman, if we are ready to proceed I shall read the last Will and Testament of Mr James McCann.’ A hush descended on the room as old Joker was said to be worth a few quid and the sale of his home and life insurance policies would accrue even more. Money was never that important to Barry but Tam unconsciously licked his lips and stared impatiently at the old lawyer. ‘As a preliminary, I have calculated that the entire estate of Mr McCann including savings, interest, life insurance payments and the likely proceeds from the sale of his former home will, following the settling of his various creditors accounts, amount to a sum in the region of £210,000.’ Tam’s eyes lit up as he heard this and he audibly sighed. 

The lawyer opened a manila envelope and removed Joker’s hand written Will. ‘If you could bear with me,’ he said in a somewhat bemused voice, ’the will is one of the more… unusual I’ve dealt with over the years.’ The two brothers looked at each other a little bemused as the old lawyer continued. ‘I’ll read exactly what your father has written….’

‘Hello Tam and Barry, if you’re listening to these words then I guess it means I’ve gone to join your mother. Don’t be sad as I’m beyond pain and suffering. You’ve been two of the best sons a father could wish for and I want you both to be happy in the years God gives you so always be there for each other.

As to my treasure, well I couldn’t decide what to do with it so I’ve decided to set you a wee test. If you can answer three questions to Mr McBride’s satisfaction, he’ll give you the key to the small safe in his office and all it contains is yours. If you can’t solve the questions – you don’t get the key. Here are the three questions…

       I.            Who is sitting on the words ‘Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo?
     II.            Where is AMDG written in squares?
  III.            Where do angels look over the three T’s?

You know I liked a joke, boys so I’ll keep it simple. The first one of you to solve these three riddles and provide Mr McBride with the necessary proof gets the key to the safe and my treasure.

See you in a better place, Your Dad, Joker.’

The old Lawyer stopped reading and looked at them. ‘As I’ve said, it’s the most unusual will I’ve ever had to deal with but I’m bound to carry out your father’s wishes. The first one who answers the 3 questions successfully gets they key to the safe and all it contains.’ With that he handed them both a copy of their father’s letter. Tam looked at his brother Barry with a look of disgust on his face, ‘What the fuck is he playing at? Riddles? Can he not just gie us the fuckin money?’ Barry shook his head, ‘we could work on this this together, Tam, share whatever is in the safe?’ Tam shook his head, ‘I’m figuring this oot, Barry and I don’t need your help.’ With that he stood and stormed out of the room. Barry shook hands with the old lawyer, ‘Sorry about that, Mr McBride. He’s a bit headstrong oor Tam.’ The layer stood and shook his hand, ‘Good luck solving those riddles.’ As Barry turned to leave the old man added, ‘You know I can’t help you on your quest, but I can say that I was educated at St Aloysius School. We used to write AMDG at the top of every new page in our jotters.’ Barry smiled, ‘thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.’

Barry sat at home and opened his laptop; it flickered to life with its screensaver of the new Celtic way leading to Celtic Park. He quickly googled ‘Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo’ and it took him seconds to learn that it was the motto of the Marist Brothers and as any Celtic fan knows, the founder of the club was a Marist. He mumbled to himself, ‘but who’s sitting on those words?’  Then it clicked and he grabbed his car keys and headed for Celtic Park.

He searched the base of the Brother Walfrid statue and there he found the words, ‘Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo’ on one of the panels. Barry smiled, ‘Walfrid’s sitting on those words!’ He took a few photographs and headed back down the Celtic Way.  The first problem had been solved.

That night as darkness fell over Glasgow he looked at the second problem. ‘Where is AMDG written in squares?’ He recalled the old lawyer said he used to write those letters at the top of each page when he was a pupil at St Aloysius. He soon found out via the internet that ‘AMDG’ was an acronym for ‘Ad Majoren de Gloriam’ the motto of the Jesuit order but where is it written in squares? He wracked his brain, ‘St Peter’s Square? George Square?’ No solution came to mind and he drifted to sleep that night thinking it over.

His phone jarred him out of his slumber as another dawn crept in between his curtains. He could hear Tam’s voice as he pressed it to his ear, ‘Aw right bro, you solved any of those riddles yet?’ Barry focussed and mumbled, ‘aye, one of them. You solved any?’  ‘Aye one, tell me yours first then I’ll tell you mine.’  Barry sat up in bed, ‘The one asking about sitting on the words, it’s Brother Walfrid. It’s on the plinth of his statue.’ Tam replied a little curtly, ‘Aye, that’s the wan I solved as well. Catch ye later.’ With that he hung up and Barry felt just a little conned. ‘Mental note to self,’ he mumbled, ‘Tell Tam fuck all!’

The following afternoon Barry headed into Glasgow City centre. As he wandered up Buchanan Street he was stopped by a couple of brightly dressed tourists, ‘Excuse me,’ the American woman said with a not unpleasant accent, ‘we’re on vacation and wanted to visit Glasgow City hall?’ Barry thought for a moment, ‘You mean the city chambers?’ She nodded, ‘Yeh, the one with all the marble and mosaics.’ Barry smiled, ‘Follow me it’s just up here in George Square.’ He led them to the square and pointed out the unmistakable form of the city Chambers. The American man shook his hand, ‘Thank you, y’all have a nice day now.’ Barry watched them negotiate the traffic and cross the road into George Square but something was niggling at his mind. What had she said? ‘The one with the marble and mosaics!’ That’s it, the clue, ‘Where is AMDG written in Squares?’ It must be written in mosaic squares! He crossed into George Square and sat on a bench. His old man’s riddles were all about Celtic so he searched on his phone ‘Glasgow Celtic Mosaic’ and in less than a second saw an image on his phone of a mosaic on the floor of St Mary’s church in Glasgow’s east end. He enlarged the picture and carefully read the words around the edge of the mosaic. It read, ‘To the greater glory of God and in honour of his blessed mother commemorating the foundation of the Celtic Football Club in this Parish of St Mary’s Calton.’ There it was- AMDG - ‘To the greater glory of God’ written in squares. He’d solved it! ‘Two down and one to go!’ he said to himself with a satisfied smile.

Over the next few days, Barry thought long and hard about the last riddle; where do angels look over the three T’s? What did it mean by the ‘three T’s?’ Neither the internet nor discussions with his Celtic supporting friends could help solve the problem. His old man would be laughing at his struggles. His brother had phoned a couple of times fishing but Barry stonewalled him and said he was still stuck on the last two riddles. Tam was not happy- he could smell money but had no way of getting at it without the answers. In truth, Barry found his brother’s greed a little nauseating.

The following week Barry was taking his twelve year old cousin Kevin on a tour of Celtic Park. Despite being a lifelong fan he had never gone on the tour so was fairly excited himself. He put all thoughts of his old man’s riddles out of his head as he and a group of chattering fans followed the guide up the ramp towards the front door of the stadium. As they neared the front door Barry glanced at the bronze plaque on the wall dedicated to the memory of the great Tommy Burns. As he passed it he heard the man behind him say, ‘God bless ye T. we all miss ye still.’ Barry stopped in his tracks and the man bumped into him. ‘Sorry pal,’ Barry said pushing past him. He stopped in front of the Tommy Burns plaque and looked at it. It showed three images of Tommy, one as a player in that classic prayerful pose he had struck after scoring a goal, one holding the Scottish Cup as Manager and one in what could have been a coaching top. Young Kevin stared at him, ‘Are we going inside Barry?’ Barry didn’t answer as he glanced at the top of the bronze plaque. There he could see two angels, identical to the ones above St Mary’s Church!  ‘Of course’ he laughed, ‘three T’s- three Tommys!’  Young Kevin looked at him bemused, ‘we’ll miss the tour!’ Barry grinned and took a picture of the plaque before leading young Kevin into Celtic Park. He’d solved the last riddle!

Barry picked Tam up in his car early the following Monday morning. They had made an appointment to see Mr McBride and he wanted to be there early. Tam was beside himself, ‘So ye solved them? I don’t have a clue. Yer sharing with me aren’t ye? I mean anything my da left is for us both?’ Jesus Tam,’ Barry said, ‘is money all you think about? Yer da died a couple of weeks back and all you’ve rabbited on about is bloody money!’ Tam snorted, ‘Are ye sharing wi me, aye or naw? Because if yer no, I’m getting oot this car right noo!’’ Barry exhaled, ‘Aye Tam. You’ll get half of what’s there, now shut up aboot it.’

Mr McBride listened carefully to Barry as he went through the questions one by one. ‘Brother Walfrid is sitting on the words; they’re on a panel on the plinth of his statue. AMDG is on the Celtic mosaic in St Mary’s church and the angels looking over the three T’s refers to the Tommy Burns plaque at Celtic Park.’ Barry showed the old lawyer pictures on his phone to corroborate his answers. The old man nodded, ‘You satisfy the conditions so as per your father’s instructions, the key is yours.’ He opened a drawer on his desk and took out a small wooden box which he opened and removed a key from. ‘This is the key to the safe, if you’ll allow me?’ Barry nodded, ‘Go ahead.’ The old man stood and turned the key in the lock of the safe and opened the heavy door. Tam could barely contain himself, ‘Yasss Barry boy! You did it, you solved the riddles.’ 

Barry watched as the lawyer removed two brown envelopes from the safe and placed them on the table. He opened the first envelope and removed an A4 sheet of paper. Barry watched with interest as he unfolded it and prepared to read it. Tam was virtually rocking on his seat with excitement. The old lawyer began to read, ‘It is my settled will that all my assets be given in equal shares to the following….’ Tam waited for his name, after all he was the oldest, it’d be his name first. As the lawyer began to read out a list of charities, Tam’s face fell. ‘Whit, he’s giving his money tae fuckin’ cats and dugs and folk in Africa he’s never met!’ Barry laughed as Tam pointed hopefully at the other envelope, ‘Whit dis that wan say?’ The lawyer showed them the two words written by their father on the front of the envelope. It read, ‘My Treasure.’ Tam’s eyes widened, perhaps he’d get something worth having after all. The old man opened the large envelope and removed a poly-pocket which contained a ragged strip of green and white cotton. ‘This I believe is a piece of the shirt worn by Billy McNeill when Celtic won the European cup.’ Tam was aghast, ‘A rag, a fuckin auld rag! That’s his treasure, is this a fuckin joke?’ Barry laughed out loud, his old man had indeed set up one final joke and by God it was a good one. The old lawyer looked on with some amusement on his face at the two brothers. Tam was incandescent with rage, ‘You keep the fuckin rag, Barry! But just you remember when yer skint, yer old man gave thousands away tae feed fuckin abandoned Rottweilers!’ Barry was rocking with laughter. Good old Joker, he thought, he had played his hand beautifully.

He picked up the piece of Billy McNeill’s shirt and looked at it. His old man had kept it all these years. ‘I’ll look after your treasure Da, don’t you worry about that.’ He left the lawyers office still laughing to himself.


Monday, 16 July 2018


The fine city of Glasgow was host to two very different demonstrations this past couple of weeks. One involved members of the Orange Order marching through the streets in a rather hollow demonstration of triumphalism and was marked by the despicable assault on a Catholic Priest at St Alphonsus church. The other was the annual Pride, march celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender culture, which was led by first minister Nicola Sturgeon and this was marked by colour, music and positivity.

Celtic’s decision to post a message on social media wishing those attending the annual pride march in Glasgow a good day had the surprising effect of attracting some very negative comments from a vociferous minority. Of course there are those with no love for Celtic who seize on any opportunity to throw mud at the club but some of the comments I saw on social media came from people who claimed to be Celtic fans.  Celtic’s message was a simple one…

This however provoked some ire from a minority who seemed to feel that that Celtic’s Catholic roots were incompatible with such a message.  One person stated that Celtic’s message was…

‘Absolutely disgraceful. Our club was founded on Catholic principles. Brother Walfrid will be spinning in his grave.’

Celtic was of course founded on the Christian principle of charity and love and there seemed to be a distinct lack of that in such comments. Let’s be clear here, Celtic Football club is not a Catholic organisation, it is a modern, secular football club open to people of all faiths, all ethnicities and all sexual orientations. Through historical circumstance the majority of supporters are at least cultural Catholics but a large and increasing number of Celtic supporters come from other faith backgrounds or have no interest in religion.

The social attitudes around in 1888 when the club was founded have gone through revolutionary change. It was routine in the late Victorian era for Jews, Catholics, people of colour and others to suffer open and, by modern standards, pretty appalling prejudice. We will never know the opinion of Celtic’s founding father on those of a different sexual orientation although his actions in trying to feed the poor and alleviate suffering among the marginalised and poverty stricken community he served suggests he was a man of compassion.

Most Christians are familiar with the scriptures of their faith and in truth some have twisted them in the past to bolster their arguments in favour of things such as slavery and racial segregation. The most quoted passages concerning same sex relationships are found in the book of Leviticus and in the letters of St Paul. They were written in a very different context and culture from the modern one we must navigate in our lives. Leviticus is particularly unforgiving and brutal in its assertion that….

"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." (Lev 20:13)

Compare this to the meeting Pope Francis had with a victim of clerical sex abuse. Juan Carlos Cruz meet the Pontiff to discuss the abuse he suffered at the hands of one of Chile’s worst paedophile’s. He told the press after the meeting that the Pope that Francis had said to him…

‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’

While official Catholic doctrine would still suggest that sexual activity with someone of the same gender is a sin, it’s clear that the compassion and love shown by Pope Francis is a million miles away from the harshness and cruelty of the book of Leviticus. People of faith need to judge for themselves what being a Christian means for them. For most it’s about love, forgiveness and accepting that none of us are perfect. For a few it means harsh rules, shame and guilt. I know which side I fall on in that debate.

This week also saw a very brave and defiant young man called Blair Wilson suffer a homophobic attack on the streets of Glasgow. He took a selfie of himself in the wake of the assault and for many who saw the image of his bloodied but smiling face it was a timely reminder of where prejudice can lead. His courage in speaking out though and the reaction to it is testament to how much society is changing. Most people are sick of petty prejudices be they aimed at religious or ethnic groups or people who are different from them. Societies evolve and the attitudes of the past can seem utterly ludicrous to a modern person. It is not denying your Christian heritage to be more tolerant of the ‘other’ in society-it is living up to it!

If you’re reading these words the chances are you’re using a phone, laptop or other computing device. All of this technology owes much to the pioneering computer work of Alan Turing. Turing was one of the key men who broke the German codes in World War Two and in doing so shortened the war and made an allied victory over fascism more likely. He was also a gay man who was dragged through the courts and charged with ‘gross indecency.’ His public shaming cost him his security clearance as well as his reputation. In the end he took his own life. We must never return to those days. Believe what you want to believe but allow others the same privilege.

So for those offended by Celtic’s message of support for Glasgow’s Pride march I say follow your conscience as you have every right to do but know that the vast majority in our society feel people should be free to live as they choose without fear or shame. We learn from the past or we’re doomed to repeat it and the past shows us very clearly the disgraceful persecution gay people endured. Times change and thankfully in some respects they’re changing for the better.

To any LGBT Celtic supporters out there, we're far from perfect but this is a club for all and you’re welcome here. In that we take Pride.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Bygone Days of Yore

Bygone Days of Yore

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a break in the sunshine of Cyprus this past week and not being one to laze about in the sun managed to see a bit of the island. Those of you who have visited there will know that it was been partitioned since the Turkish invasion of 1974. There is a long and often bitter history between Greeks and Turks which stretches back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Cyprus was ruled, often brutally, by the Ottomans for over 300 years and became a British possession when the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the early twentieth century. Its population is about 80% Greek Cypriot with around 18% being of Turkish origin with various other nationalities settling there making up the rest. When the Greek majority pushed for independence in order to seek unity with Greece in the 1950s, the British reacted in typical fashion by setting up an auxiliary Police force made up of Turkish Cypriots. Divide and rule was always a useful tactic in days of Empire as India, Ireland and other places found. Predictably it made relations between the two communities worse.

I got chatting to a fellow Celtic fan as our coach trundled through the Troodos Mountains towards the beautiful Kykkos Monastery and he showed me on his phone the news from home of the despicable attack on a Catholic Priest, Tom White, at St Alphonsus Church in Glasgow’s east end during the annual Orange Parade in the city. The incident took place as the vigil mass was ending and parishioners were leaving the church and Father White was spat on and called a ‘Fenian bastard’ among other vile things. It seems the Police officers guarding the church were called away to another incident related to the parade and thus the bigots had free reign to vent their considerable bile on the Priest and the mostly elderly parishioners. One wonders what sort of society we have when Police Officers need to guard a place of worship. One worshiper said…

The priest was in front of us trying to say thanks for attending Mass but the verbal abuse from people in the walk, not just hangers, on was frightening. They shouted paedo, the spat on the priest, hit him with a baton. They were obnoxious. It’s so sad to see such venom in people’s faces towards church goers.

 Coming from a part of Scotland which isn’t subjected to Orange Parades, my friend on the bus was bemused about the sort of bigotry which leads people to behave in such a manner. Alas, as a Glasgow boy, I’ve seen it all my life and it’s like watching the same rotten movie over and over. The Orange Order, as usual says ‘nothing to do with us’ the internet is awash with folk blaming Catholic Schools and giving us the old ‘both sides as bad as each other’ nonsense. The Orange Lodge attracts these people to their displays of naked sectarian triumphalism like flies to rotten fruit for a reason.

They offer a platform where some of the more unsavoury attitudes held in our society can be expressed freely. I’ve known a few Orangemen in my life, (it would be stretching it to call them friends) and none of them were particularly religious. It was more a tribal celebration of ‘them and us’ which is sadly found in societies all over the world. I even attended the funeral of one such chap and as his brethren lined the crematorium in all their regalia, I thought it interesting the sort of conversations you hear when folk are unguarded and believe they are surrounded by what the call their ‘own kind.’

So here we are in 21st century Scotland, a place where Priests are spat upon in the street and Police are required to stand outside places of worship as people celebrating a victory by a Dutchman at a battle in Ireland 328 year ago, swagger past dressed like chocolate box soldiers. The absurdity of it all is beyond parody. Scottish Actor John Hannah was scathing in his condemnation of the attack on Canon White and the mind-set which facilitates such events...

‘It’s the 21st century and my city, Glasgow, still allows this barbaric, bigoted bunch of medieval fuckwits to parade through the city displaying their narrow minded blinkered version of fascism for the whole world to see. I’m ashamed of you Glasgow.’

The right to march and demonstrate is part of any democratic society but it has to be within safe and decent limits. Too often the hangers on and at least some of the marchers at these parades behave in a manner which oversteps the mark. Attitudes towards them are changing though and there is a more confident and vocal group in society, especially among the young, asking why we put up with this nonsense every year in the heart of our cities and towns. It’s ironic that the stoicism with which Glasgow’s Catholics have traditionally endured this nonsense is one reason it continues. Any counter demonstrations or disturbances would perhaps see the city council and Police act. No one advocates breaking the law but our politicians need to see the anxiety, trouble and poor behaviour these walks cause. You’d have to conclude that if these demonstrations were accompanied by anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim sentiment, something would have been done years ago. As one chap said to me recently, ‘Let them march but do it in a field in Ayrshire and give the rest of us peace.’

The 2011 census found the religious persuasion of Glaswegians to be as follows; Catholic 27%, Church of Scotland 23% and people of no religion 32%. The rest of the city’s population were of other faiths or preferred not to say. It remains ironic that the council tax payers of the city who fund the policing of such parades include many Catholics who find them intimidating or offensive. Perhaps if the Orange Order paid the policing costs themselves we’d see a decrease in the sheer number of parades which currently outnumbers those taking place in Belfast. I don’t see why the vast majority of folk who have no interested in them or their outdated ideas should foot the bill for their annual jamboree which is estimated to be around £1.5m each year.

Scotland is a changing country and most of us want it to be an inclusive place where people feel welcome and comfortable. I have no problem with people celebrating their cultural heritage in a manner which we can all enjoy. Wouldn’t it be great if public events and displays were accessible to all and a genuine celebration of diversity and not some grim, triumphalist stomp through the streets? For too many though it remains a forum for base displays of intolerance, drunkenness and the sort of vile behaviour we saw directed at Canon White.

I’m sure there will be some folk reading these words thinking ‘Very predictable, another Celtic fan slagging the Orange Walk’ but this is about the sort of society we want in Scotland not football or politics. It’s about decency and respect for others and most Scots want that I’m sure. Do we move forward as a progressive nation or are we stuck in the bygone days of yore?  

It's time for our leaders to lead.