A time and a place
Like over 30,000 other Celtic supporters, I travelled through to Murrayfied in Edinburgh for the League Cup Semi-Final with Hearts. The sun was shining, the team showed up and the atmosphere was excellent. From my seat near the halfway line I had a good view of a terrific second half performance from Celtic who really put their opponents to the sword when the game opened up. Ryan Christie scored an excellent goal but there were good performances all over the field; Benkovic strolled through the match like the class player he is, Scott Sinclair showed flashes of his true self and even the much maligned Mikael Lustig had a good match.
The fans were in good voice too although the songbook is drifting back towards a less enlightened time. Maybe it was the opposition, maybe it’s the lingering effect of the now defunct Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, but there has been a distinct increase in political chanting at Celtic games. This is especially true at away games as I noticed on Sunday and at Kilmarnock recently too. The joyous ‘Beautiful Sunday’ song belted out after the victory over Rangers earlier in the season has been converted into homage to the IRA. Songs such as the Boys of the Old Brigade, the Broad Black Brimmer and Sean South were also aired. Surely we can do better than this? If folk feel the need to sing these songs then they should be saved for the pub, the home or other more appropriate venue. This is mostly young people with no memories of the Troubles and the utter carnage and horror of those years singing such songs at a Scottish football match. How is this appropriate in 2018?
I saw one online debate where a chap raised the issue and stating that it took the shine off of a good display for him. He was expecting to be harangued by those who enjoy the ‘Rebs’ but it seemed to me the majority agreed with him. Of course for a minority he was a ‘snowflake’ or a ‘soup taker’ but he raised an issue that is troubling some Celtic supporters. There will always be a minority who couldn’t care less about the opinions of other fans or the damage this does to Celtic’s reputation. Nor do they care about the victims and relatives of victims of the Troubles very much with us still. Nor yet about the youngsters in their midst listening to them. Like it or not, these songs give the media every opportunity to play the ‘both sides the same’ card they often do when discussing sectarianism in Scotland.
A few years ago I was at Rugby Park watching Celtic play Kilmarnock. Kenny Shiels was the Killie boss then and as a percentage of Celtic fans began singing a modern rebel song, I wondered how many knew that Kenny’s brother had been killed in the troubles? Yet here he was in a Scottish football ground listening to supporters singing about the organisation which killed his brother. Do we really think that’s right? The legacy of those years is very much with us still. It may be 20 years since the killing stopped but many on all sides still live with loss and grief. There were awful things done by all sides and many innocents have never received the justice they’re due. If healing and reconciliation is ever to have a chance then perhaps the war songs are better not aired in public, particularly from those with no experience of the bad days of the past. Of course every community has its stories and its songs and no one would argue such expressions should be outlawed, merely that people consider the right time and place to air them.
I come from a traditional Celtic supporting family with roots both Irish and Scottish. I enjoy the traditional songs as much as anyone but there is a time and a place and it isn’t in a modern football stadium. My Irish grandad fought for his country’s freedom but always taught me that all the people of Ireland had to reach agreement to live together. He would say, ‘You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.’ He loved the songs he learned in his homeland and would sing the Rose of Tralee, Kevin Barry or the West Awake at family parties but if there was what was once called a ‘mixed company’ in the house he’d respectfully avoid any political or nationalist songs. That was considered decent behaviour then.
I understand the cultural and historic circumstance which brought the Irish to Scotland and the roll Celtic played in giving that community pride and hope in a better future. It’s natural to want to celebrate the club’s Irish roots but we are a much more diverse support these days with followers from all walks of life, all faiths and none and no one should ever feel uncomfortable among us. The songs I mentioned earlier aren’t in my opinion sectarian but for many they are offensive and there are so many good Celtic songs which could be sung instead.
It’s now 45 years since Jock Stein invaded the terraces at Stirling Albion to tell supporters that they should keep their songbook focused on Celtic and not politics. That was in 1972, the bloodiest year of the Troubles when 479 people were killed and almost 5000 injured in a province with a population no bigger than greater Glasgow. Here we are in 2018; 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and we’re still talking about what is appropriate to sing at a football match.
There will be those who will sing what they want regardless of the damage it does their club’s reputation. There will be those who think politics and football have always mixed and see no problem with singing any songs. There are of course, those with a visceral dislike Celtic and use these songs to legitimise their hatred. There is also, I believe, a large group of Celtic supporters uncomfortable with it who’d rather Celtic fans sung Celtic songs. There will also be those who will not be happy reading the words I’ve written. But do you what? This club belongs to all of us and each of us has a right to an opinion on the issues which affect us all.
I know the club would rather not hear these songs at games as it does damage to the image of our support. So how about keeping it to Celtic songs and leave the war songs at the turnstile?