Saturday, 1 June 2019

My Brother's Keeper

My Brother's Keeper

Journalist Graham Spiers is a man I have a lot time for as he has had the courage to write with honesty about the sectarianism which scars the darker corners of Scottish society. He doesn’t play by the unwritten rule of journalism in these parts that when discussing such things, namely that you always portray it as a problem equally afflicting both sides of what they like to call the ‘divide.’ He calls it as he sees it and writes with an integrity which yearns for a better society where we move beyond such medieval nonsense. His valid points though are often lost in a tsunami of whataboutery by some who fail to see the big picture. Social media may be democratising and offer a platform for discussion not dictated by the traditional print media but it also gives a voice to the prejudices of an unhinged minority who hide behind avatars to spew their bile.

This past few weeks Mr Spiers has commented on the painful issue of the historical child abuse perpetrated by several despicable individuals connected to Celtic Boys Club from the 1960s to the 1990s. His tack was twofold. Firstly he suggested that Celtic Football Club has a moral duty to address the issues which occurred at the Boys in the past and recognise the pain the victims endured and still endure. The fact that the Boys Club and the Football Club were separate legal entities does not exonerate Celtic from moral responsibility. Secondly he is obviously appalled that some use a tragedy like this to point score and throw mud. He said on Twitter this week….

‘Rangers fans excitedly retweeting any Celtic Boys Club sex abuse stories. Celtic fans countering with dug up stories of ex Rangers youth coaches and alleged child sex abuse. What a nauseating charade.

He is correct of course that the rivalry between the two biggest clubs in Scotland is so intense that for some it spills over into a base hatred where a moronic minority engage in this ‘nauseating charade.’ So many discussions on social media about football end up in dreary and occasionally sickening slanging matches about abuses which occurred before many of those attempting to weaponise them were born. It’s as if guilt by association can somehow taint people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the contemptable behaviour of those finally being brought to justice.

I believe Celtic’s historical relationship with the Boys Club does mean they bear some responsibility to see that the victims of those sad years are recognised and in some ways compensated. The former Board members who allegedly allowed Jim Torbet to become involved with the club again after he was thrown out under a cloud of opprobrium and accusation should also have hard questions to address. If any of them knew Torbet was a danger to children and allowed him back in a position where he had access to them then they should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course the old board was ousted in the early 1990s by fan power and Fergus McCann’s takeover team. No one involved in the running of Celtic today can be held accountable for the wrongs committed when they were not at the helm but there is a moral imperative to do the right thing; to stand by the victims and to see that those who need it receive counselling and that all involved are compensated in a tangible way for what they endured and continue to endure. Modern psychology recognises what are termed ’Adverse Childhood Experiences’ and this theory suggests such experiences can lead to toxic stress in children which in time is linked to serious health problems and even lower life expectancy.

The victims of the abusers should above all be listened to and their sufferings acknowledged by more than pious statements. Celtic needs to act on this historic wrong and show a tangible compassion. They should also condemn more vocally those dolts who use child abuse to point score at a football match. The ‘nauseating charade’ going on in social media and some of our football stadiums shows no sign of abating and those involving themselves in it seem not to care a jot about the victims whose lives are blighted by their childhood experiences. It is suggested in some studies that around 10% of people will have experienced some form of sexual abuse or sexual violence in childhood. Those who unthinkingly chant about such things at a football match will very likely be standing near one of their own supporters who has suffered such abuse.

‘The past’ wrote LP Hartley, ‘is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Alas the truth is that human nature is unchanging and a minority of those with power will use it for their own ends. We have seen abuse occur in foster homes, religious settings of all hues, care homes, orphanages, schools, prisons, Scouts, sports clubs and many other settings where those in power use it to abuse or dominate the powerless. It is not limited to one sector of society or social class. It exists in all societies and sadly probably always will.

For many who follow the fortunes of Celtic Football Club there is a feeling that the events which occurred in the Boys club all those years ago remains unfinished business. I hope the club does the right thing. This area is of course a legal minefield and if they insist they have no legal connection to the Boys Club, they do at least have a moral responsibility. Manchester City set up a ‘Victims Compensation Scheme’ in order to compensates the targets of predators Barry Bennell and John Broome who abused boys at City’s feeder clubs. In doing so City are not admitting blame for what occurred, for that lies with the evil people who committed those acts, but rather they are accepting that they can’t simply wash their hands of youngsters whose dreams of a career in football were destroyed by wicked men. I hope Celtic act in a similar manner and right a historic wrong.

As for those who use historic abuse cases to throw mud at the modern Celtic; they are to be pitied more than hated as they are allowing their hatred to overwhelm any empathy they may have had for victims. Michelle Obama spoke of mud-slinging in Politics and used the memorable phrase, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ To remind these people that there were active abusers at their own club may expose their rank hypocrisy but it merely throws petrol on the fire and sinks to their level.

I recall at school the story of Cain and Abel being explained to me by my excellent, young teacher. God asks Cain where his brother Abel is he replied, ‘I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ My teacher explained that passage to us by saying that we are our brother’s keeper. We do have a social responsibility towards each other. That plays out in charitable acts when world events such as famine or war strike but also in helping those struggling closer at hand. We may live in less religious times these days but the metaphor of being our brother’s keeper still holds some power. Good people whether they are religious or not will always look out for others.

Do the right thing Celtic. It’s not an admission of guilt; it’s looking out for those whose dreams of wearing those famous hooped shirts were destroyed by evil men.

We can’t change the past but we can acknowledge the wrongs which occurred and ensure that we have systems in place to see that it never happens again.


  1. A very good article and I detect a change in Celtic fans attitude from "the CBC was nothing to do with the Club" to an acceptance of, at least, moral responsibility.

    One thing I would take issue with is the suggestion that the individuals involved are no longer involved therefore it's nothing to do with the current custodians.

    I disagree with this as, even if individuals have their own culpability, there's also the responsibility of the institution (CFC), which still persists independent of individuals.

  2. TIRNAOG09

    Excellent overview of the situation. This is not a time for whataboutery nor for hiding behind the absolutism of the law. As soon as Torbett was readmitted to the inner sanctum of Celtic FC,the club put itself in jeopardy.

    That particular chicken has come home to roost. Celtic FC must do the right thing here.