Monday, 30 September 2019

The Jewel in the crown

The Jewel in the crown
September 30th 1944 was a time of great upheaval in Europe as the war dragged on but in the working class district of Viewpark near Glasgow there was some cheer as a baby boy was born to Matt and Sarah Johnstone. He was their first child and four siblings would follow in the fullness of time. They named him James Connolly Johnstone. That baby born into a time of hardship and worry would grow up to become one of the greatest footballers these islands have ever produced. We know him of course as the magical Jimmy Johnstone and those who saw him play at his peak were blessed indeed.

As a boy he dribbled around milk bottles until he had a mastery of the football that few players of his generation possessed. He would run with pit boots on and swore it added two or three yards to his speed when he played games without them. He performed well and stood out in his Primary school team before going onto St John’s Secondary school were one of his teacher’s, Mr Cassiday, used his friendship with former Celtic player Sammy Wilson to get the Celtic mad youngster a role as a ball boy at Celtic Park. Being a ball boy was a way to get involved in the Celtic youth set up and Jimmy McGrory wisely signed up the flame haired youngster. Jimmy Johnstone had arrived at his spiritual home and he would dazzle supporters over the coming years with his virtuosity and willingness to fight with all he had for his beloved Celtic.

He was a skinny teenager yet to make a senior appearance when Celtic faced the mighty Real Madrid in a challenge match in 1962. The Spanish Champions and five times European champions had an almost mythical quality about them in those days. This was especially so in Glasgow where they had won the European cup 2 years earlier by destroying Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 with a devastating display of attacking football. 72,000 supporters watched as a talented young Celtic side put up stirring resistance against their illustrious opponents and despite going down 3-1 Celtic were cheered from the Park. The young hopeful looking on at the brilliance of Di Stefano, Santa Maria and Gento could never have dreamed he could play in such illustrious company and yet less than 5 years later Celtic’s misfiring but talented young team came of age and conquered Europe.

For most of the Celtic team who defeated Inter Milan in 1967, the chance to face Real Madrid in the Bernabeu stadium was an opportunity to display to the aristocrats of European football that these pale lads from north-west Europe could play football of the highest order. Many of them were in the side which lost 3-1 to Real in that challenge match in 1962 and now had the chance to show how the power dynamic of European football had shifted and that their success in Lisbon was no fluke. For Jimmy Johnstone, that match in Madrid in June 1967 demonstrated to the world that he was a world class footballer. He turned in a display which was mesmeric and full of the inimitable brilliance his fans in Scotland knew he was capable of. It was his stage, his chance to shine and as he tore the Real Madrid defence to shreds the knowledgeable Spanish supporters in the huge crowd warmed to him. There were chants of ‘Ole’ as he left another defender in wake. Some defenders used rough house tactics to try and stop him but he picked himself up and ran at them again. It was in many ways the pinnacle of a remarkable season for Scottish football; Celtic were European Champions, Scotland had beaten World Cup winners England at Wembley and now a Scottish side was outplaying Real Madrid in their own stadium.

The late Bishop Joe Devine used to tell a story of a freezing day at Celtic Park in the late 1960s. Celtic was playing a league match and Jimmy Johnstone had led the left back on a merry dance for the whole game. On one occasion Jimmy turned the full back inside out 5 times in as many seconds and a slightly inebriated fan sitting beside the then Father Devine turned to him and said, ‘Father, forgive me the bad language but see that wee man, is that no sheer fuckin poetry?’ The football Jimmy played when he was on his game was indeed poetry, it elevated football to an art form and those of us lucky to see him play knew at the time we were in the presence of greatness. Not that the ordinary boy from Viewpark had any airs and graces. Off the field he was just one of the lads but once he pulled that hooped shirt on; he elevated many a grey Saturday afternoon for the watching supporters into the happiest part of the week.

It helps supporters bond with a player when he has undoubted talent but with Jimmy it was more than that. He was Celtic to the core and had he not been on the field creating history with his team mates he would have been on the terrace cheering the team on. Hugh McIlvanney said of Jimmy…

 ‘’Johnstone will not be remembered simply as a footballer of electrifying virtuosity, though he was certainly that, with a genius for surreally intricate dribbling so extraordinary it is impossible for me to believe any other player before or since quite matched his mastery of tormenting, hypnotic ball control at the closest of quarters. As I have acknowledged in the past, other wingers might fairly be rated more reliably devastating but none of them besieged opponents with such a complex, concentrated swirl of deceptive manoeuvres or ever conveyed a more exhilarating sense of joy in working wonders with the ball.’’

There are so many wonderful tales to be told about Jimmy Johnstone that no article can do them justice. The destruction of Don Revie’s Leeds, his display against Red Star Belgrade, his tormenting of Rangers in so many derby games and his ability to make supporters gasp at his skills on a wet afternoon in the midst of a Scottish winter. The brutality of Atletico and Racing Club left their mark on him literally and metaphorically but as he washed the spit from his hair at half time in Buenos Aires not once did he complain or ask to be substituted. Nor did death threats on the phone in his hotel room in Madrid in 1974 stop him playing in the match. Jimmy was all heart and we loved him for it.

Jimmy’s brilliance was undeniably coupled with a more erratic side away from football. It can be hard when everyone is your friend and the pints are lined up. His time after football wasn’t always plain sailing and he knew dark and despondent periods in his life. There are players today who retire as millionaires and in honesty couldn’t lace his boots. However any time he strolled up to Celtic Park or joined his old comrades for a function he was embraced by the love the Celtic supporters still felt for him. He was Jimmy, their Lord of the wing, the jewel in the crown of Stein’s fabulous Celtic side. More than that though; he was one of them. It was fitting that a player who epitomised the Celtic way of playing should be voted by the fans as the greatest ever Celtic player. His old adversary John Grieg was given a similar accolade from Rangers supporters and demonstrated the different mind-set among fans of that club. Indeed Willie Waddell once said…

"Rangers like the big strong powerful fellows, with a bit of strength and solidity in the tackle, rather than the frivolous, quick moving stylists like Jimmy Johnstone, small, tiptoe through the tulips type of players."

Given the damage Jimmy did to Rangers in that era one wonders if Waddell had a grudging respect for Jimmy who was a tough competitor as well as a supremely gifted footballer. Most Celtic supporters would far rather win with the artist and entertainer such as Jimmy in the side than adopt the muscular approach Rangers often took.

Jimmy’s death from Motor Neurone Disease in March 2006 was cruel ending to a life which gave so much to others. The outpouring of emotion and affection for Jimmy that spring was as heartfelt and genuine as it gets. We knew we’d never see his like again and it was hard to let go of a man who gave so much of his body, heart and soul to Celtic. He faced that awful illness with the same courage and determination he demonstrated when he faced the more ruthless defenders he took on. It was the one adversary he couldn’t get past and he left us in March 2006 aged just 61.

Generations of young Celtic supporters will see his image immortalised in bronze on the Celtic way and will ask the older generation ‘What was he like?’ As one lucky enough to have spent my childhood years watching him play I can tell you that he was the best. We never forget our heroes at Celtic Park and as long as Celtic exists Jimmy will be remembered with pride.

In memory's view he is weaving past defenders, turning this way and that as the crowd roared out for more. From the old Jungle the refrain pours onto the field… Jimmy oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing….’

Rest in peace wee man there was no one like you and I doubt there ever will be.

Jimmy Johnstone (1944-2006)

Saturday, 21 September 2019



Following disturbances at two Irish unity marches in Glasgow there was a somewhat hysterical reaction from some in the media who spoke of the scourge of sectarianism being back again and the usual nonsense was talked about the ‘divisive’ nature of Catholic schools. We even had a former high ranking police chief, Tom Wood formerly of Lothian and Borders Police, call for their abolition. The idea that the prejudice is taught in Catholic schools is of course risible nonsense just as the idea of ‘segregated’ education is demonstrably false too. In an increasingly secular society the idea of faith schools is anathema to some while in others they awaken old prejudices. Most Scots are decent, tolerant people but for a small and vociferous minority a latent prejudice persists. A look at the history of Scotland will demonstrate clearly that historical prejudice against Catholics predates Catholic schools joining the state system in 1918.

Few countries in Europe adopted the reformation as completely as Scotland did. So successful were the reformers that the Catholic faith which had existed in Scotland for a thousand years was extinguished from the land and only clung on in a few northern and western areas. Scotland’s conversion to Presbyterianism left a residual hatred of Catholicism which was strong enough to cause chaos when Charles the first attempted to reform the Church of Scotland in 1637. His reforms were regarded by many as being too close to Catholic forms of worship and were met with scorn and violence. In popular legend, a certain Jenny Geddes heard Charles’s ‘Book of Common Prayer’ being read out by the Minister in St Giles church and shouted ‘Daur ye say mass in my lug’ and threw a stool at his head. Violence broke out in the church and spread to the town as a mob gathered. In the end Charles used force to try and crush the people opposed to his attempted reform of the Scottish church and this eventually led to all out civil war across his three Kingdoms.

Whether the events surrounding Jenny Geddes happened in the manner described above or not the story illustrates the more puritanical nature of Scottish Protestantism in the 17th century. Anything which smacked of ‘popery’ could lead to violence and often did. Little more than a generation earlier in 1614, Catholic Priest John Ogilvie travelled to Scotland in the guise of a horse trader using the name of John Watson to secretly administer to the 20 or so Catholics left in Glasgow. Catholicism had been outlawed in 1560 and any found practicing it were breaking the law and likely to face severe penalties. Ogilvie was captured and tortured but refused to name the secret Catholics he administered to. As he was led to his death at Glasgow cross he is said to have kissed the gallows and threw his rosary into the watching crowd saying ‘If there be here any hidden Catholics then pray for me but I will not have the prayers of heretics.’ He was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In 1780 the UK Parliament sought to ease the repressive anti-Catholic laws particularly the harsh measures contained in ‘Popery Act’ of 1698.  The ‘Papist Act’ sought modest easing of the discrimination Catholics in the UK had to endure then. It led to a mob of 60,000 marching on Parliament carrying banners bearing the slogan ‘No Popery’ and in the ensuing rioting which took place across Britain, some 285 people were dead. Catholic churches burned and the Embassies of Catholic countries were attacked by the mob. The rioting affected Glasgow which was said to have 43 anti-Catholic societies at the time.

The 1798 rebellion in Ireland which saw the disenfranchised Catholic majority joined by significant numbers of Presbyterians under the banner of the United Irishmen would also have repercussions in Scotland. Scottish soldiers who fought to repress the rebellion returned home and set up the first Orange Lodges in the country. They had of course come into contact with Orangemen in Ireland and found their ideals close to their own. Orangeism with its strong strand of anti-Catholicism found parts of Scotland to be fertile soil in which to grow.

The Penal laws in Ireland which sought to force the indigenous population to accept the Church of Ireland as their church failed miserably. Under them Catholics and Presbyterians had to pay for Anglican churches most of them would never use. Catholics were banned from holding public office, being members of Parliament, owning firearms, excluded from voting, denied education and should one of a Catholic’s children change faith he would automatically inherit all his father’s property. These laws were designed to disempower and impoverish the Catholic majority in Ireland. The Penal Laws were, according to Edmund Burke...

 "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.

It was the section of this population living close to poverty who were most affected by the calamity of an Gorta Mor which in the 1840s saw Ireland’s population fall by a quarter. The great hunger was the catalyst for mass migration from Ireland and tens of thousands arrived in Glasgow often to a less than friendly welcome. The industrial revolution needed their muscle but for the most part they languished in the poorest parts of town and suffered suspicion and hostility. For some native Scots, they were uneducated, uncouth and for the most part Catholic and this last fact reawakened dormant prejudices in some.

The Catholic Church in Scotland began to grow in and the hierarchy was restored in 1878 meaning that for the first time since 1560 the church had a formal structure in the land. Education was one of their chief roles and various religious orders were set up or arrived from abroad to try to educate their flock. The schools they set up were not ideal and were insufficient to meet the growing demand of a fast growing population. The 1872 Education Act made it mandatory for children of Primary age to attend school. The Act also saw rates levied on tax-payers to pay for the building of school board schools and something of a building boom commenced. The Act was interpreted in such a manner that the religious education to be taught in the board schools was to be Protestant in nature and for this reason the Catholic schools refused to enter the system. Thus in the years from 1872 to 1918 Catholic tax payers paid rates for schools which for reasons of conscience their children could not use. That 46 year period saw Catholic schools struggle as the state sector powered on and something had to be done.

The 1918 Education Act was designed to remedy this great injustice and finally brought Catholic schools into the state system. The ethos of the school and the religious instruction therein was to be decided by the ‘denominational body’ responsible. The 1918 Act doesn’t specifically mention the Catholic Church and thus Scotland has several Episcopalian schools and at least one Jewish School. Given the numbers of religious orders involved in teaching (Marists, Jesuits, Notre Dame sisters, etc.) the more strident bigots in Scotland decried the Act as ‘Rome on the Rates’ conveniently forgetting that Catholics were rate payers too and the 46 years during which those same Catholic rate-payers subsidised what were de facto Protestant Schools.

For Scottish Catholics the 1918 Act put their schools on a secure footing and the community began to use education as a vehicle for advancing in society. That continues to this day and Catholic schools do an excellent job particularly in areas of deprivation. In the last census back in 2011, it was noticeable that Scottish Catholics were more likely to live in areas of deprivation than any other group but also that they were despite this just as highly represented in higher education. For many, education was the engine of social mobility which improved their lives greatly.

Today Catholic schools are more diverse than they have ever been and some even have a non-Catholic majority attending them. They are popular with many because of the high standards they set and the religious ethos at their heart which contrary to the opinion of some who appear blinded by their prejudice are both inclusive and welcoming. Tom Devine, Scotland’s leading historian said recently of attempts to portray Catholic schools as guilty of creating sectarianism….

“You’ve got to distinguish between people who have done serious academic research on these issues and numpties.”

Devine cited the findings of the Scottish government’s advisory group on tackling sectarianism in 2013, which concluded that sectarianism did not stem from Catholic schools, nor would it be eradicated by closing them.

The above historical description clearly demolishes the idea of Catholic schools causing bigotry. That particular evil is learned at a father’s knee and perpetuated by people who have a very limited understanding of the conditioning they have gone through which makes them think like that. The sort of anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic rhetoric we still see occasionally in Scotland is an echo of a centuries old problem. It is on the wane and is increasingly seen as embarrassingly medieval by most Scots.

Those who caused trouble at recent Irish Unity marches were few in number and Professor Devine was scathing of them when he said…

‘The recent violence was driven by a hard core of bigots who felt threatened by renewed calls for a united Ireland and Scottish independence after the Brexit vote. Police should take a leaf out of the book of Strathclyde police, which dealt with the Ulster Defence Association during the Troubles of the 1980s.The chief superintendent responsible for policing them referred to the UDA as the Union of Dumb Amateurs. Infiltrating these people will be very easy, so they can be identified and face the courts. Intelligence, whether it is done by surveillance or undercover operations, will quickly bring an end to this problem. There were probably fewer than 50 people prepared to cause trouble and these are people with distant connections to Ulster on the Protestant side, some of whom belong to Orange lodges, many of whom support a certain football team, but they are a minority.”

As Scotland moves forward in the 21st Century and looks to find its place in the world it should leave some of its less savoury baggage in the past. When calls for the abolition of Catholic schools cease, we will know that we have reached a new reality. Some it seems will never change their ways but they are increasingly out of touch with reality and belong to the past. The future belongs to all decent Scots who utterly reject the dumb prejudice of the bygone days of yore.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Breathing Space

Breathing Space

There has been much talk about Glasgow City Council’s decision to call a halt to four planned Loyalist Parades in the city this weekend and one Republican march. The decision came in the wake of violence at two Republican marches in the previous week which were met by loyalist counter-protestors leading to ugly scenes on the city’s streets. The council stated that they needed some ‘breathing space’ to assess the situation, talk to the Police and try to find a long term solution to these contentious displays.

A letter to a Glasgow newspaper expressed an opinion which many in the city today would probably agree with…

’With the opinions of the Orangemen the public have nothing to do so long as they keep those opinions to themselves: but what right do the peaceful inhabitants of Glasgow have to be frightened out of their propriety by the wanders through the streets of a set of enthusiasts who are never against having recourse to violence.’

It may surprise you to know that despite the above comment sounding as if it was uttered yesterday; it was in fact taken from a letter to the Glasgow Courier and Chronicle in 1821. Such was the violence of those early Orange Parades the city fathers banned them for years. This occurred again later in the nineteenth century as Glasgow’s large Catholic population reacted to visceral displays of triumphalism marching through their neighbourhoods in a predictable manner.

Elaine McFarland dates the Orange Order’s first attempt at a Twelfth of July parade in Scotland to that troubled day in 1821…

‘Only three lodges took part on this first occasion, parading through the principal streets of Glasgow. Watched by ‘an immense concourse of spectators’ they were roughly handled and some had their sashes torn off. . . . In 1822 the pattern was repeated. Now seven lodges including those from Paisley and Pollokshaws assembled to march, contrary to the magistrate’s proscription, to Fraser’s Hall in King Street. The company met with little opposition during the march since it was unexpected. Once inside the hall, however, they were besieged by a number of ‘zealous Irish catholics, most ready to give battle’. Police and even military intervention was required and 127 Orangemen were taken into their safekeeping, returning home ignominiously ‘with sashes in their pockets’. A parade was again threatened for the following year but was cancelled and no public Orange processions seem to have taken place in Glasgow till the 1840s.’

It’s clear that the ‘zealous Irish Catholics’ of 1821 were not willing to play the passive victim but it’s equally interesting that in 2019 as in 1821 it is the threat of disorder on the streets which makes politicians sit up and pay attention to what is going on at these parades. In that sense those who attempted to disrupt two Republican parades in Glasgow this past month have unintentionally caused the cancellation of Orange Parades in the city this weekend.

The Order reacted angrily to the banning of their parades and as is their way continued to frame their response in a way which suggests they are the victims of political and religious intolerance in all of this. The language they use conforms to the terminology often heard in the north of Ireland and a ‘narrow minded band of anti-unionist nationalist councillors’ are blamed for the ban. (Glasgow has an SNP administration) The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland,  stated on their website…

‘It is a sad day for democracy when a narrow minded band of anti-unionist nationalist councillors, aided and abetted by Police Scotland, abuse the law and introduce illegal measures that curtail a citizen’s right of peaceful assembly. For over 200 years, Orange Lodges in Scotland have existed in many parts of Scotland, standing up for the rights of the working classes.  Our parades are the way we exercise our right of assembly, and our membership takes part in our parades with great respect and decorum.’

The idea that the Orange Order is a champion of the working classes and demonstrates ‘respect and decorum’ is laughable to many Scottish Catholics who hear tunes such as the ‘Famine Song’ and ‘Billy Boys’ played at Parades and see banners bearing images such as that of Bill Campbell the head of the Scottish UVF during the troubles. Campbell was jailed for bombing Irish Bars in Glasgow and in one darkly farcical episode his group blew up an Apprentice Boys Hall in Bridgeton when explosives they’d hidden in an oven went off when someone put on the oven to heat up pies. The actions of men like Campbell saw his group go to prison for a combined 500 years. His nephew was convicted in the 1990s for the shocking murder of schoolboy Mark Scott as he walked home from a Celtic match.

The Order has in fairness tried hard to disassociate itself from the rougher elements and there are many strands of opinion within it ranging from evangelical Christians who have no time for those who break the law through to those who use it as a vehicle for their prejudices. They would argue that their organisation had nothing to do with the disorder seen in Glasgow in the past two weeks but they are part of the context in which it all takes place. Perception is all and the manifestation of Orangeism most people come into contact with is the Parades which pass through our towns and cities each year and they are often unedifying spectacles. For those Scots with no time for such medieval triumphalism there is a sense that they are out of step with modernity and a leftover from times long gone. For many Scottish Catholics they are viewed as triumphalist and intended to remind them who ‘the people’ are.

The recent assault on a Priest at St Alphonsus church in Glasgow’s east end by hangers on at an Orange Parade demonstrated the atmosphere which pervades some of these parades. Despite all the protestations of the Orange Order about their innocence in this incident, the fact remains that their parades are often the focal point for less bright individuals who enact anti-Catholic prejudice in songs, words and actions. This is a responsibility they cannot shrug off.

Most people I’ve spoken to this past week are of the opinion that Orange and Republican Parades are divisive, whether they set out to be or not, and shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt their lives or the life of the city. Republicans will of course be angered by any description of them as ‘sectarian’ but as with Orangeism perception is all and most people simply view the spectacle of two groups playing tunes about the conflict in Ireland as an anachronism in modern Scotland. It did not go unnoticed that Glasgow now has more Orange Parades each year than Derry and Belfast combined. As Ireland stumbles towards a peaceful future do we really need camp followers in Scotland stoking the flames of old divisions?

Glasgow city council and the Scottish Police have a difficult task on their hands to reconcile the freedom of citizens to assemble and march with the possibility of disorder at such marches and all the attendant disruption they bring. One suggestion was to allow parades to take place only if those organising them meet the policing costs. With around 400 police officers, horses and a helicopter involved in policing the last Republican parade, that would all but end such parades. It is surely not acceptable that working class movements, however distasteful we find some of them, are priced out of demonstrating?  

I think a middle way will be found and that contentious parades will be reduced in number and routed away from areas of sensitivity such as Catholic churches. One suggestion was that parades should be allowed but should be taking place at times and in places where disruption is minimalised. The right to demonstrate is important in any society which calls itself free but so too is the right of people to go about their business without fear and alarm at the behaviour of some attending these demonstrations.

In a democracy the price of freedom is accepting that we may be exposed to views which we disapprove of. The old adage often ascribed to Voltaire pertains… ‘I hate what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’ Getting the balance between freedom to assemble and the rights of citizens not to be inconvenienced or worse remains a difficult task. Most Scots have no time for political extremism or religious zealotry and are quite frankly embarrassed by what they often see on our streets. They would echo the words of  a Glasgow newspaper which said almost 200 years ago….

What right do the peaceful inhabitants of Glasgow have to be frightened out of their propriety by the wanders through the streets of a set of enthusiasts who are never against having recourse to violence?’

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Football, Fascism and a young girl's diary

Football, Fascism and a young girl's diary

Celtic’s Europa League win at AIK Stockholm saw then safely through to the group stages where they will face old foes Cluj, Stade Rennes and SS Lazio. We are familiar with Cluj having played them so recently and the chance of some sporting revenge will be relished by all at Celtic. The team let themselves down defensively in the home tie with Cluj and losing four goals at home was fatal to Celtic’s Champions League hopes. The Hoops have improved defensively since then and can score against most teams so we will approach both ties with Cluj with confidence and a steely determination to show that Celtic are the better team.

The Hoops last played Rennes in 2011 when our Korean full back Cha Du Ri scored a memorable own goal in a 1-1 draw. Celtic defeated the French side at home and although they have improved in recent years the Hoops should show no fear when playing them at home or indeed in the opening tie in Brittany. Rennes city is a similar size to Glasgow and the supporters of the club are proud of the areas Celtic heritage. Indeed one of their Ultra groups is known as the ‘Roazhon Celtic Kop’ The RCK was founded by three young supporters in the 1990s and soon grew into a major ultra-group. They use tifos, flares and singing to add atmosphere to the stadium and will no doubt have a special display in mind when Celtic visit on match day one in 12 days. They also use Celtic symbols on their flags and banners and although not officially political in nature are in the main anti-racist and anti-fascist.

Lazio in contrast are struggling with an element among their supporters who in contrast to Rennes often indulge in racist and Anti-Semitic behaviour. Before one derby match with Roma stickers appeared in Rome showing Anne Frank in a Roma shirt. There was also a disgraceful banner at a match which read ‘Auschwitz is your home- the ovens your house.’ There was also a video posted on YouTube showing Lazio fans in Milan for a match unveiling a large banner praising Italian war time fascist leader Benito Mussolini with some raising their arms in fascist salutes. The Lazio supporters in the video would have known well that it was in northern Italy that Mussolini met his end at the hands of Communist partisans and it was in Milan that his lifeless body was dreadfully mistreated in the ‘Square of fifteen Martyrs’ where Mussolini’s black-shirt thugs had shot 15 local people.

SS Lazio and their more cerebral supporters were rightly horrified at the behaviour of a minority of their fans and condemned it outright. Indeed they had players warm up before a league match wearing t-shirts which bore the image of Anne Frank and a slogan condemning anti-Semitism. The Italian league ordered a minutes silence at games and in some stadiums excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary were read out on the PA system. Lazio stated they were determined to fight anti-Semitism and racism in every way they could and even stated that they would fund a project to take 200 young supporters to Poland to visit Auschwitz concentration camp. Their President also visited Rome’s main synagogue and laid a wreath to honour members of the Italian Jewish community murdered in the war years.

Academic Alberto Testa spent time among Lazio and other ultras groups to research his book ‘Football, fascism and Fandom’ stated that the anti-Semitism and racism he encountered there is sadly typical and depressingly common in sectors of Italian society. He said in a recent interview…

"Racism is a big disease in Italian society. There are cultural problems and they are problems connected with how society is structured. It is a very complex issue and when I speak about this I say that the stadiums in Italy, and let's not forget that this infiltration of the right is a problem across Europe, reflects what happens in society; if politicians don't condemn racism, if the media continue to use the 'N-word' and treat this episode as banter, then we will never resolve this problem.’

Celtic supporters travelling to Rome will of course want to see the sites of the eternal city. The Vatican and its museum will doubtless see a few hooped shirts as will other hot spots for tourists. Most fans know the score in big foreign cities and will take sensible precautions. The club’s supporters are known for their good humour and usually behave well on their travels. Celtic supporters are in the main the cultural and political opposites of the racists and neo-fascists among the Lazio support but hopefully everyone is there just to enjoy the football. The local Police will no doubt have a plan in place to ensure visitors are not in any danger from the wilder elements among the Lazio support. It’s to be hoped that everyone involved is there to enjoy the sights and the football and for no other reason.

This year’s Europa League is full of tough teams and Celtic’s draw could have been a lot harder. They will have a genuine chance in this group if they avoid any defensive calamities and approach each game in the right way. Let’s hope it’s a successful campaign and we’re talking about the football and not any off field nonsense.

As a young girl called Anne Frank once wrote in her diary...

‘It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.