Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The Tower of Silence



The Tower of Silence

There was a poignant ceremony in the east end of Glasgow last week as the memorial to An Gorta Mor was unveiled in the grounds of St Mary’s church. Sculptor John McCarron’s work ‘The Tower of Silence’ will stand in mute witness to the horrors inflicted on the poor of Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. Through a combination of heartless indifference, appalling racist attitudes and the ugly face of unrestrained capitalism, the greatest empire in the world at the time allowed over one million of its people to die in a catastrophe they had the power to halt. Ignoring centuries of mismanagement, underdevelopment and the exploitation of England’s first colony, Charles Trevelyan stated with brutal indifference…

‘The famine has been sent by God to teach the Irish a lesson. The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.’

The Great Hunger is the defining moment in Ireland’s relationship with England. It casts a long shadow and made up the minds of many in Ireland that the country would be better freed from the colonial control of London. The so called ‘famine’ has played its role in defining the identities of the two great communities of Ireland. For Catholics, it marks the low point of English indifference to their suffering and has left an enduring mark on their psyche. For the descendants of those Protestants sent to colonise the north east of Ireland in the years after 1609, the famine is portrayed as a Catholic catastrophe which they avoided due to their thrift, hard work and God’s grace. The truth though is far more complex than either of those scenarios.

Recent research into population trends in Ireland suggest that the Great Hunger had a major impact on poor Protestants as well as their Catholic neighbours. Ian Gregory and Niall Cunninghame’s work, ‘The judgement of God on an indolent and unself-reliant people’?: the impact of the Great Irish Famine on Ireland's religious demography,’ uses Census records and information from church records to establish how the famine affected both communities. Their findings on the loss of population in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century are stark indeed…

‘In the period between 1834 and 1861 the population of Ireland fell by 27%. This was driven primarily by Famine-related deaths and emigration, although fertility decline may also have been relevant.  Subdivide this by religion, comparing data from the 1834 Commission and the 1861 census and superficially, these results seem to support the idea that Catholics were the main victims of the Famine. Of the 2.15 million people lost over the period, 90.9% were Catholic, and for every Protestant lost 7.94 Catholics were lost. This ratio is, however, slightly misleading as before the Famine Catholics outnumbered Protestants by 4.24 to one.’

The population of Catholics and Protestants were both significantly affected by the great hunger, both in terms of deaths and people leaving to try and find a better life elsewhere.  The study looked at areas of north east Ireland with higher Protestant populations and found that both communities were hit hard by the catastrophe…

‘Where there were significant Protestant populations these were often at least as badly affected by the Famine as Catholics. The nine dioceses that were more than 15% Protestant in 1834 contained 81.6% of the Protestant population. These dioceses experienced a 15.9% decline in their total populations between 1834 and 1861 which, while not quite as high as the 27.7% losses experienced across Ireland as a whole, was still little short of catastrophic. Importantly, these losses were almost evenly divided between the two religions: the Catholic population dropped by 16.9% while the Protestant population fell by 14.5% suggesting that in these areas the Protestant population was as vulnerable to the Famine as Catholics.’

The famine affected the rural poor more severely than the urban dwellers. In the north east of Ireland there was more industry and work to be had and this soaked up some of the impoverished excess population from the countryside. The lack of industrial development in Ireland as a whole though meant there were few options for the poor in the rural south. The deliberate lack of industry in the south and west of Ireland, combined with a growing population of rural poor living on the margins, contributed to the impending disaster. That being said, the government of the day did too little too late to alleviate the disaster their misrule had contributed to. It is recorded that food was being exported out of Ireland throughout the years of the great hunger, often under armed guard.

Gregory and Cunningham’s study is clear that the famine was indiscriminate in who it affected. Despite much mythology and overt use of the famine in political discourse, it seems clear that it had an impact on Irish Protestants which many today would be surprised to find…

‘Far from being a Catholic famine, the Great Irish Famine was a famine of the rural poor. Over much of Ireland this group was predominantly Catholic, and thus the Catholic population was disproportionately affected. However, the impact on Protestants increased in areas with larger Protestant populations to an extent that in mixed areas it is impossible to say which denomination was more severely affected. As a result, the Famine and its immediate aftermath did not result in major changes to Ireland's religious geography. The Famine remains a defining catastrophe in Ireland's history and has an enduring power to reinforce the stereotypes from which both communities continue to construct their own self-identities. The experiences of the two communities were more similar than either would tend to assert.’

There was an incident in Belfast a few years ago when a Loyalist Flute band stopped outside St Patrick’s Catholic church and marched in a circle playing that odious and fairly moronic ‘famine song.’ Apart from the absurdity of the descendants of those ‘planters’ sent to colonise Ulster telling the native Irish to ‘go home’ there was also a complete lack of awareness of the fact that many of their own people perished in the famine. As studies have shown, the great hunger claimed the lives of at least a million people in Ireland and caused a further million to leave the country. It is thought that around 100,000 of those who were lost were Irish Protestants.

An Gorta Mor was a catastrophe we should remember with honesty and reverence for those lost regardless of their religious denomination. Some, such as historian Tom Devine, have questioned the placing of the Tower of Silence in the grounds of a Catholic church but St Mary’s has played an important role in the story of the Glasgow Irish and as the memorial’s sculptor John McCarron has said, the sculpture commemorates all of those lost, of all faiths and none.

What would be a fitting memorial to those who perished in the great hunger would be the end of any petty squabbling and a coming together to remember a truly catastrophic event which affected all communities. As for those who play or sing ‘the famine song,’ perhaps they lack the intelligence to see the absurdity and ignorance of the lyrics. Or perhaps they are lost in tribalism where mythology is more important than facts.

The poor of Ireland, exploited and marginalised, did not die because there was no food in the land; they died because they had no money to buy it. That the forces of commerce would rather let people die in their hundreds of thousands than lose money was and remains the great evil of the famine years.

 

Oh God that bread should be so dear and human flesh so cheap.
RIP all victims of An Gorta Mor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Bonfire of the Vanities

 

 


Bonfire of the Vanities

Far too many football blog sites are exercises in confirmation bias and often fail to distinguish between what is factual and what they would like to be true. Of course, we all know that football is a game of fierce passions and rivalries and supporters often only see the best in themselves and the worst in their rivals. In the never-ending war of words, truth is often the first casualty.

Few things have been debated as fiercely or with as much passion as the liquidation of Rangers FC in 2012. It was a staggering event at the time and looking back it remains incredible that such a well-supported club could be so badly mismanaged that it crashed and burned on the bonfire of David Murray’s vanity. The hubris of the Murray years should have been brought to a halt by the world financial crash of 2008. With banks failing, a debt-ridden business like Rangers FC should have heeded the warnings. Some were comforted by the idea that Rangers were too big, too important to fail but as many big High Street businesses found, no one is too big to fail.

The repercussions of Rangers’ liquidation are still felt today as supporters argue over what it actually meant for the club itself. One of the gambling companies which advertises its dubious wares on social media got more than it bargained for when it posted an add showing Steven Gerrard in front of the number 55 with the accompanying text; ‘Just 9 years after being demoted to the lowest tier of Scottish football Rangers are champions.’ Fans of Celtic and other clubs were quick to tell the firm involved that Rangers were not demoted but rather the Ibrox club was liquidated. The summer of 2012 saw the assets of the dead organisation purchased Charles Green’s Sevco company as many players exercised their right to walk away and join other clubs.

We then had a period where the governing bodies of Scottish football tied themselves in knots trying to accommodate the new Rangers into the league. When revelations about the use of EBTs and the attempts to hide them from the relevant authorities came to light, there was understandable anger among many in Scottish football. What some saw as industrial scale cheating and financial doping was seemingly being swept under the carpet in the haste to place the new Rangers in the top division. Supporters from Annan to Aberdeen were in open revolt and there was a vote on whether the ‘phoenix’ club should be allowed into the top division. When this vote came down firmly on the ‘No’ side, it was then suggested they were placed in the second tier of Scottish football. Once more there was a groundswell of opinion that the new entity should start in the bottom tier of the game as any other new club would. Money though seemed to be trumping morality and at a meeting at Hampden to discuss this proposal, the football authorities tried to force the issue. Raith Rovers Chairman, the late Turnbull Hutton, spoke for many when he said to the waiting press outside Hampden…

‘We are being bullied, railroaded and lied to. We are being lied to by the Scottish FA and the SPL. We are being threatened and bullied. It is not football as I know it. It was a ridiculous document which came out last week whereby the threat was there that if you don’t vote for an acceptance into the First Division, a breakaway SPL2 will come along and those who didn’t vote wouldn’t be invited. What kind of game are we running here? It is corrupt.’

Elements in the Scottish media printed scare storied of ‘financial meltdown’ and one even talked in hugely exaggerated terms of several clubs dying within weeks if the new Rangers were refused entry to the championship. The tattered credibility of the sporting press in Scotland suffered greatly in that era as elements couldn’t or wouldn’t present a balanced view of what was occurring in Scottish football. Yes, there was intimidation of journalists and even threats to their safety but with some honourable exceptions, they really were posted missing at a vital time in the history of Scottish football. Within a year of Rangers demise which was heralded with headlines about the death of the club and the end of its history, the fourth estate was engaged in historical revisionism of the sort holocaust deniers would be proud of.

Jim Traynor, a bellicose pressman of the time, summed up this patently hypocritical revisionism when he had a change of heart after the new Rangers employed him. He said in 2012…


‘No matter how Charles Green tries to dress it up a newco equals a new club. When the CVA was thrown out Rangers as we know them died.’

Once employed at Ibrox and with his monthly salary dependent on towing the party line, he stated without any hint of embarrassment..

‘Why is it so many are continuing to write and broadcast that this is a new club when it is just the owners who are new. Is it a basic lack of intelligence or something more sinister?’

One fan who saw the plight Rangers were in before their eventual liquidation in 2012, bet that the club would be relegated with bookmakers Coral. When Coral refused to pay out in the aftermath of Rangers collapse and the new entity beginning life in the fourth tier of Scottish football, the matter ended up in the courts. After a hearing which looked into circumstances of Rangers demise and how the new entity ended up beginning life in the fourth tier of Scottish football, the judge ruled that Rangers had not been relegated and found in favour of the bookmakers.

All of these arguments about whether Rangers as it currently exists is a new or old club are in some respects a smoke screen hiding the real issue here. The EBT scheme which saw Rangers pay tens of millions of tax-free pounds to players they might not otherwise have tempted to Ibrox was and remains the real bone of contention. To be clear, these payments were not illegal but as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled, they were payments for playing for Rangers and as such should have been subject to tax. For Rangers to pay players in such a manner and to record it in side letters they subsequently hid from the SFA, broke player registration rules. As such players who represented Rangers whilst receiving EBT cash were in breach of SFA rules which state all contracts and payments be recorded with the governing body. It stretches credulity to ask us to believe that Rangers expected scores of footballers to pay back the EBT money they received. The money paid was not loans but wages, and those at in control at Ibrox at the time knew that.

The failure of the Scottish Football authorities to accept the magnitude and gravity of the EBT scandal and to apply the rules on playing improperly registered players demonstrated, at best, a lack of moral fibre. Perhaps they just wanted it all to go away and engage in damage limitation.

The new club/old club debate will probably rumble on for years. There are so many contradictions and vested interests which muddy the waters. Rangers will doubtless celebrate ‘150’ years of the club next year but when sued by a man abused as a boy by former coach Gordon Neely, referred him to the administrators of the old Rangers. If they are the same club then perhaps they should accept moral responsibility for what went on at the old club?

I hesitated to use the above example as I abhor the point scoring which goes on in Scottish football in relation to abuse scandals at various clubs. Let me therefore balance that paragraph by adding that Celtic too has a moral duty to those affected by what occurred at the Celtic Boys Club.

In the final analysis the dichotomy is a simple one; supporters will say that the soul of their club lies with them and can never die. Legally clubs can die as Third Lanark and others proved but what happened to Rangers in 2012 will probably be argued over forever. The mythology of a famous old club being kicked when it was down appeals to some, just as the idea of an arrogant and corrupt institution collapsing under the weight of its own arrogance and greed appeals to others. There is no doubt that many Rangers fans are of the opinion that they were unjustly treated in 2012 and a myth of jealousy, hatred and victimhood has grown in their minds.

In a post truth world where objective facts seem less persuasive than appeals to emotion, it remains for each of us to make up our own minds about the past. As time moves on it may become less important whether Rangers are a new club or remain the club Moses McNeill knew in 1872. There is little doubt though that those who argue that Rangers are the same club would be arguing the complete opposite had Celtic gone under in 2012 and that lack of objectivity makes honest discussion difficult.

The building of trust in those who run our game is an ongoing process which is far from complete though. They faced a very difficult situation in 2012 and didn’t handle it particularly well. Let’s hope our game revives and should we ever face the same situation again that the protocols and rules are clear and transparent as the confusion of 2012 added to the mess.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Unity is Strength

 


Unity is Strength

It’s that time of year when the scars of the previous season’s football start to heal and thoughts turn towards the campaign ahead. Celtic’s new manager, Ange Postecoglou, has had a decent reception among Celtic fans, with only a few rushing to judge him before his Celtic side has kicked a ball.  It was suggested he was a ‘yes man’ based solely on the fact he hasn’t thrown a few of last season’s failures out the door. The last thing a new man in any work place wants is to cause an atmosphere of fear. He’ll assess the situation in his own time and we will see changes in the months ahead. He said at the press conference, ‘there will be changes, it doesn’t mean people will be going but we might be bringing other people in.’  He also said clearly, ‘I’ll make those decisions in the coming weeks.’

The big Aussie has been around the block a few times and comes across as the no nonsense type of manager many feel the club needs. His avowed aim is to play attacking football in the best traditions of the club but he’s an intelligent man and he’ll know that Celtic need to keep the back door closed too.

Postecoglou has already met the Scottish sporting media and will soon become wise to their strangulated prose and ability to spin anything he says into a story that suits them. His comments that there is an ‘urgency’ to fill certain positions in the team was translated as ‘emergency’ by the BBC. He’ll get used to that sort of thing but somehow, I don’t see it bothering him. As Fergus McCann once said, ‘the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.’ He’ll have far more important things to concern him, like a Champions League Qualifier in just over 3 weeks.

Finding suitable players to augment the squad by then will be a challenge. The covid situation will complicate things further with potential signings self-isolating when they arrive in Scotland from certain other countries. There will need to be a degree of patience with Postecoglou as it may take him a few months to assemble the squad he wants. There remains the nucleus of a good team at Celtic but it requires work on the spine of the team from goalkeeper to striker. The Celtic supporters will need to be patient but after the calamity that was season 2020-21, there will need to be clear signs that he is structuring and organising the team with more cohesiveness than we saw towards the end of Neil Lennon’s reign. Steven Gerrard was given three seasons to get things right and stuck to his 4-3-3 formation even when things were going wrong. In the end the addition of better players saw the side improve although it has to be said that Celtic went backwards in that period and made his job easier.

FC Midtijylland will provide tough opposition in the upcoming Champions League qualifier. They made the group stages of the Champions League last season and held both Liverpool and Atalanta to a 1-1 draw at home. They are no mugs but they are a side Celtic should be able to overcome in normal circumstances. However, we don’t live in normal times and Celtic badly missed their fans in Europe last season. They face the prospect of playing FC Midtijylland in an empty or near empty stadium and that will help the opposition.

The job facing Postecoglou is a difficult one, especially the need to strengthen the side in the midst of the pandemic. There will be players coming and going over the next few months at Celtic and blending those remaining with the new blood into an effective and confident side will be his focus.

Postecoglou’s Celtic have arguably the three toughest away ties on the fixture list in the first quarter of the season. (Rangers, Hearts & Aberdeen) while Rangers have all of those sides plus Hibs at Ibrox first. You have to face them all in the end but it is always helpful getting them at home first. There is no suggestion of chicanery at the SPFL as these fixtures will reverse next season but it is a tough start for Celtic.

The allure of the Scottish Champions being one of the 32 sides going directly into the group stages of the Champions League in season 2022-23 is a huge motivation for Celtic to back Postecoglou and build a team to have a real crack at the title this season. The club knows the boost a Champions League campaign would give the supporters but perhaps more importantly the financial lift it offers is a serious motivation. It is up to Celtic not to meekly hand it to our biggest rivals who have built their team on borrowed money and hand-outs from wealthy directors.

Ange Postecoglou has a lot to consider in the weeks ahead. There will be patience from most of the Celtic support in the coming season but they will want to see progress. Last season saw a perfect storm of circumstances in which Celtic failed to cope with empty stadiums, the pandemic and key players not producing the form of previous years. It also saw the emergence of a minority of self-entitled fans, weaned on a diet of success who turned on the club when they most needed their support. If Celtic are to succeed under Postecoglou then the supporters, the team and those who run the club are going to have to come together and offer a unified front. When Celtic and their fans are united, they are a much more potent force.

Good luck Ange. We’re all right behind you.

 

 

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Calling it out

 


Calling it out

Old Mr Murphy was what you would call an old-fashioned gentleman. Even after retiring, he would be out in his suit, clean shaven and had a smile for everyone. His life, like that of so many Glaswegians, revolved around his family, his local church and his football team. He would stroll down to Celtic Park in all weathers as he had done since he watched Tully and Evans as a boy. He lived in what we used to call a ‘good close’ in a Glasgow tenement building and got on well with his neighbours. One family up his stair were of the orange persuasion but he had the same smile for them as he had for anyone else. All in all, a nicer old fellah you couldn’t meet.

His passing a good few years ago was cause for genuine sadness for all who knew him and his funeral service at the slope roofed, architectural marvel that is the church of Our Lady of Good Council, in Glasgow, was well attended. There were many tears shed as his coffin was blessed at the end of the service and the congregation sang the touching farewell song, ‘receive his soul.’ As I watched his sons and nephews bear the old chap out of the church for his final journey to Dalbeth cemetery, a trip that would of course involve a pause as it passed his beloved Celtic Park, I couldn’t help notice two of the family downstairs had chosen to stand outside the church rather than attend what was in fact a beautiful service.

I spoke to one of the family members who did honour Mr Murphy by attending his funeral and he told me that his siblings ‘beliefs’ meant they wouldn’t set foot in a Catholic church. It struck me as very odd that you can live next to someone for literally decades, like and respect him but not enough to actually attend his funeral and demonstrate some solidarity with a family in obvious pain. It is at its heart an un-Christian thing to do and yet folk who call themselves Christians do it often. Perhaps they were off school the day the teacher told the story of the Good Samaritan.

I was reminded of that story when reading an article in the Scotsman a couple of weeks back which questioned whether it is time Scottish Society actually faced up to the anti-Catholic prejudice which lingers yet in some dark corners. Andrew Smith’s article eviscerates the uncouth behaviour we saw in George Square in mid-May when thousands of Rangers supporters celebrated their team’s title success. It was to be expected that an outpouring of emotion occurred after a near decade of dominance from their rivals, the trauma of liquidation and years of being the butt of jokes. Celtic fans expressed similar joy in 1998 when Wim Jansen’s side won the title in similar circumstances. The difference was though that Celtic fans celebrated long and loud without expressing hatred for anyone’s religious faith. Smith wrote in his article…

‘We in the media have all been enablers in allowing a corrosive sense of entitlement to be brewed with a cocktail of anti-Catholic/anti-Irish bigotry. The concoction percolates into a mindset that now twice inside three months – just ponder that, twice! – has resulted in Glasgow city centre disturbances that have been despicable in scale and nature.  We hear the word “minority” bandied about. The word was, predictably and depressingly, front and centre in an apology of a statement from Rangers that, astonishingly watery and mealy-mouthed, made reference only to “inappropriate behaviour”. In itself, entirely inappropriate. The Ibrox club’s deliberate obfuscation on these fronts is fingers-in-the-ears and hands-over-the-eyes stuff. Of course, the miscreants were a minority. A sizeable minority, though...in a huge fanbase. It is no minority of the 50,000 crowd that were singing the Super Rangers song, with its line about “Fenian bastards”, or The Billy Boys chant, which talks about being “up to our knees in Fenian blood”, when Ibrox was full to the gunwales pre-pandemic.’

Smith’s namesake, Walter, a Rangers legend after two very successful spells at Ibrox said in an interview in 1995, ‘there is a Protestant superiority syndrome around here. You can feel it sometimes.’ For those many decent Protestants who follow their faith with humility and Christian charity, such words are anathema. Didn’t the man who was the inspiration of the Christian faith talk of being humble, loving your enemies and loving your neighbour as yourself?

I spoke on many occasions to a local Church of Scotland Minister, a man who went on to be Moderator of the General Assembly and who is perhaps one of the most decent, Christian people I have ever met. He told me that he arrived in his first parish in Glasgow in the winter of the dreadful Ibrox disaster in 1971. He noticed the casual sectarianism in the community around him and challenged it whenever he could. As Moderator, he met Pope John Paul II and chose to display a picture of him meeting the Pontiff in the entrance of his church. ‘Could I have done that in 1971?’ he asked me before adding, ‘I could have but some would have voted with their feet.’ He also told me that one of his first acts as a Minister was to visit the local Catholic church and ask the local Priest to walk with him around the community in a visual act of unity.

 

Good men like that Minister remind us that anyone who claims to be a Christian yet holds hatred in their hearts isn’t actually living up to their faith. How many of those involved in the drunken goings on in George Square a few weeks back would have been at church that week? This is little to do with religion and everything to do with tribalism and the bonds that come from having someone to hate. Andrew Smith also said in his article….

‘There is a faction of Rangers’ fanbase – Protestant and unionist in hue – that is motivated by hate, pure and simple. Hatred of a closest rival, Celtic, because that club has roots and a culture firmly Irish Catholic, and republican. Ahead of Rangers’ admirable on-field renaissance, that rival had been lording it for so long in the game. Moreover, these fans have the ultimate slag for their Rangers counterparts with the new club/old club teasing, a consequence of malfeasance by previous owners of the Ibrox institution that has created desperate insecurities over sense of history. All of these elements underpinned what has exploded into the public domain in recent times. As so often happens in such situations, these insecurities allowed for the fomenting of a bogus sense of victimhood, Rangers falsely presenting themselves as the oppressed. In these situations, so often the believed oppressed actually become the oppressors.’

I have been heartened by Scottish society’s response to the events in George Square in May. Many of us have scolded the hypocrisy of the political classes for castigating racism and Islamophobia while turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the expressions of anti-Catholic rhetoric in our streets. Imagine for a moment the outpouring of rage in society if thousands sang about being ‘up to their knees in Jewish blood.’ Why then was it deemed unremarkable when ‘Fenians’ were the target? It’s time to change, time to challenge this nonsense and build a better country than the one we saw in the grubby, uncouth goings on in Glasgow in mid-May. Good people of all faiths and none have a stake in building that better society so that our children and grandchildren can live in a land where we are all the People. 

As Edmund Burke once said, ‘the only thing necessary for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing.’ That is no longer an option. Time to call it out and make the change.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Call it what it is

 


Call it what it is

The General Manager of the club had had enough and decided to address the fans before a game from middle of the pitch.  His words were scathing and for once he pulled no punches with the people letting the club down…

“The greatness of the club has been smeared all over the world by an unruly mob, who spread destruction and venom wherever they go. It is to these tykes, hooligans, louts and drunkards that I now pinpoint my message. Rangers Football Club want no part of you, who spread viciousness with party songs and foul, obscene language. You are warned – do not use obscene language. Do not sing provocative songs.”

Those words were spoken by Willie Waddell almost half a century ago after disgraceful scenes in Barcelona where Rangers had played the cup winners cup final. They could have been spoken today in the light of the despicable behaviour of a hard core of people in the centre of Glasgow this weekend. There exists what Journalist Graham Spiers called ‘a white under-class’ which clings to Rangers like barnacles to the bottom of a ship. They seem to wallow in their prejudice and not give a damn the damage it does to the club they purport to love nor the reputation of Scotland as a decent country.

Everything is now a photo-op for their social media channels and they mindlessly post evidence of their own stupidity for the world to see. Amid the drunken brawls, the sectarian chanting, the assaults on Police officers, racist language, the drinking and pissing in the street and the total ignoring of a pandemic which has killed over 10,000 Scots, the decent supporters look on and wonder how the hell they can rid their club of this element. It is a forlorn hope.

Much has changed at Ibrox since 1972 when Waddell was in danger of being called out for hypocrisy for castigating the ‘venom’ and ‘provocative Party songs’ of supporters whilst the club itself was still discriminating against Catholic players. Their unwritten policy still had years to run and despite Waddell again speaking to the fans 4 years later after another riot, this time in a match with Aston Villa, it was 1989 before Rangers’ sectarian signing policy ended. With it ended the tacit approval by the club of the songs and actions of the bigots in their support.

Much has changed in Scottish society too since 1972; there exists now a confident and articulate Catholic population no longer prepared to put up with abuse their grandparents and parents suffered. Their days at the back of the bus are over. There is also, at long last, some sign that some of the political class, are now prepared to call this bigotry out for what it is. The First Minister of the country stated…

“I’m angry on behalf of every law-abiding citizen. In normal times, the violence & vandalism, and the vile anti Catholic prejudice that was on display, would have been utterly unacceptable. But mid-pandemic, in a city with cases on the rise, it was also selfish beyond belief.”

Alas, Frist Minister, ‘in normal times’ we see this behaviour enacted on our streets regularly. Not only in a sporting context but also in the triumphal parades we endure each summer which attract similar people to those we saw in George Square.

Let’s call it what it is; anti-Catholic and anti-Irish racism has existed in Scotland for far longer than association football. It found a vehicle to express itself in the sporting arena when clubs with a perceived Irish or Catholic identity were brought into being.

Scottish society needed a mirror shoved in its face to see the ugly wart of hatred which disfigured it. It is ironic that the mirror was supplied by those engaging in moronic, medieval behaviour, as they videoed their own debasement and posted it online for all to see. There seemed to be a societal blindness about this behaviour which was passed off as just some quirky historical feature of ‘the old Firm’ or a form of ‘sectarianism’ which both sides joined in equally. The truth is that if the sort of bigotry and aggression the Catholic population in certain areas of Scotland has long endured was targeted at Jews or Muslims, there would be a huge outcry.

We need a government prepared to act. We need a media prepared to report the facts honestly without falling back on the bullshit idea that when it come to this issue ‘both sides are as bad as each other.’ We need a Police force prepared to enforce the law. We need the decent Rangers supporters, yes, they do exist, to raise their voices and say enough! If you love your club and want to see it prosper as a modern, inclusive institution then you’re going to have to fight for it. The soul of Rangers has been dragged through the mud too often by the ‘People’ and their misplaced sense of superiority.

Scottish society is slowly waking up to this poison in its midst. It is to be hoped that those with the power and influence take the necessary action and don’t allow this moment to pass in a welter of mealy-mouthed statements and talk of ‘inappropriate behaviour.’

This abscess is in need of lancing, I hope we have politicians and sporting leaders with the balls to do it.

 

 

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Correcting History

 


Correcting History

 

This week I watched Raoul Peck’s excellent and troubling documentary series, ‘Exterminate All the Brutes.’ It is a beautifully made yet brutal exposition of colonialism, racism and genocide. The documentary traces the development of the idea that European culture was somehow superior to other cultures and that it was their manifest destiny to replace, exploit or even exterminate the ‘lesser’ cultures of the world. This idea, supported by appalling pseudo-science, led to the horrors of slavery, imperialist conquest and in many cases the genocide of native peoples and cultures.

These ideas of cultural and racial superiority are skilfully traced from 1492 when Columbus ‘discovered’ America, and Spain expelled its Jews, through to the Holocaust of the Nazi era and the attitudes of many who follow populist fear mongers like Trump in the USA or Orban in Hungary. It is not without irony that some of Trump’s supporters marched through the streets chanting the white supremacist trope, ‘You will not replace us!’ This slogan grew from the supremacist notion that white races are in danger of extinction due to the rise in numbers of non-whites in their society and that all of this is somehow controlled by the Jews. Such ludicrous thinking links back seamlessly to the ideas in Raoul Peck’s documentary about the superiority of white people.

I also got to thinking about the ideas expounded by Peck as I read about the inquest into the murders of ten Irish men and women by the British Army in August 1971. Ireland was England’s first colony and no doubt the north-east corner of the island will be its last. There is a wealth of evidence about the racist attitudes towards the Irish which stretches back centuries. Victorian pseudo-science declared the Irish to be culturally and racially inferior to their Anglo-Saxon neighbours. Charles Kingsley, author of the popular children’s book ‘The Water Babies’ visited Ireland at the height of the great hunger. He saw the horrors unfolding there and reacted with a chilling lack of sympathy, devoid of any hint of empathy or humanity…

 

"I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along the hundred miles of that horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault, but to see the white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."

What struck me about the Ballymurphy atrocity and the slaughter in Derry six months later by the same army unit was the manner in which the victims were demonised and a compliant press printed every lie the army asked them too. They were told at the time that the people shot were innocent but they refused to listen to witnesses who saw what happened. We were told to believe that a mother of eight out looking for her son before being shot in the face by a paratrooper was a terrorist. We were asked to believe that a parish priest, shot dead while giving the last rites to a victim, was a gunman. It was absurd at the time and absurd 50 years later when the lies were exposed.

At the time of the Ballymurphy massacre there was a TV show airing called ‘The Comedians.’ It regularly lampooned the Irish as stupid, ignorant and illogical. Those attitudes could have been lifted from Elizabethan or Victorian England such was their lineage. Common thought at the time suggested that there could be no blame attached to the British Military for Ballymurphy or Bloody Sunday as our ‘brave lads’ were decent fellows trying to keep the mad warring tribes of Ireland apart. The reality was that the Army in Ireland was using the same tactics of brutality and propaganda they had deployed in various colonial conflicts from Kenya to Aden. There have been scores of ‘Ballymurphys’ from Amritsar to  Ventersburg, from Kenya to Croke Park, as the Pax Britannica was enforced on the ‘lesser’ peoples.

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was murdered in Ballymurphy said after the coroner found his father and nine other victims were completely innocent of wrongdoing said…

‘We have corrected history today. The inquest confirmed that the soldiers who came to the area, supposedly to protect us, turned their guns on us.’

 

What remains shameful is that the majority of the British people, for the most part, have no idea of the crimes committed in their name. The history curriculum in schools talks of Empire as a great achievement and all too often the certainty of ignorance is manifest in the attitudes of many who swallow the myths and any lies that they are fed.

I was lucky enough to visit Berlin a couple of years back and in that fine city I found a people who, for the most part, had confronted their past. The Germans acknowledge the magnitude of what occurred in the Hitler years and the city is dotted with memorial great and small to the crimes of the Nazis. From the large Holocaust memorial, to small metal plaques embedded into the pavement bearing the names of lost Jews, they remember and more importantly they teach their children about it to ensure such things are not forgotten and are unlikely to occur again.

We humans are a tribal species by nature and are often most at home with our ‘ain folk.’ We seek the reassurance and identity which comes from belonging to the group. We see it mirrored on social media where likeminded people form bubbles containing the same opinions or supporting the same sports team. This can shut out other opinions and lead to a group think which shouts down or abuses any who stray from the party line.

Raoul Peck’s masterpiece eviscerates the idea that any human being is superior to any other. It challenges us all to learn from the mistakes of the past and to see where some of our current prejudices stem from.  As Voltaire is reputed to have said, ‘history is a bag of tricks we play on the dead.’ In learning the truth, we are better able to order our societies today and better able to relate to the ‘other’ in our midst who have their own stories to tell.

There is only one race; the human race, despite what the charlatans have told us.



Saturday, 17 April 2021

God Bless Albert Kidd

 


God Bless Albert Kidd

A blue haze of cigarette smoke hung in the air as old Tommy O’Neil brought in another New Year with his family. The clan always gathered at his house for the bells and as 1985 turned to 1986 it was no different. He’d seen a lot in his long life, two world wars, the great depression and a life of hard graft for little reward. He had learned though that family was the real treasure to cherish and nothing pleased him more than having them under his roof enjoying a good time together. ‘Granda,’ called his thirteen-year-old grandson, Tony, through the chatter and laughter, ‘will ye sing yer song for us?’ Tony’s mother smiled and rolled her eyes before calling the room to order, ‘Right, a bit of quiet noo, my da’s gonae sing his song.’ The room became still and old man, born in 1900, closed his eyes and began to sing in a surprisingly strong voice…

‘A young lad named John Thomson,
From the west of Fife he came,
To play for Glasgow Celtic,
And to build himself a name.

On the fifth day of September,
'gainst the Rangers club he played,
From defeat he saved the Celtic,
Ah but what a price he paid.’

Young Tony watched the old fella as he sang and notice how still the room was. His grandfather had been a young man when John Thomson had played and was at Ibrox on that fatal day in September 1931. He had read about Thomson, McGrory, Gallagher, Tully and all the rest but here was a man who had seen them play in their prime. As he reached a certain point in the song, the people in the room joined in quietly, almost reverentially…

‘Farewell my darlin Johnny

Prince of players we must part

No more we’ll stand and cheer you

On the slopes of Celtic Park’

 

When the song was over, Tony squeezed onto the sofa beside his grandfather. ‘What was John Thomson like granda? Was he as good as they say he was?’ The old man smiled, ‘He was a marvellous goalkeeper and brave as a lion. Maybe too brave. I recall a game with Airdrie, he dived at a forward’s feet. Cost him a couple of teeth and a fractured jaw.’ Tony nodded, ‘did ye see the accident at Ibrox?’ The old man nodded silently before adding, ‘Aye, son and it was just that; a dreadful accident. Poor Sam English never got over it.’ As the old man regaled his grandson with tales of times long before he was born the mood in the room changed again. Someone started singing and soon the whole room joined in….

‘Piling on the agony, putting on the style

1-2-3-4-5-6-7,  scoring all the while

There’s nothing in this whole wide world

That makes you want to smile

Like watching Glasgow Celtic putting on the style’

As young Tony joined in, he could see his mother by the living room door pointing to her wrist. It was time for bed. At least he was going with his old man and uncle Frank to see Celtic play Rangers the following day. Despite the ongoing racket in the living room, sleep soon came and claimed young Tony O’Neill.

1986 began with one of those wet, grey winter days that so afflict the west of Scotland. Many of the adults in the great river of humanity flowing towards Celtic Park were still half drunk from the night before so the mood was upbeat and the songs were filling the air. Young Tony stuck close to his old man and uncle as they marched along the Gallowgate with thousands of others. He was well drilled about what to do at these games in order to stay safe.

As they lined up at the turnstile on Janefield street the crowd was swaying and singing. ‘Mo Mo Super Mo. Mo Mo Super Mo. Super Maurice Johnston… Alas the aforementioned Mo was ill and wouldn’t be playing and that worried many of the fans heading into the match. Celtic had finished 1985 in patchy for and lost at Ibrox, Aberdeen and Tannadice. They’d need a big performance to get their faltering title hopes back on track and missing their star striker was a concern.

Tony managed to get a spot beside the other youngsters right at the front beside the green painted wooden barrier. His old man and uncle were just a couple of yards behind him as the teams ran out to a tumultuous roar. The game exploded to life in the ninth minute when Owen Archdeacon swung in a cross for Paul McGugan to rise unchallenged and head Celtic in front. Two thirds of the stadium erupted in a crescendo of noise and colour. The game became a grim battle of attrition in the mud and it took a Brian McClair header early in the second half to settle the issue. Tony O’Neill, like thousands of others, got home freezing, soaking but absolutely delighted.

Celtic’s form was up and down that winter but they got their act together as spring arrived. Runaway leaders Hearts were already being called champions elect by the press but there was a glimmer of hope as the last few games of the season approached. After an astonishing 4-4 draw at Ibrox, Celtic wracked up 7 consecutive wins to at least put pressure on the Edinburgh side going into the final day of the season.

Tony O’Neill popped into his granda’s house for a chat before heading to Paisley on the supporters’ bus for Celtic’s date with destiny. ‘It’s a long shot.’ Tony said, ‘we need Hearts tae lose and Celtic to win by a right few goals.’ The old man who had seen it all smiled, ‘this is Celtic son, we don’t do things the easy way.’  Tony looked at him, ‘ye think we can dae it Granda?’ The old man nodded, ‘of course we can, we just need a wee bit of luck up in Dundee.’  Tony could hear his old man shout up at the window, ‘Time I headed granda, see ye after the game,’ he said with an excited smile. The old man grinned as the boy hurried out the door, adjusting his Celtic scarf as he went. Watching young Tony fall in love with Celtic was like watching his dad falling in love with the Lions as a boy. In fact, when he saw the boy’s enthusiasm it reminded him of how he was a long time ago, when he watched McGrory, Crumb and Divers maul the defences of Scotland. ‘Good luck son,’ he said quietly, ‘bring home that title.’

Love Street was packed with Celtic fans there in hope rather than expectation. Hearts had been on good form all season but now it came down to the last match of the season. Would they crack under the pressure at Dens Park? Could Celtic win by enough goals at Love Street if they did? Tony O’Neill watched Celtic rip into the Paisley side from the start. They looked dangerous at every attack and had soon raced into a 2-0 lead. Then on 36 minutes came a moment which sealed his love affair with Celtic forever. As he watched from the front of the covered enclosure, Danny McGrain flicked the ball over his head to Murdo McLeod who caressed it to Paul McStay. McStay turned inside his man and fed Roy Aitken who instantly cushioned it back to the overlapping McGrain. The wily old veteran fed Brian McClair who nutmegged a defender and raced towards the St Mirren penalty box. He cut a perfect pass across the face of goal where the onrushing Maurice Johnston slammed it home. It was a goal of exquisite beauty. A goal none of those who witnessed it would ever forget.

Young Tony O’Neill roared his head off like the thousands of other fans around him. Celtic had the 3 goals they required now all they needed was a minor miracle at Dens Park.

90 miles away in Dundee, a Celtic fan sitting among the subs on the Dundee bench glanced around at a nearby fan with a radio pressed to his ear. The fan held up three fingers and mouthed, ‘three nil to Celtic.’ He refocussed on the game which was a tense, scrappy 0-0 draw at that point. He exhaled, hoping the manager would give him a chance before the 90 minutes was up. His name was Albert Kidd.

In Glasgow, old Tommy O’Neill sat closer to his radio. Celtic were now 4-0 up at Love Street. The presenter, breathless with the tension of it all, said, ‘Dundee are making a change. Albert Kidd is on and Tosh McKinley is coming off. A positive change for Dundee.’ The old man knew time was running out, Celtic needed Dundee to score. As he turned the volume up on his radio, Dundee had a corner with just 7 minutes remaining. The corner was headed on into a ruck of players and Albert Kidd reacted fastest and lashed the ball high into the net. Old Tommy clenched his fist and smiled, ‘Go on Celtic!’ he said, a tear rolling down his cheek.

In Paisley Celtic were in cruise control at 5-0 as thousands of ears strained to hear the radio commentary from Dundee. Suddenly there was a roar louder than any which had greeted Celtic’s goals that day. Tony’s father pushed through the cheering crowd to his son who looked around him wondering what was going on. ‘Dundee have scored! God bless Albert Kidd!’ Father and son embraced as the Celtic supporters started their victory songs around them.

Ninety miles away in Dundee, Albert Kidd scored again, just to be on the safe side. The party could now truly begin.