Scottish Football's Sectarian Problem

Samuel AugheyContributor IJanuary 10, 2009

Many people reading this will have heard of the sectarianism which is such a feature of Scottish football. Is it such a problem though?

A few years ago a University professor set up a study of this subject in Scotland. His findings were surprising, in that he found sectarianism to be almost an "urban myth"—everyone "knew" about it, but no-one had ever experienced it.

With this in mind, I will attempt to give you the historical background to the problem and let you make up your own mind. The incidents I will quote can easily be verified as fact.

The history of Ireland and Scotland are rife with sectarian bigotry and religious intolerance. The two main Glasgow football clubs have certainly contributed to the problem over the years. These clubs are Rangers, the "Scottish Protestant" club, and Celtic, the "Irish Catholic" club.

Rangers were formed in 1872 by a bunch of young men in a rowing club. They were interested in playing this new game which was sweeping the country. The dominant and established religion in Scotland was Presbyterian and the young men fitted into the social norm though religion played no part in the formation of the club.

Celtic were formed 15 years later by an Irish Catholic priest Brother Walfrid, who was ministering to the Irish Catholic community in Glasgow. Some Irishmen had fled Ireland to escape the horrors of the famine.

Bro. Walfrid formed Celtic to raise monies for Catholic charities and, according to the club's official history, to "keep young Catholic men away from the influence of the Protestant churches."

At this moment in time there is a campaign to demonise Rangers and their supporters as "sectarian bigots". This campaign is conducted by certain Celtic officials assisted by certain "Celtic minded" media reporters.

"Celtic minded" in this context includes IRA terrorist sympathisers and supporters, Catholic churchmen and politicians. The campaign is based on the immortal phrase of Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister—"the bigger the lie, the more often it is repeated, the more it will be believed."

No proof is ever offered in support of the accusation. No evidence is presented. Just the endless repetition of "bigotry" over and over. A particularly puerile and ridiculous attack was made recently when a Scottish Catholic Politician called for the law to be changed to enable the police to arrest Rangers supporters singing the children's song, "The Hokey Cokey" at football games. He claimed the song is "sectarian, and offensive" to Catholics.

There is no evidence that this song has ever been sung at ANY football match but this cretin wanted the law changed in case they ever did, and he wanted it directed at Rangers supporters in particular.

With this in mind, let me give you a few incidents which have occurred over the years and show you how the two clubs concerned have dealt with them. Let me emphasise again that these incidents can be confirmed as true...

In the 1950s, Celtic were under a lot of pressure to remove the Irish Republican flag which they insisted on flying at their stadium in preference to the British Union Flag. Many people found this flag offensive because it was being flaunted at a time when the IRA were engaged in one of their ongoing bombing campaigns against British citizens in Northern Ireland.

To fly an Irish Flag at a British football stadium under these circumstances was deeply offensive to many people. Celtic refused any form of compromise and were threatened with expulsion from football.

At this point, Rangers stepped up to the mark and defended Celtic's right to honour their history, however offensive it might be to others. Rangers, in fact, saved Celtic.

Fast forward to five years ago. The then Celtic manager, aided and abetted by some media people, contacted the European football authorities (UEFA) and conducted a hatchet job on Rangers. Ignoring all standards of professional courtesy and fairness, he systematically and deliberately pinned the blame for all Scotland's sectarian problems at Rangers door.

Any notion of justice or right of reply were swept away along with any mention of Celtic's part in the sectarian disease. Now it was Rangers in the dock. It was Rangers being hung out to dry.

And Celtic's response...a deafening silence.

A few years ago, a Rangers employee, Donald Findlay, was filmed at a private function singing "The Sash", a protestant marching tune. The Scottish courts have declared this song to be non-sectarian. However, the "Celtic media" turned it into a witch hunt against Mr. Findlay, who is a highly respected legal Queens Counsel. He had committed no crime or broken no law but he had embarrassed his employers and offered his resignation. Rangers accepted it.

Around the same time, two Celtic players were filmed at a supporters function singing and chanting IRA slogans.

And Celtic's response...a deafening silence.

A few years ago, a Rangers player was discovered signing autographs for fans. He was finishing his name with "FTP"( an offensive sectarian slogan) Rangers fined the player heavily and moved him out of the club.

Around the same time, the Celtic manager (of UEFA/hatchet fame) and the Celtic club captain were filmed on national TV mouthing offensive sectarian slogans at Rangers supporters. The film was shown to two lip reading experts who confirmed the offensive words,

And Celtic's response...A deafening silence.

In the 1970s at Celtic boys club, a football coach was discovered to be sexually abusing some boys. In a manner that was to become familiar years later with the Catholic church, the abuse was covered up until Celtic could get the paedophile out. The man was eventually jailed for his crimes but, just as the church were to do later, Celtic re-employed him on his release.

And Celtic's response ever since...a deafening silence.

There is no doubt that sectarian bigotry and religious intolerance are ugly social phenomenon and both Rangers and Celtic stand together in the dock to be be judged. Everyone has skeletons in their cupboard. Celtic's refusal to accept any blame whatsoever is hypocrisy of the most stomach-churning kind. If they had merely kept quiet it would have been bad enough, but to actively participate in the crucifying of Rangers shows a depth of moral bankruptcy rarely seen.

Rangers record is not without blemish but, given their actions (and Celtic's lack of actions) to the incidents shown, Rangers are more sinned against that sinners.