Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sectarianism and the SFA

Sectarianism has been Scotland’s evil for generations. A country divided by the Sects of Christianity, it’s commonplace for religious chanting at Scottish football grounds, notably at Celtic Park or Ibrox, the home of Rangers. For generations, Rangers fans have sung songs like the Billy Boys (which makes reference to being ‘up to our knees in fenien blood’) or Off To Dublin in the Green (**** the Queen) sung by Celtic fans to name a couple.

Rangers and Celtic boards have occasionally sent out public messages to the fans of the clubs disapproving of these chants and promising action against those caught singing the songs. In reality however, very little is done by the clubs. It would be easy to kick people out of the stadiums for singing the songs and banning them for life, but such is the culture in Scotland, it’s generally accepted that Tims will be Tims and Huns will be Huns, plus it would hit them in the pocket if they took such action. Go to either ground on a Saturday afternoon, and you can buy a Tricolour or Hand of Ulster flag with FTQ or FTP on it with ease. There’s worse, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. These aren’t sold by the club, but their sold outside the ground at stalls.

To give some background into why this is a problem you have to go back a couple of hundred years. Ireland was under British rule, they didn’t want to be and because of English underinvestment (shall we say) in Ireland, when the staple diet of Potatoes became poisoned millions of Irish died or migrated, and Britain was seen to be taking a back seat (its more complex than this, but this is the crux of it).

Along came a group of Volunteers called the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who set about trying to achieve a war of independence from the UK. There was a lot of violence aimed at Britain during this time, and the IRA was estimated to have 100k members. As part of Irelands agreement to side with Britain during WW1, Ireland was given independence. Northern Ireland as it is today, was predominantly ex-Brits, and protestant, so Britain kept Northern Ireland under British Rule. The IRA (variants of) continued to push for full independence for the Irish Island, and carried out a host of bombings in Northern Ireland and the British mainland. The predominantly protestant population retaliated under guises such as the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) killing Catholics. Peace, as good as we’ve seen in recent years, now exists in Northern Ireland and the previous fighting is referred to as The Troubles.

Why does this matter? Celtic were formed by a Catholic Chapel in 1888 and have always aligned themselves to their Irish heritage. Rangers weren’t formed as a protestant team, as some historians would claim, but given the two clubs were rivals, at some point over the history, Rangers became aligned with Britain and the Loyalist (Protestant Ireland) connection as a 'we're the opposite of you'..kind of thing. Given Glasgow’s close proximity to Ireland, it has become a hub of immigration of both Protestants and Catholics alike, and if you ever find yourself at an Auld Firm game, there will be plenty of people from the Irish Island just over for the day, such is the level of support in the Irish Island, for both teams.

Unfortunately because of these links, Rangers and Celtic are hubs of religious hate for some. People use their allegiances to either club, as an extension of the allegiance to a sect or ‘the cause’. Accordingly, it has been acceptable for generations to consider yourself part of a sect and this continues into everyday life in the west of Scotland. Kids are separated into their sects in schools across the land. Tims, Catholics and Celtic supports goes to Catholic schools, Huns, Protestants and Rangers supporters go to Non-Denominational schools. There’s a few exceptions on either side, but kids are actively encouraged to separate into their sects. This happens across Britain, but unfortunately given the culture in Scotland and it's links to the Irish Island, this is more of an issue in the West of Scotland as it’s essentially encouraging the problem further.

On the football side, Rangers and Celtic clearly have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or as close to it as possible. It's their revenue generating communities after all, and if no-one is going to push them, why would the want to put a penny of that revenue at risk. Recently UEFA have fined Rangers for singing these chants. The latter event was away to PSV Eindhoven. After the UEFA delegate had given Rangers a clean bill of health, FARE complained to UEFA and Rangers were fined. The Rangers fanzine Follow Follow will point to links between the Celtic Supporters Club and FARE, and how it's some sort of conspiracy. In reality it could have been Celtic being fined by UEFA, but the point is it shows you how this problem is ignored domestically. During the 'charged' period, there was a suggestion that Rangers would have to play games behind closed doors. At £30 a head, this could have cost them over a million pounds a game. This would have hit Rangers where it hurt and caused them to take action.

Why then, given this has been going on for years and with neither Rangers or Celtic taking it too seriously have the SFA not considered such actions. As the domestic authority on football, it would have been very easy for the SFA to fine Rangers and Celtic or make them play game behind closed doors. They didn't and you have to question where the line is with the domestic football authority, or indeed do they have the enthusiasm for such a fight.

This season has seen Rangers fined by UEFA, Neil Lennon receiving a bomb through the post (as well as some bullets) and thousands of reported and unreported sectarian-based assaults, just like any other year. The Scottish Government have vowed to 'do something', but in reality it's just for show. To be seen to be doing something.

For me, the SFA are the only people who can start to put this right. The SFA need to hit these clubs in the pocket. They need to dock the teams points if these chants and this behaviour continues. Only then will Rangers and Celtic self-govern. Only then will they have an incentive. Take the Sect out of the section who let the clubs down and the cult out of the culture and you'll go a long way to beating Scotland's evil.

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