'Sectarianism' - from FOOTBALL INC. by Craig McGill


Chapter from FOOTBALL INC. by Craig McGill

TAL NOTE: Much of the research information relating to sectarian assaults for this excerpt taken from Football Inc. was provided by a member of the Campaign Against Sectarian Attacks who is also a member of TAL Fanzine's editorial team.

Glasgow. Derby Day. The Old Firm of Glasgow where Celtic play Rangers. Somewhere in the city, hours before kick-off, a mother may be about to say goodbye to her son for the last time because he’ll be killed before he gets home from watching the football.

It would be nice if this was fiction – after all is football not only a game? – but the recent statistics for Old Firm games suggest that at every game there will be a handful of attempted murder attempts, scores of assaults and many casualties throughout the city, some of whom are people just unfortunate enough to get caught up in football’s troubles. On occasion there will also be death.

Religious bigotry towards Christianity is not a problem in England when it comes to football. The fact that some faiths associate with one team rather than another, is more to do with demographics than religion. Although Mark Bosnich’s Nazi-style salute at Tottenham fans, many of whom are Jewish, during a match at White Hart Lane in October 1996 slur salute will not be soon forgotten, sectarianism is not seen as an English problem. However, in Scotland - and the west coast in particular - religion takes on an importance not seen anywhere else in Western Europe, save Northern Ireland and there is nowhere else in the footballing world where two teams playing brings about so much hate because of perceived religious differences. It is unique.

While racism has never appeared to be as large a problem in Scotland as it has elsewhere, but those who feel the need to hate someone still have a target – normally their fellow Scots because in Scotland religious bigotry has always been the big issue, slightly in the capital of Edinburgh, but particularly in the west of Scotland, where both Celtic and Rangers come from.

To people from elsewhere - which in this case is anywhere beyond a 100 mile radius around Glasgow - the Old Firm match is nothing more than another football derby, along the lines of Liverpool v Everton or Manchester City v Manchester United. People inside that radius, however, know it is a great deal more than that. It is a hatred that has cost the city considerable amounts of money. Most recently it cost Glasgow around £5 million, when director of the film There's Only One Jimmy Grimble, John Hay, said he needed a city with a football rivalry but avoided filming in Glasgow because of sectarianism. He said:

‘The problem with Rangers and Celtic is that you get a lot of politics, and you don't want to get into that. We ended up setting it in Manchester because the City and United rivalry is based purely on football.’

There is a Celtic song which calls for fans to  ‘know your history’ and history is at the root at a lot of the troubles of Glasgow football.

Celtic was technically formed in November 1887 but formally established in 1888 , by a Marist Brother named Walfrid. The club had two principal aims. First, to raise funds to provide food for the poor of the East End of Glasgow, an area of the city that was greatly impoverished and had a very high rate of infant mortality. Second, the club was to be a bridge in the East End for the large Irish community and the native Glaswegians, between whom social frictions were growing, especially as Scotland was traditionally a Protestant country and the Irish were Catholic. Brother Walfrid saw the need for social integration, and his vision was a football club that Scottish and Irish, Protestants and Catholics alike could support. Rangers was formed when four men who wanted to form a team got together for a kickabout on Glasgow Green in 1872. The club, taking their name from an English rugby club, was officially formed in 1873 when it became businesslike, having their first annual meeting and electing a board. So, from the very start, there was a different ethos behind the two clubs.

From the beginning the two teams attracted different support. The East End and some of the North of the city rallied round Celtic while the more affluent South and West sides sided with the Ibrox team, Rangers. Over the years the teams built up rivalry. It was soon fairly obvious to all that mainly Catholics were supporting Celtic, and that few Catholics supported Rangers. To the people running the clubs, this was something that could be built on to generate support for their teams. As many families and shipbuilders from Northern Ireland came to Scotland, they adopted Rangers as their club. This helped to shape the division between the two clubs, as many from Northern Ireland wanted nothing to do with anything that had connotations of Southern Ireland. And those who came to Glasgow from the South of Ireland adopted Celtic as their club for similar reasons, and for the club’s background. At the start of the 1900s, a Glasgow cartoonist depicted the Celtic and Rangers treasurers greedily sharing out a huge bag of gate money. It was captioned ‘The Old Firm’ (which was then a popular term for well-established business partnerships) and the name stuck.

From the early days, the derby was a passionate and occasionally violent affair, with fights breaking out on a regular basis. The two clubs always measured themselves by the activities of the other, Celtic fans gloating when they became the first team in Britain to win the European Cup, Rangers fans revelling in Celtic fans’ despair when Rangers equalled the East End Club’s nine in a row league wins. As the years went on, after the world wars and into the sixties, it was an unwritten rule at Ibrox that only Protestants - or at least non-Catholics - could only succeed at the top of the club. To be fair to Rangers they were not the only people in Scotland with this policy, it was something that was reflected in everyday life, (although it cost Rangers talent like Sir Alex Ferguson, because his wife was a Catholic). Celtic tried to convey the message that they were a non-denominational club and amongst others, signed a Protestant manager, Jock Stein, and non-Catholic players. However they were still tagged as the Catholic team of Scotland. This perception carried on until the 1980s, both sides having boards who were firmly entrenched in their own beliefs and ways. Then Graeme Souness came to Rangers and dragged Scottish football into the latter-half of the 20th century, spending millions of pounds under the eye of new chairman David Murray.

Souness held a firmly pragmatic view that religion meant nothing to him. He proved this in spectacular style when he signed Mo Johnston, an excellent striker who had previously played for Celtic, and had been on the verge of resigning to them. Celtic fans were upset, but the reaction from the Rangers fans was one of disbelief. People burned scarves and season tickets, saying they would never go back to the club because Souness had destroyed its traditions, regardless of the fact that Johnston was one of Scotland’s best strikers. To many fans, this was the ultimate betrayal. To their credit, Murray and Souness never backed down. Souness may not have cared about the religious aspects to the football, but his supporters did, continuing to cry ‘Fenian Bastard’, after the old protestors in Ireland - although the irony has not been lost on many that some of the original Fenians were actually Protestant. The myth of one side being Catholic and the other Protestant persists to this day. When Martin O’Neill signed for Celtic, Leicester Chairman John Elsom sparked anger by saying:

‘In the end the pursuit of a personal dream related to his Roman Catholic heritage seems to have won the day.’

All of this would be something for the chattering classes to talk about as a matter that was below them and dismiss if it was not for one thing - people are killed because of the derby, and it endangers most people in Glasgow when it takes place. As noted, the game has always attracted trouble, partly fuelled by alcohol and emotion, but in recent years the problem has got out of hand. Glasgow is now a city where traffic wardens might give cars with an air freshener of the team they support a little longer before ticketing them, where people wearing a strip might get preferential treatment in shops if the person behind the counter supports the same team, and where people can be shouted at, or worse, for wearing the wrong colours.

None of the above is new, but the violent turn the game has taken is.

Both teams have tried to improve the situation, Rangers have until recently been low-key in their efforts, but David Murray has been quoted on more than one occasion calling for fans to stop singing offensive songs at home and away games. However few have followed his requests, as Rangers’ opening game in the European Champions League showed, when newspapers commented on how the game was marred by thousands chanting: ‘Are you watching, Fenian scum?’ Celtic took a public approach to the problem when chairman Fergus McCann, who said he was appalled by the bigotry he has rediscovered since his return to Scotland after a 30-year exile in Canada, set up the ‘Bhoys Against Bigotry’ campaign, which had a number of high-profile events to try and reduce the singing of sectarian songs and change people’s attitudes towards sectarian groups. McCann was criticised by many for trying to change the club and outlawing certain songs. However he was ruthless in his pursuit of this, having fans ejected for singing pro-IRA songs, many of which were mainstays of the fans’ singing repertoire.

The first incidents that showed things had taken a turn for the worse was in 1995, and they were in many ways the most tragic.

A young man was murdered in Dennistoun after he and his brother had watched the Celtic game live in a pub. They passed by the local hall of the Orange Lodge and were chased by a group of people hanging around outside. One of the brothers fell, and was kicked and stabbed to death.

On the same night, sixteen-year-old Mark Scott was walking home with two friends after a game at Celtic Park. They were walking through Bridgeton Cross and passing a pub when some Rangers’ fans started jeering at them. One of the group, Jason Campbell, a Rangers’ fan with Loyalist sympathies, pulled out a knife and slashed Mark’s throat, leaving the 16-year-old to die a slow, agonising death on the pavement.

The West coast was shocked by the attack on Mark because he was from a well-to-do middle class family, there was no hint of ‘ruffian’ in him that would have allowed people to dismiss the murder as thuggish violence. However after a few condemnations the incident faded into the background. Mark’s murderer, Campbell, was later considered for transfer to a jail in Northern Ireland to be nearer Loyalists, making the murder seem politically motivated. However there was outrage both from the public and from Loyalists, who did not want to be associated with someone who had killed someone for something that, to any rational person, had nothing to do with their cause, so the transfer fell through at the last moment.

In November 1997 18-year-old Irish student Sean O’Connor was passing the same area, after being directed there by police and stewards, when he was attacked from behind and stabbed in the neck in an attack that bore similarities to Mark Scott’s murder. His attacker ran off, and though a number of people chased him, he was driven away in a car which was waiting a short distance away. This has lead many to believe this attack - and others - were premeditated. For Sean the day is one he will never forget. He said:

‘I heard a move behind me and out of the corner of my eye I saw this guy come running up to me. I thought he had come to punch me and I just managed to get my arm up to block him. He ran off down an alleyway and the people with me said he was still shouting sectarian abuse as he went... It was only when I felt my shirt was soaking wet and saw the blood that I realised what had happened. Then I felt a huge hole in my neck. I was later told the wound was six inches.

‘When I was in the ambulance the paramedic said to me “you do realise that this is attempted murder, there's no doubt about that”. But when the CID interviewed me in hospital they basically admitted that they are not really interested in investigating these kinds of sectarian attacks.

‘The doctor who treated me told me that if the blade had gone one millimetre deeper it would have severed a major artery. She said that when that happens you lose consciousness in 40 seconds and will die within minutes.’

Police later admitted that in the two-year period between the two attacks, 38 similar assaults had taken place in the area, all directed at Catholics or those wearing Celtic colours.

However the police do not feel there is a problem. In the second half of 1999, the author was told by Chief Inspector Kenny Scott,  ‘There is currently nothing to suggest that there is any risk to supporters travelling to and from matches at Celtic Park.’ This comment was met with incredulity by the Celtic fans as Bridgeton and Duke Street - both within a mile of Celtic’s ground - are seen as flashpoints for the worst of the violence. Fans find it hard to avoid these parts, as Bridgeton - an area with strong Protestant and Loyalist sympathies - is the nearest train station to the Celtic ground, and Duke Street is also a major transport route. It may be that the success of football club strip merchandising has contributed to the problem, as more people are wearing club strips now, so are easier to identify as a possible target, but it is a sad indictment of the city that a choice of clothing can mark you out for death.

May 1999 was the worst period. Rangers beat Celtic at Parkhead to win the league but the on pitch activities were blurred by what happened off-pitch, with a number of incidents showing how bad the problem had become.

One Celtic fan, Carl McGroarty, was shot in the chest by a bolt fired from a crossbow as he left a pub. Another young fan, Liam Sweeney was attacked after waiting for a meal in a Chinese takeaway. He was wearing no colours or Celtic merchandise, but his green jersey and the calling of his name to collect his food order may have been enough to identify him as a Catholic from an Irish background. He was followed from the restaurant by his attackers and stabbed several times. Liam lost more than four pints of blood and almost died as a result of this horrific attack. In Ayrshire two male Celtic fans and one female supporter were set upon by a large mob of Rangers fans. All three were hospitalised, one of the men had severe head injuries, and the other had a broken jaw.

However the worst was to happen to another young Celtic fan, only 250 yards from where Liam had been attacked. 16-year-old Thomas McFadden had watched the game live on TV in an Irish pub close to Hampden Park, where the Cup Final was played. On his way home from the pub Thomas was attacked by three Rangers fans, two men and a woman, and received fatal stab wounds to the chest. He died in the street where he lived. Tragically and ironically his mother had not allowed him to go to the actual match because of her fears of violence. While Thomas lay dying, in another part of the city, Rangers Vice-Chairman Donald Findlay was caught on video singing sectarian songs about being up to his knees in Fenian blood, and other inflammatory songs like the Sash, Follow Follow and the Billy Boys, which is based around a 1930s Glaswegian anti-semite who tried to set up a Scottish Ku Klux Klan. Findlay, a holder of strong views, and one of the Scottish legal establishment’s more colourful figures  with his appearance and strong, Conservative Party-backing views, never made any secret of his loyalty to Rangers. He once said that had never forgiven his mother for giving birth to him on St Patrick’s day, and he always chose to celebrate his birthday on 12 July, which is the celebration of the Battle of the Boyne, which was a battle fought between the Protestant King William and the Catholic King James over the future of Ireland. Findlay has also defended the murderer of Mark Scott and others involved in sectarian attacks, so he was familiar with how deep a problem it was in Scottish society. Also seen in the video are a few Rangers’ players but the attention was on Findlay. There was outage from all sides. And not all in condemnation of Findlay. Some football fanzines published names and addresses of people believed to have handed the video over to the press and few people believed it was so Rangers fans could congratulate the video taker on exposing the incident.

Some newspapers said that the fact that Findlay had sung these songs did not mean that he hated Catholics, it just showed that he did not like Celtic Football Club - even though the club is not mentioned in the songs.

Findlay resigned from the Rangers board, pleading that his behaviour had been ‘an error of judgement’ but he has been told by David Murray that he is still welcome at Ibrox.

Composer James McMillan ignited Scotland with a damning speech about the situation later that year when he said Findlay was not unique, saying what many thought about the situation, who had never spoken up. Many people called him paranoid, while others applauded his bravery on speaking out about the matter. In his speech he said:

‘Donald Findlay is not a one-off. To believe this is self-delusion. Because our professions, our workplaces, our academic circles, our media and our sporting bodies are jam-packed  with people like Donald  Findlay.

‘...There was a palpable anger with him anyway in some quarters for having given the game away. The sanctimonious Scottish myth that all bigots are uneducated loutish morons from the lowest level in society was undermined at a stroke... there is a very real resentment against him for having so foolishly squandered the alibi.’

Scotland’s largest selling paper, The Daily Record, summed up the feelings of most of Scotland in an editorial:

‘...He has been caught, condemned out of his own foul mouth among his toadies, where, no doubt, he arrogantly assumed he was safe.

‘Findlay with his courtroom skills, sharp intelligence and brilliant mind is not stupid.  Except that that mind appears to be a closed mind, a narrow mind, pickled and distorted by his innate bigotry.

‘He was knee-deep in it. He wallowed in it. He gloried in it. If he was simply stupid, it might just be understandable. But Findlay always knew exactly what he was doing. That is what makes everything so much worse.’

Findlay is not the only person to be caught out, however. One-time Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram has never made any secret of his sympathies for the Ulster Protestant cause. He has made a number of trips to Belfast, even turning on the Christmas lights on the notorious Shankhill Road in 1995. In 1998, he wore a black armband just days after the murder of notorious loyalist Billy Wright, who was also known as King Rat. Goram’s excuse to the public was that it was a delayed expression of mourning for an aunt who had died in October 1997. Pictures of Goram with a UVF flag were eventually published, but not until after he had left Rangers and gone to another club.

It is not the game’s fault that this problem exists, but the game is now the focal point for it, and the average common-sense fan has - for now - lost this game to something worse than big business - thuggery. To make it worse, Scotland tries to pretend there is no problem. When two Leeds United fans were murdered by Turkish fans in 1999, there were pages upon pages covering the incident - what had happened, what the background was, was it hooliganism or something else - no stone was left unturned. In Scotland, after an Old Firm murder, the traditional reporting has been a day’s coverage of the matter and over the next few days appeals for the murderer to be caught alongside pictures of where the person was attacked. There is no examination of the wider causes; no attention is paid to the social background; no-one asks why this is happening. The media - print and non-print - have found themselves in a bind over the matter. As one senior journalist at one of Scotland’s larger selling papers told me:

‘Sport journalists don’t write about it as they are covering the game and they also don’t like to get into the deeper dimensions of it, but some news people put it down as football related so sport should cover it.’

But there is another problem. The majority of the attacks have been by one group more than another: Rangers fans attacking Celtic fans. In Scotland, where there are more newspapers per person than elsewhere in the UK, and all are involved in tight circulation battles, to point this out could be seen as circulation suicide, as many people take offence at having their group linked with murderers.

But some people are trying to fight back and change things. Cara Henderson was a friend of Mark Scott’s, going to the same school as him: Glasgow Academy. After Donald Findlay was caught on tape, she sent off a letter to a newspaper and the response from that inspired her to do something. While there was some negative feedback, which only confirmed to Cara that something had to be done, a lot of people agreed with her. She has set up a poster and education scheme called ‘Nil by Mouth’ with pictures showing harrowing images of people who have been attacked and scarred by the violence surrounding the Old Firm. Both clubs have helped with funding for the scheme, and it marks the first major public effort made by Rangers to stamp out the problem. Cara feels there are a number of matters that have to be addressed, but people have to accept there is a problem first:

‘Ultimately we’re trying to challenge people who say the word ‘huns’ or sing ‘hello hello we are the Billy Boys’ because no one seems to have stopped and thought about it. It’s like people who are not out there fighting are using these words and thinking that it’s alright because everyone else is doing it, so it can’t be wrong, but we’re saying is that the case, is it all right?’

Cara went to Oxford to complete her education, getting a history degree, and she feels that it’s when people move away from Glasgow they see how ridiculous the situation is:

‘Going out of Glasgow you encounter how others see it and many have a complete ignorance of the problem. To them it is not an issue in the slightest, whereas in Glasgow it totally consumes some people.

‘Everyone here accepts the way things are, but that does not mean its okay or that we should leave it this way. People who stay in the west coast in and around Glasgow and never go elsewhere don’t see that it’s not an issue elsewhere.’

Cara feels that pointing fingers at one group of people is not going to help achieve anything, as there are attitudes on both sides.

‘We’re not trying to label people as bigots, what we are trying to show is that we all share this mindset, there’s no one to blame, but let’s acknowledge there is a problem and let’s try to deal with it together.

‘The media has an important role because they set the tone for how people perceive things.

‘Without a doubt the media play to the whole thing tacitly. The whole build-up.

‘Football rivalry is a good thing, competition is a good thing, but this is a unique situation and the media know it is a unique situation.

‘What frustrates me is their reporting after it. In the Herald this was in the same article as the match report. The media don’t deem the attacks often to be newsworthy enough on their own

‘Ignoring the problem plays into it and if the facts are that more fans from one side than the other have been murdered then newspapers have to report that and distance themselves from the events. They cannot be concerned about how others will perceive this.

‘However, the most depressing aspect is that there is a silent majority in the west of Scotland around Glasgow who do not speak out against the minority or criticise something sectarian when they see it.

‘Some people won’t change, but if the majority do not speak out then the kernel of sectarianism will always be at the heart of society.

‘As far as I can tell, there is a genuine desire at both clubs for change, they are not benefiting from sectarianism now and really want to distance themselves from that element of it.’

Another group, CASA - Campaign Against Sectarian Assaults, has called for Celtic to provide a train station near the ground, so fans can avoid the flashpoints of Duke Street and Bridgeton. However setting up a station is something that will take time and millions of pounds. Spokesman of CASA, Bernard O’Toole, said:

‘The facts are that most of this so-called “Old Firm hatred and violence” is a one-sided affair. Sure, Celtic supporters have no particular love for their rivals from Rangers and over the years there has always been some hooligan clashes between the supporters. But the latest acts of violence are not the actions of organised groups of hooligans on both sides. They are or at least appear to be the random acts of a group of Rangers’ supporters whose hatred of all things to do with Celtic and Ireland knows no bounds.’

Dr Joseph Bradley is a lecturer in Sports Studies at Stirling University and has written widely on ethnic, cultural and religious identities in Scottish football as well as in Scottish and Irish societies generally.  He is of the opinion that while what we hear and see in relation to football cannot be dismissed, fans should not simply be judged or categorised by their behaviour at or near a football ground:

‘The things people often say, do and sing, in relation to football, shouldn’t always be taken literally. Much of what we witness can constitute the unthinking and in a football context, simply joining in. However, that’s not to say football fans shouldn't think about what they do and say.

‘Football can be an exaggerated social environment but this should not minimise what happens. This understanding allows us to contextualise behaviour. That said, I believe that the songs sung repeatedly by fans over the course of time do reflect meaning in their lives, their identities as well as their perceptions of those they sing for and against.’

Dr Bradley also feels that the term sectarianism is thrown about without any real understanding of its sources and nature in Scotland.  He feels it is a widely abused term, especially in the media, and this can actually lead to sectarian attitudes and judgements. 

‘My research amongst not only fans but generally in Scottish society shows that there are varying perceptions of what constitutes bigotry and sectarianism within the “Celtic and Catholic” community and the “Rangers and Scottish Protestant” communities. There is also a recognisable difference of opinions and behaviours where religious identity is concerned. This is important in that formal and spiritual religious adherence often says something about the nature and depth of dislike or hate.  I tend to believe that on the whole, those who are closer to the practices of their Christian faiths are less likely to be sectarian or bigoted.’

Until the bounds are curbed and everyone in Glasgow accepts there is a problem and deals with it, the most prominent colour in a town of green and white fans, and red, white and blue fans, will be blood red. There may be hope of peace in Ireland, but Glasgow has some way to go yet.

What the clubs say and do...

Battling The Bigots
Scotland On Sunday Editorial the day after the first Old Firm game of season 04/05

11 arrested for alleged sectarianism

Balloons Upstage Balloons
The Scottish Socialist Party tries to provide excuses for loyalist displays by Hearts and Rangers fans

Lennon is racially abused, claims O'Neill

Article from The Herald (in microsoft word format)

Celtic Fans Sing Praises Of Sectarian Anthems

Article from Scotland On Sunday (in microsoft word format)

Ibrox is no place for bigotry says chairman

Article from Evening Times (word format)

Orange Order & Loyalist Marches

Let Communities Ban Marches Say Cops

Demand For More Say Over Marches

Catholic Leader Calls For Orange Walk Ban

Article & Editorial comment in The Herald - June 2004 (word doc)

Orange backlash warning as order reins in its own parades

Article from The Herald - June 16 2004 (word doc)  

When modern-day living collides with long march of history

The Opinions of a Herald Columnist on 'sectarian' marches

'Strip out the threads of bile, bigotry and boorishness'

A Catholic clergyman makes the case against Orange marches in flashpoint areas


Scottish Parliament & local authority policies

Police in 'sectarian pubs' clampdown

Anti-Bigotry for 3 year olds

Sectarians feel force of bigotry law

Will new laws hit the wrong target?

Crackdown on sectarian marches

Evening Times article on Glasgow City Council's policy

Press Comment On Sectarianism

Football Must Blow Whistle On Thugs

Evening Times Editorial - Sep 1st 2004

Wha's like us?

Scotland On Sunday with the usual One'S As Bad As The Other line

‘We must spare no costs to safeguard an Orange future'

Despite the title, this is another OSABATO article

Silence of the lambs

Composer James MacMillan's experience of anti-Catholic bigotry