This weekend, at Ibrox, an incidence of anti-Irish racism was caught on video and audio … it was directed at St Johnstone players celebrating their last-ditch equaliser in the Scottish Cup. In the half day since that video surfaced, and with every major Celtic blog now having commented on it, and asked prominent figures in anti-racism and anti-sectarianism campaigns to comment not one has actually done so. This article was written on 24 March. Every word in it is especially relevant today, because nobody whatsoever is publicly standing up on our behalf.
In a week in which Scottish football stood up for one of its own, and people demanded action on racism in football, a familiar question hangs in the air, haunting us all; when does this country get serious about tackling its own peculiar brand of hate, the latent sectarianism which continues to blight us and which shows no sign at all of going away?
These are vintage years for the haters.
This a great time to be a nasty bastard.
When most of us heard that Polish Celtic supporter Kamil Charyszyn had been murdered by a crowd decked in Ibrox’s colours and Britain’s butchers flag, the general feeling was outrage.
The other main emotions were disgust and great sympathy for his loved ones.
Hardly anyone that I know was surprised.
Not even a little bit. Not even slightly.
Murder for wearing the wrong colours or pledging allegiance to the wrong club happens in this city.
It happens with a depressing regularity, and more often than not the victims are the ones decked in green.
Catholics still suffer sectarian abuse on a daily basis.
In July we allow haters and bigots to waltz down our streets.
The rest of the year, depending on the football results, they can literally paint the kerbstones red, white and blue and nobody utters a word.
In one part of the country, a place where even Southern US rednecks would take one look and declare it shit-kicker heaven, the park railings have to be pained a different colour than the rest of the nation, multi-national corporations change their logos and pander to the scumbags and even the traffic lights need grilles over that single flashing green light.
This is Scotland. This is Scotland in 2021.
This is why the outrage that a black footballer had something whispered in his ear during a match has caught some of us so completely by surprise; we never knew that this country gave a shit.
We’ve all heard our share of abuse; the difference is that hardly anybody bothers to whisper it around these parts.
If I made a check mark in a book every time I’ve been called a fenian bastard or something else for just walking down the street in a scarf or with a hat on I’d have more written work than King, Grisham and Clancy combined.
I was smacked in the face one night whilst chatting to my mate’s girlfriend, by a cowardly guttersnipe who thought having his two pals with him would prevent a response, just because I had a pale green shirt on.
There was nothing to indicate that I was a Celtic fan … that shirt was all the excuse this halfwit needed. To him I was just a guy walking down the road with his lassie … and he took one look at the colour of my clothes and decided to have a go for free.
Of course, it turned out to be a bad decision.
What a shame he didn’t realise my own mates were 20 yards behind me.
It is commonplace enough that most of us have developed a radar for it, and there’s hardly one of us who doesn’t have a clear understanding about Glasgow’s informal dress code, and on what nights and in what parts of town it’s unsafe to go about in certain clothing.
You learn, above all, to handle yourself.
Because nobody stands for us. Nobody takes a knee on our behalf.
Nobody in Scotland anyway and people outside of this don’t even believe half of the stuff they hear about the places many of us come from, and why would they?
It sounds so ridiculous and backward and seventeenth century.
I remember going to London for a meeting about the blog a couple of years back, and telling an incredulous bunch of advertisers about how I’d left behind a city reeling from a full-blown sectarian riot.
It’s like something from the dark ages.
Remember, when UEFA first got the nod that sectarian songs were being belted out at every European tie at Ibrox they didn’t even know how to charge Rangers for it at first.
They had no frame of reference for what any of it meant.
They are used to dealing with straight up racism and right-wing hate.
They didn’t have a clue what any of this was; they actually asked the SFA to clear the matter up for them, and it was our august governing body that sent them the first paperwork on “unacceptable chants” which, UEFA will have noticed, they had never done anything about.
Let’s not forget that the whole thing might forever have gone unchallenged, anywhere, were it not for two men; Martin O’Neill and Neil Lennon.
It was the abuse that the latter took at Ibrox, and O’Neill’s decision not to let the matter rest with the simple act of marching our captain towards the fans to take the applause of the support, going on to raise the issue of the “racist and sectarian chanting” during a press conference before the following week’s Champions League match with Juventus, that finally brought matters to a head and exposed the running sore Scottish football had tolerated for decades.
Nobody took a knee for Neil Lennon afterwards.
There was no rallying round our player any more than a protective arm was wrapped around him when, as manager, he was attacked on the touchline at Tynecastle.
A jury actually found the perpetrator Not Proven … although it happened live on the telly and the number of witnesses were in the tens of thousands.
When O’Neill made his statements about the abuse Lennon had taken at Ibrox that day, Scottish football barely trembled.
There were no summits, no new roles created at the SFA, the media barely blinked.
Not until the UEFA charges started and then a number of them swung into action, not praising the European governing body for their stance, for finally confronting Scotland’s obvious problem, but to ask when Celtic would be investigated as well.
Indeed, Gordon Smith, who was later appointed the chief executive at both Hampden and Ibrox, famously defended the Rangers fans and their songs on Radio Scotland, an act which appalled even Jim Traynor who asked him “What part of F the Pope do you not consider sectarian?”
Hatred and bigotry against Catholics, Irish and Celtic fans in general, was long since normalised.
It’s something we simply live with, in the way Gary Younge of The Guardian says black American males go about their lives knowing that even a random traffic stop could be a fatal encounter.
Those who get careless learn the hard way, like in the story he tells about how he, a black British man living in the States on assignment, didn’t know he couldn’t stop in rural Mississippi, in the 21st century, to ask an old white couple for directions.
They threatened to shoot him.
Even then he still thought it was funny, until he told his African American wife and her brother, both of whom knew that it wasn’t and who upbraided him for taking such a stupid risk … and for not taking the threat seriously.
I have friends who’ve been assaulted because they are Celtic fans.
I know at least two who have been stabbed in sectarian incidents, thankfully none of them seriously hurt.
I am notoriously intolerant of bigoted yahoos and I find it hard to stay silent around them; even I know there are times to bite my lip and keep my mouth shut, such as on the day I shared a 45-minute coach trip with a pack of utter wankers who sang every sectarian ditty in the book, and who were clearly just dying for someone to tell them to shut it.
Those are the days you thank God for the IPod and Bruce Springsteen played loud.
Because who would have mourned me outside of my family and friends?
Would someone have come to my aid had I stood up and told them to change the record?
Life would have gone on whether I was in it or not, and damn all would have changed because it never has no matter how many of our people get carried away in black plastic bags.
I repeat; nobody kneels for us.
Nobody stands, head bowed, in our honour or, to the eternal shame of all in this nation, ever says that “enough is enough.”
It is right that Scottish football rallies around Glen Kamara.
If he was racially abused, then he needs to know that he has the support of the game … it’s perfectly valid.
But I said at the weekend that ditching the knee was our way of saying that the deaths of black males at the hands of the police matters less to our national sport than a player suffering within it, and that stands and it’s never been more evident that the same standard applies to Celtic fans and we’ve long had to suffer living here.
Scotland couldn’t care less about the safety and wellbeing of some of its own citizens, and that has never been clearer than it is right now, when the kerb stones tell you who really rules the streets, where the police are scared to enforce the law and where somebody, somewhere, right now is probably out of their nut on vodka boasting about how they really are up to their knees in fenian blood.
This is Scotland. This is 2021.
And to look at the papers and the reaction of the civic institutions, even as another Celtic fan lies dead, nobody could care less if there were prizes on offer for Not Giving A Shit.