When is bigotry and sectarianism acceptable? Never! When is bigotry and sectarianism acceptable in Scotland? When its levelled at the Irish Catholic community it seems.
Let’s be clear, not all of our support are either Irish or Catholic but tribally a large number of Scottish Celtic fans identify culturally with that group due to ancestry, schooling, upbringing etc.
Basically if you support Celtic there’s a noisy, influential section of society who generalize us as ‘fenians’ and fenian bastard is a pejorative that’s used so often in Scotland the authorities and institutions either ignore it or worse, perpetuate it.
Anti-Irishness within the Scottish establishment is so widespread and entrenched it’s very easy for the relevant institutions to gaslight the victims of this form of racism should they attempt to have it addressed.
We all know the history of the mass immigration that took place as a consequence of the genocidal policies of imperial Britain in Ireland and we all know the difficulties the Irish community faced from the Protestant Scottish establishment and the violence and discrimination that followed.
There are too many examples to list in a short article but to make a link with contemporary behaviours I’ll highlight the song ‘The Billy boys’, what it glorifies and how normalized it’s become to the extent you can regularly hear fifty thousand people frothing at the mouth singing it.
This is a song about the slashing and stabbing of Catholics by a thug who went on to form the Scottish chapter of the Klu Klux Klan. In what universe should that be something people are not ashamed to sing? In what universe should it be a song people are allowed to sing? In this one, right here. Can we imagine it was about killing Jews or people of colour? People would be furious and disgusted and there would be an outcry so vast you’d never hear it again.
Scottish society can raise itself up like this when it wants to. It was forced to when John Reid was chairman of Celtic and the anti-Irish Famine Song reared its head. A few questions in Parliament, the Irish Government raising it in Strasbourg and the silence fell like a hammer on an anvil.
But The Billy Boys … it’s part of the “culture” of the Ibrox club and so no-one even blinks.
Another example that always sticks in my head was the murder of a young Celtic fan by Orange Order thug Jason Campbell in the late 90’s simply for having a Celtic scarf on after a game on a Saturday. Campbell claimed it was a political act and requested political prisoner status. This sociopathic coward thought he would be treated more leniently for claiming that he actually targeted this kid as a Catholic rather than it just being the random murder of a child in the street. Think about that for a minute!
Fast forward to 2023 and the murky polluted world of Scottish football.
Again, we all know about the institutions.
The Lanarkshire referee lodge, the ‘FTP’ emails by the head honcho of that institution. The fact that his son is now a Grade 1 referee, the former Ibrox season ticket holder allowed to referee the club he supports and their rivals, the after dinner speakers gloating about decisions against the fenians, the former Ibrox youth player given the same freedoms, the list goes on.
And the response by the hordes to the perfectly reasonable and legitimate criticism of these aberrations? One of the referees taught at a catholic school!
It’s such a stupid and ignorant statement that it’s difficult to actually get your head around it, but that’s the environment we’re in.
So no one should be surprised that serial bigot and halfwit Kyle Lafferty fresh from a ban for an overt display of bigotry and sectarianism (the term we use in Scotland instead of racism) had powder puff media pieces and ringing endorsements from his manager about how he was champing at the bit to play against Celtic at the weekend, not that it turned out well for him or his club … a little left-handed justice there in my personal view.
But imagine he’d been filmed making the same comments about any other ethnic group? He would be vilified and demonized by our media and the stigma would be such that his career would quite probably be over.
As it is he strolled out of the tunnel as if nothing happened, safe in the knowledge that the conscious and unconscious bias, cognitive dissonance and overt sectarianism rooted in the psyche of our society means there’s nothing to see here. It was a section of the Celtic support, who lashed out at this bigot with some less than savoury sentiments of their own, who wound up in the spotlight. A case of victim blaming if ever there was one.
When Celtic minded people complain about this or the ridiculous refereeing situation, we’re gaslit with scoffs of paranoia or accused of fomenting conspiracy.
Sectarianism is a hot potato in Scotland, no one with the authority to make changes wants to lift up the rock because they know what they’ll find underneath.
A societal cancer that would require a generation-long educational drive to have any hope of success, that would be resisted fiercely by those who believe their ‘culture’ entitles them to have those views.
It’s been kicked down the road and skirted around for far too long.
We have a government who legislates to prevent discrimination based on protected characteristics like ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality etc, its high time they started enforcing it and grasped the nettle of sectarianism rather than turning a blind eye and expecting the football institutions to deal with it internally.
They never have and they never will.
It’s not a ‘sporting’ issue, it’s a criminal justice issue and what Lafferty did merited more than a poxy ban for a few games. That was meaningless. In a sane universe his manager would chase him out the club and the media would report objectively about the appalling example he sets and the responsibility of professional sports people to be good role-models.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a sane universe, we live in Scotland, the best wee country in the world, the one where this stuff is still tolerated. Just not by its victims.
Chris Cominato is a Celtic fan and occasional contributor to the site. He is one of the admin team on The CelticBlog Facebook group.