A year or so back, I wrote an article about Scottish football’s little unspoken truths.
I opened it with the story of how Joe Biden, who has always been a left-leaning liberal, gave the funeral oration for Strom Thurmond, an unrepentant segregationist.
I thought it summed up Biden as a man but wondered whether it was really in the best interests of public debate for someone like him to pretend that Thurmond had actually been a good and decent man and not a blinkered bigot.
I wrote that article because the press was eulogising the former Ibrox kit-man Jimmy Bell, using coded discourse about how much he “understood the club” and was “steeped in the culture.”
We all know what that meant, we all got the message.
He was “one of their own.”
He was a backward relic of an age this game can’t seem to leave behind.
Yesterday I read the same sort of flowery tributes about Craig Brown, and in the main I have no issue with them at all. Because I am sure that Craig Brown was “a good man” within the definitions which Biden used to describe Strom Thurmond, in the sense that he could be warm and generous and good hearted and considerate and kind to his friends and others.
But Craig Brown was also the Scotland international football team boss who sang down the phone to his bird about being up to his knees in fenian blood, and chanted “f@@k the Celtic” and bellowed out the Ibrox anthem Follow Follow … and kept his job, amidst an overwhelming tide of support from almost every prominent individual in the game.
Some of them should be embarrassed by their comments of that time.
Those who rushed to the papers and told them that they flatly refused to believe the story, that Brown “didn’t have a bigoted bone in his body”. What a shock to them all, I would imagine, to discover that the News Of The World wasn’t just making stuff up … she had taped it and they had the tapes.
So Brown absolutely did it, and there’s never been any real debate about it. Instead we got mitigation. How he didn’t really mean it. How it was “out of character.”
The Scottish football community rallied round him, protected him and made sure his back was covered and his reputation remained intact.
And you only have to read all those tributes from yesterday to recognise that it still is in spite of a rancid little piece of personal history which nobody wants to acknowledge but in a saner world, and in a different context – imagine his songs had been about blacks or Jews and not just Catholics – would have cost him his job and a lot more besides.
I can’t remember how people attempted to justify what he did at the time, but it should have been career terminal, and his reputation should have been shredded forevermore.
I don’t care whether it was a particularly off-colour joke or whether he meant every damned word of it. The national team, and the people running it, kept that man in post in spite of his expressing sentiments of the darkest kind … and yesterday that man was lionised as one of Scottish football’s towering giants.
And all I can say to that is what I said when Bell was being treated in the same way by a media which ties itself in knots every time The Green Brigade unfurls a banner whilst at the same time they airbrush things like this completely out of the narrative; it’s easier to overlook this stuff when you’re not the one who’s blood these people are up to their knees in.
I feel much the same way every time a national title talks to Dick Campbell or Maurice Ross or turns to the “wisdom” of Hugh Dallas. That there is something deeply corrupt here, that anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic hatred really are still “the last acceptable forms of bigotry” … and in Scotland always will be.
Here’s the thing; most of us are happy to forgive … but don’t ever think we’ll forget, because some things ought not to be forgotten and this is one of them.
So to close, I’m going to close this article with the same ending as the Strom Thurmond piece, and it’s as true now as it was when I was wrote it then, and perhaps even more so.
“Scottish football is like a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else intimately and the wife beaters sit and drink with the preachers and the fraudsters sit down with the bank managers and the guy who murdered his former wife sits and sups beer with the school mistress and the barman keeps on pouring for the not-yet-acknowledged alcoholics and tells them they earned a drink after a long hard day and the wheel keeps on turning because although everybody knows nobody ever says it outright and although nothing is a secret everyone acts as though there are no secrets to tell. A town where the word community means that everyone lives in blissful ignorance, although nobody is ignorant of anything. A town where if you never acknowledge it, maybe it didn’t happen at all.”