Often before people move to Glasgow, they only have a few preconceptions about the city – the weather is shite, the music scene is banging, and violent sectarianism runs rampant. While I’m always quick to reassure people that it’s very unlikely that they’re going to get chibbed unless they do something daft like refuse to dance to Bits N Pieces, no amount of optimism can cover up the fact that divisions along religious lines persist. As a football fan in this city there’s no getting away from it. Rangers and Celtic, as well as Hibs and Hearts in Edinburgh and, to a lesser extent, the Dundee teams, were all either founded by religious groups or assumed a certain identity early on in their history, and this continues to shape the fan bases today. This sectarianism extends wider and deeper than simply in supporters, but this is the most high profile site of bigotry, on all sides.
Of course, and this should go without saying, not everyone who takes part in displays of either Irish or British nationalism, or who follows Protestant or Catholic traditions is a bad person. Far from it. You can absolutely celebrate your heritage without hating the “other side”. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a current of hatred and animosity that still runs underneath groups on the fringes.
In my mind anyway, there is a distinction between commemorating the past and stirring tensions in the present. Remember the hunger strikers and support the veterans by all means. I fail to see however, how it can be acceptable or appropriate to sing about walking in blood or glorifying a conflict that destroyed families and communities by belting out a call to arms. There is also a fixation on Ireland and The Troubles from boys and girls who weren’t even alive at the time, or by adults who’ve never visited the Emerald Isle. It’s not for me to say how people should identify, but blindly following either “side” ignores the transgressions made by both and shows a lack of understanding of the moral complexity on the issue.
Having said that, I can understand how easy it would be to wrap yourself up in sectarian ideas, especially when people are already putting you on one side or another. The first time I felt the sting of injustice was as a kid in the playground, when my former pal declared she would no longer talk to me because my dad was Catholic. Now she didn’t come to this decision all by herself as an eight or nine year old kid. Her family shaped the entire way she saw the world and presented people as Catholic backgrounds as people not to be befriended.
This is where organisations like Nil By Mouth come in. They work with children in both non-denominational and faith-based schools to nip any divisions in the bud through their Sense Over Sectarianism programme. Combating any bigotry they’ve been passed on by their parents is helping to break the cycle of hatred and make football more inclusive.
Slow as it may seem, progress is being made. Rangers used to have a tacit policy of not signing Catholics – their recently sacked manager (sacked for incompetence, not for religion) Pedro Caixinha is a card carrying member of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of Celtic fan’s most venerated players and managers are Protestant. Other teams like Partick Thistle seem to have sidestepped the sectarian issue altogether and gathered supporters from diverse backgrounds.
But there’s a lot of work to be done yet. IRA songs are still alarmingly vocal at Celtic Park. Chants of “paedophile” ring out at Ibrox at Old Firm matches. Comparing the two sides of the same coin of bigotry in Scottish football has done little good so far, and that’s not about to change if fans continue to deflect blame. We need to set about rooting up sectarianism in our own support, so that we can hate each other on the park and not off it.
[Louise Wylie – @WomanPendulum]