Sectarianism in Scottish Football: Authorities & Clubs MUST get tough


Last season, Scottish Football was overshadowed once more by the scourge of our game – Sectarianism. During the summer, the Scottish Government tried to push through the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill, which would tackle sectarianism and offensive behaviour in the Scottish game. However after widespread criticism at the half-cocked way that the SNP Government was trying to rush it through in time for the new season kicking off, First Minister Alex Salmond agreed to delay the bill.

Rosanna Cunningham, who was piloting the Bill through Parliament said at the Opening of the debate: “A few weeks have passed now but we mustn’t forget where we were at the end of the last football season. We were faced by some of the most shameful behaviour and incidents seen in many years, broadcast and reported repeatedly, seen throughout the world.

“Disorder, bigotry, threats and ultimately bullets and bombs through the post. These scenes shamed Scottish football but also they shamed Scotland. There are other wider challenges we will face in the longer term but this Bill represents a proportionate response to an immediately serious issue.”

With the bill being delayed to at least the end of this year, SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan speaking at Holyrood’s Justice Committee said: “To introduce something new part way through the season I think would be quite challenging and would lose its impact.”

The Bill was to create two new offences relating to behaviour deemed to ‘incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred’ in and around football grounds and on the internet, with offenders facing up to five years in jail under the proposals.

Both Celtic and Rangers welcomed the action taken by the Scottish Government, as well as the delay to iron out all the issues raised during consultations.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who has been a target for bigotry for over a decade, said: “I think it is important that there is no grey areas and things are put down in black and white so people understand what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot sing, what they can and cannot say. I would like to think punishments will be handed out quite heavily for people who cross that line. It’s a new season and it’s one that I am looking forward to, and I’m sure my family are as well.”

While a Rangers spokesperson said: “As a club we are at pains to point out that we are in favour of the greater and more consistent enforcement of existing legislation and will support new legislation that takes things forward and helps eradicate the type of behaviour that afflicts football. This is not a Rangers problem or an Old Firm problem, these issues affect all of football rather than one particular club.”

So while the Politicians, the Football Authorities and the clubs are all in consensus on trying to eradicate the scourge of the Scottish game, the fans who are at the sharp end of the knife are left in No Man’s Land or just ignore the calls to end the sectarian and bigoted singing.

Questions are still unanswered – What songs are sectarian? What songs are offensive? What songs are acceptable to sing?

In the Scotzine Forum we have built a working list of songs that fans deem as Sectarian, offensive and acceptable – as we stated this list is a work in progress and there will be many more songs that will need to be added to the list or switched from one section to another, so it would be good if the fans can come on board and have their input on the list.

So while the fans are left in limbo, though anyone with some common sense knows which songs are bigoted/sectarian, racist and offensive. Sadly when it comes to a court of law these things need ironed out and stated clearly.

The Media

The Media have a HUGE part to play in helping to eradicate Sectarianism from our game. However the media are also part of the problem. Pundits, commentators and journalists remark on songs being sung and label them bigoted and sectarian, yet at times they point out songs being sung which do not fall under that category at all.

During the Scottish Cup Final last season at Hampden Park, BBC Presenter Rob McLean said that he was just informed that “Celtic supporters have been singing some sectarian songs during the first half.”

McLean and the pundits in the studio failed to hear what songs were actually being sang and failed to mention said songs being sung that were indeed sectarian. But fellow pundit Pat Nevin said, “I’m going to mention it every time I hear it. Let’s embarrass these teams.”

However the fans and the club were adamant that no bigoted songs were sung during the game let alone the first half of the final between Celtic and Motherwell. And even replays of the game proved that no bigoted or sectarian songs were sung by the Celtic support. To date the BBC have failed to retract their pundits false statements.

Indeed the only two songs that these football pundits could claim as sectarian would have been The Soldiers Song and Boys of the Old Brigade.

The Soldiers Song is the Irish National Anthem, and if that song is sectarian then so must O’ Flower of Scotland and God Save the Queen. Then there is the Boys of the Old Brigade, a song that consists of a father, telling his song about the Easter Rising and his former comrades in arms. The Easter Rising was NOT a sectarian or bigoted event, in fact the Irish Republicans who took part in the rebellion were of both Protestant and Catholic persuasion. Likewise they were joined by Socialists activists led by Scots-born James Connolly.

So in that respect how can the Boys of the Old Brigade be construed as a sectarian or bigoted song?

If it is deemed as such then, Flower of Scotland a song written by Roy Williamson of The Corries, is sectarian and bigoted also. As it refers to the victory of the Scots led by Robert the Bruce over England’s Edward II at the Battle of the Bannockburn in 1314. Likewise the Boys of the Old Brigade tells the story of a battle against the British rule in Ireland. Where is the difference? Where is the sectarianism?

If you still deem the song sectarian then what does that make the Queen. Because during her state visit to Ireland in May 2011, the Queen laid a wreath to the memory of the Boys of the Old Brigade. Does that mean she is now a bigot for such a symbolic gesture?

Back in March 2011, during the League Cup Final between Rangers and Celtic, there was clear sectarian singing from the celebrating Rangers fans. The songs being sung were: No Pope of Rome, The Billy Boys and the racist Famine song. Yet despite the 22,000 Rangers fans singing said songs, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “This was the showpiece final everyone wanted to see, and it was a great advert for Scottish football. Both teams were passionate, committed and it was end-to-end stuff from kick off to the final whistle. The players, management and fans contributed to a memorable occasion, and I urge that their positive example inside the ground is replicated outside it over the course of the evening and beyond. The work of the Joint Action Group, put in place after the recent summit, is under way, and is a very positive process to tackle the wider problems. Football is a force for good in society, and the First Minister will be making an announcement in Aberdeen tomorrow about the League Cup.”

But no mention of the clearly heard sectarian and racist singing from the Rangers support.

However composer James MacMillan launched a scathing attack on MacAskill and the Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police after their post-match comments.

He asked: “So what exactly was Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill thinking of when he said that the game had been a ‘great advert for Scottish football’? And what was Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police thinking when he stated that ‘the atmosphere at the ground was excellent and the match was a great advert for our football’?

“Is it Government and police policy now to ignore sectarian and racist abuse? Or is it only anti-Irish racism and blatant anti-Catholicism that is allowed to be flaunted freely in Scottish football stadiums?”

Ten days later on 31st March, MacAskill backtracked on his post-League Cup Final comments.

He said: “I agree with James MacMillan that all forms of sectarian and racist abuse and chanting have no place in our national game, or indeed anywhere in our national life. It is totally unacceptable and indeed illegal – we support the strongest possible action to deal with it, which is one reason why we convened the recent summit, with the full and willing support of both Old Firm clubs, the three football authorities in Scotland, and the police.”

And while the media or one specific section – the BBC Punditry team – attacked Celtic fans for singing songs, that were not sectarian, the same Punditry team months earlier FAILED to mention the clearly audible sectarian singing of the Rangers support. Why the selective hearing?

The only mainstream media journalist to bring the matter of the sectarian singing up at the League Cup Final was The Times correspondent Graham Speirs. He posted on his twitter page: “The incessant bigoted chanting by Rangers fans at Hampden was shocking. Unarguably the most socially-backward fans in British football.”

A piece he wrote in The Times on 22nd March 2011 read: “For fully 120 minutes the Ibrox legions belted out stuff about the Pope, Fenians, and some of their other favoured subjects.

Quite a few of us have become used to ‘the Rangers problem’ over the years but Sunday at Hampden was still quite an eye-opener. It was the consistent, incessant nature of the bigoted chanting that was truly shocking.

One of the problems we have in tackling bigotry in Scottish football is the sheer ignorance of the subject that we have to put up with. For instance, Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, clearly didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, to judge from the fatuous statement he released after attending the match at Hampden.”

If the journalists and the pundits who are at the forefront of reporting the game, the songs and the fans cannot tell the difference between sectarian, bigoted or racist songs and then Scotland’s Justice Minister either, what hope does Scotland have of ridding Scotland of our shame?

Fans warned before Season kicks off

Paul McBride QC, who was heralded and lauded by Celtic fans for his legal battle with the SFA, advised the Celtic fans not to sing IRA songs or use the reference of ‘H*ns’ anymore.

He said: “All the talk in parliament about what is a reasonable person or what is offensive behaviour is all puff and smoke- we all know what is offensive. I think that using the expression h*n is now offensive. I don’t think that we’ll be seeing at Parkhead next season signs saying ‘No H*ns in Europe’ or ‘H**s get out of here’. We have to accept that if we are going to have one side behaving in a certain way we have to make sure that our own side, the Celtic family, don’t act in an unacceptable way.

“That’s not taking the fun out of the game, you’ll never take swearing out of football, you’ll probably get abuse and all the rest of it but we can’t have people throwing bananas on the pitch, we can’t have people abusing black players, we can’t have people being called h**s, we can’t have people being called orange b’s. Those days have to go in the same way that we want the Rangers family not to sing The Famine Song, we don’t want them to sing ‘up to our knees in fenian blood’.

“We have to look at our own side as well, we can still enjoy ourselves at Parkhead without singing about the IRA, without singing about huns go home and without singing about orange b’s- I don’t think any of that behaviour is unacceptable and it has to apply across the board or we’ll never get rid of it. When the term (h*n) is used it’s designed to cause offense. You can have rivalry without being blatantly offensive.”

And while McBride welcomed the addition of the Green Brigade to Celtic Park in terms of their entertainment value, he hit out at the group for singing songs about the IRA.

He added: “99% of people at Parkhead will have nothing to fear, I don’t think that there is a particular problem at Parkhead in any event. I’m not happy with some parts of the crowd, a very small part, singing songs about the IRA.
“We’ve got the Green Brigade, who I think are very entertaining, I think that they add something to Parkhead- sometimes the games are so dire they are the only thing entertaining as the bounce up and down and sing songs!

“I’m not that happy about them singing about the IRA. Why are they singing about the IRA in the context of a football game? This culture has got to change, we can go along to games, yes we can shout abuse at the other side, yes we can have fun but there is a line over which we should not be crossing. I think that we all know where that line is.”

Even Neil Lennon hit out at the re-emergence of a small minority singing songs about the IRA. In a statement on Celtic’s official website, he said: “Celtic is rightly proud of its unique history and also of its open, inclusive and welcoming spirit. It is this which we hold dear. While we are delighted with the support we have received throughout the season, it is very important that we ensure that Celtic is always a positive club for all.

“We all know it has been a very difficult season for Celtic and we all know what has gone on. However, we must ensure that we do all we can to uphold the club’s reputation. In recent times, unfortunately there has been a re-emergence, from a small minority, of some of the singing and chanting which is simply not acceptable around our club. This has no place at Celtic Park or at any of our matches and it must be tackled. All this does is tarnish the great name of Celtic and embarrasses the club.

“As we move towards next season it is vitally important that we ensure we do so positively. However small the minority of people involved, this behaviour has no place at Celtic and I am sure as we move towards a new season and new beginning, everyone associated with the club will recognise this.”

And across the city, Walter Smith said: “It’s fine when you have a great club, with a great tradition, as Rangers have and people feel that’s a part of it But I think when there is a reaction, as there has been over the last few years, against those traditions then the people who do sing them – and I would stress that I don’t think it’s the majority of Rangers supporters – need to take into account that in a modern era it’s maybe not acceptable for them to do so. Therefore they need to realise the club are going to suffer quite drastic consequences if they don’t stop. So I would ask them, considering the problems that our club have, to take that into account and stop singing the songs that are offensive.”

Tit-for-Tat Mentality

After Rangers were punished by the UEFA for Sectarian singing during their Europa League games against PSV Eindhoven, Rangers supporters groups organised a Working Group to help eradicate Sectarian singing amongst their ranks.

The statement from them said: “We will continue to ask that fans eradicate all singing of The Billy Boys, references to Fenians, and FTP. Other songs which have been incorrectly challenged by some observers like The Sash and Build My Gallows, which contain no sectarian references at all, will continue to be allowed after discussions with the club, Police officials, and legal experts. The fans were congratulated for their tremendous backing of the team during both the run-in to last season and during pre-season where we travelled in huge numbers to the friendly matches without incident.”

However the Working Group then resorted to typical tit-for-tat pointing of the finger later within their statement: “Many of our fans feel that the level of scrutiny and media attention is not even-handed. In particular, Celtic fans continue their disgraceful and offensive singing in support of the IRA, witnessed again at Easter Road on Sunday despite calls from their Manager and other spokesmen for it to cease. Yet again though, there has been no comment from the media and the relevant authorities. Similarly, there was no comment following the Hearts v Celtic match back in May when the same offensive singing by Celtic fans was a feature of the whole match. No longer will the Rangers support sit idly by and be the only support under the microscope while others continue to sully the name of Scottish football shown on live television across the world.”

Likewise when Celtic fans are singled out for certain songs that they sing, they resort to their own level of tit-for-tat finger-pointing, bringing up Rangers past incidents of sectarian singing, fines & punishments in regards to such singing also.

This tit-for-tat mentality of making excuses or trying to turn the focus away from their own ranks does not help, and it certainly doesn’t help to eradicate the problem.

Sectarian Issues this season

While the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill has been put on the back-burner currently, elements within Celtic and Rangers’ fan base certainly haven’t put their sectarian and offensive chanting on hold.

During the pre-season testimonial for former Stirling Albion owner and chairman Peter McKenzie, elements of the Rangers support were heard to be singing sectarian songs. This led to a PA announcement being issued at half time.

A spokeswoman for Central Scotland Police said: “There was sectarian singing from a section of the visiting support, leading to warnings from the club during the first half. Towards the end of the half there was discussion between police and the club about pausing the match to allow further warnings to be delivered. It was decided to wait a short time and deliver such warnings at half time. This was done by the club. At no time did the police recommend that the match be called off.”

The spokeswoman added: “Increased policing and stewarding during the second half led to a reduction in this behaviour. The focus of police was to ensure the safety of all people attending and no arrests were made at the time.

“Events will, however, be subject to further review including liaison with clubs via the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland football sub group. It is disappointing that so-called fans have seen fit to disrupt this event and to tarnish the name of their club in this way.”

While New York Times and STV Football writer Graham Ruthven, who was in attendance at Doubletree Dunblane Stadium, said on his twitter page:

Announcement made over tannoy here at Stirling. ‘Please refrain from singing songs of a sectarian nature. Those who do will be ejected.’

And then on the first game of the new season for Celtic at Easter Road, elements of the Celtic support,some alleging the Green Brigade were responsible, were quite clearly heard to be singing the Celtic Symphony with ‘oo ah up the Ra’ add-ons. Despite claims from some fans later that it was in fact ‘Oo ah Samaras’, it wasn’t as I myself heard it quite clearly.

Likewise last night there were also some allegations that Celtic fans were singing the same add-ons in the friendly match against Wolves at Parkhead, again with the finger being pointed at the Green Brigade.

So while the majority want Scottish Football free from Sectarianism and Irish Politics, there are elements within both supports who just love it.


Last night I was in discussion with a Rangers fan who claimed that the major problem with Sectarianism in Scotland was separate schooling. When I brought up the issue of Orange and Republican marches, he stated: “Marches aren’t the problem. The problem is separate schooling.”

He went on to claim that schools brought communities together, while these marches celebrated a culture and organisation. Claiming that it is not what the schools teach, but school rivalries that breed sectarianism, and it’s nom-dom vs catholic school, religion is brought into the rivalry.

Now given that I myself went to a non-dom school in Renfrewshire and regularly played in competitions that pitted our school against other schools including Catholic schools – even the one right across the road from us – the rivalry had nothing to do with religion in the slightest and everything to do with school pride. We wanted to beat that other school’s team because we wanted our school to win, it had nothing to do with what religion the school was perceived to be. In fact many of my friends went to that specific catholic school, yet some claim that they lost friends because they went to a catholic school. Which is in itself a pitiful excuse as they use this ‘lost friendship’ as the main reason for Scotland’s problem with sectarianism. Blaming Faith schools, yet they have no problem with Islamic faith schools – so is it just a Catholic issue? Many countries across the world have Faith schools yet only in Scotland do some blame separate school systems as the reason behind sectarianism.

However, it is a far more vocal and public event that can be held as the major blame to Scotland’s Sectarian issue – Marches.

The Orange walks and Republican marches split these supposed communities and pits one side of the divide against the other. Elements of the Celtic support attend Republican marches, while elements of the Rangers support attend Orange walks. However it is certainly not just a Celtic or Rangers issue, but they are in the majority.

Men, women and children indoctrinated in one aspect of Irish politics or the other marching on Scotland’s streets IS the problem. It is these individuals who breed future generations of bigots and proudly so.

The latest ISSUE surrounding marches in Scotland is that of the Royal Black Institution who wanted to hold FOUR marches in the city’s east end on the 13th August, which would coincide with Celtic’s home game against Dundee United. Definately a recipe for disaster in anyone’s book. The timing of the marches would have coincided with the fans leaving Celtic Park at full-time, and would have not only caused traffic chaos but could have kicked off serious violence.

Police opposed this on public order grounds and wanted the marches moved to an alternative date, which the Institution rejected. Despite the initial opposition, there has now been a compromise which will see the marches given the go-ahead DURING the Celtic game at 3.15 and 3.30pm. However this will still cause major issues in the area.

The authorities continue to see Celtic and Rangers fans as the main problem with Sectarian issues within Scottish Football, but these so-called celebratory marches are the real causes of Scotland’s problems with Sectarianism.

We hear time and time again Rangers fans mocking Celtic fans over the Irish songs that they sing with the phrase ‘Where in Ireland is Glasgow?’

And I state this to both sides of the divide, where in Ireland is Scotland? Why are Scotland’s streets pounded by individuals celebrating IRISH politics or events? Where in Scotland did the Siege of Derry or the Battle of the Boyne take place? Where in Scotland did the Easter Rising take place?

The bigots and these so-called religious zealots – who in fact fail to attend religious services on Sundays – should take their parades and marches to the country where these events took place to celebrate or remember, so that the rest of Scotland can get back to living in the 21st Century.


About Author


Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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