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A Bitter Bawin

For ower a hunner year, fitba in Scotland haes oxtert alang wi bitterness in releegion. Whan Hibernian FC wis foondit in 1875 bi the Earse community o Embra the grunlaws o the club threapit that players maun be chapel-gauin Catholics. Acause this policy wis agin Protestants, Hibernian wisna alloued tae play competeetions in Scotland. Hooanever, thay war inveetit as Celtic’s unfreen at the openin o Celtic Park in 1888. Syne Hibernian took a tummle an wis refoondit in 1893. This time aroond the parteeclar heid anent players haein tae be Catholic wis dichtit. But the ‘big twa’ clubs o Glesca Celtic an Glesca Reengers syne becam the leaders-aff in releegious bitterness. At ae time Reengers wadna sign Catholics - leain Celtic its wale o the best o either releegion. This policy breardit efter the Belfast shipyaird Harland & Wolf opent in Govan in 1912 an brocht the Ulster brand o Protestantism tae Glesca. Thay took-on Reengers as thair ain team, an chenged the hail nature o whit haed aince been jist a Scots fitba club.[i] The like happent wi Celtic as Catholic, Irland-sprung fowk gaed tae Parkheid. Follaers o Reengers noo waggit Union flags, sung Rule Brittania an the Sash, an fae the 1920’s a wheen oxtert wi the Orangemen that lowpit the sheuch. Follaers o Celtic flew the Republican tricolour, sung aboot Napper Tandy an Kevin Barry, an a puckle gied siller tae the IRA. As the cultural, political an releegious weirs o Irland wis focht ower an ower in the wast o Scotland throu fitba baith becam tentless o Scotland an hits tradeetions. In 1952 the war a muckle stramash at the Auld Firm Neerday gemm in Glesca an the City Chaumers askit the twa clubs no tae play thon parteeclar day ony mair or tae flee flags that wad gar fowk tak the pet. Celtic in parteeclar wis askit no tae flee the Republican flag o Irland (the flag o a fremmit state) an the FAS wis awa tae fine an pit them oot the associe. Hooanever, the FAS grunlaws said naething anent flags sae the FAS haed tae back doun. But the bitterness, settin Scot agin Scot, wis aye in the backgrund. This pit ae cheil in mind o Celtic player Jimmie Johnstone in the 1960s an 1970s an the wey follaers o the national sqad wad miscaw him whan he played for Scotland:

“There’ a guy down there playing every Saturday in green and white hoops and now he’s playing in a blue shirt, and they’re standing there abusing him.” [ii]

Whan Graeme Souness took ower as player-manager o Glesca Reengers (1986-91) he intimatit tae the Press in Aprile 1986 that he wad sign a Catholic. This set the heather ableeze amang the daily squeeks, but, on 10 July 1989, Scots Catholic Mo Johnston signed for the club. Syne the war t-sarks gauin aboot wi a cairtoon o Johnston an the paip wi words that read “Forgive me father, for I have signed.” In actual fact, it turnt oot that anither Scots Catholic cryed Laurie Blyth haed played for Reengers throu season 1950-51, but haed held his wheisht.[iii]  The war a notour waedain atween Auld Firm players at a bawin in October 1987 that led tae thaim kythin in coort an peyin fines. In 1999 Donald Finlay, the Preses Depute o Reengers, haed tae demit for singin the Sash an ither bitter sangs efter Reengers baet Celtic in the Tassie Gemm, while in 2000 a caw for follaers o Reengers tae weir orange sarks for the Tassie Gemm thon year caused anither stoushie. Even tae this day, the Reengers buird haes been miscawed for turnin a deif lug whan chants o ‘up to our necks in Fenian blood’ breks oot at gemms, an siclike follaers o Celtic haes been miscawed in bygane years for uphaud o the IRA an waggin the Tricolour. Ae manager, Martin O’Neill, aince accused the daily papers in Scotland o keepin the bitterness gauin for tae sell papers. The bitterness sib tae fitba isna as appearant the day, aiblins, but whiles the warst o it daes burst oot. Mair recent like, in September 2014, bodies weirin Reengers sarks, chantin sectarian sangs an giein Nazi salutes, steert up a rammie in George Square, Glesca. Thir Nazi salutes pits us in mind o the gliffs o racism that whiles haes melled wi the bitterness o releegion forby. Whan black player Mark Walters stertit for Reengers at the gemm agin Celtic at Parkheid, on 2 Januar 1988, a wheen Celtic follaers threw hunners o bananas on the grund an the gemm haed tae deval throu it. The FAS held its wheisht an naething wis done tae lift ony o the fowk. But anither black player Paul Elliott cam tae play for thon self an same Celtic club in 1989 an bade wi them until 1991 whan he wis awardit the tassie for Scots Fitbawer o the Year. The mair that Scotland wis opent up tae new kintras an players, the less scowth the narra-nebbit haed.

The Labour First Meenister Jack MacConnell wis amang the first politeecians in Scotland that haed the smeddum tae speak oot agin the bitterness but it wis the SNP government that socht tae yoke-on this controvertit maiter. Sae thay pit throu a law cryed in the Soothron tongue Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act that becam law fae 19 Januar 2012. A wheen amang the fitba community cawed the SNP for awthing, threapin that the act micht be interpet sindry weys, an syne stertit up a group cryed Fans Against Criminalisation tae campaign agin the act. In Mey 2015 a speir amang the public bi Panelbase fund that 60% o fowk in Scotland wis aw for the act wi jist 14% wantin it repealed. Thon same year a wheen fowk wis tuithy o the SPFL for no dealin wi sectarians at a Raith Rovers gemm.


[i] B. Murray, The Old Firm In A New Age, (Edinburgh, 1998), pp.34-35.

[ii] Raymond Boyle, ‘We are Celtic supportes...’ Questions of football and identity in modern Scotland’, in Richard Giullianotti, an John Williams (eds) Game Without Frontiers, Football, Identity and Modernity, (Aldershot, 1994), p.89.

[iii] B Murray, The Old Firm In A New Age, (Edinburgh, 1998), p.107. Laurie’s faither haed been a Protestant.