Celtic – Guilty of Stupidity but NOT Sectarianism.

So this week sees a return to the sectarian singing debate, this time including Celtic Football Club and chants made during a European fixture. The preamble appears of striking resemblance to the charge posed against Rangers Football Club with regard to the same matter: UEFA want to ‘clamp down’. 

As someone that attends Ibrox for every home game not to mention follows the club away from home I am quite well aware that Sectarian chants exist within the support. I have found that in recent times, and by this I do mean the last few years, the volume of this have dropped dramatically but it has not been eradicated.

As for Celtic I must plead ignorance.  My own personal experience of Parkhead/Celtic Park is the bi-annual visits on league duty where there is strong voice of 55’000+ Celtic Fans. I happily admit that I couldn’t tell you a single ‘Celtic Song’. I am 26 years of age and have never found the time nor the need to learn any ‘Celtic songs’ to be perfectly frank. I could possibly hum the odd tune that I have heard but the wording of such is beyond me as when 55’000+ fans chant them it can all get lost in a mumble jumble of slurs.

On that basis I can’t really define much of what goes on at Celtic Park. Obviously I know a lot of Celtic supporters and some of them admit a large number of ‘sectarian’ chants or ‘offensive chants’ and others demand that there is no existence of such. The consensus appears to be entirely subjective on the matter. As with anything in life I am almost sure that the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, it would be grossly naive to believe that never has a sectarian word been chanted during a Celtic game, nor would it be appropriate to believe that the stadium was a cesspool of venom on a minute by minute basis.

As of date the SPL/SFA/ whoever you wish has done nothing about sectarian issues in Scottish Football – from any club. I must state that for purposes of this discussion I will use Rangers and Celtic but of course this refers to any club in the country.

UEFA have taken a harsher stance on the matter, and last year fined Rangers a total of €40’000 (These figures have been lifted from the BBC, I have seen many figures ranging from 13’000(Barcelona Reporter) and 72’000 (Scotsman) so therefore I fully accept the figure could be wrong however it is irrelevant to the piece) and banned their fans from one European away fixture for chants committed during a European tie against PSV. Another stipulation to the punishment would be the closure of Ibrox for one European home game and a further fine of €40’000 should the club be found guilty of a similar offence within the next 3 years.

The problem at Ibrox has been evident and the club were punished much to the joy of many associated with other clubs. Naturally Celtic fans would take great pleasure in goading Rangers fans for this; indeed they have inherently referred to Glasgow Rangers as ‘Scotland’s Shame’. There is no problem with this, indeed there is no problem at all with goading someone for such as they have been deemed guilty. Supporters of many other clubs in Scottish Football have also taken pleasure from the ruling and wished that a similar stance be taken from the home ruling bodies with a domestic penalty as opposed to interference from UEFA alone.

In the past week the situation has again reared its ugly head to shame the ranks of Scottish Football. This time the charge relates to Rangers neighbours, Celtic.  As the story goes Strathclyde Police, themselves becoming heavy handed on Sectarianism through a Scottish Government initiative, reported to the UEFA delegate ‘offensive’ songs being chanted during Celtics 3-1 European victory over Renne at Celtic Park. In particular songs referring to the ‘IRA’, ‘Provisional IRA’- whatever. The charge of Celtic to defend themselves before UEFA was one that was probably inevitable as the other half of Glasgow’s great footballing divide.

This is not the first time this season this situation has arisen, during Celtics defeat to Hearts many claims were made to the Parkhead club about Pro-IRA singing during the match, reportedly by their own supporters prompting the issue to be addressed by the clubs Chief Executive. Peter Lawwell said: “Chants glorifying the Provisional IRA are totally unacceptable. One, it is wrong, and it is an embarrassment to the club and embarrassment to the majority of supporters.

“We have dealt with it at Celtic Park and we will do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen home or away. We don’t want it, we don’t need it. We have the best supporters in the world and hold that reputation dear.”

So, we await with baited breath the outcome of Celtics hearing – not that it really matters as the initial problem will still be left unanswered. That being, in simple terms: “What is an ‘offensive’ song?

The term ‘offensive’ is an entirely subjective framework to work from on an otherwise objective subject.

A Uefa spokesman said: “We have seen footage showing Celtic supporters singing some alleged anti-Queen and pro-IRA songs (sectarian songs?). If the investigation is conclusive, then a disciplinary case will be opened.

“We take [cognisance] of all manifestations of sectarian singing. The only condition is that it must be within the immediate surrounding areas of the stadium. There was alleged sectarian singing inside the stadium. It’ll depend on the ease of having these songs understood, plus other evidence.”

The above quote raises many questions. Rangers were found guilty because their chant had a ‘sectarian’ association to them. On first viewing: Do Celtics?

Much debate has been raised over the years in relation to certain words and phrases and ‘sectarianism’. The word ‘sectarian’ itself is one that has been adopted into Scotland’s Footballing language but one that often sits uneasy with me. My understanding of ‘sectarianism’ at Dictionary level does not always coincide with the chants made in this country. Instead I feel sectarianism to go much deeper than the spoken word, as I often do with all forms of racism. The term ‘actions speak louder than words’ often springs to mind. Indeed, words themselves are rather empty, and thought alone cannot be punished.

That aside, it appears sectarianism as it is accepted in this country refers to words deemed to be prejudice to another on the basis of a religious aspect.

This opens a wide range of problems for me. First and foremost, let’s tackle the problem of Pro- IRA chanting, and this of course set’s the same path for Pro UVF/UDA singing. This is not sectarian, it could be deemed to be ‘offensive’ but certainly not ‘sectarian’. As I am deemed to understand the IRA/UVF/UDA etc. are no longer in existence in their original format. The IRA for instance is most certainly not in existence in its original format and any remnants of such are more in alignment with the terrorist organisations from the North of Ireland and abroad.

There are claims from many that Celtic should be allowed to remember their ‘Irish Catholic roots’. Of course they should, and indeed they should be allowed to celebrate this as they desire within the constraints of the law. However there is often a fine line between celebrating ones roots and respecting the country of your endeavour.  First of all, the IRA has nothing to do with Celtics ‘Irish Catholic roots’ and nor would the vast majority of Celtic fans ever claim it to be. Of course I am sure some would make a connection, from both sides, however this would be entirely uneducated. The singing of Pro-IRA songs does not appear to have any relevance in today’s modern society. It is an issue that should have, and has been by many, put to bed a long time ago.

Celtic, play in Scotland – they are a Scottish club and proudly so. Under that pre-tense- Celtic play in Scotland, in Great Britain and in the United Kingdom. It would be fair to say that under these circumstances singing songs with reference to groups whom have admittedly committed atrocities against this nation in times of both war and peace may be deemed offensive to many. But not sectarian, and this is the very fine line that I just don’t understand. If the provisions in place are in reference to ‘sectarian’ singing then surely Celtic must not be guilty of such a charge. If it is in regard to ‘offensive’ singing then surely the term ‘offensive’ must be expressly stated as to what this actually entails. Otherwise may we see similar action for chants of ‘fat baldy bastard’ Offensive? Subjectively so, depending on your position. ‘Offensive’ is a very broad word, as broad as the word ‘Road’ in road traffic, what constitutes a road? A dirt path? Tarmac? Lines? Ownership?……what constitutes ‘offensive’?

Again I am using Celtic as an example here because of the recent charges brought against them. Rangers have many songs in relation to similar groups as the IRA that we could mention at length and define on their own merits, but the principle is the same for both no matter the example. It appears what is deemed to be ‘Offensive’ can be easily argued, but difficult to prove.

I give you this situation: Singing Pro-IRA songs toward a group of British Nationals may be deemed ‘offensive’, but is singing Pro-IRA songs toward a group of Frenchmen really offensive? Do circumstances really matter? What we need to be careful of here is over complicating something. Are we suggesting that the singing in itself is guilty of the crime or in relation to the circumstance? In other words, are we creating a strict liability offence? I for one am all in favour of a strict liability offence in relation to ‘sectarian singing or offensive singing’ however for this to be the case it NEEDS to be set down exactly what constitutes these terms. Can it be done?, of course it can. Let’s take another offence in smoking for example. We created this as a strict liability offence to smoke ‘indoors’ and the term ‘indoors’ was defined at great length in relation to what ‘indoors’ exactly constituted and in what circumstances. If we can do it for this, then we can do it for verbal’s as well.

The Pro-IRA singing is one aspect, there are literally hundreds of examples from ‘both sides’ that could be picked upon but let’s look at another – ‘Fenian’.

Over the years the term fenian has been basterdised by a series of almost Chinese whispers as to its real meaning.

I have tried to find many definitions of what ‘Fenian’ is supposed to mean:

1. One of a legendary group of heroic Irish warriors of the second and third centuries a.d.

2. A member of a secret revolutionary organization in the United States and Ireland in the mid-19th century, dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.

1. (Historical Terms) (formerly) a member of an Irish revolutionary organization founded in the US in the 19th century to fight for an independent Ireland

2. (Myth & Legend / European Myth & Legend) Irish myth one of the Fianna

3. Derogatory, offensive an Irish Catholic or a person of Irish Catholic descent

  • 1 a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a 19th -century revolutionary nationalist organization among the Irish in the US and Ireland. The Fenians staged an unsuccessful revolt in Ireland in 1867 and were responsible for isolated revolutionary acts against the British until the early 20th century, when they were gradually eclipsed by the IRA.
  • 2 informal , offensive (chiefly in Northern Ireland) a Protestant name for a Catholic.

It seems generally accepted in many circles as an ‘offensive’ term toward Catholics and under this pre-tense I presume the term ‘sectarian’ has bestowed it.

As the term is generally accepted as ‘offensive’ and ‘sectarian’ there seems to be very little reason to defend its use, and I wouldn’t because I am not stupid enough to believe that the terms is being used in a polite and descriptive manner to one’s political allegiance.

The origins of the term though and neither offensive nor Sectarian – this ideal seems to be one that has been developed within our own little system of belief. Indeed if Catholics can therefore refer to themselves as ‘fenians’ then why not non-Catholics? This is an argument that has arisen in the United States for decades in relation to the term ‘nigger’. If black people can call themselves ‘nigger or ‘nigga’ then why is the term suddenly derogatory and offensive if said by someone that is Caucasian?.

Of course I am playing devils advocate here, I don’t use either word nor would I support anyone whom did- but the principle remains somewhere along the line: where have we defined what is deemed as offensive/sectarian and more to the point ‘why’ has this been developed? Is it through actual malice or is it because somewhere along the line we just don’t want two groups of people to be spiteful to each other?

This belief has been echoed by others, especially in reference to Celtic’s defence. Professor Tom Devine is a well-respected academic and was commenting on a case of a Celtic fan that was arrested and had his charge of religiously aggravated breech of the peace booted into touch.

Professor Tom Devine said the case had “significant legal implications” for how prosecutors and police responded to the behaviour of fans at Old Firm matches, and said “those who sing songs of hate against another religious group are, prima facie, committing an offence”.

Prof Devine, the Sir William Fraser professor of Scottish history and palaeography at Edinburgh University, said the sheriff in the case, where he was called as an expert witness, ruled that the IRA was a “republican military organisation” that was “not sectarian in intent”.

He added that those who showed support for the organisation were found not to be “showing ‘malice or ill-will towards members of a religious group'”, as defined under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.

Prof Devine told The Scotsman yesterday that “the sheriff had no alternative but to come to the conclusion which he did in light of the religious focus” of section 74.

However, the general secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association, John Macmillan, said he strongly disagreed with the professor’s comments, saying they were “unworthy of a man of Tom Devine’s standing”.

Mr Macmillan said: “It seems to be one-way traffic at the moment. It seems the Rangers supporters are the only ones who are talked down.

“Quite clearly some of the songs sung by Rangers supporters are unacceptable – but it seems non-Rangers people seem to be in denial about anything their fans do, and people like Tom Devine seem to support that view.

“From their point of view, Rangers fans are the only ones singing unacceptable songs – and that is not the case. It is always argued the Celtic supporters are singing ‘folk songs’ – but their songs are glorifying the IRA.

“It gets a bit tiring when Rangers supporters are singled out and Celtic supporters glorified. The whole thing is a bit of a mess.”

David McLetchie, the former MSP, said the law needed to be clarified: “The case to which Tom Devine refers proves conclusively what I have maintained all along, which is that the legislation is not focused on what most people in Scotland would call sectarian behaviour.

“The legislation needs to be re-examined.”

Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, said: “While much attention has been given to the topic of sectarianism, unfortunately an informed perspective has been lacking. If neither the fans who sing ‘sectarian’ songs nor the officials charged with policing them have an accurate understanding or definition of the term, it seems unlikely they will be able to respond, far less eradicates such behaviour.”

So it would appear that my beliefs are not alone!.

One thing that must be said at the end of this tiresome debate, if nothing else can be deemed as legally abhorrent- then it can be in football. Terms relating to religion, support for any political indulgence, terrorists/freedom fighters or in fact anything outside of football should have no place in the game. Indeed our game in Scotland would only be more attractive should it lose these pathetic inhibitions to take some form of ‘side’ in relation to a matter that should have absolutely no place in a modern European society never mind a football ground that we so often hear as ‘family friendly entertainment’. Stop bastardising something that should be about enjoyment, entertainment and get on with your lives – building towards something better than a terrible game of point scoring on the basis of your ‘religion’. After all, Catholic, Protestant whatever – it all falls under the umbrella of Christianity and if I must say so myself, the behaviour of all does not bestow that of a ‘Christian’.

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7 Comments on “Celtic – Guilty of Stupidity but NOT Sectarianism.”

  1. Raphael's Legacy Says:

    I must say I enjoyed reading this article, so nice to read some well thought through sanity on what is and has been in the most part, a ridiculously insane situation for decades.

    It will be tough tomorrow for the little blues at home to the light blues from Perthshire, but super ally is leading by example as he has done all his career, so come on you GERS lets have another 3 points when you play St Johnston at Ibrox if you don’t mind.

    Enjoy the game 🙂

  2. Michael Says:

    Hello, garryjbmacinnes,

    I enjoyed your article but disagree with you on a number of points (don’t get me started on terrorism) , one being when you debate the meaning of Fenian:

    “It seems generally accepted in many circles as an ‘offensive’ term toward Catholics and under this pre-tense I presume the term ‘sectarian’ has bestowed it”

    – I’m not sure you are right here. I think the problem is “up to our knees….” It seems to me that it is in these circumstances that it probably “becomes” sectarian. So your premise about circumstances and thus context is valid and important.

    I think it is interesting that words can become sectarian. I’ve heard some (nil by mouth? – apologies if it wasn’t them) say that “Tim” is sectarian. Personally, I don’t think so. I’ve always been a Tim, I think, and never been offended by it. Maybe in some circumstances it could become sectarian but I haven’t come across it yet.

    Another interesting new sectarian word is “hun”. I always thought Rangers supporters (not protestants) were called huns because they sided with Eintracht Frankfurt, while Celtic supported Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup final at Hampden. Why has hun become sectarian? is it only sectarian when Celtic supporters utter it? Is it not sectarian when the Sun plaster it over their pages when writing about Germany and Germans? When did it become sectarian? If it has become so, then I reckon it has happened in the last year or so (there is probably a doctoral thesis in this for someone).

    Anyway, as one, I am offended by “fat baldy bastard”, so less of the offensive writing please.


    • Garry Macinnes Says:

      Thank you fr your comments. I agree with what you say in regard to the terms ‘Hun’ and ‘Tim’. It appears completely subjective and circumstantial as to those terms being deemed to be offensive.

      In relation to tr word ‘Fenian’ I can’t remember off the top of my head what court case it was I would need to dig it out and I will do so in due course for you to read however within the case DOnald Findlay QC attempted to argue that the term Fenian was not offensive or deemed to be due to its historical meaning etc. The stance was rejected by the court and therefore in a legal context at least the word fenian on its own is now apparently either sectarian or offensive. ( the exact category is beyond me at the minute until I dig out the case details).

      Again, thanks fr the comments. Constructive comments and opinion will always be welcome.

      Garry MacInnes

    • Garry Macinnes Says:

      The case I refer to is walls v procurator fiscal,Kilmarnock [2009] HCJAC 59. I would put in a link but I am doing this from my phone sadly. If you google this I am sure the case will come up and If you are at all interested in the courts findings it is a worthwhile read.


      • Michael Says:

        Cheers Garry, this case is interesting. The main focus seems to be racism – The Famine Song. However as a secondary point there is deemed a religious element:

        “It is within judicial knowledge that the term “Fenian” is used by a certain section of the population to describe a person either of Irish ancestry or even a person of the Roman Catholic faith”

        I think context is again vital here:

        “The Appellant repeatedly shouted ‘Fenian bastards’ and ‘F*** the Pope’. These comments are offensive and derogatory to the Catholic religion. In making said comments the Appellant was evincing malice and ill will or was motivated by malice and ill will towards members of the Catholic faith”.

        He isn’t just talking about Fenians. He is aggressive – “Fenian Bastards”. That is where it becomes sectarian.

        “……….the appellant was repeatedly shouting “Fenian bastards”. The Court does not accept that the appellant was referring to members of the American brotherhood formed in the 1850s. It is within judicial knowledge that the term “Fenian” is used by a certain section of the population to describe a person either of Irish ancestry or even a person of the Roman Catholic faith, whether of Irish ancestry or not. Coupled with the derogatory term “bastard”, this is either an expression of religious prejudice or racial bigotry or both.”

        Context is everything. You have said you go to Parkhead a couple of times per season. On the occasions that you are getting humped 😉 and are sneaking out early, the “go home you huns” refrain that you hear has nothing to do with religion. It really is all about football rivalry.

        I guess what this shows is that context is everything.

  3. No i agree, of course context is absolutely everything: The word ‘Fenian’ in itself cannot be termed sectarian, the context in its use however can be.

    In relation to the term ‘Hun’ or ‘Tim’ – both of these terms are now being considered as offensive. Similarly to the word ‘fenian’ the context of their use is vital. This is where the problems arise, we are trying to tackle both issues of sectarianism and of offensive behaviour with one stone, when in reality the issues stand wide apart.

    As suggested, we are now criminalising behaviour for the sake of criminalising behaviour.

    I don’t want to get into the arse of individual words but my stance on one thing is certain: an express list of words,phrases and songs must be drafted for fans etc to adhere to otherwise we run the risk of alienating people and criminalising people whom have been taken OUT of context. EG) You may call me a hun and mean it in relation to footballing rivalry, yet find yourself in trouble as the word is ‘offensive’ whilst i am neither offended or concerned by the term. A situation like this is entirely plausable as things stand however it is borderline idiotic.

    I think we actually agree quite considerably on our viewpoints although we perhaps tackle them from different angles.


  4. Dez Says:

    Well Gaz I thought it was only right that I took the opportunity leave some insightlful and constructive criticism of this piece in a way that only a good mate can…

    You’ve got too much time on your hands and stop writing when you’re on the drink.


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