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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Say Hullo Hullo to the Provos

While the battle-strewn streets of Belfast rage over the flying, or non-flying, of a particular flag, we in Scotland are embroiled in heated debates over the singing of particular songs.

What a sensitive bunch we are.

After another night of unrest in Belfast nine police officers were injured as thirty petrol bombs, as well as fireworks and other missiles were thrown at those in the front line attempting to keep public order. At least three hundred loyalist protestors had a stand-off with police but the Northern Irish BBC News reporter today claimed it wasn’t what she’d call full scale rioting. It was just sporadic pockets of trouble.

I wonder what she would’ve made of the scenes at Dundee on Boxing Day.

Meanwhile here in Scotland, society, or to be more precise, a Scottish government craving popularity and votes, rushed into pushing through a Bill that would criminalise football fans singing certain songs.

It was an imperfect solution that pleased no-one but leading prosecutors claim it to be a success.

Note the date on the above article and then check the date on this somewhat contradictory one –

Whatever the success or not of the new law some football fans now feel they’re being targeted unfairly, especially some fans of the two best-supported clubs in the country.

Celtic’s Green Brigade and Rangers’ Union Bears both feel they’re being singled out and persecuted.

Constant filming of both groups at games, fans being dragged from seats for doing nothing more than singing songs they’ve always sung and police visiting members at home are just some of the complaints made by fans from both sides.

No-one in their right mind will argue that it’s acceptable to promote religious hate be it in song, blogs or shouting in the street. Everyone should be able to live without the fear of being targeted because of their race, religion, gender or any other facet of their life.

This is not only common sense but also common decency, and is backed up by official figures.

According to the Scottish Government’s research an overwhelming majority of Scots support stronger action being taken to tackle sectarianism and offensive behaviour.

The full results show:

·89% of Scots agree that sectarianism is offensive

·89% of Scots agree that sectarianism is unacceptable in Scottish football

·85% of Scots agree that sectarianism should be a criminal offence

·91% agree that stronger action needs to be taken to tackle sectarianism and offensive behaviour associated with football in Scotland

Those are fairly convincing figures and suggest nine out of ten Scots find sectarianism abhorrent in today’s society.
But, as we all know, statistics can be manipulated to suit any agenda.

A few of the questions I’d like answered are –
What method of primary research was employed to collate the data?

What sampling method was employed?

Who decided the demographics of the sample to be researched?
How many of those questioned actually attend football games in Scotland?

How many of those questioned have really been offended by someone singing a particular song at a football match?

According to the government the Act will only criminalise behaviour likely to lead to public disorder which expresses or incites hatred, is threatening or is otherwise offensive to a reasonable person.

This offence will cover sectarian and other offensive chanting and threatening behaviour related to football which is likely to cause public disorder.

An online dictionary defines offensive as follows -

· of·fen·sive

· adj.

· 1. Disagreeable to the senses: an offensive odor.

· 2. Causing anger, displeasure, resentment, or affront: an offensive gesture.

· 3.

· a. Making an attack: The offensive troops gained ground quickly.

· b. Of, relating to, or designed for attack: offensive weapons.

· 4. (fn-) Sports Of or relating to a team having possession of a ball or puck: the offensive line.

· n.

· 1. An attitude or position of attack: go on the offensive in chess.

· 2. An attack or assault: led a massive military offensive.

I think the government must be relating to definition number two with their Offensive Behaviour Act.

So, any fans singing or chanting in a manner that causes anger, displeasure, resentment or affront are liable to be charged under this new Act.

What about Hearts fans reminding Hibs fans of the 5-1 Scottish Cup Final victory?

Surely there is not a Hibs fan for which such chants don’t cause anger, displeasure, resentment or affront.

Or what of the Queens Park fans who teased Dumbarton fans for living in council houses?

Of course, there are the caveats of the singing likely to cause public disorder or be offensive to a reasonable person.

Two questions spring to mind:

1. When was the last time in Scotland that public disorder arose at a football game because of songs being sung?

2. How do you define a reasonable person?

I’m sure most people consider themselves reasonable persons, although others who support opposing teams might define these self-proclaimed reasonable persons as idiots, bigots, etc. and likewise these self-proclaimed reasonable persons might call others idiots, bigots, etc.

Welcome to the world of the football supporter.

It is mainly like the rest of the world but with more whataboutery.

Phrases such as ‘they’re different from us, you can’t reason with them, they’re all the same, I hate every one of them’ are bandied about by rival fans around the country, especially when relating to their local rivals.

Even Inverness and Ross County fans engage in such ‘banter’ yet to everyone else they are both teuchters.

Of course, one would like to believe the reasonable persons in each group would surely outnumber the narrow-minded opinions of those who truly believe everyone supporting a rival team is exactly as their worst fears describe.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Following a football team can be emotive and highly passionate, leading fans to fall into the trap of groupthink, seeking information that confirms their beliefs and dismissing alternative messages as nothing more than propaganda.

I’ve stated before but it’s worth saying again. Anyone who closes their mind to other opinions and reads only about their team, or political ideology, or religion is not only selling themself short but is also open to being brainwashed by those with an agenda.

It might be painful sometimes but it’s essential and enlightening to read opposing views.

With that in mind, it’s been heartening over the last few days to see the topic of offensive singing being discussed among themselves by Celtic fans, Rangers fans and Hearts fans.

None of these clubs is full of knuckle-dragging bigots like some would have us believe.

I’m not saying there aren’t any such fans among each club.

I’m not going to highlight the different sizes of the different groups in each club, but I will say it’s not anywhere near the one out of ten alluded to in the Scottish Government’s research.

And considering these are the three best-supported sides in the country it’s fair to say they represent a sizeable segment of football fans.

The fact this topic is being openly discussed within each group should be applauded.

It would be even better if once each club’s fans reach agreement among themselves they get together with the others and forward a proposal to the respective clubs, government and football authorities.

But that is a long way off.

At the moment some fans feel they’re being dictated to and treated like naughty children, not only by the clubs, government and authorities, but also from fellow fans seeking to position themselves on some form of higher moral ground.

Is there anyone out there who likes being dictated to?

I don’t believe there is.

But that’s not to say I agree with everything those are in that position of feeling dictated to at the moment say.

Here’s a brief ‘back in the day’ story for a bit of background:

I grew up in The Jungle. In fact, I’ve not been to many games since it was demolished to make way for the shiny new stadium Celtic has today. I sung all the songs of the time and didn’t give two hoots if anyone was offended. I’d think nothing of walking down Buchanan Street on a Saturday afternoon with scarves tied to wrists and Irish Tricolour draped over my shoulders while bursting into a rendition of, ‘Say hullo to the Provos.’

Looking back, I’m not embarrassed about singing pro-republican songs. It was a different era.

Would I do likewise today?

No, definitely not. Not in a football ground or walking down any street.

Not only have I changed, but the political and cultural landscape has changed both here in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Have a quick read of these two links -

Obviously, as we see from the on-going disturbances over the flying of a flag, Northern Ireland still has some way to go before it is viewed, in political terms at least, as a normal country with normal problems.

The rise of the Alliance Party in recent years, however, must be viewed as progressive as it attempts to take religion out of politics.

If the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want rid of sectarian bombs and guns, who has the right to tell them otherwise?

Certainly not me.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, we’re still trying to take religion out of football.

Of course, it’s not the clubs who are sectarian; it’s only a portion of the fans.

Both Hearts and Rangers recently sung The Billy Boys and, judging by the volume, it was more than one out of ten fans that joined in the singing.

Let me be clear, I’ve never been offended by that song, or any other song for that matter. They’ve been singing it for so long I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re now up to their necks in Fenian blood.

I have friends who have been season ticket holders at Ibrox since the first Jock Wallace era. One of them took great delight in telling me he bought two season tickets this season because they were so cheap. I even jokingly asked him if he’d take me to a game, to which he replied yes.

I laughed, and he laughed.

I’ve known him all my life and never once has he tried to be up to his knees in my blood, although he did kick me on the shin one day while having a kick about.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned anyone can sing what they want. I’m all for free speech, or free singing in this case.

However, even though I sang so-called offensive songs myself, and I don’t get offended by others singing different so-called offensive songs, I believe that if the clubs are now being punished for the fans doing so then the fans singing those songs in question should ask themselves why they still do it.

It is up to those singing songs deemed offensive or sectarian to justify their continued defiance to other fans of their club.

Other fans may offer reasons why they shouldn’t sing particular songs but, in my opinion, under no condition should any fan be telling any other fan what they can or can’t sing.

How does that song go again...Let The People Sing.

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