Fighting like rats and frogs

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THE SCHOOLS were opposite each other, barely 100 yards apart on either side of the road. Next to St Brendan's, the Catholic primary, was the chapel. Next to Muirhouse, the protestant school, was the church. The schools were absolutely identical, built at the same time, floor by floor, side by side.

Only one physical detail marked the two apart. Muirhouse had rows of blue scalloped slates making stripes below each classroom window, while St Brendan's had brown ones. Not quite orange and green, the colours of sectarian hate in the Glasgow area, but close enough. While blue is the colour of Rangers, I always associate brown as well as green with Celtic. On the west coast of Scotland, pretty much all colours have been divided among the Catholics and the Protestants. What do you get when you mix Ulster red and Rangers blue? Papish purple, that's what. Not that anyone did any mixing back then.

My mother had to explain why it was that Lynn, my friend from downstairs, had to go to the brown school while I went to the blue one. Not that she really knew herself. As a young woman who had just moved with her Scottish husband from rural Essex, she didn't understand what segregated state schools in industrial Lanarkshire were really about, any more than she understood why it was that in this part of the world a "fish supper" was something you ate at lunch time.

But by the time she took me to buy my school uniform, I'd got the hang of it anyway. When the woman at the outfitters asked me which school I was going to, I declared my perceived superiority proudly: "I'm going to the Protestant school." My mother looked embarrassed as she explained that I was to attend Muirhouse Primary. So how, aged four, had I worked out which side of the battle lines I was on? I'd been taught by the other local children which of two sectarian nursery rhymes was the one that I should chant. It went like this:

Cathy cats,

Eat the rats,

Two for tuppence ha'penny,

The polis came,

Took their name,

And gave them back a ha'penny.

And the rejoinder, from the inferior children on the other side of the religious divide?

Proddy dogs,

Eat the frogs,

Two for tuppence ha'penny,

The polis came,

Took their name,

And gave them back a ha'penny.

Ah, the nonsense that divides us. After only a few weeks at school I'd heard my third sectarian song, from the older boys who supported not our local football team, Motherwell, but one of the big Glasgow teams, Rangers.


All the way,

Fuck the Pope,

And the IRA,

Singing na-na, na-na-na, na-na.

This, at not yet five, I didn't understand. But I did already know that it was a nasty song, a song I didn't want to sing. Donald Findlay, a Scottish QC who earns up to pounds 1,500 a day, a grown man who until yesterday was vice-chairman of Rangers Football Club, still sings songs like this one. Caught on a secretly filmed amateur video belting out old standards of religious bigotry and sectarian violence at a party celebrating his team's win after Saturday's old firm cup final, he has been forced to resign.

What kind of consolation can this be to Margaret McFadden, whose 16-year- old son Thomas was stabbed to death 40 minutes after the match was over, a Cathy cat wearing his Celtic colours 200 yards away from his home?

Two men have been arrested for McFadden's murder, and Findlay, who refuses to celebrate his birthday because he was born on St Patrick's Day, has defended football's sectarian killers before. In 1996 he represented Jason Campbell, who received a life sentence after slashing the throat of a young Celtic fan; last year he acted for Thomas Longstaff, who was jailed for 10 years for attacking a Celtic supporter. Since these are the kind of actions he condones in the songs he just can't stop singing, it makes sense to surmise that he feels comfortable defending those who take the sectarian attitudes that dog Scottish football to their logical conclusion.

But it's chilling to learn that the knee-jerk hatreds of crude bigots are still played out not just in the streets around the stadiums, but in the highest courts of Scotland. For in general the strict social apartheid of 30 years ago has broken down a great deal.

When I was young, there were not just segregated schools but segregated pubs, clubs, places of employment, living-areas and even preferred places for children's play. As a child I was told that you could tell Catholics apart from Protestants not just by their school uniforms or football colours, but by their physical appearance and social standing.

Catholics were short because they had stubby legs. Their bottoms stuck out like mantelpieces. While not all of them had brown eyes, they usually had thin little mouths and they were "hard-faced". They drank and brawled and they lived in a slatternly way, with too many children that they couldn't feed because they were lazy. They lived like this because their ghastly religious creed taught them they could get away with anything; all they had to do was tell a priest about it, then mumble some words over some beads, and they'd be forgiven.

Needless to say, young people were warned against the folly of "mixed marriage" between two cultures so very different, while Celtic and Rangers were unquestioningly encouraged to represent the ancient hatreds of Ireland on the football fields of Glasgow.

Today many of those breathtakingly ignorant and cruel mantras have fallen away, partly because of Scotland's more generally cosmopolitan outlook, partly owing to the simple leveller of Thatcherist recession, which meant that it was no longer just the Catholics, always discriminated against, who couldn't get work easily and therefore didn't have money. Many people in Scotland are now strident in their desire to see off the sectarianism among football fans, in just the same way that they have rejected the traditional arguments that fostered the social apartheid everyone adhered to so recently.

Both clubs have discontinued their policies of signing only players of their own religious affiliation, and while the Celtic campaign to discourage sectarianism, Bhoys Against Bigotry, is higher-profile, the Rangers chairman, David Murray, insists that the commitment of his club is just as strong.

Prior to this latest embarrassment, he had always insisted that sectarianism remained only among the most ignorant and deprived of Rangers fans. But the Findlay affair has made a mockery of his claims.

Meanwhile Old Firm matches still look like international games, with Celtic fans waving the Irish flag and Rangers supporters unfurling the Union Jack. Like the armed terrorists on the island their divisions ape, they refuse to lay down their symbolic weapons. These people, from Donald Findlay QC to the killers of young Thomas McFadden, are Glasgow's men of violence, caught up in their petty destructiveness because it offers them the identity they are unable to build for themselves. Neither their religious nor their sporting affiliations mean much to them except as an outlet for their unreasoning desire to do harm and draw blood.

And how can their children learn otherwise, as Scotland continues to build identical schools side by side, and playmates part at the school gates? On his second day at primary school Donald Findlay refused to take part in a reconstruction of an Old Firm match, because he'd been picked for "Celtic". This is where it all begins: Lessons in hate, and an education in violence.