Football: `Changes' in Old Firm bigotry

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The Independent Online
SIR ALEX FERGUSON'S autobiography has provoked reactions in many quarters - including academic circles.

The type of Old Firm bigotry which drove out Ferguson of Rangers has been consigned to the history books, according to a professor of sociology.

In his autobiography, Managing My Life, published this week, Ferguson reveals how he was asked where he had got married to his wife, Cathy, a Catholic.

"What I sensed coming from Willie Allison, who was in charge of Rangers' PR and who had an alarming influence on the club's elderly chairman John Lawrence, was nothing less than poisonous hostility," he writes. "Allison was a religious bigot of the deepest eye."

Dr Bert Moorhouse of Glasgow University conducted a comprehensive study of sectarianism in Scottish football and believes that the religious divide which splits football in Glasgow is now the whole reason for the rivalry rather than a vehicle supporters attach themselves to.

Moorhouse has carried out major studies in supporter behaviour patterns, dating back to the early 1980s when hooliganism was most prevalent. And, while Ferguson was referring to the anti-Catholic culture prevalent at Ibrox over three decades ago, Moorhouse is adamant times have changed.

"The traditions of the Old Firm used to represent something, now it just represents itself," he said. "What you see is what you get, it is the iceberg now rather than being the tip of it. Supporters sing sectarian songs because they are associated with each particular club but once they have left the ground people go home to their `mixed' marriages and work with colleagues of a different religion.

"Away from Ibrox and Parkhead, most fans couldn't care less what religion you are - and if Rangers won the European Cup with 11 Catholics, the fans would be lining the streets to fete them."

The debate about bigotry within the Old Firm clubs and Scottish football in general has been intensified by a series of high-profile incidents in recent months.

In May, riots broke out around Celtic's Parkhead Stadium as Rangers secured the Premier League title with a 3-0 victory. At the end of the same month, Rangers vice-chairman, Donald Findlay, was forced to resign from his post after he was caught on camera singing anti-Catholic songs following the Ibrox side's Cup final victory over Celtic at Hampden Park.

Ironically, Rangers now have more Catholic players in their side than Celtic, and last season's transfer of Neil McCann from Hearts barely raised an eyebrow. Moorhouse contrasts this with the reaction that Maurice Johnston received when the former Celtic played moved to Ibrox from Nantes a decade ago.

"People were up in arms, saying they were going to burn their season tickets and would never go to the ground again," he said. "But if you examine the attendances I reckon around 50,000 fans turned up to Rangers' next game."

Elsewhere in his book, Ferguson criticises Glenn Hoddle's handling of David Beckham and claimed the former England manager did not have enough experience for "such a massive job."

Ferguson reveals his worries over Hoddle's treatment of Beckham, who was sent off playing for England against Argentina in the last year's World Cup game against Argentina.

"My articles on the World Cup stirred a fair amount of controversy, especially when I criticised Glenn Hoddle for his heavy-handed treatment of Beckham," said Ferguson. "I could find no justification for Hoddle's insistence that David had to appear at a press conference while he was still reeling from the shock of being dropped for England's opening match with Tunisia.

"It struck me as an example of bad human relations and I have no regrets about having my say on the matter."

Ferguson pays tribute to Beckham for the mature way in which he got over the vilification which followed his red card. Admitting that Beckham's kick on Diego Simeone was "foolish and blatant", Ferguson says the criticism the player received was "totally insane."

"He may look as if butter wouldn't melt in the mouth, but underneath the boyish appearances and all the trappings of trendiness there is a steely determination that has to be admired.

"Nobody should ever underestimate David Beckham. At times I have disagreed with decisions he has taken off the field, but he has a stubbornness that can't be broken and he will make up his own mind whatever Alex Ferguson may think."

A record crowd of almost 10,000 will watch Manchester United in the charity match with Irish League side Omagh Town at St Julian's Road tonight. It is the second of three fixtures being staged in aid of the Omagh Disaster Memorial Fund.