The Last Word: I'm just another 'southerner' who can't 'get' this hatred. Can anyone?
Muting a few chants will no doubt stop a warped individual making bombs
As of yesterday there was no certainty that the bomb sent to the Celtic manager Neil Lennon had anything to do with sectarianism, just as there was no certainty that the youth players sacked from assorted Scottish clubs for their sick comments concerning the foiling of the plot were inspired by sectarianism.
But then, read the reports, check your belief-structure and there is an unarguable link. Because this is "The Old Firm" – the footballing by-phrase for sectarianism.
Today, Ibrox will witness the latest expression of hatred masquerading as a match. Nothing new there; nothing unique, even, to this clash that will always be glorified as "sport's most intense rivalry". Most derbies routinely leave good nature in the car park and fill the atmosphere inside that citadel of the numbskull with moronic venom.
By and large, the taunts are stereotypical and shallow. Carrot-crunchers, sheep-shaggers, job-seekers... they don't mean much. But in the desire to outrage and thus to impress, the worst fans leap on any aspect of their opponents they can to sharpen their insults. Plane crashes, disasters, personal tragedies... how low can they go? As ever, the answer will be given in west Scotland this afternoon.
Except Rangers versus Celtic is different. Way, way different. Whenever a columnist from "down south" dares to look at the Old Firm we are invariably informed by someone, somewhere – or, as is usually the case, many people, up there – to return to our cosy little box. "You don't understand," they say.
They're right. We don't. That's because we attempt to apply the same logic as we do to, say, Manchester United versus Manchester City. Two sets of fans living happily together side by side in the same city, but who for an occasional afternoon suddenly develop intense revulsion, which, among the yobs, inevitably has the habit of boiling over into something far more ugly. Isn't that the same as the Old Firm?
Many of us down here believe exactly that and take the whole Protestant-Catholic, Northern Irelanduproar to be an excuse for the animosity. We've been to Glasgow and did not see any sectarianism. So we hear a Rangers spokesman refer to the "90-minute bigot" and nod. There's the evidence. We didn't pause to analyse his next point that "if we can stop the person that doesn't mean it, then we'll isolate the real racists and real bigots in numbers that are manageable to deal with". And even if we did, so what?
We have real racists and bigots in England and Wales, too. The question then should be are the racist and bigoted lines drawn in the English Leagues anywhere as clearly as Glasgow, against the perceived section of the community who supports this or that club? The best we can do is Tottenham, which isn't bad seeing as this last few weeks the club has been in the news as the anti-racist groups begin their campaign to stop anti-Jewish abuse. Yet even then there is prevalent scepticism that if the Spurs fans are happy to refer to themselves as "yids" then where is the problem? Tell me, what is it we don't get?
The answer is plenty if we continue to trot out the old "they're both as bad as each other" line. Granted, Rangers sing about being "up to our necks in Fenian blood" and "the famine is over/why don't you go home?" But don't Celtic sing their Irish freedom songs, too? Chant about the IRA and the like?
Our lazy notion is not quite a case of "two wrongs making a right" but rather of "two wrongs making the fight". This allows us to think of it as a game of tit-for-tat, without bothering to find which club is more culpable, without bothering to consider whether that should be relevant in prompting effective action anyway.
Yes, we hear about the "dangers of equivalence" and don't know, or don't care, what that means. We just become further desensitised to the vitriol and violence, just as that equivalence actually encourages further vitriol and violence. And then we reach the point where a football manager is sent a letter bomb.
"This has nothing to do with football," we scream, sounding almost as "appalled" as David Cameron. "This has gone too far. Sectarianism has no place in the beautiful game. It has to be eradicated. NOW!" We don't know how. By issuing an overdue banning edict for all those caught singing stuff like 'The Billy Boys' maybe? Sure that will work. The muting of a few chants will undoubtedly stop a warped individual constructing his bombs.
Yet we also must wonder if it would make the captain of the under-17 team of another professional club in Scotland think twice before tweeting: "wish that parcel bomb f***** killed neil lennon, the little c***."
Perhaps that lad – and the others who have likely paid for their obscenities with their futures – simply does not like Lennon as a person. That's the very best for which Glasgow can hope. Of course the reality screams something else entirely. It's all about association, it's all intertwined. Religion, politics, social divide and, yes, even football, all thrown into the melting pot. Now there are a few explosives in there, too. No, we don't understand. Can anyone?
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