Scottish FA stands by its coach

CRAIG BROWN, the Scotland football coach, is to keep his job despite claims by a Sunday newspaper that it has a tape of him singing anti-Catholic songs.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) gave Mr Brown its full backing yesterday after a 40-minute meeting in which the Scotland coach explained the circumstances surrounding the allegations.

After the meeting, Jack McGinn, the SFA president, said there had been a "full and frank" discussion. He said: "There is absolutely nothing to make us think that Craig has ever, in any way, acted in the bigoted manner of which he is accused. And I think that any reasonable person would come to the same conclusion."

Mr Brown, 59, was accused at the weekend of singing the loyalist anthem, "The Billy Boys", which includes the line, "We're up to our knees in Fenian blood". His former girlfriend, Lynda Slaven, 48, claims to have a copy of him singing it during a mobile-phone call recorded on her answering machine. Ms Slaven is reported to have sold her story to the News of the World for pounds 50,000 after she discovered that Mr Brown was involved with another woman.

Mr Brown has not denied singing the song but he insists that he is not anti-Catholic and that the allegations of religious bigotry are "completely untrue". He left the SFA meeting, saying he could make no further comment for legal reasons.

His lawyers yesterday repeated their demand for a retraction from the News of the World and the payment of "substantial" damages. Otherwise, they said, a writ would be issued. The newspaper said it stood by its report and would "vigorously" defend itself in any legal action.

This latest storm about allegations of sectarianism in Scottish football follows the resignation in May of one of Scotland's senior barristers, Donald Findlay, as vice- chairman of Rangers Football Club. Mr Findlay had been video-taped singing "The Billy Boys" during a celebratory dinner at the Rangers club.

The publicity also came at a bad time because this is the week that many of Scotland's Protestants, as in Northern Ireland, marched on 12 July to celebrate William of Orange's victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

However, the pressure on Mr Brown to resign is not as strong as Mr Findlay faced. The allegations of sectarianism are considered out of character for a manager who is known to poke fun at both the Catholic/ Celtic and the Protestant/ Rangers sides of Scotland's religious and ethnic divide.

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