Following Mark Burchill's bizarre comments last night on Radio Clyde suggesting a player's nationality may determine how well they should be treated on and off the football field in Scotland, it was interesting to note a tweet on social media this morning from former Guardian golf correspondent (and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions band member) Lawrence Donegan labelling Rangers and their fans as 'h*ns'. On Wikipedia**, via a Celtic podcast, it says Donegan also used to work for Celtic director (and former MP) Brian Wilson as well as forming another music band with an erstwhile press officer of Tony Blair. He's also written four non-fiction books - suffice to say we're dealing with an educated sports fan, well versed in the nuances of Scottish football and politics.
Since the journalist left the Guardian, he started a fairly interesting project called ByTheMinute Sport which many folk will have come across on social media. They also have football accounts including the struggling @ByTheMinRangers and it's Celtic equivalent (which Lawrence himself takes control of on occasion). He says in an interview with popular golf website, Golfshake***, it amuses him that other mainstream websites have a certain style while his 'can say exactly what we’re really thinking' - though goes onto suggest his contributors have to stick to a set of guidelines. Guidelines which apparently are very flexible if the site owner can use poisonous terms like 'h*n' and when challenged for it, (initially at least) ignore the concerns of his own followers.
Obviously the meaning of the word 'h*n' is something that comes up regularly online. Since literally identical terms like 'f*nian' were outlawed in Scotland via targeted media campaigns and new laws brought in to address such nonsense three years ago, the taking of offence - real or otherwise - has spiralled in this country. There is always a context to every argument and, just as every Rangers fan that used the 'f*nian' word, wasn't a bigot; any fan that uses 'h*n' isn't necessarily one either. Sectarianism is a hugely complex subject, however those that do use such unnecessary terms must be well aware of the risk they're taking in doing so. After all, if Scottish Government reports on attitudes to sectarianism suggest less than 1 in 10 people find both words unacceptable then it's a bizarre approach for any media platform - far less one struggling to establish itself - to take to win new subscribers. This website neither permits or uses either.
It's only fair to point out that Donegan replied to me on Twitter today saying 'he doesn't think 'f*nian' is offensive either' and that 'intelligent people need to take a stand against this culture of the permanently offended'. An interesting argument but clearly his opinion has altered substantially since he authored a Guardian article in April 2006 where he felt UEFA were 'defending the indefensible' regarding the Billy Boys chant****.
Such hypocrisy from media commentators is nothing new and merely lends weight to the long held view that Celtic fans only defend the use of 'h*n' because if they said otherwise, it would only show the age-old arguments from Spiers, Donegan et al that 'sectarianism found at Ibrox is worse than anything you will find at Parkhead, or indeed at most football grounds in Europe' is the fallacy Rangers supporters always claim. Given the use of 'h*n' is as widespread (and as unacceptable) as it ever has been, confirming 'h*n' is sectarian merely shows up a huge amount of people as bigots. Again, when challenged on this, Donegan suggested 'people change'. I'll let the reader decide just how honest he's being with us all here and I have offered him right of reply to this article.
In a fortnight of sterling work by Show Racism the Red Card*****, it's disappointing just how many of our peers want to try and get away with a yellow. Neither person may be a bigot but Mark Burchill and Lawrence Donegan could certainly do with a lesson in how those who look to them may find their words as some sort of approval to act in a way that shames us all. Of course freedom of speech is an ideal we should all defend but as someone who tries hard to run a modern, inclusive website, the use of archaic and offensive terms isn't a business model I'd be advocating any time soon.
* - Terms censored due to terms and conditions of news aggregating sites
** - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Donegan
*** - http://www.golfshake.com/news/view/8479/Interview_Lawrence_Donegan_founder_of_ByTheMinute_Sport.html
**** - http://www.theguardian.com/football/2006/apr/20/rangers
***** - http://www.theredcard.org/
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