Sticks, stones and fan-zones

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When the Ibrox fan-zone scandal first leaked out it is fair to say that most Rangers fans knew something wasn’t quite right. The recent revelations via good work by Club1872 in the form of freedom of information requests proved our suspicions to be well-founded.

To the outside observer it certainly looks like there was active discrimination along some tribal fault lines – an apt word for this would be sectarianism.

Everyone has their own hierarchy that they apply to incidents and the council fan-zone scandal got me thinking on this. This story contains many aspects, each of which will be weighted and judged depending on what you consider to be important or not. Sectarianism in Scotland is usually front page news but some key components of this incident manage to slip under the radar in much of the reporting.

In my hierarchy, at the top of the tree would be any violent or physical act against another person. The coin thrower at Livingston is a recent example of this. Nothing could justify that kind of action in that setting and he was universally condemned. An example will probably be made of the guy and the only positive is that others will learn from his mistake.

More topical of Scottish football would be use of sectarian or deliberately offensive language. There is obviously a lot of context and opinion attached to this which affects how offensive or unacceptable it may be considered – stick and stones etc. But there also exists a category that sits between the two and seldom gets discussed, namely actions which are driven by a sectarian or tribal engine.

Personally I have a bug bear about the coverage given to the language of football fans over the sometimes blunt or bold actions of politicians or journalists. Football fans will naturally be for their side and against their rivals but what is a concern is when that is allowed to encroach into professional roles, especially positions calling for neutrality or those far removed from football.

That takes us back to Glasgow City Council's conduct (or, at least, individuals that are part of said group):

  • The original crime - this appears to be driven from an intent to hinder Rangers FC, possibly a personal grudge or prejudice on behalf of the individuals involved (politicians and council members) or possibly part of a larger movement within the council and political party, in those locations at least.
  • There would appear to be more than a bit of collusion behind the scenes. Plenty of it made the released minutes and emails so you can only imagine what else was discussed face to face or over the phone.
  • There were various instances of deception to cover up the crimes once they were uncovered.
  • There was the desperate playing of the sectarianism card by Susan Aitken in an attempt to deflect attention from the whole sordid affair. A tactic she was probably advised on and worryingly felt might actually be successful. Of course, in this case it didn’t help that she was lashing out at a fairly diverse mix of opponents with her volley for which she was rightly ridiculed.
  • David MacDonald also tried to play a cultural defence in an attempt to prise himself from any wrongdoing, as if a background on its own would be enough of a defence.

To sum up, if Scotland has a problem with sectarianism and if it is the societal scourge we are told it is, why doesn’t Susan Aitken’s flippant and disingenuous use of the subject merit more censure? In effect she has hijacked what is considered a serious subject and misused it for self-preservation.

The world moves on and society isn’t as clearly divided as it once was in Scotland. Communities and cultures merge and identities get acquired or dropped along the way. People in the West of Scotland can wear different hats and it is no longer simply protestant/catholic or Scottish/Irish. Politics seem to be the fashionable identity and it has stepped up and dragged the others along in its slipstream. We can speculate about which component drove Aitken, MacDonald and Dornan but what is without doubt is that they chose Rangers as the target. Given the now public knowledge of interference and the known council stance on other similar issues (including using that land as a fan-zone during the Commonwealth Games and the off-market, low cost sale of public land to Celtic - for a fan-zone) then it is clear double standards are being applied.

By way of comparison, a few weeks ago radio presenter Jim Delahunt tweeted on the back of a rather naive comment from Labour's Andy Kerr about someone crossing themselves in his audience (quite how he managed to think the comment would be well received seems to be a gross misjudgement). Delahunt said:

“Amazing lack of condemnation from "high" places re. Kerr sign of the cross comment at Labour conference. Apology? That's fine then? My mum's dad turned up every morning at Ardrossan shipyard and was only allowed a shift if Protestants couldn't fill the jobs. Nothing has changed.”

Delahunt associated the faux pas to his family’s experiences, which is fair enough if slightly hyperbolic (added to that the situation would have arose well over half a century ago). The inference is his grandad was affected by religious discrimination. It is a not uncommon situation where a group of guys who know each other, work together and keep work for themselves. There is undoubtedly a tribal aspect to that but we can only speculate what combination of religion, accent, familiarity or experience was the driver for the incident. Delahunt certainly considers it be religion. Regardless, given the characters and the context of West of Scotland it will get classed as sectarian i.e. an action in a professional capacity where one party is discriminated against. Fair enough.

Thus, if we are accepting this occurred and saying it was unacceptable then it must be so today also. Perhaps elements within the SNP or Glasgow City Council or the BBC have reached a point where a majority tribal mind-set now rules and that then floats away in a confident, insulated bubble whilst leaving professional responsibility on the ground below. Is the fan-zone scandal just part of a trend which reveals that some are comfortable enough in their surroundings to make mileage at Rangers FC expense and, equally importantly in this case, at public expense?

Of course, it will be said that this is just about football allegiances therefore it is not sectarian. A healthy rivalry permits a degree of animosity or dislike and any football fan will want to help and support their side; however, that is only good and well within the football context. If you’re a high level elected public servant or an editor at BBC Scotland and you are filling your day trying to hamstring your rival football club then you really need to have a word with yourself. And your bosses really should be too. Whether it be footballing, political, religious or cultural allegiances then once it is in the realm of the real world then it is all really the same stuff and it boils down to tribal discrimination.

I understand that Nil by Mouth haven’t been ask to comment on this and as the Scottish press usually love a soundbite to underline any scandal - what does this tell us? Are the press happy with the driver behind these actions or would they rather not discuss it? The council and SNP have also been in receipt of the full facts for a few months now and have not acted. Even ignoring the sectarian angle there is enough illicit behaviour going on to act. Again, how should the public read this inaction? Are we to assume that it has been accepted and condoned? Or maybe it is all ok when it is against Rangers, regardless of the prejudice behind it.

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