The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 48

September 11, 2010

This is from TAG 46 – January 1996 – written in response to a Channel 4 ‘shock horor expose’ of Scottish sectarianism.


Among the quotes popularly attributed to the founder of Christianity are,

“Love they neighbour”


“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you “.

Among the quotes regularly attributed to some self-professed followers of Christ, predominantly based in the west of Scotland, are

“Fenian bastards” and

“Orange bastards”.

The Channel 4 programme, ‘Football, Faith and Flutes’ was the latest in a long line of shock/horror exposes drawing attention to the apparent gulf between the theory as expounded by the Messiah and the practice as adopted by his Scottish adherents. Football normally features in such a programme because of the simplicity with which fans of Rangers and Celtic can be induced to indulge in overtly sectarian behaviour, and what’s worse, to continue that behaviour outside the context of football.

This programme followed its predecessors in showing familiar scenes of mutual abuse between members of the two warring religious sects masquerading as football supporters – or was it the other way round? No football supporter would have found anything novel or surprising in this programme.

Anyone contemplating making a television programme about the subject of football/religious rivalries in Scotland has to beware of the familiar pitfall of pointing a camera at a crowd of bevvied-up youths, because it is well-known that the presence of a camera has the effect of reversing millions of years of evolution in an instant. Before you know where you are you’ve got a squadron of green or blue clad orang-utans swinging from lamp-posts, gibbering mindlessly, and attempting to outdo each other in crude exhibitionism.

Far from avoiding this pitfall, the programme jumped right in with frequent invitations to the lads to get their monkey suits on. OK, I suppose we just have to accept this, because the revulsion inspired by seeing mobs of cretins changing their IRA / UDA filth is what sells a programme like this to the audience. No-one is interested in an academic debate about ecumenism. What the viewers really want is to see scum behaving like scum, and the more offensive and repulsive, the better.

I Got Those Old Ecumenical Blues

The programme introduced us to Sam and Paddy. Sam was a different type of Proddy from me. Sam was a Protestant, a Unionist, a Loyalist, a True Blue.

Sam was a basket-case.

He was pictured in his house dressed in his Rangers jersey, Union Flag on the wall behind him, Orange insignia and portrait of the Queen to the fore, Red Hands prominently displayed, Rangers tea-towels hanging up to dry and a large vacant space positioned between his ears.

Sam has got the letters UVF tattooed inside his bottom lip. Need I say more? Well, yes,

Because Sam had a few interesting things to say.

Like, “as soon as you see a Republic of Ireland jersey something inside just snaps” (the tiny remainder of his brain perhaps).

Then Sam turned philosopher, to explain the theological differences between the two main versions of Christianity,

“The Pope is a dictator. He doesn’t have a clue what’s happening in Garthamlock. A young lassie might get raped and the priest says she cannae have a abortion. It’s all wrong”.

Yes indeed. You can’t argue with that. Sam did not however divulge how many young Catholic lassies from Garthamlock are being regularly impregnated by acts of rape and are being denied abortions.

Paddy, the Catholic Celtic supporter, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish. He spoke in a much more considered and less aggressive way about his commitment to his faith and his team. Like Sam, he was surrounded by the totems of his culture. He had pictures of the last supper and the Pope on his wall, and the ring on his hand was engraved with a Crucifix, where Sam’s ring had featured a Red hand of Ulster. Paddy spoke of it being an accident of birth whether you were born Catholic or Protestant and thereby tacitly acknowledged that neither side had a copyright on truth or righteousness. He demonstrated real insight in recognising that outsiders would find the religious rivalry as being childish, and could practically have been writing for TAG when he suggested that the Old Firm clubs fostered the divide for crude commercial purposes.

Frankly, Paddy was too good to be wholesome. I found that the programme was hopelessly lop-sided in focusing on a Rangers supporter who was an out-and-out mindless bigot and a Celtic supporter who could practically have been a student of moral philosophy. I don’t think it would have been too difficult a task for the programme-makers to have been even-handed in selecting a rabid loony from each side. God knows, there’s plenty of hate-filled ‘men behind the wire’ to choose from, who would have been happy enough to describe the glee they felt while the Provos were slaughtering Prods.

The same bias in the making of the programme was apparent throughout. In the section dealing with ‘Faith’, film of a decent Catholic family attending a quiet civilised mass at Carfin Grotto was intercut with scenes of noisy and rowdy triumphalism at the gathering of Orangemen marching on the twelfth of July. (By the way, am I the only person who thought that the priest celebrating the mass bore a distinct resemblance to Kevin Kelly with a subbuteo pitch draped over his shoulders?).

The contrast between the restrained devotional hymn-singing at Carfin and the strident banging of the bass drum on the Orange walk was deliberately striking. I don’t know what the hidden agenda of the programme was, but the overall impression was that the Protestants were a pretty nasty bunch, with no redeeming features, while the Catholics were, on the whole, quite a reasonable group struggling to maintain decency in the face of barbarian opponents.

The truth, as any fule kno’, is entirely different.

And It’s On the Twelfth…………. of Never

Which is not to say that most of the Prods on the programme came across as anything other than the Scottish equivalent of ignorant rednecks. A constant refrain from them was that their religion made them ‘free’, This delusion was neatly summed up by a Rangers supporter clutching his pint of heavy and solemnly declaring that, “It’s about freedom of thought”, when it was painfully obvious that no meaningful thought of any description had ever troubled his frontal lobes.

Time and time again supposed Christians were heard expressing sentiments which were so far removed from ‘love thy neighbour’ as to be just laughable. Sam wished for the Parkhead stand to collapse on top of Celtic supporters. Others vied with each other to explain how much they hated Catholics. (“The Pope is Satan. Hing him “). The Proddy wives on a bus amused themselves by singing a song with a lyric “Last might my man was making a bomb, Woke up this morning and the chapel was gone” and so on.

Your Erse

Meanwhile, the mask of decency on the Catholic side slipped a bit when we got glimpses inside Celtic pubs where wee gumsy men in Eire shirts raised a glass (of Lanliq) to the Republic and denounced Orange bastards of all descriptions. One classic pub scene showed a half-cut Bhoy coming over all liberal in front of the camera, saying “We’re all one. It doesnae matter what religion you are “. The effect was slightly tarnished by voices off from his mates saying, “Don’t gee us your shit, we hate the bastards”.

Paddy complained that many of the people who call themselves Protestants don’t go to church, and are in fact atheists. The same sentiment was more pithily expressed by one of the drunks in the corner who, overflowing with Christian charity, said, “Half of them have never been to a church in their lives Protestant bastards .
On the evidence of this programme the regulars in Celtic pubs seem to spend rather less of their time on scriptural studies and rather more on celebrating the murderous activities of the IRA. While these people might conceivably have some sort of political justification to applaud the butchery and carnage, it is the most patent shite for them to claim any sort of Christian basis for their beliefs.

‘Love thy neighbour’, ‘Turn the other cheek’, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, ‘Do unto others etc’ . Just how do any of the utterances of Christ square with ramming an Armalite into someone’s mouth and blowing the back of their head into the next street? I am no bible scholar but I believe that you can search the New Testament in vain for any reference to establishing the Kingdom of God via a truck-load of Semtex.

Mass Hysteria

The truth is that the divisions between these people are not based on religion at all, at least not on any important theological differences between the two sects. Anyone who engages in so-called religious sectarianism is either a gross hypocrite, or is merely using the appearance of religion to disguise congenital nastiness. We could consider them as figures of fun, crazed buffoons mincing about in their peculiar and ridiculous fancy-dress, were it not for the fact that their barbarian ideologies are so attractive to disaffected, and potentially violent, youths in the west of Scotland, and this in turn sometimes translates itself into ugly violence in and around football grounds.

Old Firm – Old Frauds

Which brings me at long last back to football. This is a football magazine, so why the fuck am I droning on about religion?


Pathetic, isn’t it?

What connection does religion have to football?

For most of us it has no connection at all. But for many followers of our two biggest teams religion is apparently a significant part of the game. I think I’ve demonstrated above that the divisions are not truly divisions in religion. Rather, they are social or racial divisions. While the rest of Europe embraces the message of ‘Let’s kick racism out of football’, we in Scotland seem content to claim that we’ve got no real problem. If anyone mentions sectarianism we say, “Ah, that’s religion, not race “, and then we do nothing about it. The labels Catholic and Protestant are convenient descriptions of social groups who hate each other, but please let’s not have any hogwash about the hate being inspired by the religion.

Rangers and Celtic football clubs have deliberately gone out of their way to foster that social hatred and whatever they like to claim, they are doing precisely fuck all to combat it. After the programme was shown there was a studio debate about its implications. Both clubs were invited to participate. Neither did. Fergus McCann declined on the basis that the programme had been deliberately misrepresentative and was tabloid television at its worst.

Undoubtedly the programme was the usual sensationalist clap-trap but would it have hurt Mr McGoo to have come on to the programme and said so?

And perhaps answered a few tricky questions about Celtic’s deliberate cultivation of social division while he was at it.

Rangers, finger right on the pulse as usual, declined to appear on the basis that there is no sectarian problem in Scottish football.

They’re like two ostriches with their heads, not in the sand, but up each others arses. Of course there’s a problem. Sensationalised and exaggerated by the programme it may have been, but the fact that our two biggest football grounds remain, at the end of the 20th century, as venues for raking over the coals of ancient battles from Irish history, is hardly a cause for celebration.It was left to representatives of the fanzines of both clubs to substitute for the clubs themselves. It was gratifying to see football fanzines accorded this sort of status, and both men came across as being intelligent and reasonable. However, the problem doesn’t really lie with those on either side who can see the religious division for the fraud that it is. The problem lies with those who are ensnared into believing that a mere football team is in some way representative of their whole being.

In a purely social context it was quite intolerable to hear Sam talking about Catholics as some sort of undesirable aliens (“We didn’t ask them to come here “). It is equally intolerable that we continue to have Catholics and Protestants separated at school age, thereby instantly generating an antipathy to each other which can, and frequently does, last a lifetime.

These issues are much wider than football, but in Scotland the problems which they create receive their fullest expression inside football grounds. Every single fan, who is not in either religious camp, has long since been pissed off at being classified as alternately an Orange or a Fenian bastard, depending on which of the Old Firm your team happens to be playing. Rivalry between opposing football supporters is part and parcel of the game. When that rivalry takes the form of blatant racism, and continues outwith the confines of the game, then it is simply contemptible.

I’m not even going to attempt to offer suggestions for removing this curse out of our football grounds, because as was so well demonstrated by this programme, Rangers and Celtic football clubs are simply not interested in slaughtering the golden goose which has brought them so many riches.

A plague on both their houses.


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