The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 50

October 23, 2010

NOTE – This bit I’m writing in October 2010 – The paragraphs immediately following were an introduction I wrote in August 2006 when I posted this on my other blog.

Some of my football posts have recently received some attention from readers of the Rangers supporters site, Follow Follow.

In a cynical effort to ride this wave, I take this opportunity to reprint an article, critical of Celtic, which I wrote, under a protective pseudonym, in TAG 24 – August 1991.

First, some history – I describe myself as an ex-Rangers supporter. I supported Rangers as a child, but subsequently found that I didn’t believe in God or the Queen and I was heartily sick of these elements intruding on what I was interested in, namely watching football. I still want Rangers to win most games they’re involved in, but not with the passion of the true follower, and I have not regularly been to Ibrox for many years.

Over the years I wrote quite a number of articles in TAG which were critical of Rangers. I felt free to do so because I still retained some of my childhood affection for the club and I suppose it was partially a case of hurting the thing you love.

However, I soon noticed that while fanzines doing a bit of Rangers-bashing was fairly routine, there was no apostate filling the same role as me and hitting Celtic. It seemed to me that even in the wilder ends of the fanzine market it was practically taboo to take the piss out of Celtic. Because that would be ‘sectarian’ wouldn’t it? Shock.

In particular, I was pretty pissed off by things like the fact that people felt able to refer to Rangers supporters as ‘Huns’ in public utterances, while hands would be thrown up in horror at the use of ‘Tims’ or ‘Fenians’. The sauce for the goose was very much NOT the sauce for the gander. Celtic were above criticism. Rangers were beneath contempt.

I set out deliberately to write an article which would antagonise Celtic supporters – give them a taste of their own medicine. I wrote it under a pseudonym because I suspected (correctly as it turned out) that some of those peace-loving intellectuals at Parkhead would turn a bit nasty, when confronted with an article which didn’t portray them as cuddly craic-loving republican bhoys.

Amazingly, however, this article induced an article in reply which was one of the best bits of impassioned writing ever to appear in TAG (and I’ll reprint that reply soon) – it came from a Celtic supporter who I subsequently became very friendly with.

I should make it clear that this piece was written 15 years ago deliberately as a wind-up – it did not necessarily reflect my true views then and it doesn’t necessarily reflect them now – many of my best friends are Celtic supporters, blah blah blah – in fact as I’ve written often before, 2 of my 3 (Protestant) brothers are Celtic supporters. We’re you’re genuine ecumenical family, lining up 2-2 on Old Firm days.

So, after that lengthy drum-roll…………….

Up The Hill Backwards ?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSo Liam Brady is the new Celtic manager eh ?

Judging by the reaction thus far to his appointment, Jack McGinn and the boys must be feeling pretty pleased with themselves. While there are certainly reservations about the new man’s lack of experience of both Scottish football and management generally, the bottom line seems to be that the Celtic Board have shown themselves to be bold and forward looking by daring to take on someone who had never kicked a ball for the club.

“Phew !” says Jack, “we’ve got ourselves off the hook. No need for a revolution in Paradise after all.”

What a con trick. Because of Brady’s background you have to be really, really naive to see his arrival at Parkhead as anything other than a hopeful stab at solving Celtic’s current problems as football club on and off the field by resorting to tradition, historical roots and even romanticism (this impression is further reinforced when you consider the backgrounds of some of the other alleged leading candidates for the post – Frank Stapleton and Lou Macari for instance). Surely at best this adds up to no more than one step forward and one or two steps back.

Let’s look at what’s been happening in the real world recently.

For a long time Rangers were the focal point of criticism of sectarianism in Scotland by virtue of their hideous employment policy. Since Rangers were so blatantly and brazenly representative of the most appalling bigotry the spotlight rarely shone on the ideological shortcomings of Celtic as an institution. Even worse, because Rangers were such ogres, Celtic, as their antithesis, came to be considered as the representatives of all that was good and ideologically pure. In the words of Dr Graham Walker, quoted in TAG 17, the attitude was “us left wing anti-apartheid radical Celtic” and “you unionist fascist Rangers”.

While Rangers and their supporters were viewed as some moronic collection of sub-neanderthals, Celtic and their fans liked to affect a semi-intellectual air as the modern inheritors of a tradition of a struggling, oppressed, embattled community, discriminated against in Scottish society because of their ancient links to a foreign country and culture. This was all spiced up with a romantic overview which saw Celtic as like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, being casually brilliant in overcoming overwhelming odds.

Thus Celtic were not only the upholders of decency and humanity in the face of the Hunnish hordes, but they were able to achieve this in a swaggering, swashbuckling style. Celtic therefore liked to consider that they occupied the moral as well as the sporting high ground.

The trouble with many traditions is that they have an annoying tendency to become outdated and irrelevant to modern conditions. In recent times political power in Glasgow has been in the hands of such as Michael Kelly and Pat Lally, to such an extent that some refer to the ruling Labour group in that city as being a “Catholic Mafia”. The whole Scottish landscape is littered with prominent and powerful Roman Catholics. While there was perhaps a time when the Catholic community was an embattled one, it has now passed.

For Celtic to continue to pretend that they are the representatives of a downtrodden minority is just as insulting as Rangers erstwhile insistence that Catholics were not good enough to play for them. In the light of modern conditions; in the light of the phenomenal success of Celtic teams over the past 25 years; and even in the light of the fact that Scottish football media, long a target of accusations of anti-Parkhead bias, is now well stocked with Celtic supporters (eg Hugh Keevins, Jim Craig, Kevin McCarra, Davie Provan, Paul Cooney) the “underdog” mentality is an irrelevance.

Brian Wilson Said

One well-known Celtic apologist is Brian Wilson, MP. Brian is very much a proponent of the “Rangers, right wing scum, Celtic freedom-fighters” theory. In his pre-parliamentary days as editor of the West Highland Free Press, Brian was fond of appearing on TV to tell us that Rangers were a cancer in Scottish society which had to be removed. He was studiously careful not to mention that Celtic had never had a Protestant director. According to him, Rangers were single-handedly responsible for sectarianism in Scotland, completely unaided by for example, Catholic insistence on separate schools for their children.

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Because Celtic were the “good guys” and Rangers were quite obviously the villains, the audience simply swallowed Wilson’s analysis whole, and Celtic’s own dubious brand of apartheid escaped criticism. Rangers presented such a large target that it was easy to hit them repeatedly. One thinks of Robbie Coltrane’s amusing portrayal of Mason Boyne as a pig-ignorant, narrow­minded, fat, orange slob. Or Rikki Fulton’s equally devastating depiction of a Rangers manager signing a Catholic by mistake.

It is more difficult to recall even gentle fun being poked at Celtic’s religious affiliations. This is because it would have been highly unfashionable to take the piss out of Catholicism and this would have met with instant accusations of bigotry and sectarianism. Thus, while Rangers and the so-called “Protestant” tradition were to be abused at every opportunity, Celtic and the “Catholic tradition” were fire-proof.

When Rangers upped the ante five years ago they did more than simply build a team that was capable of winning consistently. It’s hard now to remember that that Rikki Fulton sketch had the pay-off line, “What could be worse than a Catholic ?” – Answer – “An Englishman”.

Rangers have moved from being an almost exclusively white Scottish Protestant team to embracing players of every colour or creed. In doing so they have revolutionised not only themselves but also their impact on and relevance to Scottish society. The signing of Maurice Johnston was a watershed. Of course this can be described as tokenism, and of course one swallow does not make a summer. It’s more than tokenism however. Mo’s arrival was a clear signal that Rangers were now playing for much higher stakes. In effect they said to their own supporters “If you associate with us purely for pseudo-religious reasons then get lost we don’t need you”, and they said to Celtic, “If you want to play the Old Firm sectarian game you’ll have to find another partner. We’re moving on”.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs a result, it is no longer embarrassingly unsound to follow Rangers. Rangers have, almost at one bound, freed themselves from the burden of a ridiculous tradition and seized the moral high ground from under Celtic’s noses. Of course we’re never going to get entirely rid of the Mason Boynes, the men behind the wire, the Sash, the Irish rebel songs, “Up the RA” and “Up the UDA”. Fortunately on each side it is only a minority of loonies who actually take all that stuff seriously. I don’t think that David Murray gives a flying one about preserving the “Protestant tradition”. And why should he ? It’s a football club he’s running, not a church. I think he’s hell-bent on making the orange factor into an insignificant side-show, rather than allowing it to be the dominant philosophy at Ibrox.

Back To The Ghetto

Celtic’s response to being confronted by a revitalised, progressive, new-age Rangers has been a frightened retreat into the ghetto of their tradition. They’ve appointed a Chief Executive who absolutely epitomises their old-dark ages paranoia, and as I’ve said delved deep into their Irish roots to unearth a manager, is an almost wilful declaration that their tradition is more important than the success of the team. I didn’t notice any mention of Alex MacDonald or Tommy McLean on the short list for that job. With a bit of imagination Celtic could have done a “Mo Johnston” on Rangers.

After all, the people who were most outraged by Johnston signing for Rangers were not the militant proddies (though they were upset, right enough), but were Celtic supporters themselves. After all these years of incessant whining on about ‘why don’t Rangers sign a Catholic’, when it happens they are outraged.

Rangers signing policy was a huge stick with which to beat them. Even the dimmest Celt could see that with Mojo in a blue jersey the stick disappeared. Was there an early day motion in the House of Commons from Brian Wilson congratulating Rangers on the signing? Don’t be silly.

Any Celtic supporters reading this analysis will no doubt reject it entirely, and therein lies the nub of the problem. You can read any number of them criticising their directors for their penny-pinching attitude (the so-called “biscuit-tin mentality”), or for particular strategic business decisions. These criticisms are however essentially cosmetic and arise only because the present Celtic team is so poor. You never, and I repeat, never, read Celtic fans criticising the whole philosophy on which the club is founded, or suggesting that its traditions are a ludicrous appendage for a football club to carry around with them. This can be contrasted with the almost continual complaints voiced by many Protestant Rangers supporters about that club’s association with the crazy end of Orangeism etc.

When Celtic won the Double in 1988 Brian Wilson (it’s that man again) was the signatory of a Commons motion congratulating the club, and continuing,

“and salutes the memory of those citizens of Glasgow’s East End who founded the club for reasons of charity and community identity which have remained relevant to its identity up to the present day”.

It’s precisely this sort of romantic nonsense which is helping Celtic to disappear down the plug-hole as a football force. If Celtic was a social club which provided a convenient venue for old folk to meet and reminisce about the good old days then this would all be fine and dandy. They are however a football club which allegedly has aspirations to compete at the top. Roman Catholicism is utterly irrelevant to that, in precisely the same way that Protestantism is an irrelevance to Rangers performances on the park.

Let’s not mince words here. Anyone who thinks that religion should be a vital component of football is a socially-inadequate dough ball. Those who attend church or cathedral don’t launch into a chorus of football songs when they’re there. What makes them think that they can turn up at a football ground and inflict their tiresome religious beliefs on everyone else. My suggestion is that unless Celtic drop their obsession with “tradition” then their inexorable decline will continue.

Greens With The Blues?

About 10 years ago Rangers were in an almost identical set of circumstances. When a staunch true blue failed to revive the club (John Greig) its board’s unwillingness to cast away the shackles of history succeeded in putting off the two leading contenders for the job (Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean) and culminated in the questionable re-appointment of another who was steadfast to the ancient cause (Jock Wallace). About the only tangible result was that Rangers went from being a bit of a joke to a complete laughing stock. There were surely lessons in that for both halves of the Old Firm.

But while Rangers are now open for business as a modem, cosmopolitan, forward-looking organisation, Celtic are in severe danger of joining the Berlin Wall and collective farming as quaint, but meaningless, pieces of history.

The appointment of Liam Brady is more likely to accelerate that process than arrest it.

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