Tag Archives: Celtic FC

‘A Magnet for Bigots’?

You would normally expect that if someone acted in a certain way, it would be possible to give an explanation of their actions in terms of the reasons why; unfortunately this is not always the case.

There are times when we are left analysing the situation to the point where we start to lose perspective, but we continue anyway in the hope that we can eventually make some kind of explanation fit. We have all done this before.

If you were in Neil Lennon’s position, I think it would be entirely natural that you would want to understand why you have been subject to constant abuse and threatening behaviour from other individuals who know nothing about you. It is natural that sympathetic observers of this abuse would want to fathom it out too, particularly when the episodes are repulsive and unprovoked, such as the most recent one from some Aberdeen supporters.

There is a great deal of mileage in Neil Lennon’s situation for those in the media with false axes to grind, or for whom creating an impression of professional closeness to him seems to have become a bit of a fixation. Whatever the motive, stories of this sort seem to sell newspapers.

We have been told that the abuse directed at Neil Lennon might be down to his ethnicity or his religion; we have also been told that it might be down to him simply being a controversial, confrontational and combative character who happens to attract bigots. This just keeps the story going.

Whether the people in the media or the ordinary man in the street find it best to put the abuse Neil Lennon suffers down to his temperament or his teeth, the various explanations offered do very little to shed any light on what is actually going on, or therefore how to deal with it effectively. We are asking the wrong sorts of questions.

The abuse directed at Neil Lennon is completely irrational; I think we all agree about that. There is no valid reason why Neil Lennon should figure in our thinking as someone towards whom it is appropriate to be violent or threatening. This is borne out retrospectively when the abusers in question are pressed for an explanation of their behaviour. More often than not they cannot give a rational explanation, other than that they just don’t like him, or that he brings it on himself, regardless of the language they originally used to express their hatred.

It is perhaps closer to the truth to understand the majority of abuse directed at Neil Lennon as examples of unthinking hooliganism that bears striking similarities to bullying. As with targets of bullying, it would appear that Neil Lennon has tried to change his public persona to make himself less of a target. This is an indication of deep emotional intelligence on his part; it is an alertness to how other people perceive him – justified or not – and a subconscious desire to make personal changes in order that this type of behaviour towards him stops.

There are groups of people in our society who behave like thugs and bullies, and sometimes only in very specific contexts, because they have been caught up in a moment in which their ability to rationalise their behaviour has been diminished by the effects of alcohol, drugs, sporting adrenalin or basic tribal machismo. The rest of the time, and towards other people, they can be perfectly reasonable and likeable individuals.

It is too easy to read more into these situations than is warranted by the evidence, just because it happens to sell stories or suit an agenda. This is bad enough in itself. But the big problem with this is that we run the risk of being part of the bullying process itself, rather than just a horrified observer and sympathetic reporter of it.

When you try hard to find a way of rationally linking this type of behaviour to something within the victim that attracts it, there is a sense in which you are legitimising it. You are unwittingly creating the emotional space for it to continue, forcing the person being targeted to make one or more of the changes they begin to believe are necessary to neutralise the effects of these apparent reasons.

If you try to depict Neil Lennon as some kind of controversial warrior, a magnet for bigots because of his ethnicity, religious beliefs or personality, or perhaps even a potent combination of these factors in a specific place and time, you are just as guilty of keeping the tedious and regretful narrative going as the individuals are who started it.

This is not to say that we should be silent on this, not by a long shot; rather it is to say that if we remain compelled to find one or three reasons why Neil Lennon attracts this type of behaviour, we may need to think about our own contribution to the problem, however unintended this may be.

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Clubs With A Purpose

‘More than a club’, is how Barcelona Football Club famously describes itself.

Many of us quite rightly feel that this description also fits Celtic Football Club in equal measure.

As far as Celtic is concerned, it is a description that captures the idea that playing competitive football was never intended to be the true essence of the club, but simply the medium through which an impoverished community of people could come together for help and support.

Granted, the specific mix of social circumstances through which the club came into existence has long since passed. So much so, that if the club had been formed today, its identity would have been entirely different. It may well have declared its support of similar charitable objectives, but it would not have been a living embodiment of a unique history.

To think about Celtic the way we do is to recognise that celebrating 125 years of history is about celebrating a culture that has always looked after its own. And crucially, fully embracing the ethical principles behind this idea comes with an expectation of openness to those outside the immediately defined space of concern, even towards those who may have chosen, for whatever reason, to look in with an air of hostility.

It implies an inclusiveness that cuts across religious and ethnic divides. It was never about looking after one group of people only. It was never about drawing racial boundaries to match politically engineered sociological ones. It was simply about creating hope.

It also happened to evolve into a fantastic footballing story in its own right. The neat alignment of form with purpose helped create an enthralling story around the world as generations of supporters shifted around and kept it alive.

Unfortunately there have also been times when the story has been dragged in directions that were never intended by the club’s founders, nor endorsed by successive custodians of its purpose. Some of the distortions came about as confused expressions of other enduring social problems and cultural conflicts; some of them were twisted further through deliberate media meddling.

Despite that, today is a point of celebration. It is a celebration of 125 years of unbroken history. Not Kit-Kat style history – and because of that, today is also about hope. It is the hope that the next 125 years of unwritten history preserves the club’s traditional values as it adapts to cope with the commercial pressures of a highly demanding industry.

Regardless how the industry evolves, the heart would be ripped out of world football if market forces ever signalled the end of clubs with a purpose. Thankfully, Celtic’s purpose remains strong and its story is far from over. It continues tomorrow night against Barcelona. Another world famous club that is fiercely proud of its purpose. And of course, its unique history.

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Jumping on the ‘Bigot!’ Bandwagon

The popular misuse of a word can have a transformational effect on how we think about the situation in which it has been used.

This is particularly evident when we begin to use certain words with negative intent because we have been subconsciously prompted in that direction by those around us in the media, on social networking sites, in our homes and on the street.

It has become fairly routine in recent times to throw around words like ‘bigot’, ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’, with the apparent goal of sensationally shaming those individuals in our society who continue to indulge in the types of behaviour the majority of us have long since departed from.

Gay rights charity Stonewall named Cardinal Keith O’Brien ‘Bigot of the Year’ at its annual awards, referring to his attack on the idea of gay marriage as a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right. Whilst many would feel that O’Brien’s views are offensive and out of touch with modern society, others may feel that it would be too quick and too simplistic to use the term ‘bigot’ in this context.

Whether it is correct to use the term ‘bigot’ in reference to Keith O’Brien or not, this example highlights one of the difficulties we sometimes have in not letting vogue words like ‘bigot’ lead us down blind alleyways. The risk is that we begin to use these terms far too freely, without proper regard for the subtleties of context, and subsequently read more into situations than actually exists.

Failure to recognise this means that we are less likely to recognise the flaws in our own self-approved moral judgements, or when poor decisions have been taken to prevent the feared consequences of the new perception that has emerged.

In the case of Scottish football, new legislation was passed earlier this year to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches – with the unintended consequence of also creating a great deal of confusion around the use of terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’ in connection with singing traditional folk songs and other innocent celebrations of a group’s cultural origins.

This week an image was circulated around social networking sites of Neil Lennon’s upturned Celtic FC tracksuit collar. It happened to be green, white and gold. It happened to cause a silly reaction among some individuals who were intent on interpreting it as ‘sectarian’; another completely random, incorrect and sensationalist application of the term.

The increasing unease in English football at the moment surrounds the problem of racism on the pitch and in the stands. Whilst this appears to be a genuine problem that needs to be dealt with, there is also the danger that innocent individuals will find themselves being vilified in the media for comments or gestures that may have had no such intent.

We are rapidly progressing to the point where the significance of every utterance will be debated and every gesture will be under scrutiny. And more often than not, those who point their finger are just as prone to the types of behaviour they want to publicly shame by jumping on the ‘Bigot!’ bandwagon.

There are times when society finds itself on this bandwagon without understanding how it got there. Sometimes it is simply about the misuse of language; other times it is a conveniently popular hook on which to justify the abuse of individuals whom we have grown to dislike for completely different reasons.

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Spiers On ‘the Rogue, Angry Underclass’

Graham Spiers has been honest enough in the past to recognise his gullibility in relaying the myths peddled by the former Rangers FC Owner, David Murray. He is the one who likes to take credit for having initiated the use of the phrase ‘succulent lamb’, after all.

And in an interesting and honest article today, he describes the intimidating treatment that certain individuals (himself included) have received from a minority of Rangers supporters over the years, for having had the audacity to speak out against what they believed their football club represented. He describes this minority as the ‘rogue, angry underclass’:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/opinion/spiers-on-sport-coming-under-threat-for-criticising-rangers.1351601156

Whatever his motives are for writing this piece, Spiers correctly highlights an enduring problem in Scottish society: there is a hard core of rogue individuals who are intent on keeping racial and religious prejudices alive and certain football clubs – not just Rangers – have become perceived as significant outlets for that purpose.

In the case of Rangers, he is picking out specific historical prejudices that are so deeply intertwined with all that is wrong with the Scottish – British culture, and its perpetuation in certain local traditions, institutions and establishments, that reason and logic will never be sufficient to undo them.

Spiers captures this in his reference to a “faux Protestant culture around Rangers” as something that many fans want to bin, but which the “traditionalists” want to preserve. His contention is that most Rangers fans want to dispense with that type of nonsense as part of the assumed identity of their club, and I would think that he is right.

But for me the question that arises is this: is there something about supporting a football club like Rangers (or Celtic, for that matter) that makes it inevitable that the rogue element will always attach itself to it, creating an unsavoury dimension to the club that otherwise does not exist?

Perhaps it is similar to the feeling of belonging to a group, but taken to a different level. Perhaps supporting a football club gives some individuals their sense of purpose and identity – almost as if it were an alternative to, or in some cases extension of, belonging to a gang. It is the common, tribal prejudices of the rogue individuals interpreted into the fabric of the club.

This is an emotional investment gone wrong. Yet perhaps it explains why the rogue individuals feel they need to make a stance about something the rest of us will have no truck with, and why they believe they have a duty to protect and defend a culture – using intimidating methods, or otherwise – that most people have long since wanted to move away from.

Sadly, I think the rogue, angry underclass will be with us in Scottish football for as long as it exists in Scottish society; it will exist in Scottish society for as long as we feel snookered within the corrupt and elitist politico-economic frameworks that have shaped our lives for generations. And as Spiers might suggest, you could challenge that one, but at your peril.

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