Tag Archives: Scottish Football

‘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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Bigotry By Misperception

There is something not quite right in the psychology of individuals who seek out signs of bigotry in others, in order to vent the type of false moral outrage that we have become accustomed to these days.

Particularly when they begin to see manifestations of bigotry in perfectly innocent situations and are no longer able to tell the difference between the largest Island off the coast of Ireland, for example, and the second largest religion in the world (completely misconstrued, of course, as something to be offended by).

What we tend to see is heavily influenced by a mix of subconscious beliefs, attitudes and emotions; it is not uncommon to impose our own expectations of reality onto the naked facts in front of us. We respond to what we think we see, and what we want to see, rather than what actually is the case.

When the background beliefs and attitudes have been built up over the years in what can be described as a tense, embittered and contentious context at best, it is not surprising that our ability to make clear eyed judgements diminishes. Too often we get it wrong.

Part of the problem in Scotland is that this tendency to get it wrong has been exacerbated by the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, recently described by Dundee Sheriff, Davidson, as ‘horribly drafted’ and ‘mince’, and which has succeeded in putting most of us off the scent entirely in terms of what, from a legal perspective, now counts as offensive and what doesn’t.

Be that as it may, we have reached a point where some individuals feel compelled to pounce on any scrap of evidence they can find, or think they can find, in order to promote the idea that there are other groups of individuals with a greater propensity for bigotry than the one to which they belong – ‘shameful…’ and ‘disgraceful…’ are among some of the commonly used epithets.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is partly about trying to balance the books by sharing out the guilt. It is something most of us did as children and many continue to do into adulthood. The mince legislation fits this immature notion of balance like a glove. It also makes it so much more likely that we will point the finger in the wrong direction.

If nothing else, one man’s embarrassing error last Sunday helps to highlight the more general truth that, thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation, it is now part of Scottish football culture that some groups of supporters will try to vilify innocent behaviours, gestures, banners and songs, by throwing their own unchecked belief systems and ugly expectations over the facts.

Rather than help eradicate bigotry at football matches in Scotland, this legislation has actually succeeded in creating an added dimension to the bigotry that already existed, because so many individuals now think that they can see signs of bigotry in places where no such bigotry exists. They themselves become the bigots they claim to despise.

I think bigotry by misperception would appear to be a more serious problem than the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act could ever have anticipated – not least because the hastily written legislation helped nurture this embarrassing problem along.

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An Ugly Impasse

It is hard to think that the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation has had anything but a negative impact on the attitudes and behaviours of those it was intended to manage, despite the Scottish Government’s bullish claims to the contrary.

Whilst the police argued that they required a greater range of powers in order to deal with the perceived escalation in sectarian hatred in connection with some aspects of Scottish football, many others were reluctant to entertain the idea that existing laws were inadequate.

One outcome of this is that the greater range of powers seems to be stretchable to match whichever interpretation of the occasion is deemed to suit, with the interpretation sometimes appearing to be influenced by the media, other times by an inability to understand political context and poor knowledge of historical fact.

As a result, a strong belief has emerged within certain groups, particularly the Green Brigade, that the manner in which they choose to support their team has been criminalised unnecessarily and that some of their members have been subject to police harassment, victimisation and disproportionate response.

Whether the controversial containment tactics used by Strathclyde Police in Glasgow on Saturday were appropriate to the situation has been challenged. Whatever the eventual outcome of that, it is clear that the march was unlawful in the sense that no permission was sought from the local authorities in advance. The police would have failed in their duty had they not intervened.

It is difficult not to acknowledge that the Green Brigade has become a powerful force with strong political views, a fact which may sit uncomfortably with some individuals within Celtic FC. But it is even more difficult to avoid the thought that extinguishing, rather than monitoring, a force of this nature is a primary objective of the police. It may draw into a long and complicated war of attrition. Neither side will back down. Neither side will win.

Whichever way you view it, the central issue remains that the Scottish Government caved into pressure to introduce a piece of poorly written and completely unnecessary legislation. In doing so it managed to create a context of confusion, mistrust and tension – perfectly illustrated by the now toxic relationship between the police and the Green Brigade – and we are still no closer to eradicating the problem of bigotry in Scotland.

Like most, I would be relieved to see the end of the type of bigotry that infects football here. As it happens, I would also prefer that political views were not expressed at football matches in a manner that risked creating the impression that such views were in some way reflective of an unwritten part of a club’s story.

Given the background causes, I am not convinced that either will transpire any time soon – but that neither justifies the Scottish Government’s poorly conceived legislative solution to the problem, nor does it excuse disproportionate police response to perceived episodes of non-compliance with that legislation.

We may have reached an ugly impasse. It is time for a re-think – without the media circus, without politicians positioning themselves to win favour, and this time with people who understand the true nature of the problem in this country.

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Could Player Co-Ownership Help Scottish Football?

It is no secret that Celtic’s ability to identify and develop young players with potential has reaped tremendous rewards in recent seasons. Michael Grant recently wrote an article in The Herald suggesting that a potential threat to this successful formula is that other clubs would soon copy it:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/football/the-problem-with-celtics-global-approach-is-that-the-world-takes-notice.20467713

A threat related to this is that the increasing levels of debt across Scottish football could make this strategy difficult for Celtic to sustain in years to come. In order to attract young talent to Scotland, there has to be something decent on offer. The lure of Champions League football and the fast track to the English Premiership that playing in that tournament offers currently fulfils that requirement.

But the continued danger of other clubs going into administration or out of existence entirely must be a concern, in the sense that it may influence a young player’s decision on whether or not to take the chance of coming to Scotland in the first place, particularly if other clubs in relatively healthier leagues begin to offer the same route to the top.

So it is interesting to think about whether something similar to the Italian model of player co-ownership could be of benefit to Scottish football (and Celtic!) in the medium to long term as a means of averting this type of threat and ultimately sharing the wealth whilst helping to improve standards?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-ownership_%28football%29

Player co-ownership is a useful tool that enables clubs to share risks and rewards in the transfer market and in the development of young talent. Essentially, two clubs work out an agreement whereby they share ownership of a player, benefitting from playing rights where appropriate, and a share of the financial rewards if the player’s transfer value increases.

In the absence of a large enough fan base, an arrangement of this sort may help smaller clubs in Scotland benefit from Celtic’s global scouting system and solid financial position. Of course, it may seem too altruistic to imagine that Celtic would do such a thing, but short of being invited into a stronger league elsewhere, it may contribute to an improvement in standards here – and in the meantime, Celtic would benefit by sharing some of the financial risk and player development time with other clubs, whilst still receiving the lion’s share of the rewards.

In Italian football, the model usually involves a 50 – 50 split between two clubs. But it wouldn’t necessarily have to be that way in Scotland. It could be that one or more clubs in Scotland could pool their resources to buy into a 20 – 80 split with Celtic, thereby benefitting from access to players they couldn’t otherwise afford, and benefitting from a share of transfer fees they would otherwise lack. Player co-ownership may help financially stricken Scottish clubs stabilise and gradually improve, by providing a life-saving revenue stream currently denied to them.

It goes without saying that player co-ownership isn’t going to come with a guarantee. There are no guarantees for Celtic either. And whilst it may be difficult for Celtic to contemplate sharing the fruits of its labour in this manner, something like this could actually turn out to be a critical step in ensuring the survival of Scottish football in the long term – particularly if the clubs who benefitted were then obligated to do the same for other clubs, just as soon as they were in the position to do so.

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‘Offensive Behaviour’, One Year Later

By the end of this week, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (Scotland) 2012 will have been in force for one year:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2012/1/contents/enacted

One year on, I don’t think we are any closer to fully understanding how to apply this legislation properly. It was a hastily written piece of work, popularly referred to in the media as the ‘anti-bigotry law’, or the ‘anti-sectarian law’.

It hinges on a definition of ‘offensive’ which seems to imply that certain forms of behaviour at football matches are illegal if they cause a certain type of response in others. It has largely been about singing certain songs, or versions of these songs, that provoke an angry reaction because of their inflammatory, racist or sectarian content.

When trying to decide whether a piece of behaviour is offensive, an obvious question to ask is, ‘offensive to whom?’ and the most likely answer is, ‘to any individual belonging to a religious, social or cultural group that feels annoyed, angered, upset or intimidated by that behaviour’.

But relying on a shared emotional response as the criterion by which we judge certain displays of behaviour as offensive is tricky. It not only renders our definition too subjective, it also puts too much weight on a bundle of loosely structured emotions whose inherent volatility ought to mark them out as unreliable markers of definitional consistency in the first place.

The problem is exacerbated by the recognition that the types of emotional response in question are typically learned – but in an entirely damaging sense through involuntary exposure to a negative form of breeding from a young age and into adult life. It is from that perspective that much of what is regarded as offensive tends to be judged by the man in the street.

I think there is a general consensus among many people that the Act was introduced as a desperate measure to deal with an ugly spike in activity within the context of an embarrassing and shameful socio-cultural problem in Scotland. This ugly spike was still too raw in the public consciousness when the Bill was originally shaped, and that was a mistake.

It produced a situation in which the immediate response in some quarters to almost any form of behaviour, even loosely perceived to have a connection with a certain type of religious outlook or ethnicity, has been one of anger and outrage. The upshot is that too many different forms of behaviour have been popularly tarred with the same brush through a distortion in our understanding of what ought to count as offensive.

And from time to time it would appear that even those in positions of authority on match days have done little to prevent the view that what counts as offensive hinges on the misconception that if certain types of behaviour cause upset or anger, simply because they contain references to a particular race, religion or a political agenda, then they must be illegal.

In fairness, the Act itself does appear to recognise that being offensive isn’t simply about individuals feeling upset or angered that the group they belong to has been challenged, parodied or criticised; the key seems to be that the challenge must be made in a form that expresses or arouses hatred and is likely to lead to public disorder.

But surely expressing or arousing hatred cannot be sufficient either, when it is so easy for one group of individuals to feel hatred towards another, just because they are there and making a noise about everything that is important to them? It is all too subjective.

Clearly, there has to be more to it than that. I think it must also come down to whether belonging to a particular group has been challenged or criticised in a way that is contrary to that group’s integrity, or contrary to historical fact.

This would never constitute a definition in its own right, of course, but it would help sharpen up our understanding of what is permissible and what isn’t in a more objective context, provided we can be historically accurate in our assessment!

And whilst this would legally permit certain forms of behaviour to continue, and certain types of song to be sung at football matches, the appropriateness of doing so must nonetheless be assessed against the wishes and expectations of the club they represent – that should always be a key consideration.

It is fairly obvious to me that not every song or action that arouses anger, hatred or annoyance in ill-informed minds is in fact offensive. It is too easy to blame the wrong people here. Not everyone will think the same way about this, but perhaps it is the irrational response that ought to be criminalised in these cases, rather than the initial behaviour.

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An Unglamorous Option

In an interesting article yesterday, Michael Grant, Chief Football Writer for The Herald, wrote about English clubs pillaging the most promising talent from among the youth teams in Scotland, long before they have the opportunity to fully develop and make any real contribution to the Scottish game:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/opinion/english-clubs-cross-the-rubicon-as-they-pillage-young-players.19963437

He is referring to an aggressive style of courtship that has flourished partly because of the category two ranking of compensation fees between Scottish and English clubs, allowing English clubs to entice our best young players with the promise of significantly higher earning potential, at a relatively low cost.

He goes on to suggest that upgrading cross-border compensation fees to category one between Clydesdale Bank Premier League and the Barclay’s Premier League would help address this problem, meaning that English clubs would have to pay more than twice the amount they currently pay in compensation.

That would definitely be a start and I am sure the majority of Scottish clubs would be delighted with such a move. However, it doesn’t really help the long term ambitions of Scottish football in general. How can the game in Scotland ever be improved if this unfortunate pillaging of our best young players continues, albeit with higher levels of compensation?

We are often told that one of the key solutions to the decline in Scottish football is to invest in youth development, better training facilities and academies, and so on, in order to identify and nurture the best of our talent at a young enough age.

In Henry McLeish’s 2010 Review of Scottish Football, for example, he argued that, among other things, investing more in Grassroots, Recreation and Youth Development, would be essential to addressing some of the key problems in our game:

http://www.scottishfa.co.uk/scottish_fa_news.cfm?page=1957&newsID=5777

Of course he is absolutely correct in saying this. It is an obvious place to start. And league reconstruction is an obvious one too. But you really have to wonder just how effective all of this would be as a means of improving the game in Scotland when, even with a re-categorisation of cross-border compensation fees, the aggressive pillaging of our best young talent by the wealthy elite in England is likely to continue, unabated; even more so, if the calibre were to improve again as a result of significant new investment.

Thinking up a fine array of initiatives to improve standards at youth level and above is futile if we cannot find a way of incentivising that talent to remain in Scotland. Pushing for higher compensation fees would only help in so far as it brought some additional income into the Scottish game, but it certainly wouldn’t stop our best young talent being lured down to England.

It is difficult not to be too cynical. But in a world defined by unimaginable wealth and dictated by those who are in possession of it, ignoring the advances of persuasive agents in order to continue with the less lucrative hard work you have started, is most unlikely.

Until the financial bubble bursts in English football, the game in Scotland appears destined to be an occasional provider of under-developed Scottish youths with star potential, and a regular developer of unknown foreign players, for wealthier clubs in England. Few perceive it to be anything other than that now.

It would take a deep rooted attitudinal shift to reposition the Scottish game as an attractive end in itself, rather than the means to the more financially lucrative end it has become. But it appears to be no longer obvious to anyone within the Scottish game how that shift could ever be achieved. A radically new way of thinking is required. Until then, Scottish football will remain an unglamorous option.

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Some Thoughts on Charles Green’s Christmas Message

Referring to the link between an individual’s social status and his outward appearance, Charles Dickens wrote in his classic novel Oliver Twist, that dignity is ‘sometimes more a question of coat and waistcoat than some people would imagine’.

Throw in some brown brogues and he was definitely on the money.

Joking aside, Dickens makes an important point worth expanding: in the same sense that class distinctions have no factual basis in reality, other than by decree, what we commonly mean by ‘integrity’ is sometimes more a question of image and perception than it is of actual moral substance.

Until recently, dignity and integrity thus misconstrued were the two supporting pillars of Scottish football’s great dependency myth. The third pillar was the unquestioning belief in the disastrous consequences that would ensue on removal of the great historical custodians of the latter.

There is now a fourth, but it is still under construction. Early indications are that it is shaping up to be quite a formidable replacement for the ones that finally crumbled earlier this year. Charles Green’s Christmas Message is more like a call to arms than peaceful greetings.

Yet Green’s advantage over David Murray and Craig Whyte is that the perception of injustice is a much more powerful motivator of masses than a long standing expectation of entitlement. If he plays it correctly, he knows how much money he stands to make from his latest enterprise. It’s all about profit maximisation.

Charles Green invites us to believe that he has refreshed and rejuvenated Scottish football, filling the stockings of the other clubs in the Third Division.

But his invitation is nothing more than a cynical attempt at restoring damaged pride by rejuvenating the belief in dignity and integrity, amplified this time by the perception of injustice endured at the hands of other football Chairmen and two of the game’s three governing bodies.

Charles Green is probably onto a winner in monetary terms. He seems to have managed the mood. But the mood that has been managed is one that was actively encouraged by him, for the sake of making as much profit as he possibly could.

Whilst the benefit of his strategy is that it will yield decent financial returns in the short to medium term, the long term disadvantage is that Charles Green will walk away when it suits his wallet, leaving that mood completely unmanaged, like an angry dog waiting on the postman.

Charles Green admitted that he hadn’t yet received a card from Dundee United, the SFA or the SPL.

He is probably in for a long wait. And the dog will be barking when these particular cards finally arrive.

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Why Scottish Football’s Glory Days May Never Return

It is somewhat concerning that the odious mix of extreme right-wing political ideologies that have been driving social and cultural change in recent decades have been having a very similar effect on football.

And whilst the effects have been felt in many countries, perhaps this factor more than any other explains not only why Scottish football’s glory days are over but why they may never return.

At the same time that Scottish society was dragged kicking and screaming through the thorns of Westminster-sponsored neoliberal economics by successive UK Governments putting their own spin on the wealth-generation game, the simple game of football gradually evolved into a cut-throat global industry that now struggles to retain any real affinity with its socio-historical roots in working class communities.

Yet it was from within these local and heavily industrialised communities, and the historical patterns of hard working, uncompromising and resilient behaviours that shaped them, that the strong, rugged and successful Scottish footballer emerged.

Thatcherism killed that way of life stone dead. It decimated Scottish industry. It tore apart the fabric of Scottish society. It forced a structural shift in our economy that triggered a lifestyle transformation, deeply affected our perception of value, and irreversibly altered our relationship with debt and wealth.

Within the context of aggressive neoliberal economics, the deregulation of markets for the benefit of entrepreneurial and multinational organisations creates a space of no moral consequence. It changes the psychology and the ethics of those who operate in this zone. It changed the mentality of footballers, owners and supporters.

The break-down of our traditional value systems helped create an environment in which football clubs came to be seen as commodities through which the new wealthy elite were able to express their status, market their gargantuan global enterprises, and reinforce their materialistic notions of culture, personal identity and value.

We have been trained to believe that this is the only emotional funnel through which our historical attachments and primitive energies ought to be channelled.

We have been trained to salivate at the sight of what the media determines to be the new type of globally elite product. We have been subconsciously directed away from the ‘rough and tumble’ leagues elsewhere, with smaller domestic audiences and therefore limited global appeal. They simply do not fit the unstoppable political agenda.

It is too simple to attribute the decline in Scottish football to the lack of investment in youth training academies, the lack of money in the game to support the development and purchase of new talent, the unfairly structured leagues and the lack of visionary leadership across the game’s three governing bodies.

All of that matters of course, and must be taken into account. But if this were the crux of the problem we could anticipate that addressing these matters would herald the return of Scottish football’s glory days. It won’t. They are symptoms rather than causes.

The decline was caused by decades of political and social engineering that changed our value systems for good. It changed what we want to consume and how we want to be entertained. It changed the way we think about football. It changed the position of our game in the eyes of the media.

The glory days of Scottish football may never return, not because we can no longer produce a few good players here and there, or have the odd successful venture in the elite competitions; but because it may never again be perceived to be of sufficient value within the highly charged political context of socio-economic globalisation.

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‘Three Leagues of Eight’

‘Three leagues of eight’ – what on earth is happening to Scottish football?

Apparently the problem with Scottish football is that there are too many meaningless games, with next to no incentive for the majority of teams to try hard beyond February every year. In other words, the semblance of competition is over too quickly. And all because of the existing league structure.

Solution? Create two leagues out of twenty two teams, split them up into three leagues of eight teams after twenty two games – with battles raging from February onwards for promotion or otherwise – and there you have it, competitiveness restored! Brilliant, why didn’t someone think of that earlier…before our game started sliding down the drain?

Because it is an utterly stupid idea, that’s why.

Why would you think that the solution to the decline in Scottish football would lie in chopping up small leagues into micro leagues? Where exactly did that wonky logic come from?

I am sceptical. I don’t think it is the structure per se that makes the league uncompetitive. I think it has got more to do with the self-defeating belief, shared by too many of our teams, their managers, their chairmen and supporters, that there really is nothing to play for beyond Christmas.

And arguably, their resignation may be justified. Surely you don’t have to look too hard to see that the ball is already well on its way to being burst at the start of every year? Granted, but that isn’t going to change as a result of league reconstruction.

Our players aren’t going to become better players, our referees aren’t going to stop making honest mistakes, and the sneaky gentlemen who lurk in the shadowy corridors of power aren’t going to suddenly grow a pair of balls and rid the game of those – themselves included – who specialise in bendy rules.

It is not the existing league structure that is holding Scottish football back. The problem with Scottish football stems from the protectionist policies of its power brokers. Their insatiable greed and permanent cluelessness have been contributing to the slow death of our game for years.

But so too has the damaging belief that many of our players appear to subscribe to. It is the belief that they are not good enough to challenge for honours at the end of the season. And it is the belief that their Scottish identity is no longer equivalent to exportable skill, strength and grit – that magnificent persona belongs to a past generation of Scottish footballers.

Sort all of that out and you might be a step closer to sorting out the mess that Scottish football has become.

‘Three leagues of eight’? Do us a favour!

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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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