Tag Archives: Scottish Media

A Paranoid Interpretation of a 1905 Newspaper Report: Rowdyism at Parkhead

SCOTTISH CUP-SEMI-FINALS RANGERS V. CELTIC

ROWDYISM AT PARKHEAD

“The Referee had had occasion to penalise and speak to Quinn before, chiefly for his attentions to the Rangers’ goalkeeper, and as the end was drawing nigh he ordered him to the pavilion…That was too much for some hot-headed and irresponsible youths with Celtic sympathies, and they scaled the spiked pailings and invaded the field of play…the infection spread and soon there would be two hundred mischief-makers on the pitch. Most of the unruly members were mere lads, and matters would not have been at all serious if some of them had not attacked and struck at Mr Robertson, the Referee, their purpose obviously being to show their resentment towards that official for putting the Celtic player off the field…It was a most unfortunate occurrence, and, whatever action is taken by the Scottish Football Association, it may be taken for granted that the tie will be awarded to the Rangers, for when the disturbance took place, they had their opponents well beaten”

Celtic – Adams; McLeod and Orr; Young, Lonie and Hay; Bennett, McMenemy, Quinn, Somers and Hamilton.

The Scotsman March 27th, 1905

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It is interesting to note the language used in this excerpt from The Scotsman newspaper in 1905.

Had this happened today, would it have been described in the same terms by the Scottish media? Or would we be treated to a different style of report, one which serves a different purpose and promotes a different agenda?

Would ‘ROWDYISM’ have been used to describe what happened; or would a term with greater sensationalist impact have been preferred? Or was ‘ROWDYISM’ a 1905 equivalent to today’s sensationalist newspaper terms?

It is also interesting to note the following description: ‘hot-headed and irresponsible youths with Celtic sympathies’ were responsible for spreading an ‘infection’ as they entered the field of play. Perhaps the sensationalism was present then, just as much as it is today.

Perhaps, hidden behind the far more ordinary and much politer terms of the day were the signs of an early unconscious bias in the media that has continued through to 2012.

The motive of the ‘unruly members’ was to express their resentment at the referee’s handling of the Celtic player in this game. Again, very little has changed.

And finally, the report subtly reveals the early 20th century relationship between the SFA and the Scottish Media. It stops short of advising the Scottish Football Association to award the tie to the Rangers, but puts it forward as a decision that ‘may be taken for granted’…

(Interestingly, no mention of sectarianism…)

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Unconscious Bias & Blatant Bigotry

Most of us would be surprised if we discovered that there were unconscious biases behind some of our everyday decisions, judgements and utterances. Particularly when we would completely reject the accusation that we were bigoted, prejudiced or biased in any way.

The problem is that unconscious biases can be very difficult to detect. They are not reasons we would cite in explaining our behaviour. By definition, we are not conscious of them. So it makes perfect sense that we would reject any such accusation.

Unconscious biases are sometimes referred to in order to make sense of how it can be possible to declare commitment to very specific values and standards, whilst simultaneously behaving in a manner that would contain indications of contradictory beliefs.

This tends to be the case within the worlds of politics, media and sport. Despite the expectation that individuals participating, reporting, directing or governing are committed to strict codes of conduct and have strong moral values, we don’t have to think too hard to come up with examples of unconscious bias.

Scottish football is also a very good case study. Despite assurances to the contrary, there are many instances when journalistic commitment to impartiality is undermined by unconscious bias. This is particularly so in difficult and challenging times, when emotions are running high and there is so much at stake.

The majority of football articles are no doubt written in good faith; within the profession there is a firm commitment to the values of integrity, honesty and impartiality.

But what appears to be honest and impartial reporting can sometimes reveal a lot more about the extent of unconscious bias in the media than many decent journalists would dare admit.

Witness the style of language used in articles about Neil Lennon for example. Some are more complimentary than others, but many include words like ‘bully’, ‘confrontational’, ‘wrath’, and ‘self-indulgence’.

And contrast with the words used in connection with Ally McCoist. Some have been less complimentary in light of recent events, but many have included ‘dedicated, ‘fans champion’, ‘struggles on’, and ‘passionate’.

Unconscious bias typically operates under the radar. The sting is that it can evoke an equally unconscious response in impressionable minds. And although it wasn’t the intention, it can ultimately lead to a blatantly bigoted behavioural reaction.

The effect of unconscious bias in the media is to reinforce some of the negative cultural stereotypes that can aggravate the blatant bigotry witnessed in the streets, in the pubs and at football matches. And in that respect, it needs to take its share of the responsibility.

The Scottish media is not just describing certain situations from a distance; it is right there, in the thick of it.

Blatant bigotry in the streets is easy to detect. It is right there in front of our eyes. It is disgusting.

Unconscious bias in the media can be much more difficult to detect. It is hidden, but it occurs.

And we can trace its path right through to its visibly disgusting conclusion.

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Misdirected Backlash

Immunity from some of the hard realities in life is something most of us have sought at some point.

When we are steeped in the history of a football club, it is easy to let our emotional attachment take priority over rational thought. Our sense of what is real and what is reasonable diminishes, as our sense of injustice grows.

It is not so much that we want to remain oblivious to hard facts.

It is simply that the urge to avoid discomfort means that we subconsciously select our preferred method of presenting the facts to ourselves. It is a way of keeping our emotions artificially balanced with our thoughts.

Primitive mechanisms like this are remarkably adaptive. They have to be, to enable us to cope with some of the more complicated social, cultural and political situations that they were never designed to manage.

More often than not we seek convenience.

The people in positions of power and their gallant friends in the media are usually only too happy to oblige.

We just accept the facts as they are presented to us through political spin or editorial preference. We somehow allow the media’s presentation of the facts to feel right to us.

When it stops feeling right, before we even think about it, we shuffle things around in our mind until we find a way of making it feel right again.

Sometimes this means ignoring obvious implications and suppressing what we actually know to be the case.

The human mind doesn’t always seek out the truth; it seeks out the presentation of the facts that is most convenient and best for its own comfort and self-preservation.

And coincidentally, the media doesn’t always present the truth; it presents a version of the truth that is best for the preservation of its complex relationships with wealthy individuals and those in positions of influence and authority.

It is all about gaming.

Truth by convenience works fantastically well, but only in so far as the game is left unchallenged.

Challenges may come in the form of hard factual friction. It brings the spinning wheel to a grinding halt; it usually happens when the money runs out and people demand payment. This is one way of forcing realignment with reality. It is rarely pretty.

Challenges may come in the form of awkward questions that many people refused to ask, for fear of public condemnation or social alienation. This is another style, which usually only happens after the latter. It is rarely comfortable.

The backlash is usually severe. It tends to be directed at the individuals responsible for forcing the eventual realignment, rather than the individuals who created the misalignment in the first place.

More often than not, particularly in football, the backlash is misdirected. It is usually a last-ditch attempt at shifting responsibility and avoiding the truth, just before the wheel finally stops.

I’m sure we’ve all done it; at some point, and with dignity.

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The Myths in Scottish Football

The ease with which the media can build empires and reputations is frightening.

Whilst a carefully chosen fact or two is often used to anchor the supporting myths at the outset, the intrinsic manipulability of the human imagination is absolutely vital to the success of this type of irresponsible enterprise.

The momentum of the imagination draws us effortlessly into factual vacuums and permits inconsistencies that good old fashioned logic would otherwise block. When it takes hold, its grip is firm and relentless: we continually read the myths into everything, whether they are there or not.

Dignity, integrity and truth have been some of the salient myths woven into the fabric of Scottish football, designed to prop up its governing bodies, protect some of its wealthier characters, and sustain some of their grander ambitions. Fair play and respect are some of the others.

Corruption and exploitation have been some of the real, but ugly facts lurking behind the carefully controlled façade, that up until recently remained impenetrable and watertight; bigotry and sectarianism often erupt to the surface, but tend to be managed down again each time according to the prevailing political agenda and purpose.

The upshot is that Scottish football has been devouring itself for years.

If it is ever going to sort itself out, some difficult decisions need to be taken to rid the game of the shameful practices and regrettable histories that have been feeding its insatiable appetite for self-destruction for too long.

Forget about league reconstruction, youth academies, voting structures and revenue redistribution for the time being. None of that will help. As things stand, they would be mere tokens to make more clubs and their supporters feel a bit more comfortable within the existing vacuum.

We can only begin to sort out the mess by breaking up the complex relationships that exist between the gentlemen responsible for football governance in this country, the wealthy individuals who continually come up with inventive ways of introducing fresh money into the game, and the sections of the media who have been only too happy to peddle their myths.

There are many individuals who need to reflect on their own ineffective contribution to the governance of the game and make the honest decision to step down; but there is every chance they won’t. There are many individuals who need to admit their part in running corrupt practices; but there is no chance that they will.

Scottish football needs the myths to be stripped back. Whether we like what we are left with, and whether there is any money left in our game at the end of it, Scottish football needs to be cut back down to its actual size in order to grow again; honestly this time.

It is more important to build genuine dignity, integrity and truth into the fabric of a scaled-down Scottish football industry, than have their mythical counterparts cover up the corruption and exploitation within a bloated, swollen and ultimately self-destructing empire.

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‘Neighbourhood Bully’

We talk in favourable terms about great players bossing other teams around on the pitch.

And we respectfully acknowledge the achievements of strong, physical football teams who have bullied their way through matches at the expense of their less aggressive and physically weaker opponents.

Individuals who live their lives with strength of character, drive and purpose often become outstanding leaders in their chosen field. And consequently, they tend to be highly respected and esteemed by their peers.

But far too often, the negative consequence of having such characteristics is that these individuals are wrongly thought of as being arrogant and intimidating, and prone to lapse into bullying tendencies when things aren’t going according to their rigid, single minded plans.

The problem for the likes of Neil Lennon is that the sheer depth of his passion, which is highly commendable, and has been absolutely fundamental to the successful career he has had in football, can occasionally manifest itself in behavioural patterns that many people would naturally perceive as aggressive, threatening and out of control.

Regrettably, given the way in which his behaviour is scrutinised more closely than anyone else in Scottish football, given the relentless agenda against him, he needs to exercise more caution than others.

But it was somewhat ironic, given the circumstances surrounding his departure from the SFA, that Hugh Dallas was given the opportunity to publicly judge Neil Lennon’s decision to run onto the pitch after yesterday’s game to challenge the referee.

There is no doubt that there is a description of this type of behaviour that would be consistent with bullying, in the straight forward sense that Neil Lennon was attempting to exert pressure on the referee and criticise his decision making in front of a large and potentially volatile audience.

I think that Neil Lennon did make an error of judgement on Sunday. There is no doubt about that.

But rather than simply receive the relevant punishment from a footballing point of view, as any other manager would who contravened the rules and regulations, his punishment will run far deeper.

He reacted in a manner that left him wide open to criticism from those who were only too happy to oblige; and they did oblige, with a measured turn of phrase.

It was a turn of phrase that had much more packed into it than ‘being a bully’; it was one that was loaded with bias and implication.

But it was also a turn of phrase that revealed more about the true bully of the piece, than it did about Neil Lennon.

It revealed more about the way in which the media typically depicts Neil Lennon, and the effect it has on him, than it did about his error of judgement on the day.

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Tainted

According to certain individuals in the media, including former professional footballers who should have known better, there is a sense in which Celtic winning the SPL title this season has been ‘tainted’.

But this reveals more about the psychology of these individuals, than the manner and style in which the title was achieved.

The title was achieved through the hard work of the players and the mental toughness of the manager. It wasn’t always brilliant football, but it was achieved through grinding out results, week after week against the teams in front of them.

When an achievement is genuinely tainted, it has been affected by undesirable and reprehensible qualities, or it has been secured through practices that would be deemed illegal or morally corrupt.

The suggestion that Celtic’s achievement has been tainted is ironic.

It is an indication of almost universal failure among certain sections of the media to acknowledge the reprehensible qualities and morally corrupt practices elsewhere, and it is a rather poor attempt at passing the psychological buck.

But I completely agree that there is a sense in which Celtic’s title has been tainted this season.

It has been tainted by the hatred and bigotry that has formed the ugly backdrop against which Neil Lennon has been forced to do his job and live his life in recent years.

It has been tainted by the many ill-informed writings in the media that created a storm of hatred around a mythological monster that too many people just accepted as true.

When you use the word ‘tainted’, you need to be very careful that you are not revealing more about your own failings than you are trying to imply about another person’s success.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time, and it definitely won’t be the last, that a heart full of bitterness has been revealed through an ill chosen word.

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An Indecent Proposal: Observing or Intervening?

Apparently an offer was made to televise Neil Lennon giving evidence in the court case against the individuals accused of sending a suspect device to him and two others.

Apart from the crassness of this proposal, and the infringement of privacy it would bring, it could pose a genuine threat to the last shred of objectivity that remains in the public domain. And this could have further serious consequences at a later date.

Scientific observation could be regarded as a prime example of objectivity. Yet it is not uncommon for two scientists to report seeing different things, when observing the very same object or entity, under very similar conditions.

Nor is it uncommon for two people to describe another individual’s behaviour in completely different ways, despite the fact that both have observed the same action, gesture or glance, at the very same time and under almost identical conditions.

Perception is intrinsically theory laden. It is always conceptually structured; it is often loaded with individual preference, bias and expectation; and when it comes to observing other people, it is usually tinged with some kind of emotion and set of background assumptions.

In the case of Neil Lennon, the background assumptions made by many people are already firmly entrenched.

To think that the process of observing such a well-known individual under normal circumstances, never mind in a highly stressful context such as giving evidence in court, could be entirely neutral, objective and impartial, would be too simplistic.

To think that it would be in the interests of the general public would be naïve and self-serving, particularly when the wider media would be busy adding to our existing preconceptions in the lead up to the event and in the aftermath of the show.

When you attempt to transform a highly complex, psychologically demanding and emotionally draining event, into a form of reality television entertainment, you immediately damage the objectivity and neutrality of the proceedings.

You also seriously damage your own credibility as a broadcaster when you consider televising the culmination of an individual’s victimisation and his right to privacy as a witness.

In situations like this, as a viewer, you often experience a subtle reversal of priority between observing reality and emotionally intervening in it.

Or in other words, you have already constructed your own version of the reality that subsequently appears to play out in front of your eyes for the first time.

And it is no longer a case of, ‘here is the evidence; now make up your mind’.

Rather, it is a case of, ‘you’ve made up your mind; now here is the evidence to support it’.

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