Published on 2 October 2013
The latest in a recent spate of football fan cases to see a courtroom has sent some heads shaking in disbelief.
Paul Clark, 30, was given a 12-month Football Banning Order for making a ‘gun gesture’ at an Old Firm game in 2012. It wasn’t Georgios Samaras but he might want to watch himself while FoCUS are around.
Instead, Mr Clark now has his name splashed across news reports and finds himself slapped with a football thug tag.
Along with singing about the IRA, making a gun gesture may well be offensive to many people but when a Government introduces legislation – the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act – that turns the offensive into criminal, society is on very dangerous ground.
The Scottish Government’s hurry to appear tough on ‘sectarianism’ in the aftermath of the Old Firm ‘shame game’ in 2011 has led to worrying events.
The kettling of 200 Celtic fans attempting to mount a peaceful protest walk to Celtic Park in March was particularly notable. I was one of their number – along with my 72-year-old father – and the only journalist to witness what happened.
A police force of at least equal number showed up with horses and batons to deal with fans young and old who were staging a protest in opposition to the Scottish Government legislation and highlighting alleged police brutality.
Countless pictures and videos taken by a smartphone-savvy crowd showed an excessive response to a peaceful march and even Al Jazeera reported on the incredible scenes. Fans were left stunned, angry and isolated.
Furthermore, the criminalisation of Celtic fans for singing political songs as a result of the legislation has only served to give the songs a brand new relevance.
The debate about IRA chanting in the Celtic fan base is no longer about whether it’s appropriate or not – a position the debate had at least moved to before the Scottish Government gate crashed the conversation – but about the legal right to express political views and, importantly, cultural and ethnic identity.
The Scottish Government has delivered a whole new importance to those political chants and the standoff is at its strongest in years.
Much of the Celtic support in Scotland hail from Irish roots and the right to express that Irish identity is fundamental.
But those football fans now have a genuine and justified fear that their civil liberties are under serious threat and they have good reason to be alert.
If an interview with Scotland’s Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland in June was anything to go by, peaceful, law abiding citizens in Scotland who hold Irish Republican politics might want to call a lawyer.
On the day the Scottish government released its latest hate crime figures – which revealed 268 arrests had been made under the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act – Mr Mulholland admitted in a national television interview that an Irish Republican identity was “potentially” criminal.
Mr Mulholland was asked specifically by STV reporter Bernard Ponsenby about an Irish Republican identity.
In his response, Mr Mulholland confirmed what many from an Irish cultural background have insisted for months, years; holding an Irish identity in Scotland – particularly in Glasgow – is a problem.
“It depends on the facts and circumstances, that’s the point I’m making,” he said. “Irish Republican identity is potentially criminal under this Act, yes.”
Saturday’s scenes at the Ibrox Armed Forces Day fuelled fears among Celtic fans that the policy of football fan criminalisation is connected to identity.
British soldiers danced and did ‘the bouncy’ as the crowds at Ibrox gloried in the death of Bobby Sands when just weeks earlier a Celtic fan was handed a criminal conviction for singing Roll of Honour, a song commemorating Bobby Sands among the 1981 Hunger Strikers.
Yet it took media coverage from An Phoblacht, the Guardian and Channel 4 News before Police Scotland announced they would take a look at the events at Ibrox.
Those from the greener side of Glasgow were confronted on social media with images of British soldiers posing with scarves displaying slogans about keeping Ulster Protestant, prompting George Galloway MP to take to Twitter to warn voters that a vote for independence would leave the Irish Catholic minority in Scotland outnumbered and unprotected from the “proto-fascist savages associated with Rangers”.
This is not, and never could be, just about football.
While the SNP asks Scotland for a Yes vote on independence, the perceived campaign of oppression against football fans with political views and a cultural identity that may not be to the liking of the SNP government shows no sign of ending.
To underestimate the strength of the resulting fear and anger would be a mistake for the SNP administration and any notion that it will simply blow over shows a costly disregard of the cultural roots and influence that football in Scotland represents.
The ‘shame game’ brought international media attention and Salmond’s government – to use the fitba vernacular – shat it.
This badly framed legislation was rushed through on a moral panic by an embarrassed political elite and now there are political careers riding on a law that is unfair and unworkable. The very concept of the act is at variance with democracy.
Scotland already had legislation capable of dealing with racism and bigotry at football grounds or anywhere else in the country. For example, the Famine Song was ruled racist at the High Court in Edinburgh in 2009 before Salmond’s new law was even thought of.
What the new law achieved was an “evening up” exercise where Irish Republican expressions were criminalised. A feature of the Salmond regime is that they are never wrong and never, ever make mistakes. Subsequently, football fans are criminalised to save Wee Eck’s blushes.
Is this the Scotland that Mr Salmond wants me to vote Yes to?
Did El Hadji Diouf unwittingly create Salmond’s Poll Tax?
Get it fixed, Eck.
Yeah lets stick with the unionist parties who for decades did nothing about the sectarian signing polices at Ibrox or the anti catholic bile from the terracing. The offensive behaviour Law is a poorly thought out law but at least the SNP government is the first who have been serious about tackling the bigotry. For the first time in Scotland someone shouting FTP is in serious danger of being prosecuted (rarely did in happen in reality in the past). Contrary to how it is portrayed there have been many prosecutions under the new legislation for anti catholic chants. Its not one sided. Rightly or wrongly songs in support of proscribed organisations have been included in the legislation. While singing about the provos at a football match is a big thing for a small number most people will be happy to see the back of this and the loyalist/ anti catholic nonsense. Singing about the provos at the football ground especially when large amounts of alcohol have been consumed is not an heroic and romantic endorsement of Irish republicanism. Football tribalism in Scotland has done nothing for the cause of Irish republicanism. In fact it devalues and cheapens it.
Completely agree on your last point. However, criminalising the singing of these songs is not the answer. Criminalising any kind of political speech is a dangerous road.
I would contest the concept that singing about the provos in the football context is ‘political speech’ Its tribalism pure and simple. And its not anti Irish to want to see it eradicated. It would be anti Irish to clamp down on the Soldiers Song, the fields etc and no matter how much rhetorical scaremongering there is no chance of any of this falling foul of the legislation. The legislation is simply not about this. It is the glorification of paramilitarism (linked with football), which is not a prerequisite to being Irish, along with religious bigotry. Sadly the inability for sections of fans to self police and understand the world has moved on and most people don’t want to hear chants about the RA and the denigration of The Pope we have ended up with poorly constructed legislation being enforced.
This legislation will not be ‘Salmond’s poll tax.’ The independence referendum will be fought over issues like who will best tackle poverty, unemployment, how the economy will be managed. It will not be about the rights and wrongs of small section of society, often fueled on alcohol, obsessing about a romanticised version of the recent troubles across the water.
You’re argument appears agree with criminalising political speech that you don’t believe has a place at football. As I said, dangerous ground.
Very good summary of the heart of the problem for the SNP and sadly for the pro-independence campaigners who are necessarily lined up with them.!
When will someone from the SNP stand up and say we got this badly wrong? Are they all so scared of upsetting Eck that they would allow this travesty of an act to continue to criminalise otherwise law abiding citizens?
This to me is just another sign of folk not wanting to integrate in this marvelous country we live in ie the folk with irish roots and the the migrants that have arrived more recently love it or leave it its a free country.
A “free” country where merely singing of your Irish roots is not integrating? I’m as Scottish as anyone born here and proud of both that and my Irish heritage.
So, in other words, ‘Why don’t you go home’?
There’s growing momentum for Independence within the Celtic Support. Various factors but strategically a lot of them see an independence as the start of the break up of the Union. Meanwhile on the other side of the City…..
Angela and Jeanette what have the IRA and Bobby Sands got to do with Celtic fc? Recently when Celtic played Cliftonville, who are from Belfast, the Cliftonville supporters never sung any pro IRA songs. Now these people live in an divided city , but never seen the need to sing such songs at a football match. If you want to sing these songs, ok, but keep them away from Celtic FC.
Gordybhoy, I really begin to lose patience at the number of times a thing has to be repeated and still the same red herring keeps coming back in reply. However, here goes again.
It is not about whether Irish republican songs should or should not be sung at a football ground, I have never argued that they should (or shouldn’t for that matter). The point is that this should not be seen as a criminal act or sectarian or anything other than an expression of free speech; not necessarily appropriate or even very clever, but free speech nonetheless. My own view is that this would have eventually died out as a practice if the government had not criminalised it. Now the fundamental issue is not whether they should be sung or not but the criminalisation of, in the main, young people for doing something which at its very worst is disrespectful to the memory of those they seek to honour. It does not incite violence, it is not designed to intimidate, it is not sectarian and it is not offensive (except for those who are offended by our very existence). They don’t do it at Cliftonville for a variety of reasons but one might be they would not be criminalised if they did, so they don’t feel the need to protest in that way.
I have never sung Republican songs at a football match because I respect my own political views in a different way. However, I now make it my business to sing the Roll of Honour as an act of civil disobedience in the honourable tradition of that particular tactic.
My command of English does not allow me to elucidate this point any further so if you don’t understand what my position is then I can’t help you any further.
Finally, who do you think you are to tell people what they should ‘keep away from Celtic Park’? Maybe you should look at your own intolerance of the views of others.