Originally published in The Cardonald Courier in February 2012
FORMER Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram has hit out at the Scottish government’s handling of Scotland’s bigotry shame, claiming it can never be fully eradicated.
Speaking exclusively to The Cardonald Courier, Goram said the Old Firm “shame game”, which saw Rangers and Celtic managers Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon almost come to blows in March last year, was blown out of proportion and claimed the country’s bigotry problem was not getting worse, but better.
“It’s certainly been improving, that’s a fact, but you look at what happened, the way they blew it out of proportion with Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist,” he said. “If Ally McCoist had stuck one on Neil Lennon’s chin or vice versa then you have a problem, but it’s absolutely pathetic.
“There were no punches thrown, and then it was all over the government and the Scottish parliament. There’s a lot more things going on in Scotland than that to provoke the reaction they provoked from the Scottish government.
“There was a darts match in Glasgow where they were throwing pints and throwing coins at the darts players and parliament never got involved in that so that was their way of making a name for themselves.”
In March last year Glasgow’s SECC played host to a Premier League darts match between Adrian Lewis and Gary Anderson, during which Lewis was hit by a pint of lager and struck by coins thrown by the 6,500-strong crowd.
Goram, 47, who made over 250 appearances for Rangers during his seven year spell at the Ibrox club in the 1990s, said the tense nature of the game was nothing new:
“Unless you have played in the game you have no idea,” he said. “The passions run high which is obvious. That’s been going on for a million years it’s not just all of a sudden raised its head. It’s a great atmosphere. You used to fight in tunnels and things. Nothing daft about that.”
Controversy surrounded Scottish football in 2011 after Celtic manager Lennon and prominent Celtic fans Paul McBride QC and Trish Godman MSP were targeted with viable parcel bombs which Strathclyde Police said were intended to “kill or maim”, raising fears that sectarian tensions in the west of Scotland were reaching boiling point.
Lennon was also attacked by a football fan on the touchline during a game between Celtic and Hearts at the height of the league title run in. Events on and off the pitch led the Scottish government to push through new legislation in December designed to tackle Scotland’s sectarian problem.
Scottish Minister for community safety Roseanna Cunningham said: “Sectarianism is never acceptable, never excusable. It has ruined the lives of too many people and too many communities for long enough.
“Sectarianism has no place in a modern Scotland and we need to do everything we can to eradicate it once and for all. Clearly, sectarianism is not confined to any one area of society, or one part of Scotland. That is why we will be looking to bring forward further wide-ranging action over the five year term.”
Goram welcomed the latest attempts to curb bigotry in Scottish football, but said it would never be eradicated: “I think back to the 90s when I was playing – everyone could sing the songs at the Old Firm games and that was accepted then but now it’s not acceptable, which is fine, so anything that’s going to help try and promote that has got to be a help.
“You’re never going to eradicate it but to minimise it I think that’s the key.”
Celtic and Rangers have both been fined by UEFA over fans’ chanting in European fixtures, but Goram said the clubs were doing all they could to fix the problem.
“I think the clubs are doing a great job. I think a lot of their fans around about all the people singing are doing a great job.
“Whether it’s right or wrong to dob people in at the grounds for singing songs I don’t know. It’s the only way around it.”
Old Firm and domestic violence
Despite Strathclyde Police figures showing an increase in domestic violence rates following Old Firm match days, Goram believes the connection between the two is exaggerated. Domestic abuse incidences rose 75% compared to the previous week on the day after an Old Firm game on February 20 2011, prompting Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland to warn of a clear link between the rival matches and domestic violence.
Goram said: “The Scottish government are blaming domestic violence on it now, the Old Firm game and things like that, it’s a lot of rubbish. If you look at the facts and figures for arrests there are just the same amount of arrests any other Saturday night outwith an Old Firm game. They are trying to pin it on that, which is fine.”
Goram was speaking after a recent Old Firm Legends match at Toryglen Regional Football Centre, which saw former Scottish football stars Frank McGarvey, Jose Quitongo and Charlie Miller take part. Old Firm Legends organises matches and distributes its proceeds to a range of Scottish charities. It is now working alongside Facebook campaign Rid The Old Firm Bigotry Once And For All, set up by Celtic fan Colin Dolan after he witnessed sectarian abuse between Rangers and Celtic fans on a number of sports-related social networking pages.
In 2010-11, 693 charges involving a religious aggravation reached Scottish courts, with over 50% of cases occurring in the Glasgow area. Football was involved in 231 of the charges, while 32 were related to marches or parades.
Despite the statistics, Goram said there were more pressing issues in Scotland than the problems posed by bigotry but warned fans that it would no longer be tolerated.
“There’s far worse every week happening in the streets of Glasgow and everywhere else,” he said. “You can’t condone the bigotry but they’re going to have to tone it down because UEFA is stepping in now and banning people and banners and things like that and you can’t do all this and you can’t sing this, which is fine as long as everyone sticks to the rules.”
Rid The Old Firm Bigotry founder Dolan said more should be done to tackle the problem: “There shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “The bigotry problem should have been dealt with years ago in my opinion. I always thought the SFA [Scottish Football Association] would come out and say something to stop it but they didn’t. They didn’t change any rules. They didn’t fine any club, didn’t take any points. Nothing was being done.
“There is a type of bigotry that is within the support of Rangers and Celtic. There is a particular brand of bigotry that is embodied within the support.
“We have to agree that bigotry is a problem between all of us. You have to accept that one club is the same as the other not worse than the other.”