Back when I was younger and somehow had more money, I spent a good deal of it watching Rangers. Everywhere, anywhere. In time, I ended up living 400 miles away from Ibrox and despite the presence of a local supporters’ club that would make the journey up the road, the ten beer-soaked hours on the road, punctuated by a football match, became unappealing by my mid-20s.
I became an armchair supporter who occasionally frequented a little piece of Loyalist Scotland in the corner of one of England’s greenest and most pleasant counties to sink a few beers and enjoy watching a club who were, largely unbeknownst to most people, on the verge of an almost apocalyptic descent into the lower leagues.
In those surroundings the language was coarse, the stories were brutal. The two teeth in a shot glass being the bar allegedly belonged to one of two Celtic fans who had inadvertently walked into the bar at the climax of the 1999 season, before Rod Wallace scored and secured the Treble for Rangers. “He fell”, apparently.
I can’t recall if the bar in question had a jukebox full of “cultural music”, as many of its sort do, but it needn’t of mattered. On an Old Firm match day you could have been in one of the bars along Paisley Road West, or one of the hundreds of buses working their way to the game, packed to the rafters with people who worked hard all week and when Saturday came, enjoyed themselves in a typically un-pc way.
It isn’t as if this extravagance never got people into trouble before the SNP’s horrendously sledgehammer-like legislative intervention. In the beery aftermath of the aforementioned 1999 Cup Final one Donald Findlay QC, then a Rangers director, was publicly shamed after footage appeared of him singing a few terrace anthems at a private, celebratory function surfaced. A combination of this shocking revelation – that even successful and educated people enjoy a pissed-up Sash Bash – and widespread violence during the title decider earlier that month when referee Hugh Dallas was downed by a coin thrown by a Celtic fan seemed to ensure that sectarianism, and the Scottish media’s lazy interpretation of it, became a political priority.
Gradually, and scarily, consensus grew amongst Scottish politicians that words could be ‘sectarian’. This eventually led to Labour’s Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland which pinpointed football as a key area in which ‘Scotland’s cancer’ – not drugs, obesity or crime, but sectarianism – was to be confronted.
In Scotland some of the chanting and singing at football matches is based on sectarian bigotry and fans – and occasionally even players and officials – sometimes go along with these without really considering the effects of what they are saying.
Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism, 2006
The SNP went even further than this with the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. It’s hard to believe now that a bill that made something a crime when it was associated with a football match, but at no other time, that saw police armed with a list of songs that were absolutely verboten and the powers to arrest accordingly, and that enshrined in the law that certain things were offensive, ever saw the light of day.
In the SNP mind ‘sectarianism’ is as serious as that we see in Iraq. But not because of the inevitable bloodshed that results, because sectarian crimes in Scotland are relatively rare, especially when put up against violence in Scotland in general. It’s serious because it stands in the way of their vision for Scotland. These people waving Union Flags or Irish Tricolours are a problem for that reason. Detach the head from the serpent and stop the public expressions of identities other than the SNP-approved version of Scottishness and the population becomes instantly more malleable, or so the logic goes.
This evening, as the Scottish Parliament voted for the Acts’s Tory-inspired repeal the SNP’s James Dornan dug his heels in, claiming that “the defining picture of sectarianism in Scotland has always been football” but the guise of combating sectarianism – by creating criminals out of people who said words at a specific place and time – is a convenient ruse for a culture war. There’s no place in their future Utopian Scotland for 90 minute bigots, no matter how cathartic and ultimately harmless their behaviour turns out to be.
The Act’s pending repeal should be welcomed by everyone concerned about the SNP’s increasingly obviously cultural nationalism and big state lust. You might not like what my old drinking buddies sing at the football, but do you really want people to go to jail for it?