In April 2011 the manager of Glasgow Celtic football Club (Neil Lennon) and three other officers were sent letter bombs. This led to hand-wringing articles in the press. To the effect that one urban tribe (Celtic) was as bad the other (Glasgow Rangers FC (Football Club)). The next time team-members, officers or supporters of Rangers get letter bombs or bullets in the post, will be the first time. Neil Lennon has a growing collection of the latter. He resigned from Northern Ireland’s ‘national’ squad, because when he scored a goal he was the object of abuse, including death threats, from a bloc of ‘fans’.
There was, (prior to the letter bombs), a controversy in (the Communist Party of Britain’s daily) Morning Star about Celtic and Rangers. Writers dismissed the idea of actual differences between the teams: the ‘Old Firm’. They’re both commercial enterprises. Martin O’Neill, a former manager, distanced the enterprise from ‘Rebel’ songs. An MS letter-writer said Belfast Celtic wound itself up in 1948. But not why. A Celtic player was shot dead in mid-match. The killer was never found. The next time a Rangers player is shot dead, or a ‘teen in Glasgow gets his throat slashed for wearing a ‘blues’ strip, will be the first time.
Some commentating on the latest incivilities claim both sides sing sectarian songs. Since when have ‘Rebel’ songs been sectarian? Do Celtic fans censor their repertoire to avoid mentioning Wolfe Tone and the rest? It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that much of this is engaged in because it winds up the opposition. The ‘on the one hand; on the other hand’ balance is disingenuous. There is an imbalance in the behaviour of the ‘ultras’ following the teams. MS‘s correspondents did not note some relevant matters. The National Front and the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) did a roaring trade outside Rangers ground, selling journals and collecting money. Rangers’ management claims this has declined due to their efforts. It is probably due to Unionism in Scotland being in (probably terminal) decline.
This article is not a denunciation of the ‘blues’. Rangers’ fans were horrified by the letter bombs. Northern Ireland supporters were disgusted at Lennon’s treatment. It’s not healthy to argue with those barracking him, they constitute a solid bloc in stadiums, or when beating-up those less Loyal than themselves.
There has been a follow-up to the bombs and bullets, partly pro forma declarations of indignation and distaste by Scotland’s Establishment. Meanwhile Neil Lennon received another bullet in the post, and was physically assaulted in the course of a match by a Hearts (Heart of Midlothian) fan. Hearts is Edinburgh’s equivalent of Rangers, Hibernian being the Celtic-equivalent. Edinburgh disdains Glaswegian crudity, but the sectarian beast is clearly dozing, not dead.
James MacMillan, a composer, in the 1998 Edinburgh Festival lecture, said sectarianism was Scotland’s dirty little secret. The [Labour & Trade Union] Review’s response (I wrote it) was ‘on the one hand; on the other hand’ hand wringing. But this sequence of events is eye opening. The London media is detached about these matters. It’s been implied that Neil Lennon attracted his bullets, letter bombs (some put ‘bomb’ in quotes — the police described them as ‘viable’) and assaults, whether on the grounds of being red haired, “Northern Irish”, or manager of Glasgow Celtic, it’s difficult to assess.
Some bloggers (who don’t denounce Glasgow Celtic in grossly sectarian and racist terms) accuse its fans of supporting ‘terrorists’, meaning the IRA. It is ‘whataboutery’ – but – (some) Rangers fans support the UDA and UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and not just by cash in collection tins. The UK government (to which they are, allegedly, ‘Loyal’) negotiated with the IRA, which put away its guns well before the Loyalist UDA / UFF or UVF did.
If the recipients of these bombs had been Jewish or even African or Afro-Caribbean people would have been the objects of sympathy, ‘think pieces’, and possibly even some action, (unless they happened to be Muslims). Why is the official response to these acts of aggression so sluggish? Is sectarianism systemic to Scottish (even British) society? Retaliatory violence may happen unless the Establishment from Parliament (Westminster as well as Holyrood) down indicates that sectarianism is history.