by Tony Attwood
A little while ago the Scottish Football Association threatened to sue a QC who accused it of being “dishonest”, “dysfunctional” and “biased”.
As far as I know, they didn’t, but the mere fact that they said they might, shows that something is amiss in football in the north of the UK.
If you have read my ramblings before you’ll know that I think there is something seriously amiss in football in England, what with the refs being rather selective in their decision making and the FA only realising that Fifa is bent AFTER the bid for the world cup is lost. I suppose I just feel this morning that I want to make the point (as an Englishman living in England) that we are not alone in having football authorities that are either hopelessly out of date or hopelessly biased, or utterly inept (or more likely all three).
The Scottish QC mentioned above was Paul McBride who was annoyed that the SFA dropped a ban issued to the Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist and said the SFA “are officially the laughing stock of world football”.
The SFA called his statements “wild and inaccurate”, “defamatory and appear to be malicious.”
Meanwhile Rangers got annoyed because Uefa started a disciplinary case against their fans for chanting at a recent home game against PSV Eindhoven – as well as in the away match.
It is difficult to know quite what Rangers are getting worked up about, since most Uefa punishments for chanting are fairly mild – at least until the fans have been found guilty a number of times. But they are worried and a spokesperson said, “If the new Uefa prosecution is successful the consequences for the club will be very punitive and will result in another heavy fine and the club playing two games behind closed doors at Ibrox next season.”
None of this is new – and offensive chanting and singing goes all the way through the club. In 1999, to give one example, Rangers’ vice-chairman Donald Findlay resigned after being filmed singing The Billy Boys at a Rangers Supporters Club event. Which is why it is slightly interesting that Rangers now blame the Football Against Racism in Europe group, for causing a stir about the latest bout of singing.
“This now has all the hallmarks of a deliberate and targeted campaign against the club,” said a spokesman. “What else are we expected to believe when Uefa officials give us favourable reports at our matches only to indict us later on the evidence of an outside, unaccountable body?
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Meanwhile as we know (well, those of us who follow such things from another country think we know) Rangers and Celtic really can’t get on very well, and Rangers have blamed Celtic for criticising officials and thus upping the anger level on the terraces. (Today’s comments on Radio 5 from a few Hearts fans saying, “I don’t condone violence in any form but Neil Lennon only has himself to blame…” remind me of those people who join the racism debate by saying, “I am not a racist but you have to admit…”).
There is no excuse for violence, bigotry, homophobia, racism. There is no “but”. It seems a bit naff to say it now, but football is a game. It’s not supposed to be like this.
So when people at Rangers claim they could not have done more to remove sectarian singing at their grounds, I wonder. The use of the word “yid” at matches at the Ems has been massively reduced following an earlier campaign at Highbury, while, as I commented in a previous article, the homophobic abuse of players by Tottenham supporters has continued unabated. It is all a matter of will and determination. If Arsenal could move its 1960s and 1970s scenario when all manner of racist, homophobic and religious chanting occurred, to a time when it doesn’t, why can’t clubs elsewhere?
The Billy Boys and The Famine Song are sung at Rangers because (I believe, and I fully admit I reach this conclusion from outside of Scotland, having not personally been to a Rangers or Celtic game for a number of years) the supporters and club don’t think the SFA have the ability to do anything about it. Just like Tottenham fans know that the police, the EPL and the FA will do nothing about the homophobia some of them exhibit at games.
In Scotland even the Irish consul general made a complaint about Rangers’ fans chants, and the government released a statement saying: “The Scottish government is totally committed to combating sectarianism and bigotry, which is why we have expanded on the work of the previous administration and are doing more. We are working with the clubs themselves, as they are part of the solution to the problem.”
And still nothing much happens. I suppose it is a bit like having an enquiry into corruption in football and putting Fifa in charge.
Try this story for size…
Rangers have said they are awaiting police guidance on the matter. A club spokesperson said: “Rangers approached Strathclyde police for guidance on this matter, with a view to issuing a joint statement indicating that persons singing this song in future may face the possibility of arrest. Strathclyde police were not able to commit to this until they had carried out further investigation.
“Clearly The Famine Song has provoked such a response in certain quarters. It is the club’s view that the interest of our supporters and the club will be best served by supporters refraining from singing The Famine Song.”
So it goes on. Argue, blame, chant, consult, investigate. Last night a fan attacked the Celtic manager, and the temperature goes up once again in Scotland. Meanwhile our manager has been abused by opposition fans at every game he has attended since coming to England – and nothing has been done to stop it apart from one appeal in the Manchester United programme. There is no will to stop the outrage and Mr Wenger’s calm dignity in the face of the eternal abuse he suffers is utterly remarkable.
Racist and homophobic chanting along with religious bigotry is not a simple matter, as I tried to argue in my piece about the word “yid” recently, but it could be stopped. But you’d need far more will to do it than anyone in football seems to have just now.
In Scotland it does all seem to have gone so far that there now looks to be no solution. Perhaps the problem is that in Scottish football people have been able to predict the top two clubs for the season with total accuracy for years, whereas in England no one quite knew which four teams would qualify for the Champions League this year (oh, and that reminds me, Tottenham’s financial woes as a result of not qualifying will be the subject of an article shortly, on this site). Maybe the predictability of Scottish football means bigotry is all there is left to get worked up about.
The problem is, when the divisions that exist in Scottish football and parts of Scottish society, are as deep as they are, it is hard to find a way back. Maybe Rangers will go bust, as they have been threatening to do for several years, or maybe the SFA will decide Celtic are to blame for everything and will throw them out of the league. Who knows? But if either event actually happened the league would die. You can run a campaign with two giants and a bunch of minnows, but you can’t do it with just one giant.
Unless of course they were to admit Arsenal Reserves into the SPL. But would we want to play there?
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