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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK


The bitter divide

Old Firm games carry sectarian overtones

Hello, hello, we are the Billy boys,
Hello, hello, you'll know us by our noise,
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood,
Surrender or you'll die,
For we are the Brigton Derry boys.

The words to an anti-Roman Catholic song commonly heard at Old Firm matches.

The abrupt departure of Rangers Football Club Vice-chairman Donald Findlay after he sang anti-Catholic songs has brought the question of sectarianism in Scotland back into the spotlight.

The incident, after the club's victory over Old Firm rivals Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final, is only the latest in a series of recent events which have served to remind the public of a long-standing rivalry.

It is a rivalry which is historically tied up in religion - specifically a Protestant-Catholic divide, with Protestants traditionally associated with the Ibrox club and Catholics with Celtic.

[ image: Hugh Dallas was hit by a coin during a stormy Old Firm encounter]
Hugh Dallas was hit by a coin during a stormy Old Firm encounter
The depth of animosity between some elements of the teams' support has been all too apparent on the terraces over the years with Republican and anti-Catholic anthems being exchanged.

But there has been more to the rivalry than just songs such as The Sash and Follow Follow, which Mr Findlay reportedly sang at the after-match celebration.

Only last month, dozens of football fans were arrested on the day of the troubled Old Firm league derby on 2 May, during which several Celtic fans invaded the pitch and the match referee was struck by a coin.

Fan killed

Other, even more serious, incidents have hit the headlines in recent times:

  • A 16-year-old man wearing a Celtic strip was killed near Hampden Park after the Scottish Cup Final on Saturday
  • In 1996 Jason Campbell was jailed for life for slashing the throat of a young Celtic fan. And last year Thomas Longstaff, 26, was jailed for 10 years for attacking another Celtic supporter. Both were represented by Mr Findlay, a leading QC.
  • Sectarianism is nothing new - it has been an issue in Scotland since the heavy influx of Irish Catholic immigrants, particularly into the West of Scotland, from the 1840s which eventually led to the creation of Celtic Football Club in 1888.

    But, according to one sociologist who specialises in the field, sectarianism is still a force to be reckoned with in Scottish society - not just in a football context.

    [ image:  ]
    Dr David Miller of Stirling University's Media Research Institute said: "Sectarianism is not just about symbols and religious bigotry. It is about power, about how we identify some groups as okay and others as not okay.

    "It is the same process in racism and with ethnic cleansing in Kosovo - the attitude that 'they are going to take our jobs'."

    The head of the Orange Lodge in Scotland sees the troubles on and off the Old Firm pitches as an expression of "tribalism" rather than religion.

    Grand Secretary Jack Ramsay said: "I have never identified football with religion. Today there are probably more Catholics playing for Rangers than there are playing for Celtic.

    "I agree there is still vitriol but you have to look at it in the context of where it is coming from. There are hardcore elements within the two sets of supporters. It works both ways."

    [ image: Donald Findlay: Sang The Sash]
    Donald Findlay: Sang The Sash
    Mr Ramsay said he was verbally abused through an answering machine when he turned up for work following the Donald Findlay incident.

    "My ears were assaulted with rebel songs, questions regarding the status of my birth and remarks concerning protestantism in general. It was a message from people with opposing views to those we hold.

    "But what has really disturbed me is the death of the 16-year-old boy that followed the Scottish Cup Final. For whatever reason this took place, it is an abomination and there is no excuse or justification for that kind of activity."

    Sectarian presence

    Although sectarianism is most evident at football grounds, it is ever present in political and professional circles, according to Dr Miller.

    He believes more research needs to be done into the question of sectarianism, particularly on the position of Catholics and Protestants in terms of jobs and money and class.

    "An Observer article in 1989 quoted statistics which showed that although Catholics made up 16% of the population in Scotland, they accounted for 35% of the prison population. If it was merely a question of class, how did this happen?"

    There is a potential for fresh sectarian conflicts based on power with the creation of the Scottish Parliament, according to Dr Miller.

    "We are longer competing for resources with the rest of Britain - it is now more a case of competing within the country. There is a possibility that ethnic politics may have a resurgence."

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