I was dismayed this morning to see a number of Celtic Fan Media pages carrying commentary on a piece of yet more insidious bigotry that found its way into Scotland’s mainstream press last week. What’s more disappointing is that the story in question originated from The Herald, the newspaper at which, as a 16 year old copy boy, I earned my first break into journalism.
In his March 11th piece: Why Rangers Fans Like Me Despair for Our Club Andy Maciver, a self-confessed bluenose, laments the behavior of his club’s supporters after their league win last week. He criticizes their violation of current pandemic protocols and the needless destruction of public property.
Sounds reasonable so far, doesn’t it?
Read on however, and Andy’s true agenda becomes clear. It’s not long before he drops the veneer of respectability and goes full Sevconian with this little diatribe: “The easy thing for the clubs to do is protest that they are trying (to keep fans under control). But are they really? Or are they dog-whistling to the lowest common denominator? Does Celtic really need to fly the Irish tricolour above Celtic Park? Does that help or hinder progress?”
There you have it folks. Apparently, fascist tendencies coupled with an overwhelming sense of entitlement had nothing to do with the riots we saw in Glasgow last weekend. According to Andy here its because those uppity Fenians across town insist on flying another country’s national flag.
The thing is, not only is the very notion itself steeped in bigotry (would we even be having this discussion if the flag was any country other than Ireland?), but it also shows that Andy really doesn’t know his Rangers history at all.
Going after Celtic’s fundamental right to fly whatever flag they wish above their own stadium is something the SFA tried once before, back in 1952. Much like the Scottish Government enquiry into the “shame game” of 2011, looking for easy scapegoats to gloss over the anti-Irish racism that underpins many of the societal problems around Glasgow’s football culture is nothing new.
In early 1952, disorder at the New Year Old Firm match (it was still the Old Firm then) , prompted the referee’s committee, along with the SFA board, to demand that Celtic remove the Irish flag, as it was deemed to be a source of “incitement” for the violence on January 1st of that year.
Celtic, represented by then chairman Sir Robert Kelly, rejected the demand, arguing that the SFA did not have the authority to tell clubs what they can and cannot display at their own stadium. At that meeting, Kelly had support from perhaps the most unlikely of sources: JF Wilson, the Rangers chairman. At the meeting, Mr Wilson said that the flag had never been a problem for Rangers as a club. Speaking to the trouble at the New Year game, he commented further: “Don’t delude yourselves, the flag had nothing to do with the trouble.”
Nonetheless, the SFA doubled down on their ignorance, and the matter dragged on for months, before finally being taken off the table once and for all at the start of the 1952-53 season. Throughout that time, only two Scottish clubs publicly declared support for Celtic’s stance on the issue. Those clubs were Clyde and Rangers.
For a deeper dive into this controversy, I recommend this excellent article on The Celtic Wiki.
So, when the Andy Macivers of this world ask “Why do Celtic still fly the tricolour?” the simple answer is because his own club respected Celtic’s right to do so.
This stuff is basic. It took me all of 5 minutes to research the facts and the history behind these issues. It’s truly sad that a once proud institution like The Herald keeps reporters on its staff who are unwilling or unable to do likewise.
Regardless of the teams we support, when ignorance is allowed free reign, we all lose in the long run.