Hampden Cup Final Shame: The Roots of the Violence

May 27, 2016

 

 

Last Saturday, on the 21st May, we witnessed some of the most shameful scenes in the history of Scottish football. Every single Rangers player on the pitch was either physically assaulted or spat upon as thousands of Hibernian fans streamed out of the stands, totally unhindered by the ineffective security presence organised by the SFA [1]. We know that at least six Rangers players and assistant manager Davie Weir were attacked, leaving three of them requiring medical attention [2]. Pitch invasions are one thing, skirmishes between fans as we witnessed on Saturday are another; but to see an entire squad assaulted and spat upon is beyond the pale. Not even this last disgrace happened at the famous Hampden riot of 1980 or the Wembley invasion by Scotland fans in 1977. Saturday’s scenes marked a new low point in Scottish football, and the violence of fans against players (an entirely one-sided affair of Hibernian fans assaulting the Rangers team and staff) is something almost unknown even from the darkest times of football hooliganism in the 80s.

 

At this point, we could talk about the lack of condemnation from the Scottish footballing and political establishment. We could talk about the inaction of the security services, or the false equivalencies which the media has attempted to draw between the two sets of fans. A little, if not enough, has already been said by various people on these points. So instead, let’s talk about the real problem that lies at the heart of this and that nobody is willing to address: the fact that Saturday’s scenes were merely chickens coming home to roost after the systematic demonisation of Rangers and its supporters by the establishment of ‘modern Scotland’.

 

To talk of something as vague as “the establishment” can, without substantiating detail, leave one open to potentially justified criticism. It is however the only term which is wide-reaching enough to describe what has been happening in this country in recent years, and so clear facts and figures based on specific people and institutions shall be given to justify this claim. There’s been a sense for a long time now that to be either a Rangers fan, a unionist or a self-identifying Briton is to leave yourself open to hostility, to accusations of being a “quisling”, a dinosaur or as someone that doesn’t quite fit into the way that Scotland has re-imagined itself in recent times. Modern Scotland, we are told, is a liberal, progressive and left-leaning country, yearning to be an independent republic. To be a British unionist, or to identify with a club like Rangers which is widely regarded as a bastion of Britishness and unionism, is to therefore go against the grain of this imagined modern Scotland.

 

BIGOTRY WITHIN THE SNP

 

Everybody is, of course, entitled to their own sense of national and political identity, whether Scottish nationalist or British unionist. Problems arise when these differences turn nasty, and it is here that issues with the Scottish establishment – political, sporting and media – begin to emerge. Clear examples were promised, so let’s start at the heart of Scotland’s ruling party as it goes into its third term in office at Holyrood. John Mason, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, tweeted that “I am certainly anti British J” [3]. This was posted a matter of days before the violence at Hampden, as Hibernian supporters waving all sorts of Irish nationalist flags (a mix of Tricolours, green and gold “Erin go bragh” flags and four provinces flags) rushed towards the Rangers support decked in the red, white and blue of their Union Jacks. Mason’s open racism is astounding, and one can only imagine the entirely justified storm that would ensue if an MSP was ever foolish enough to call themselves “anti-Irish”, “anti-Polish” or “anti-Muslim”. In modern Scotland though, it is apparently fine for our elected representatives to openly call themselves “anti-British” and face no reaction when people flying Union Jacks are attacked en masse days later.

 

Sadly, this bigotry is rife within the SNP. Brendan O’Hara, the SNP MP for Argyll & Bute, repeatedly called Rangers fans “Huns” on a Celtic supporters forum, a term which is recognised as sectarian both by anti-sectarian charities like Nil by Mouth, and by legislation which his own party has passed. Despite a petition signed by almost 3,000 people calling for him to be stood down as a candidate prior to last year’s General Election, the SNP decided to take literally no action against him [4]. Meanwhile, an ordinary Rangers fan was locked up for the same offence [5].

 

This bigotry in the SNP isn’t reserved for just MPs or MSPs, it is rife amongst their councillors as well. Consider Christopher McEleny, the SNP opposition leader in Inverclyde, who gleefully posted all sorts of incorrect Sevco nonsense about Rangers being a new club [6]. If that doesn’t sound too sinister, bear in mind he also posted lyrics from a notorious IRA ballad on social media: “and you dare to call me a terrorist, while you look down your gun” [7]. He insists that he was not aware of the origin of these lyrics. I suppose we are left to judge for ourselves whether or not the nationalist councillor from Inverclyde who thinks Rangers are a new club was aware he was quoting the exact lyrics from a well-known IRA song. One need only look at the headlines generated by other councillors like Feargal Dalton to see that he is far from alone in courting such controversy.

 

JUST A SINGLE BEAR AT HOLYROOD

 

Putting the SNP’s problems with naked sectarian bigotry aside, there is the more mundane yet no less pressing issue of the unrepresentativeness of the Scottish Parliament. When MSPs last year were quizzed on which football team they support, there was just a single Rangers fan amongst the respondents [8]. By contrast, almost thirty percent of the fifty-three respondents said they supported Celtic, almost twenty said Aberdeen, almost twenty Hibernian, a dozen Inverness Caledonian Thistle. And just a couple of percentage points went to Rangers with their lone fan. That is a quite astonishing figure considering that Rangers have by far the largest support of any team in Scotland. Given the fact that SNP MSPs can openly state they are anti-British and their elected representatives can display all sorts of anti-British racism and anti-Protestant sectarianism with impunity, perhaps this should be of no surprise. Whatever the cause, it is impossible not to wonder how Celtic fans came to outnumber Rangers fans by around fifteen to one at Holyrood. Or indeed how Hibs fans outnumber them by around five to one. It is only when we take on board these figures that we can start to make sense of the almost total lack of condemnation of Saturday’s events coming from the parliament.

 

MAC GIOLLA BHAIN, SPIERS & HAGGERTY

 

This lack of representation for a certain demographic is, while systematic, very mundane when compared to the vitriol which is directed at them from the nationalist ‘new media’ in Scotland. A classic example is Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, who blogged satirically about a hideous creature which barks the Rangers phrase “we are the people”, created by a “Professor Struth” (for those unaware, a reference to famous Rangers manager Bill Struth) from the DNA of a criminally insane murderer and a ten thousand pound gorilla [9]. Mac Giolla Bhain, a particularly vile bigot by any measure, almost managed to have his book “Downfall: How Rangers FC Self Destructed” serialised in the Scottish Sun from 2012, only for it to be cancelled following protests by Rangers fans. He later referred to Rangers fans as a “fascist underclass who gather at Ibrox” in one article in the Belfast Telegraph [10]. It is this demonisation, to the point almost of total dehumanisation, that fuels hatred of the Rangers support in Scotland. The underclass point has become something of a recurrent theme, echoed by well-known sports journalist Graham Spiers, a columnist for the Herald until earlier this year, who wrote of “a kind of rogue, angry underclass which appeared to have attached itself to the club”. He was later sacked from this position after making unsubstantiated claims against a Rangers director.

 

Which brings us onto a well-known face of Scotland’s ‘new media’ in the person of Angela Haggerty. A columnist for the Sunday Herald, she was sacked earlier this year after speaking out in support of the disgraced Graham Spiers, only to be reinstated shortly after [11].  She worked alongside Phil Mac Giolla Bhain on his book ‘Downfall’, shortly before the Sun dropped him for being “tarred with a sickening sectarian brush” [12]. She also echoes the bigotry of her associates Spiers and Mac Giolla Bhain, even going so far as to tweet that Rangers are “a social club for people still clinging on to a white British Protestant identity that resolves around fancy dress”. The “white” remark seems particularly bizarre, but then it ties in with her associate Phil’s frequent slur that the Rangers support is a “klan”, as if it is some sort of Scottish KKK. Haggerty is one of the well-known faces in the pro-independence ‘new media’ and editor of the Common Space website [13]. Despite her hateful comments and association with ultra-sectarian bigots like Mac Giolla Bhain, Ruth Davidson leapt to Haggerty’s defence after her temporary sacking by the Sunday Herald, claiming that “as an ex-hack, I'd expect my title to back the integrity of journos” [14]. It might be expected that Labour or SNP figures would defend such people; when the leader of the Scottish Conservatives does so as well it shows how far things have gone in this country. With the support of Ruth Davidson and the Scottish political establishment, it is little wonder that we had to witness the unedifying sight of Haggerty appearing on the BBC to give her expert analysis as part of the live election night coverage a few weeks ago.

 

This demonisation of Rangers and its fans, inseparable from the distinctly British and unionist identity of the club, is not something isolated to a few individuals; it is in fact rife amongst the entire pro-independence camp, especially the ‘new media’ which arose during the independence referendum. The Bella Caledonia blog was so outraged by the sacking of Spiers and Haggerty that they gave Haggerty a column on their site in its place [15]. Another blog entry begins: “Some people view ‘Rangers’ as the embodiment of bigotry, gangster finance, deference and all that is worst and retrograde about Scottish society. Others take a more negative view” [16].

 

CYBERNATS & SCOTLAND’S ‘NEW MEDIA’

 

One of Bella Caledonia’s regular contributors is Cat Boyd, also a columnist for the National, who named Bernadette McAliskey as her political hero on Haggerty’s Common Space site [17]. McAliskey was co-founder of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political-wing of the Irish National Liberation Army, a terror group whose member’s carried out atrocities such as walking into a Protestant church and gunning down worshippers. We actually stood against Boyd on the Glasgow list a few weeks ago and her party, RISE, beat us by just a single vote (2,454 to our 2,453). Considering she is a well-known media figure, her party included former MSPs and that they were well funded, had national TV and media coverage and did large-scale leafleting and grassroots activism, we’re pleased to have given them a real run for their money. We had none of these things they had; just imagine what we could do if we did have those resources.

 

Then there’s cybernat Stuart Campbell (who, incidentally, blames Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough disaster) who does little to hide his hatred for Rangers on his Wings Over Scotland blog, and he also makes the political link clear:

 

“For decades Rangers FC has served as a weekly indoctrination service for the defenders of the Union – you can’t spend a large proportion of your leisure time waving Union Jacks and singing “Rule Britannia” with thousands of fellow loyal subjects of Her Majesty (she of the Revenue and Customs) without it having some sort of effect on your worldview.” [18]

 

There’s no doubt that the hatred of Rangers is politically motivated, it is stated as clear as day there in the words of the most high-profile cybernat of them all. Rangers are hated because they are to their fans the “quintessential British club”. They have a British and unionist identity. Not all fans will hold to that, but these principles are predominant enough in the history and the ethos of the club that they continue to shape its identity. And because of that, they are despised by the nastier elements within Scottish nationalism.

 

All these points discussed above are what really lie at the heart of what happened on Saturday. Rangers fans, openly portrayed by seemingly respected media figures as some sort of bigoted, fascist underclass, were forced to watch as the constant verbal attacks finally became physical, and every one of their players on the field was either physically assaulted or spat upon.

 

Yes, Sturgeon did nothing to condemn the shocking scenes. Yes, Petrie’s lack of condemnation was gobsmacking. When these figures did say something, it was far too little and also too late. And yes, the false equivalencies which the media attempted to draw between the two sets of fans were baseless, knee-jerk and pathetic. In any normal country, these things are so obvious that they would not even need stating. And because of that, this article has focused not on the particulars of Saturday’s events and the immediate aftermath: hardly a Rangers fan or for that matter any decent, law-abiding person would be anything but abhorred by what unfolded. There’s nothing really to debate in that sense.

 

The big story here should be the years of institutional hatred which culminated in Saturday’s scenes. So long as figures like Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, Graham Spiers and Angela Haggerty can openly associate with each other and demonise Rangers fans as some sort of lumpen underclass, all the while holding respected media positions and receiving backing from figures like Ruth Davidson, then this hatred will continue. When SNP MSPs like John Mason can openly state they are “anti-British”, when SNP MPs like Brendan O’Hara can use anti-Protestant hate speech and face no repercussions from their party, the hatred will continue. Rangers and its fans, to no small degree because of their pro-UK and unionist leanings, are a group that are acceptable to hate in modern Scotland. In the absence of any sort of serious condemnation of Saturday’s scenes from the Scottish political or footballing establishment, there is little indication that any of this is going to change any time soon. Saturday’s scenes were shameful, the response of the likes of Sturgeon and Petrie equally so, but let’s not forget that it is the systematic, institutional hatred that culminated in these events that is the greatest shame of all.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/every-rangers-player-pitch-attacked-8028393#VpqoH6QcJa5MrCl4.97

[2] http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/feedtest/nrscottishsport/7165927/Six-Rangers-players-and-coach-Davie-Weir-ATTACKED-by-Hibs-yobs-in-Scottish-Cup-Final-shame.html

[3]https://www.facebook.com/VoteNo2014/photos/a.177722718953393.48305.174186732640325/1079647038760952/?type=3&theatre

[4] https://www.change.org/p/first-minister-nicola-sturgeon-leader-of-the-snp-brendan-o-hara-snp-candidate-for-the-westminster-constituency-of-argyll-bute-brendan-o-hara-must-stand-down-as-the-snp-s-candidate-for-argyll-bute

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-31856341

[6]http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/13307403.SNP_council_leader_hits_out_at__bigoted_insults__after_he_indicated_he_felt_Rangers_were_a_new_club/

[7] http://www.pressreader.com/uk/scottish-daily-mail/20151208/281732678419689

[8]http://m.heraldscotland.com/news/14156134.Inside_Holyrood__what_MSPs_really_think_of_God__the_Queen__drugs__Rangers__Celtic__independence_and_Coronation_Street/

[9] http://www.philmacgiollabhain.ie/the-incubator/

[10]http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/13901770.Rangers_fans_group_reply_to_newspaper_article_which_refers_to__fascist_underclass_who_gather_at_Ibrox_/

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-35607032

[12] http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2012/sep/03/sun-scotland

[13] https://www.commonspace.scot/pages/about

[14] http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/sunday-herald-columnist-sacked-backing-journalist-who-questioned-rangers-mettle-stop-offensive

[15] http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/01/29/scottish-media-failure-exposed/

[16] http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/12/29/the-big-house-and-the-beautiful-game/

[17] https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3444/12-things-you-didn-t-know-about-cat-boyd-kittycatboyd

[18] http://wingsoverscotland.com/why-scotland-doesnt-need-rangers/

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