The reaction in Scotland has been curiously muted. It’s as if that because we’ve lived with anti-Catholic bigotry for so long it’s not unexpected, if slightly over the top. Some have even turned it onto the victims, that it’s really the Tims’ fault for maintaining separate schools. If those letter-bombers or that attacker had just shared a sandwich with a Catholic at play times if would never have come to this.
Some even went further. George Foulkes, Baron Foulkes of Cumnock, is a former chairman of Hearts, the club the attacker follows. He’s a lickspittle Labour man with a despicable record. In 1993, he was forced to resign as Shadow Defence Minister after being convicted of being drunk and disorderly during in incident in which he struck a Police officer. And in September last year he, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter stating their opposition to the Pope’s state visit to the UK. On Sky News on the day after the Lennon attack Foulkes joked that if Celtic moved to the Irish league that would solve the problem.
Bigotry is clearly in the genes too. His son Alex, another Hearts supporter, is a sectarian football hooligan. He was convicted of hurling abuse at Celtic fans – the longest and most sustained police officers had witnessed – and when arrested told the police they’d be in trouble because his father was an MP and his mother was on the police board.
No one would argue that Celtic fans are spotless – one was jailed this week for racial abuse of a Rangers’ player – but they have never been guilty of the sustained, anthemic, sectarian chanting and singing that the Rangers support has disgraced itself over more than a century (Rangers will have to play their next European away game supporterless because of it). Their songs are rebel ones about their heritage, rather than foul abuse at the other half of the Old Firm’s religion. And it was only in the mid-1980s that Rangers signed its first Catholic player. Pele couldn’t have got into the team before then.
It took UEFA, the football authority, to bring the first official sanction on Rangers. Rafts of politicians, councillors and sheriffs could have done it for aeons before, but didn’t. And the police have traditionally stood back and allowed the support to ‘fuck the Pope’ and bathe in ‘Fenian blood’, despite the flagrant breaches of at least two laws. Only in the last match between the two sides, after what us Scots would call a previous touchline stramash, have the police promised zero tolerance.
Where were they when this crazed numpty, who could have been carrying a knife, jumped over the barrier and launched his attack on Lennon? Given the previous history plod should have been in the dugout with him, or at least hovering in the technical area. And what about the stewards who are meant to stop these incursions? Missing in inaction! Tynecastle, Hearts ground, should now be closed until there are guarantees that such an incident can never re-occur. As should Ibrox, Rangers ground, at the first chirrup of what used to be called a party song but is better described as sectarian bile.
It isn’t just the authorities who have been craven over the decades in the face of this, the left are equally guilty. In the wake of the last letter bomb to Lennon I tried to organise an anti-sectarian rally in Glasgow’s George Square but my erstwhile political colleagues deliberately scuppered it. There had to be a ‘balanced slate’, you see, not just Catholics or Celtic supporters – presumably a Church of Scotland minister and a former ‘Gers player who had recanted! – because it couldn’t just be about the victims. It wasn’t intended to be, but why the hell not! If Lennon had been black or Asian, or a Sighthill asylum seeker they’d have been out on the streets at the drop of a leaflet.
Scottish piety about being a tolerant country has been exploded by the sustained sectarian attacks on Lennon. It’s the bigotry which dare not speak its name. To his credit the First Minister Alex Salmond, another Hearts supporter, has condemned the attack. But until there’s drastic action against these sick-making Protestant hate-merchants it’s just so much mouthwash. We all need to stand behind Neil Lennon. Or, perhaps more accurately, in front of him.