Thankfully within the Celtic online community, the level of debate with regards to what we hold dear, or positions/opinions we hold are regularly and rigorously debated (the Celtic underground being a case in point, although CQN and others also allow plenty of room for informed and substantive discussion) and the amount of ‘sacred cows’ is very low as a result. There has also been a recent spurt of Celtic-minded blogs such as the more genial and networking ‘Celtic Network’ and ‘Maleys Bhoys’ through to the more intellectually rigorous blog by Liam Conway for example. It should be noted (at least in the opinion of this writer) that the role Celtic supporters online play in this whole situation is not nearly as destructive or spiteful as some sections of the Rangers support online. There is simply no equivalent within the Celtic online community of a website like ‘Vanguard Bears’ for example, promulgating myths in the goal of denigrating our rivals or defending sectarian or racist behaviour and mentalities.
On a more negative note, a creeping complacency has been the order of the day within several Celtic supporter circles online. The belief that we merely just have to play the waiting game until our rivals ‘snuff it’ is a very prevalent subliminal attitude that emanate from articles and message-boards. The notion of a ‘generation of domination’, simply because our net debt has been considerably lower than our domestic rival’s’, allowed inertia and complacency to infest many supporters mindsets as well as allow the development of a ‘day of reckoning’
A cursory glance across cyber space within our rivals main soap boxes reveals a support that could be described as increasingly belligerent and bellicose. If the common theme among Celtic websites is a struggle against an old order then the common theme among Rangers websites is fighting back and reclaiming lost positions. As is evident with the recent protest against the BBC (see ‘Rangers Fans plan BBC protest’), there has been a growing attitude of counter-attacking perceived media bias and attacks on their club and support.
‘Defence’ is also a recurring position amongst the main Rangers Supporters websites. As far back as 2004, ‘Follow Follow’ was defending Rangers supporters from accusations of racist and sectarian abuse being aimed at Celtic players, in particular Neil Lennon: “That Martin O’Neill can say Neil Lennon was verbally abused at Ibrox in racist and sectarian terms is lies. Lennon was abused (as he is the length and breadth of Scotland) because he is a snarling, little
nonentity who takes pleasure in riling opposition fans. He indulged in the most deliberately provocative manner seen in an Old Firm [sic] since
Paulo Di Canio (another Celtic player strangely enough) threatened to
break Ian Ferguson’s leg (and more of Fergie later) at the house of
shame in March 1997… [David] Murray MUST come out and defend the fans and the club here. He MUST come out and say the club is going to hire a lip reader to investigate
the hatred and venom emanating from O’Neill, Lennon and McNamara. The
main point here is; if the shoe had been on the other foot do you think
the yahoos wouldn’t resort to these tactics?”[i]. Indeed, so keen was this website’s desire to cast Neil Lennon as the aggressor, a lip-reader was indeed hired to analyse what Lennon had allegedly said to Rangers fans with various Rangers websites later stating that there was now video evidence that he had called them ‘Orange Bastards’[ii].
However, these websites are not just content to attack perceived media inaccuracy or bias. Rather, they also want to attack and ‘re-balance’ what they perceive as misplaced, common opinions of their rivals (i.e. Celtic and Celtic supporters) through different levels and types of accusations. According to some of the main Rangers supporters’ websites we are guilty of (and in no particular order):
A) Being Paedophiles, or harbingers/sympathisers of paedophilia. See “Celtic and Child Abuse – Inextricably linked” – Article accusing ALL Celtic fans of being paedophiles and/or being harbingers of paedophiles before finally announcing that Celtic fans “are NOT NORMAL PEOPLE”.[iii]
B) Being terrorist sympathisers. See “Celtic and the syringe bomber” – Article linking a Muslim extremist from Africa, and his actions, to him also ‘being’ a Celtic supporter. Also compares the person in question, and his moral compass, with an African branch of the Orange Order e.g. “Is it a co-incidence that yet another terror suspect sports Celtic’s colour or a direct product of that club’s unhealthy obsession with political violence?”[iv]
C) being ‘plastic paddies’ and purveyors of extreme ‘mopery’ as well as being willing to capitalise on tragedy to suit situations/circumstances e.g. criticism of the ‘famine song’, death of Phil O’Donnell. See also “Against The Disneyfication of Football – Mocking Celtic Fans Now Illegal” – Article accusing Celtic fans of ‘mock outrage’ over the famine song and an inability to take a joke e.g. “The news that the police have informed Rangers that they intend to jail fans who sing “The Famine’s Over – Why Don’t You Go Home?” is hardly a surprise given Timmy’s appetite for self-pity…It’s a simple piss-take of a myth – instead of taking it like all other clubs do Timmy runs off and gets the Establishment to jail people on his behalf. What a sad bunch. They love dishing it out but if you dare tease then a hissy fit is never far away”.[v] Article also crudely uses some ‘historical sources’ in an attempt to prove limitations on claims of Irish ancestry by Celtic fans during the famine period from Ireland to Scotland (figures are simply presented as if backing up the authors’ opinion and there is no attempt to discuss figures or any other contextualising factors): “Handley (‘Irish in Modern Scotland’ pp.44-46) says that the Irish-born were 7% of the Scottish population in 1851, 15.4% for ‘West of Scotland (Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire) and 18% of Glasgow. However, he seems to doubt the accuracy and reliability of these figures. Brenda Collins (in Devine (ed.) ‘Irish immigrants and Scottish Society’) says that between the 1851 and 1871 census years the number of Irish born remained virtually static around 207,000. In the period 1876-1921 she says that some 94,000 Irish immigrants came to Scotland which involved a considerable number from Ulster. In Walker’s book, ‘Intimate Strangers’, he refers to the 1931 Scottish census which showed that the total Irish-born was then 124,296 and this worked out at 2.5% of the total population. 55% of these were born in what was now Northern Ireland. However, the immigration during and following WW1 was heavily from what was now the Irish Free State.[vi]
D) Having disproportionate control/power over the media e.g. ‘extension gate’ in 2008. See also “The Scottish Suns Editorial Protection of Celtic player” – Article accusing the Sun newspaper of covering up Anthony Stokes’s ‘support and glorification of terrorism’ e.g. Celtic marksman Anthony Stokes yesterday boasted about his studio visit with a group putting the finishing touches to another magnum opus to add to their IRA Hunger Strike anniversary commemoration…But here’s the question which occurs surely to most punters: why wasn’t the Stokes story considered worthy of report? Perhaps The Scottish Sun didn’t know about it…Perhaps the Scottish Sun didn’t see it and don’t believe the screen-grabs (various) or the story?.”[vii]
E) Being guilty of consistent levels of racist abuse toward Rangers players e.g. Mark Walters, El Haiji Diouf. See “
Article accusing Celtic, Rangers, Strathclyde Police and the media of covering up racist abuse of El Haidji Diouff and Vladimir Weiss by Neil Lennon. The piece denigrates into comparing the ‘cover up’ with other ‘Celtic cover ups’ e.g. Jim Torbett and Celtic boys club. For example: “Apart from bringing on the worst publicity Celtic would have had since they covered up the Jim Torbett child sex abuse scandal, [Martin] Bain had a moral duty to let the world know what Lennon said…The ramifications of the story would have been massive. Make no mistake, Celtic would have had to sack Lennon had he been arrested and convicted of racial abuse. The friendly Scottish mhedia [sic] would have had to condemn the man they love to love. The Celtic fans might even have stopped saying “we are all Neil Lennon” for fear of meaning “we are all foul mouthed racists”.[viii]
F) Intolerance against Protestants within our own club e.g. Jock Stein, Gordon Strachan. See ‘Two summers in Glasgow’ – piece supporting notion that Gordon Strachan left Celtic due to his own ‘Protestant background’ e.g. “Protestant poppy-wearers will always have difficulties with a particular element in that club`s [sic] support, and this inconvenient truth will not be publicly aired in Scotland`s mainstream media outlets”[ix].
G) Being subversives and Un-British as well as inherent haters of ‘Britishness’ e.g. remembrance day. See “Silence of Shame – Celtic fans protesting against the Poppy – what say the media?” – Article accusing Celtic fans of being inherent ‘anti-British bigots’ e.g. “The degeneracy of this mob is beyond the ken [sic] of human beings…If it was a group of Rangers fans doing this there would be no hesitation in the condemnation. Now is the time to crush the remnants of hate in our society.”[x]
H) Developing and promulgating sectarian terminology against Protestants e.g. the ‘hun’ word. See ‘Rant Pt.III’ with article raising the perceived notion of Celtic supporters’ contribution to sectarianism in Scottish football constantly being ignored e.g. “Scottish football’s sectarian problem isn’t solely down to Rangers and Rangers fans. Sanctions could and should have been imposed on Celtic fans for their constant references to ‘huns’, ‘orange bastards’ and the ethnic-cleansing ideal of there soon being “… no protestants at all”[xi].
Confirmation bias is also an extremely common characteristic within these websites i.e. merely using articles to confirm perceptions and opinions rather than question and debate them. Common themes are rehashed and linked through ‘new’ pieces and a constant effort is made to. Constant references are also made to Celtic supporters with various terms such as ‘mopes’, ‘bheasts’, et al, all with the aim of negatively labelling and essentially ‘de-humanising’ the Celtic support. This has also been followed up with constant references to the lack of moral decency within Ireland and its history including the promotion of damaging and malicious historical inaccuracies e.g. ‘U-boats on the Liffey’ during World War Two.
What highlighting all these articles does is it gives a very good indication of popular opinion within Rangers supporting circles and also gives us an indication of any sort of appetite for conciliation or rapprochement within the Rangers supporting fraternity. Unfortunately it is very obvious that the appetite for understanding is virtually non-existent. Pieces bemoaning the perceived bias of different bodies and institutions are very different from pieces condemning and indicting an entire support or even people (in some cases even accusations of very serious crimes and morally repugnant acts). This narrowness could have dire consequences for the future as any sort of narrowing your identity will eventually paint you into a corner.
Throughout these two websites I’ve highlighted are a litany of ‘whataboutery’ pieces, the defending of old positions and a consistent theme of denigrating, castigating and ridiculing Celtic and their followers. There is no attempt to question their own positions, how changes in society may have altered their own perception of following their team (or related political positions or opinions). This refusal to debate their own character is in stark contrast to different Celtic supporter websites. There is no version of the ‘song debate’ or ‘poppy debate’ on any Rangers websites for example, thus demonstrating an alarming insularity and a lack of self-awareness. The impression gained from most of these articles is that they are a part of a retaliatory PR campaign against a club, and support, they perceive as being given a consistently easy ride by government, media and others. ‘We are the people’ is now a mantra of a support unwilling to bend to any negative perception, preferring instead to stick two fingers up to critics and commentators who point out foibles and character deficiencies.
Even the recent controversy over the SNP ‘sectarianism’ bill, which could have been an opportunity for all football followers to band together in opposition, was ignored with a preference to go it alone. As the politics website and blog ‘Slugger O’Toole’ noted “…far from generating united civil liberties response, the fans of both clubs are falling over themselves to turn each other in to the police: Far from reducing ‘sectarian conflict’ in Scottish football, the new censorious laws and the accompanying police campaign have led to a dramatic increase in tensions, with fans now encouraged to spy on each other, to take offence at every comment, and to report rival fans to the police. In a very vicious cycle, the more rival fans are coaxed and cajoled into reporting offensive incidents, then the more arrests there are, and the more the authorities can cite such increases in arrests as a justification for tough new laws and sanctions”.[xii]
There was once a time where Celtic and Rangers supporters could actually indulge in a little contriteness and give credit to each-others’ best players, teams, and the like. There could even be some common ground found against the ‘chattering classes’ and their legendary displays of ‘two sides of the same coin’ criticism. This ability has now become very elusive with Rangers supporters websites (Followfollow.com and vanguard bears in particular) constantly promoting a very narrow sense of identity and supporting their club.
Rangers fans have never learned how to deal with criticism. Any criticism of their song book or sectarian signing policy up until the late 1980’s was habitually ignored – Rangers didn’t need to deal with their ‘problem’ as it was a mainstream social position certainly in the west of Scotland for quite some time. They only started fighting back when criticism of their sectarian behaviour was inescapable after Rangers were disciplined by UEFA:
“Rangers have been fined £13,300 for the conduct of their supporters during the Champions League tie with Villarreal. UEFA originally found Rangers fans not guilty of discriminatory chants but that decision was challenged by disciplinary inspector Gerhard Kapl. The governing body had said it could not tackle sectarianism because it was a particularly Scottish social problem. But Rangers have now been “severely warned” about their responsibility for any future misconduct of their fans”.[xiii]
Ever since then Rangers supporters on Followfollow and their ilk have become a parody of themselves with no responsibility accepted for wrong doing (try seeing any contrite pieces about Manchester on ANY Rangers website for example), constant references to ‘hidden hands’ (usually of the ‘Timmy’ or ‘Fenian’ variety) and laments over lost social positions. Their grievances would also be much easier to accept if they weren’t accusing all and sundry of being some sort of subversive while routinely accusing Celtic and their supporters of being paranoid.
The narrowness of thought and identity that these websites demonstrate could have dire consequences for the future as any attempt at narrowing your identity will eventually paint you into a corner. As the poet Murathan Mungan has noted – “Identity is a concept of our age that should be used very carefully. All types of identities…can become your prison after a while. The identity that you stand up for can enslave you and close you to the rest of the world”.