(a member of a sect or faction, especially one who is bigoted in his adherence to its doctrines or in his intolerance towards other sects – On line Dictionary)
No one could argue once the association of Fenian with Catholicism was confirmed by football’s governing body UEFA that The Billy Boys was in fact sectarian. Well they could, and some still would argue, but the point is somebody in power outside Scotland ruled TBBs had no place in football on sectarian grounds. This was the first “Gotcha” in that there was no way out, well apart from ongoing defiance that eventually led to sufficient punishments that made the singers realise they were only hurting their club. They were however one set of unhappy bunnies (or in this case Bears).
The next “Gotcha” was probably unique in football rivalry history in the sense of being a Gotcha own goal. The same mindset that found some sort of odd meaning for their lives in reveling in offering violence to Catholics, changed tack and decided if they could not continue to offer ill will and malice to Fenians in their country, they could at least wish them Bon Voyage (in the worst possible taste). They came up with The Famine Song whose lyrics, apart from taking offensiveness/ill will/malice to new depths also managed to cross the line of what constitutes racism.
As I recall the argument that the Irish in Scotland at whom it was aimed were not in fact members of a race (don’t laugh) was not pushed with any real vigor in Scotland. The defense of the singers was more on the lines of it was only banter, the case put forward by some in the media was it was just a ditty vacant
but eventually, after the matter was raised by the Irish government, prompted by Celtic supporters, the realisation dawned on those who sung it, and those who defended it, that in fact it was an example of blatant racism. This made it another “Gotcha!”, self inflicted for sure, but a Gotcha nevertheless under the definition of a football Gotcha. If the Bear was unhappy before, its head nearly exploded now. However that did not stop a vast majority of them belting out The Famine Song with gusto and unopposed by the law at the League Cup final in 2011.
That this occasion of defiance was then given the accolade by Justice Minister Kenny MacKaskill who said
“The players, management and fans contributed to a memorable occasion, and I urge that their positive example inside the ground is replicated outside it over the course of the evening and beyond. Football is a force for good in society.”
was stunning in its stupidity in terms of appearing to condone the song sung, alienating the police from the Celtic support and creating the perception of a country too blind to see, too deaf to hear and simply out to get even with those who objected.
I highlighted (western) World Opinion in the definition of a Gotcha because history shows us that only when outside opinion is brought to bear (UEFA and The Irish Government respectively) on the behavior of both sets of supporters in Scotland that something is actually done about addressing it.
However the current “something” comes from the narrow court of Scottish opinion in the form of the crazy Offensive Behavior Bill. Its absurdity raises a number of serious questions about Scotland having the intellect, ability and required level of statesmanship to run itself as an independent state. It is a battle The First Minister will have to fight with those who are opposing the bill. If the legislation is passed and creates more disorder and ill feeling than it prevents, it risks creating the kind of division that will prevent an independent state, where a large swathe of the population will feel isolated from being all it could be. A house divided etc.
It is against this background the next Gotcha has made its appearance.
The current focus is now on the use of the words I.R.A by the Celtic support. Words are powerful but are not hermits, just as Fenian was associated with Catholic, I.R.A is associated with terrorism. Now there have been organisations throughout history where the terrorist became the Government because a legitimate cause was being fought for. History vindicated the terrorist action taken, no matter how reprehensible at the time, and the “terrorism” of the IRA falls into the category of being an unfortunate necessary evil of human nature to right a wrong, to give the oppressed a say in their lives.
Ironically though, the peace in Northern Ireland was given a boost by an unrelated act of what appears to have been mindless terrorism on a vast scale never seen before in the world. A brand of terrorism that has become to be seen as violence for violence’s sake and where the perpretators have more chance of being eradicated from a great height or shot in their hideouts, than forming a new government or introducing more benign governance.
In his book Great Hatred, Little Room the author Jonathon Powell points out how support for the IRA at political and funding level evaporated in the USA almost overnight as the word “terrorism” took on a totally new meaning in the court of western World Opinion, a meaning where the perpetrators were viewed by reasonable people with distaste and by some folk, highjacking the distaste to indugle in mock outrage, of disgust.
Like it or not history has changed the meaning of terrorism and attitudes towards it and the words I.R.A are now viewed with at least distaste in the court of western World Opinion, a court too busy to be interested in understanding the old nuances and one which views “terrorism” as a term that is every bit as unacceptable as sectarianism or racism. It is a “Gotcha!” and nobody outside Scotland is going to ride to our rescue as UEFA and the Irish Government did on TBBs and TFS. The Celtic support, like the Rangers support before us have been caught in a Gotcha. More an accidental Gotcha of history than some cunning plan from the Baldrick mind, but a Gotcha nevertheless.
So what to do? The message that comes out of Great Hatred Little Room is that both parties on each side of the divide, no matter the distaste and distrust for each other, had to come to an accommodation, an accommodation that required each side to recognise their part in creating division and to take responsibility for ending it.
A feature of the Gotcha spiral, indeed what gives it its emotional context, is that both sides feel that they have had or are having solutions imposed on them from the outside and by the other side. It is unfortunate that outside pressure has been necessary and it could even be argued it has been counter productive in that whilst rules have been or are being imposed, the mindset is that of defiance rather than acceptance that the world has changed and new ways of being rivals are required.
The Celtic support are in a position to take the initiative by recognising the Gotcha of the letters “IRA” and its new association with mindless terrorism that we find ourselves caught by. However instead of defying the change, we could instead choose to accept the verdict of the court of Western World Opinion on the letters whilst at the same time, although not conceding our traditional rights, also challenge the Rangers support to drop their defiance of their Gotchas. In effect agree on both sides what is and is not offensive in the court of westen World opinion. That means both sides identifying any songs/chants words that are covered by the criteria of sectarianism, racism or terrorism (as it is now seen) and agree to list and condemn them if they are sung by their own support. It also leaves room for traditions that are not sectarian, racist or have mindless terrorist connotations to be recognised.
Some might see this as a form of appeasement. It is not, we are not Chamberlain going cap in hand to a powerful enemy with an offer desperate for peace. We are President Kennedy offering to withdraw the Jupiter missiles from Turkey in 1962 to help Kruschev sell the idea to the Kremlin hawks of withdrawing Russian missiles from Cuba. We can act from that position of taking control.
Some argue this bill is the start of taking away our traditional songs like The Fields, but these songs, as their Rangers counterparts, do not stand in the dock of the court of western World Opinion. They are not subject to any Gotcha and the fear, if it were to materialise, can be countered on the basis that these traditions are not sectarian, racist or associated with a terrorist organisation. To try to include the likes of The Fields would be another step towards mutually assured destruction of both traditions. A line in the sand has to be drawn.
We Celtic supporters have the intellect and the ability to put a stop to this whole Gotcha nonsense, and in the process remove the need for the crazy Offensive Behavior legislation.The only question is do we have the will, maturity and sense of statesmanship to make something sane happen?
Somebody has to.