It also seems that the wheel has turned because the conditions are now ripe for pursuit of the Celtic fans at home. The anti-sectarian bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament is a dog’s breakfast, of that there is a general acceptance. But make no mistake it could result in us losing a great deal of freedom at Parkhead as well as away grounds.
The question now is – what should we do, as supporters, and what should the club do in our interests and the good name of Celtic?
It may seem perverse but there are lessons to be learned here from Rangers. Again while researching my book I discovered a depth of feeling against David Murray and others in charge at Ibrox at the time, for what the grassroots fans saw as boardroom negligence in failing to take on the media portrayal of the club, and reluctance to defend its traditions (though odious of course).
With that in mind then, there is a chance, here and now, for Peter Lawwell go on the front-foot; to make it clear that Celtic is no ordinary club, but one formed by migrants from another country, with a different culture. The songs of struggle (through various eras) reflect hardships at home and abroad and have long been part of a sporting institution which has always been outward looking and welcoming to those of all faiths and nationalities.
Mr Lawwell himself knows –as perhaps politicians at Holyrood are coming to understand – that there is no one size fits all solution. In 2006 he told The Scotsman: “A proportion of our fans celebrate those (Irish) roots and links by singing Irish ballads. In no way could those ballads be described as sectarian but I think in some quarters it is misrepresented as sectarian.”
The way I see it, he was right then and remains right to this day. It would be incredible for the law here, or as UEFA interpret it, to make criminals of people who sing songs which can be heard and enjoyed by locals and tourists alike in pubs all over Ireland, most nights of the week. What kind of a society would criminalise songs – such as the Boys of the Old Brigade, Sean South and so on – celebrating the founding of modern Ireland? Put simply: one in which being Irish, or of Irish extraction, was a problem.
I take it that other migrant communities in Scotland – Italian, Indian Pakistani, Chinese and the like – would also have to think twice about possible transgression in song.
We must not shirk this issue though by fooling ourselves into believing that there is no debate to be had. Donald Findlay himself once told me, looking back at his impromptu cabaret performance which cost him his post as Rangers’ vice president that people, had to be aware of “social attitudes changing”. That is true of the Celtic support today.
Put frankly there is a line to be drawn about the songs. There will be differing views on this, but I think verses about 1916, those dating from the formation of the Irish Republic and love songs like The Fields, are all fine. We should be able to use these time and again without reproach.
Bu, it does us more harm than good to sing about the Provisional IRA. It turns people away from the club who might otherwise support us, opens Celtic up to criticism and indeed, lets Rangers fans off the hook somewhat. None of those things can be allowed to happen.