Football opens its doors and society walks in. Families and loners, philanderers and fools, if they exist in society, the attend the football. This is not some earth shattering comment. This is plainly obvious. Football opens the door and every aspect of society attends, for good and bad. That basic undeniable and obvious position is why the knee jerk reaction of politicians and social commentators to criticise the behaviour of the ‘dirty down market’ football fans when something unpleasant happens is so reprehensible.
But just because football is opening its doors to society, to all of society, good and bad, doesn’t mean that football can abdicate its responsibilities for dealing with illicit behaviour. Just last week I had to not only endure the poor football on the park at the Celtic v Dunfermline game, but I had to sit through nearly two hours of the vilest songs and chants aimed at me and my fellow Celtic supporters. A level of disgusting hate and association with the vilest acts, simply because I, and the people around me support a football team with its roots in the Irish Catholic community. We all want to maintain that vibrant, passionate atmosphere that football, almost uniquely, generates that is no reason to accept the behaviour of those who overstep and move from edgy to unacceptable, abusive, racist and sectarian.
We have seen in recent times with the advent of social media that anonymity can wash away the acceptable veneer of social norms and expose us to the uncomfortable fact that there are lots of unpleasant people out there, who when stripped of having to face up to their friends and neighbours, will exhibit behaviour and opinions that most of us find abhorrent. It is the anonymity of crowds that allows that illicit behaviour to exhibit itself at some football grounds, but in the same way that social media firms like Facebook and Twitter cannot continue to be allowed to let people post threats, abuse and hatred by saying it’s not their responsibility, so football clubs have to take more steps to deal with the behaviour of those who follow their teams. Equally, society cannot neatly package up these problems and leave them solely at the door of football. If, as it does, football has a problem with coked up supporters who think that they are invincible and have the right to say and do whatever they please whenever they please, then so does society.
And so, in 2019, finally a football authority has taken steps against Rangers football club and the sectarian and racist chants of their supporters. This has being something that has been going on for a century, and indeed was actively encouraged for most of that time by the club. In recent years, the charlatans who resurrected and created The Phoenix Club pandered to the bottom line and the knuckle-draggers, and chased the orange pound to take a big hefty chunk of it and put it in their own pockets. The football authorities in Scotland knew this and did nothing. But the orange pound and the knuckle-draggers only exist at Rangers because they exist in society, and they only exist in society because Scottish civil society has allowed that culture to breed and fester and live. Like a child being taught one set of morals at school and another set in the home, how can we expect some of the Ranger supporter to understand that anti-Catholic, racist hate is not acceptable in a football ground, and yet anti-Catholic orange walks are celebrated and allowed throughout Scotland?
How can we expect Ranger supporters travelling across from the North of Ireland to understand that anti-Catholic songs of hate are unacceptable in modern 21st century Britain when anti-Catholic bonfires and anti-Catholic marches are an accepted part of social discourse? How can we expect anyone immersed in generations of anti-Catholic hate to self-police when BBC NI will broadcast a day of “celebrating protestant culture” on 12th July?
In the 21st Century, adults shouldn’t need to be told what is and isn’t considered acceptable to be said and sung in a public place. There shouldn’t even be a debate when someone says Fenian B and Orange B are just not on but patently education and punishment is required. To facilitate the education of the arseholes, football clubs can and should do more to make it clear that certain types of behaviour are just unacceptable in a public environment. But if we want these illicit and repugnant songs and chants of hate to end, then all of society needs to deal with it.