Stan Collymore and Sectarianism in Scottish Football
Since what almost seems like the dawn of time, Glasgow has been a hotbed for Sectarianism.
The East, dominated by the Irish immigrants who had fled the economic hardship in the early 19th Century, and particularly the boom that surrounded the Great Famine in the 1840s. The West, populated largely by native Glaswegians who became bitter that their city of around 77,000 had exploded to a population of over 350,000 in the space of 50 years, and with those extra residents came the demand for housing and jobs.
The Irish Catholics didn’t just throw a dart at a map, Glasgow had a long history as a destination for Irish Protestants, and had a need for physical labour with the import of goods from across the British Empire into one of Great Britain’s main ports.
People have a tendency to boil their issues down to differences, often in terms of race and religion, and this was no different. The Scottish Protestants, loyal to the crown, begrudged the Irish Catholics for their ‘invasion’ of their city. At a time where Ireland was regarded as an occupied country, by most of its population, no-less. Rangers FC constituted one of many Glasgow football clubs with no ties to any denomination.
In 1887 Celtic FC were founded by Brother Walfrid to help raise money for the poor Irish immigrant community, following the lead of Hibernian in Edinburgh, and became very successful in a short space of time. Since the Catholics had a team, the Protestants got behind Rangers much in the way Catalonians rallied around FC Barcelona during the reign of General Franco. Rangers took on the policy of only signing Protestant players for several decades. The Scottish Saltire would largely go unseen at Ibrox and Parkhead, as the mass of Union Flags and Tricolours gave further separation to the status of the two fan bases as Protestant British Loyalists and Catholic Irish Republicans.
Time has a wonderful effect in creating a multicultural blur in society. Catholics play for Rangers. They support the Gers too. There are Protestant Celts and households that are a mix of blue and green. The only thing that doesn’t change over time is the potential for the mindless few to cause trouble.
There were still 19 arrests at this year’s Old Firm Derby, the first since 2012. Arrests at any derby aren’t surprising, but more than half of those were for ‘Sectarian breaches of peace’. The songs referring to Anglo-Irish wars, The Sash and The Fields of Athenry, were deemed acceptable by police, but you still have incidents of a few starting the sing the songs deemed offensive, songs relating to groups guilty of terrorism and murder. It merely takes a few people singing anything familiar or catchy, in unison, to get a crowd going. Most of the Rangers fans who sing about Fenian blood have no intent of spilling any, much like the Celtic fans who sing about the IRA will not support their actions, but these songs are effectively a public endorsement.
Both clubs, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Parliament have adopted measures to reduce it, but no-one has really made an attempt to eliminate the Sectarian element.
Former Liverpool striker, Stan Collymore, could be that someone. If you’re British, you know the trials and tribulations of the former England striker. If you’re American, you may know him as one of the top personalities of TalkSPORT’s syndicated programming on SiriusXM FC.
With the scrutiny that Chelsea fans are under from the Paris Metro incident, Collymore made the connection to Rangers, a club with very close ties between the more extreme elements of their fan bases, that racism of all forms is unacceptable.
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, Rangers have been the more obvious culprits when it comes to banners and songs in support of militias and marking the deaths of their ‘enemies’ as almost a point of pride. Typically sports channels are strategic with mic levels and placement in order to drown out most of the material not suitable for broadcast from the away end, or a specific area of the more hardcore support. It is not possible to do that at a stadium like Ibrox. The only way to censor it is to cover the sound altogether or refuse to broadcast the games.
If fans are convicted of racism in UEFA competitions, their clubs are often made to play at an empty stadium. Obviously too much money in the Scottish Professional Football League rests on the attendances at Parkhead and Ibrox, so that removes one possibility. If you pipe in a generic crowd noise or cut in the approved songs in place of the Sectarian songs, keeping the cameras away from any of the odious banners, you’re showing something false, akin to watching a heavily edited version of your favourite movie pre-watershed.
A number of Rangers fans, including the Rangers Supporters Trust and people that claimed to be staff members of Rangers FC, went on a slanderous rampage against the former Villa man on social media. There were numerous racially charged statements, accusations of domestic violence and demands that BT Sport remove him from his duties as a pundit.
Collymore had incidentally been set to provide analysis for the Raith v Rangers SPFL Championship clash, but when the BT executives were given a ‘him or us’ ultimatum, they bowed to mob mentality.
Collymore said BT dropped him, BT said Stan walked. That’s irrelevant.
They sent out a weak statement about not agreeing with the medium of the debate but that they didn’t support racism of any variety. They could have stood by their man and been the heroes of a crusade against the accepted nature of sectarianism in Scottish football, but they folded and essentially endorsed it. Fans who denied it was a problem would then spend those 90 minutes on television singing the very songs that were debated, and several renditions tailored specifically to the color of Stan Collymore’s skin.
To quote the BT Sport statement:
We at BT Sport abhor all forms of racism. It should not be tolerated in sport. When issues of racism or sectarianism emerge, they need to be tackled and discussed in the correct manner.
Their treatment of Collymore, someone championing the tackling of, and discussion on, sectarian abuse at football matches, doesn’t support that statement.
Stan Collymore is not a perfect human being, and he’s the first person to point that out. He has, however, always been vocal about all forms of racism in the game in addition to his work in grassroots football and promoting mental health awareness. Maybe more people should focus more on those, and not just what he feels about when the ball is in play.
There’s only so much sand for authorities and broadcasters to bury their heads in after all.