A Tale of Two Cities
- 25 July 2013
It’s been interesting watching the reporting of two pre-season friendlies involving Rangers and Celtic in the past few days. Both games took place in English cities, both involved large travelling supports and both generated comment North and South of the border. However, there appears to have been something of a media blackout in Scotland when it comes to some disgraceful behaviour from a large element of the Celtic travelling support. Even more bizarre has been the wish to find negatives in a performance from the Rangers fans which has seen nothing but the highest praise in England. Are the Scottish press really doing Celtic a favour by continuing to suppress negative coverage of a large section of their fan base which is now brazenly anti British, pro IRA and apparently out of control? And why can they not bring themselves to give credit where it is due to our magnificent travelling support?
When Celtic travelled to Brentford they took an estimated 5,000 fans. From early on it was apparent there might be problems. Social media was awash with tales of Celtic fans engaging in disgusting chants about murdered soldier Lee Rigby. These came firstly from Brentford fans but were crucially verified by several Celtic fans on Twitter who had been present in The New Inn pub where it appears most of the singing took place. Fair play to the Celtic fans who had to integrity to tell the truth about what happened. They certainly paid for it, as they were attacked by their fellow supporters on Twitter throughout the day for speaking out in public about what they had seen and heard.
During the game itself, the Celtic fans were responsible for multiple pitch invasions. At the end of the game there was a mass pitch invasion by hundreds of fans. There were also reports of pro IRA songs – which followed on from the Cliftonville, Champions League qualifier where similar chants were clearly audible. The Hounslow Chronicle has run two reports on what happened in the aftermath.
A couple of extracts from these articles included.
“Acts witnessed by home supporters, as well as the Chronicle, included attempts to break the goalposts at the Brook Road end of the ground, several flares being thrown, confrontations with players, and abusive language, ugly jeers and rude gestures being made at officials.”
“worst scenes of crowd disturbance at the ground for a long time.”
Brentford’s CEO felt it necessary to apologise to local residents such was the scale of the disorder.
It is not surprising that Celtic themselves refused to condemn the behaviour. Neil Lennon described the scenes as “a carnival atmosphere”, a laughable comment but entirely in keeping with Celtic’s approach to the behaviour of their fans. They were ably assisted in this by Mark Guidi of the Daily Record whose only comment on the widespread disorder was:
“a handful of fans caused problems during the game by running onto the pitch.
That was followed by a pitch invasion at the end that threatened to turn nasty but the police and stewards eventually took control.”
I’m not sure this type of dishonesty does Celtic any good frankly. Football forums in England and Scotland were awash with the real story. Numerous Celtic fans confirmed the IRA chanting and disgraceful mocking of Lee Rigby’s death. Fans of most English clubs joined together in condemning the behaviour which has now become common at Celtic games. Last year in Dundee the Celtic fans rioted in the stands prompting Jim Thomson, the Dundee operations chief, to say:
“I have never seen anything like the behaviour of the Celtic fans in the 20 years I have been running games at Dens Park.
“The situation was almost unmanageable and I have never seen so many people drunk.
“Our fans were abused, our stewards were abused and no doubt the police were abused. The turnstile operators were visibly shaken.
“The away fans had no respect for their surroundings — they were doing the toilet where they stood.
Perhaps if the media were willing to report accurately and fairly on the behaviour of some Celtic fans then others who comment on it would not be met with such outrage? Perhaps journalists like Graham Spiers, who actively campaigned on the subject of Rangers’ fan behaviour, could drop the double standard and bite the bullet? We have a situation now where any negative comment about Celtic fans is met online with threats, abuse and vitriol. This reaction is often inflamed by Celtic bloggers and forum owners who do their best to direct their followers to targets for this rage. Incitement and intimidation are the order of the day.
Contrast the above with the reaction to the travelling Rangers support of approximately 7000 after the friendly with Sheffield Wednesday last night. Positive comments filled social media, from fans of many English clubs, as a banner was unveiled which read simply “Drummer Lee Rigby, Lest We Forget”. It was a simple and poignant reminder that football fans are very much capable of displays of genuine respect - as was the laying of a commemorative flag at the memorial to the Hillsborough disaster.
The Wednesday fans took to Twitter to praise the Rangers support who made the journey to Sheffield.
“By far the best and friendliest supporters I’ve seen at Hillsborough”
“Find me some better fans than Rangers”
“Best away support to SWFC I’ve even seen. No question”
The feeling was mutual with the Rangers' support clearly delighted by the welcome it had received. BBC Radio Sheffield journalist, Rob Staton, reported that “Rangers fans have a huge banner saying ‘Congratulations William and Kate’”. He also described how the flag remembering Lee Rigby was passed around the stadium from the away support to the home fans and back. “Rangers fans passed a big Union Jack with Lee Rigby’s name on it to SWFC fans. Made its way around the South Stand”.
The police were also full of praise for the huge travelling support with not a single arrest and no issues for them to deal with. Chief Inspector Chorlton, the officer in charge of the event said, “I would like to thank all fans for making sure the match was such a memorable, safe and happy event. The fixture has set the tone for the forthcoming season.”
The people of Sheffield and the Wednesday fans were perhaps more able to feel that they had been involed in a “carnival” than the residents and fans in Brentford. However it was not just locally that news of the Rangers fans performance was being talked about. Again, fans of other clubs in England were aware of the actions of the Rangers fans. In stark contrast to the reaction after Celtic visited Brentford, it seems that the Rangers travelling support will be very welcome on its travels in the future.
You would be forgiven for thinking none of the above happened if you read the press in Scotland. Gary Ralston in the Daily Record decided to highlight alleged chanting of The Billy Boys during the game. His counterpart in The Express seemed upset by the Rangers fans giving a bit of stick to Rhys McCabe, one of the players who took the opportunity to leave the club last summer. Now it may well be that both these things happened, however it seems odd that our press were so on the ball in highlighting these minor, negative issues when they were so lax in reporting the disgraceful behaviour of Celtic fans. Perhaps in the case of the Daily Record it was another dubious editorial decision? Perhaps Mark Guidi did mention the IRA chanting, the attempts at criminal damage and the abuse of players and stewards that the English press were so aware of? It begs the question, if he did then why was it not included in the story? Or perhaps Mark just doesn’t have the same eagle eye for these types of things as his colleagues who report on Rangers?
Is it too much to ask that the press in Scotland replicate the kind words of their English counterparts for the Rangers support? It is nothing short of pathetic that, such is the continued atmosphere of hostility towards the club and its fans (which the press themselves are largely responsible for), nobody is willing to accept that our support put on as good an advert for Scottish football last night as has been seen for many years. Pride, passion, vocal support and exemplary behaviour.
The suppression of negative news about Celtic and their fans behaviour does them no good in the long run. Rangers have had to suffer from negative press from previous bad behaviour but our fans have embraced the challenge, cleaned up their act, and with the help of groups like the Union Bears and The Blue Order have been able to return to vocal support of the team without the attendant baggage.
Celtic may be able to cajole the press in Scotland to ignore the behaviour of their fans but they are found out time and again on their travels. They are now subject of another UEFA charge for the game against Cliftonville and if the game in Brentford had been overseen by UEFA then they would be in the dock for that too. The club itself continually makes excuses and even condones the behaviour of the worst of its fans. They make statements about flares because they know action will be taken but ignore the IRA chants that UEFA and others inexplicably allow to continue. Lennon’s words in trivialising what was a disgraceful display in Brentford actually encourage the more moronic elements of their support and put off those like the guys who stood up to admit the Lee Rigby disgrace. Recently at a youth game against Cork, Celtic players warmed up at half time behind the Wolfetones chanting “Ooh ah Up the ‘Ra” to a support that sang along. There is one image that Celtic tries to portray to the rest of Europe and one which they condone from a section of their support. The two are now meeting more regularly and it will lead them into more and more trouble.
Meanwhile, Rangers fans should not be dismayed at the constant negative publicity which our club suffers in its homeland. Those outside Scotland got a taste of the true nature of the Rangers support last night and they will be talking about it for some time to come. It is incumbent on our fans to continue that brilliant work and make sure people remain in awe of the passion, noise and colour that our fans are able to bring whilst at the same time respecting their environment, the opposing fans and the nation we live in. Let’s keep proving that we really are the best support in Britain.