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A Lecture for Graham Spiers


I suppose most of us will have seen the immensely dispiriting article by Mr Graham Spiers on Wednesday, containing his reflections on the equally depressing release and purchase of ‘Roll of Honour’, by some Celtic fans. Apparently this is a kind of IRA-folk song: I freely admit to never having heard it or even heard of it in my 43 years living in and around Glasgow. Deaf or just lucky, either way I come to it with no previous agenda except to frown upon anything other than disapproval of political murder and political murderers, of whatever stripe and from whatever country. No doubt some see the Ukraine’s State murderers, her snipers, picking off protestors with single gunshots, as in some way legitimate or 'complicated'. I must be funny about things like that; I don’t.

Mr Spiers’ article, however, specifically excludes me from taking my usual position of middle class umbrage at these tasteless moves by football fans. In his words, my disdain for such theatricals based on the suffering of others is ‘faux outrage’ and had to be ‘dredged up’, so as to berate him for it. ‘I’ll take no lectures from Rangers fans’, thundered Graham, as he asserted his right to find the Irish question complex.

Well, of course it is. I don’t recall anyone - out with the intellect free-zone of fundamentalism - ever claiming a solution was obvious. But what isn’t complex is that killing your opponents in a dispute is never, not ever, a viable solution – unless you plan on killing every single one of them, in which case you’d certainly ‘win’ but would, hopefully, be ostracised from decent society on grounds of genocide and, should you happen to be religiously inclined, lead on to an unhappy time of it in the afterlife. Being jabbed in the bum by one of Satan’s myrmidon’s doesn’t strike me as likely, having no time for religion, but for those (like aforementioned Mr Spiers) who dig theology, you might imagine killing would be seen as one of life’s absolutes: a not good thing, no matter how complex.

But it was Graham’s mention of lectures which irritated me the most. It struck a nerve. Unhappy in my career, six years ago I signed up for night school and then went on to Glasgow University, where I’m staggering toward the end of a degree in English literature. One fantastic aspect of all this studying has been having the world of Irish literature opened up to me by enthusiastic and brilliant professionals, although it is limited by my ignorance of Gaelic to works written in English. Nevertheless, unlike Graham, I’ve taken lectures from others and by heck have I learned. What a cast! J.M. Synge, Brian Friel, Flann O’Brien, Lord Dunsany, James Stevens, George Moore, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu, John MacGahern, James Joyce and Beckett, although this last I confess to being utterly bewildered by. And all this to say nothing of the King Of Them All, the late Seamus Heaney.

I cannot claim to any sort of expertise on the subject and I certainly don't publicly muse upon such a thorny topic lightly. The most I can say is that, while I entered education fairly ignorant of Irish literature, history and culture, I’m now able to grope my way through it with the pointers of these brilliant artists to guide my way a bit, at least. Sometimes, taking lectures can be beneficial to us all! In my first years at university, I studied history and politics as well as literature: naturally, given the stories of Britain and Ireland, the subject came up. I like to think that some of the knowledge the superb teaching staff in the West End imparted has crawled into some corner of my no doubt moronic, Hun, knuckle-dragging mind: I like to think it allows me to pass comment on an article by a writer in Scotland which, for the first time ever, actually make me feel slightly sick. The plain implication of Mr Spiers piece is that being a Rangers fan automatically excludes you from lecturing others; I’m going to have a go, nevertheless.

Appeasement: Now Extra Succulent

I don’t have any answer for Ireland’s questions – it’s hardly my business in the first place, but if I did I would certainly stick my hand up and give it. However, I do know that if any lesson can be drawn from the often unhappy relationship between these two islands, it’s that getting the guns out doesn’t work. It didn’t really work for the Vikings, who invaded and left a fractious land of kingdoms; or the Fitzherbert’s or Fitzpatrick’s of Norman French stock, who parcelled up the land and left a legacy of inequality; or Cromwell’s planters, nor more recent men of political violence, be they in uniform or in balaclava. If you can’t take a glance at Ireland’s wiki history page and come to the conclusion that, after nearly 1500 years, killing hasn’t worked and should be deplored you are perhaps so ignorant of the ‘Irish question’ that you would be better refraining from comment at all.

Vacillation or appeasement on this issue is not an option here, at least for those with a basic morality to call upon. I always detested Mrs Thatcher’s black or white view of politics, but I never actually objected to a basic Manichean separation of killing as being a bad thing and not killing as being a good thing. Graham Spiers attempts to qualify his stance by pointing out that he has previously written that he finds IRA chants at Celtic Park to be ‘deplorable and detestable’. Thank goodness! I don’t recall anyone suggesting that Graham is in fact a balaclava wearing Provo who used to run Semtex into Belfast disguised as rubbish articles; only that mollycoddling apologists for killers is not only tantamount to legitimising them, it is legitimising them. Suggesting that murderers come from complex backgrounds is hardly earth shattering psychology, set to revolutionize the penal system of Europe: but seeking to justify infantile third party appropriation of the suffering they caused is disgusting, crass and scarcely believable.

Infantile...Mr Spiers, in his article, gave it as his opinion that the smash-tastic race up the charts of 'Roll of Honour' was an example of what football fans can achieve. Maybe he's been spending too much time with Soviet Jim Spence to realise that it is a blatant example of what happens when football fans indulge their hideous anti-social selves in the kind of behaviour that led to the Offensive Behaviour Act in the first place.

Graham may find that to be manufactured, faux-outrage, and to be fair he’s right. I’m not outraged. I’m not even surprised that he could write such stuff. That in itself is a damning indictment on his product over the last decade: what I mainly felt on reading his article was an incredible sadness than anyone could be so deluded as to think that football fans, annoyed about not being allowed to act anti-socially, should trample on the graves of the victims of murder. For that’s what every purchase of ‘Roll of Honour’ did, that’s what every unthinking reference which comes out of Glasgow about IRA this or UVF that does, that’s what the disgusting culture of treating death, murder and torture as an appropriate gambit to play in Rangers-Celtic rivalry does.

Having spent a decade being reviled online as a handwringer, apologist and self-loather because I have objected to religion and politics at Ibrox, I am left aghast at someone who then comes along and says ‘You know what? This is all legitimate, because it’s complicated.’ Well, not to me it’s not. Murder is wrong, end of. Cretinous, callous appropriation of murder by people with little or no experience of it is also wrong, as you might expect a five year old to know. It ought to be condemned by any ‘right-thinking person’, one of Graham’s favourite phrases when it suits him. Certainly there are people among our support who fit the Spiers Model Rangers Fan to a 'T'- I spent yesterday typing this in a fit of righteous indignation only to be dismayed by a forum poster who is exactly the kind of fan Spiers likes to hide behind. But just because some of us are a bit 'out there' doesn't mean we all are, and it doesn't mean Mr Spiers can automatically discount our objections.

I can see that this is starting to sound like a lecture; but as I found out, sometimes we should listen to them. It’s amazing what you can learn.