Thursday 18 January 2018

Farewell to a club steeped in bigotry

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

On Thursday next, North of Ireland loyalists will celebrate the Twelfth. They party and parade because in 1690, the power-hungry King Billy beat up King Jimmy, another foreign despot.

It's a big day out for the Protestant community in the North and it used to be in Glasgow too, but this Twelfth will be a wake for the departed. Rangers are no more. Rangers are broke. Good riddance to a club marinated in blood and steeped in bigotry.

Senator Martin McAleese has worked tirelessly to bridge the divide between the Protestant paramilitaries and the rest of us. He spoke of his terror as a young boy when the giant Lambeg Drums beat fear into Catholic hearts on every Twelfth. But Martin moved on and so have the extreme loyalists, for the most part. Only a fool would suggest there are no bigots left, but peace in the North is a miracle of our times.

And if a bookie offered you 1,000/1 that someday Martin McGuinness would shake hands with the Queen, you would accuse him of being the worst type of con-man and instead take the odds on snow at Dublin Airport on the Twelfth of July.

Yet over the water in Glasgow the peace process has never rightly taken root.

Hullo, Hullo

We are the Billy Boys

Hullo, Hullo

You'll know us by our noise

We're up to our knees in fenian blood

Surrender or you'll die

For we are

The Brigton Derry Boys.

Jason Campbell, a 'Brigton Billy Boy', was jailed for life for cutting the throat of 16-year-old Celtic supporter Mark Scott. That was in 1996; the original murderous Billy Boys of the 1920s were the inspiration for the sadistic Shankill Butchers who ritually dismembered Northern Catholics.

Thousands of Rangers fans still sing that song. They know, for sure, that a Brigton Billy Boy slaughtered an innocent kid whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This alone is cause enough to bury the club in quicklime.

Campbell claimed he was a political prisoner and a member of the UVF. As late as 1999 the vice-chairman of Rangers was forced to resign for singing anti-Catholic songs.

Now I have been a Celtic fan since as far back as I can remember, and Celtic fans do sing Republican songs but their greatest hits are 'The Fields of Athenry' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Some Celtic fans are far from perfect. I witnessed the demolition of Rangers-blue bus shelters in Royston Road, a Catholic working-class area of Glasgow. It was back in 2000 and it was the day Celtic finally regained the Scottish Premiership. Ticketless, we watched the game in the Huddle Club in Royston. The hospitality was spectacular and you couldn't but be taken by the allegiance of the locals to all things Irish, even though most in there were second or third generation.

There were famine murals, the surnames were all Donegal and while we were treated very well, there was a sense that sport should have nothing to do with Republicanism. Most of us in this country are sick of the bigotry and the fighting over wars long forgotten, but in Scotland the battle still goes on.

Rangers did try to stop the singing of 'The Billy Boys' but only really got serious when UEFA threatened the club with harsh sanctions.

Celtic were never near as extreme. Jock Stein, who managed the club to European Cup success in 1967, was a Protestant at a time when Catholics were excluded by Rangers.

Newco Rangers, the reincarnation of the beast that was Rangers, might well end up in Division 3. That will not bother the hard-core in the slightest. For them football is only a side show.

It's all about hate.

The Billy Boys will terrorise the natives of Division 3's Annan and Elgin. And as the locals board up their windows, they will wonder whatever did they do, to have such a calamity inflicted upon them.

And what if Annan or Elgin are unlucky enough to get promoted and are forced to play Rangers home and away, two years in a row?

In small towns, Rangers fans will sing the Billy Boys song with gusto but without any thought or care for Mark Scott and his family. And, who knows, maybe Campbell the murderer will join in the chorus. He was released last year.

This year Glasgow police produced evidence that domestic abuse rates doubled after Old Firm games. There were over 200 crimes of violence and mayhem in the area of the stadium following a recent Celtic-Rangers clash.

But now that Rangers have gone bust, there's no one left to hate anymore. The Old Firm derbies are the only meaningful Scottish games worth watching on TV. Revenues will tumble -- and in soccer money talks.

But there will be a peace dividend on match days. And some mothers and some mothers' kids might sleep easy.

Celtic and Rangers have not kept pace with the transition to peace in the North. The pity is, a great many Celtic fans completely missed the first peaceful revolution in Irish Republicanism. Celtic have thousands of enlightened supporters, but there are many who are trapped in a time that is already history here in Ireland.

Back in 1996 Mark Scott's mother warned him to be careful. Her son laughed and said, 'Mummy that sort of thing doesn't happen anymore'.

It does and it will until both sets of Old Firm extremists finally realise the war is over.

Irish Independent

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