Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hooping It Up

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These are the famous "hoops," the home kit of the Glasgow Celtic Football Club (soccer), which is as distinctive a design in the world of sports as the Yankee pinstripes or the Dallas Cowboys star. I can't say that I follow them closely, if only because the primary sports news we get in London is of the English Premier League (Arsenal is the neighborhood team), and Celtic plays in the Scottish league (where it is running away with the championship this year) and you can only watch Celtic matches if you pay for their special cable channel (which we could get in London, but I'm not willing to pay for that). But I admit to feeling a special affinity for Celtic. I have some Scottish heritage, plus I'm Catholic, and Celtic is the team of the Catholics--founded by them, and supported by them. So the first thing I did after dropping my bags in my hotel room was to hike downtown to Celtic's retail store and buy a long-sleeve replica sweater.

Now, this being Great Britain, to have a team that was founded and supported by one religion over another is a formula for strife, and there's been no shortage of it. In fact, I think it's the rivalry with the crosstown Premier League team, Rangers, the team of the Protestants, that has left the world with the infamous "Scottish soccer hooligan" image. It's a hatred that goes far deeper than a White Sox fan's disdain for the Cubs or the Red Sox fans' feelings toward the Yankees. Wikipedia notes, diplomatically,
In the context of Scottish football, sectarianism is beyond the control of any individual football club. It is a much wider issue, rooted in social, cultural, historical and religious circumstances. Nevertheless, both Celtic and Rangers accept that they have a problem with sectarianism. Both sides of the Old Firm admit that a proportion of their supporters have been, and continue to be, guilty of perpetuating sectarian beliefs and cultural intolerance.

That may be understating the issue a bit. A more blunt web site (probably written by a Glaswegian) puts it:
On your visit to Glasgow it is probable that you will be confronted by some sort of Rangers/Celtic rivalry, be it the blood and violence of a match day or the simple sectarian chanting of one ned to another. No matter what form it takes, it is essential to have at least a little knowledge of this rivalry.

There is a major sectarian factor involved with this rivalry. Rangers are the Protestant team and Celtic are the Catholic team (yes, I know there are technicalities surrounding this but do you think the people using it as an excuse to batter each other have and knowledge of these technicalities? No, so shut it). This has deep historical roots, which I can't be bothered explaining right now but basically what it means is that the fans of both clubs have a good reason to beat the crap out of each other at every opportunity.

If you ever have the misfortune of being in Glasgow on a match day, it is advisable to stay indoors for that whole day since it is likely outside you'll find some extremely disgruntled fans of the losing team looking for a fight or some extremely drunk and happy fans of the winning team...looking for a fight.

How can you spot these people? Well it isn't too hard. All celtic fans will be carrying Irish flags and wearing green, and all Ranger fans will be carrying Union flags or Red Hand of Ulster flags and wearing blue. Both sets of fans will generally be carrying buckfast and some may be carrying knives or screw-drivers or hammers. If you see any large groups of these people it is advisable to steer clear of them.

On non match days the only real perpetrators of sectarian violence are the neds who will swan around the city centre wearing either a Rangers top or a Celtic top looking for another ned with the opposing team's top on, and call him either a 'fenian bastard' or an 'orange prick' before embarking on some knife crime. If you see any of these people, it is best to let them go about their business and view from afar. They are a novelty to observe but shouldn't be approached.


At a very nice party in Phoenix about 17 months ago I was discussing this rivalry with a guest who had been to a Celtic-Rangers match. To stem the violence, the Glasgow authorities have imposed such measures as separate entrances and separate sections for Rangers and Celtic fans. Where the sections meet, the fans are kept separated by a tall chain link fence and a police phalanx.

Thus, I will not be wearing my new purchase outside until I get back to London. I really don't want to find out if any of the neopunk layabouts who gave me a hard time yesterday are also yobbo splitters.

13 Comments:

Blogger Schmutz said...

All this over a kids' game? Some people take history just too seriously. This shows how sports can be a metaphore for war - perhaps some head bashing and knifing is better than battles and thousands of deaths.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Martybhoy said...

Hi,

Enjoyed your article. I am a Celtic fan and thought you should look at the website www.celticquicknews.com. It is funny I should read you article on Celtic, Sectarianism at this time as our rivals Rangers have recently been charged by the European gogerning body, UEFA for their fans sectarian chanting at a game against Spanish team Villareal. Anyway, I also live in London and Celtic is an inclusive club that is open supporters of all backgrounds, religions and beliefs. There are several places that show games in London such as the Cock Tavern at Kings Cross and 19 in the City (Bevis Marks) beside Liverpool St. I would hope you could maybe wear your jersey with pride and take in a game with some relatively decent people! Celtic have a game against Hearts this Wednesday and can win the league if they get the right result. Maybe ou should give it a bash!

Regards

Martyn

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you'd have to look pretty hard under a -----covered rock to find the area of Glasgow where the hammer-wielding,throat-slashing mobs roam. I doubt that part was to be taken at entirely face value. Of course I agree that this does/did happen, but nowadays it is far less frequent or violent.

As a Celtic supporter in Glasgow I'm pretty impressed with how perceptive your views are, but don't be affraid of wearing your jersey with pride. Although your accent might get you into some bother.


What?!It was just a joke!

6:41 PM  
Blogger tippbhoy said...

Celtic have never been a sectarian club. Great non-catholics in their history are many with the greatest celt of all among them - Jock stein, born a Rangers fan.

Born a Catholic myself I now eschew religion but my love for Celtic is undiminshed.

The reason is this. Of all the major institutions in Britain, Celtic is the only one to stand up and be unashamed of its Irish links. For many years religious and racial discrimination against Catholics and Irish was endemic in Britain especially in scotland. The establishment would try to tarnish anything to do with any celebration of Irishness as sectarian - you are just as bad as the other etc. Imagine New York without a St Patrick's Day parade, well imagine Glasgow. A city where the Irish have contributed greater proportionately than in NY does not have one. Why? Wave the tricolur you are a sectarian. Support Irish unity. You are a sectarian. Get the picture.

Don't employ a player of catholic ancestry for 100 years in a city where nearly 50% of the population are catholic, deadly silence from the establishment!! Fly the tricolur at Celtic Park! Throw them out of the league says the Scottish football and media establishment.

Of all european countries Scotland was the only football nation not to order its clubs to hold a minutes silence on the death of pope john Paul II. Why?
The other clubs fans would not have backed it. Celtic demanded it, as they should have having been founded by a Catholic priest. The result Hearts fans booed and chanted obscenely throughout and it had to be cut short.

So, what's the point? Don't let others give you some tarnished view of Celtic.
Know your history!! All are welcome!!
I am proud of my Irish ancestry and you can be proud of yours whether Indian, African, Black, White, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Buddhist.

Come and join us!! The greatest sporting institution in the world. 100,000 went to Seville in the greatest travelling support in history. Uefa - best fans in the world.
FIFa - best fans in the world.

Altogether now.

" For its a grand old team to play for ..."

7:30 PM  
Blogger Smitty Werbenmanjensen said...

Wow! The blogosphere surprises me again! I had no knowledge that this would get beyond my normal universe of readers, but I'm happy to see some new contributors here.

Just so the new arrivals know, I was born Methodist (and back in the archives, you can read my tribute to John Wesley based on a visit to the museum dedicated to him and the Methodist movement in London). I'm a Catholic by choice, of course.

In any case, violence related to sports certainly isn't isolated to soccer or to the British Isles. Certainly, there are bars on the South Side of Chicago where you'd be ill-advised to wear a Cubs jersey, and two high schools near my hometown actually stopped playing football because of the number of fights that had to be broken up each year. In addition, I've been treated pretty rudely by fans of the Washington Capitals (yeah, the Stanley-Cup-less Capitals) when wearing the of the New Jersey Devils (winners of four Stanley Cups) at a game in D.C.

That said, the one thing that sets the Celtic-Rangers rivalry apart from so many others is this underlay of religion and ethnicity. I'm guessing it's less meaningful outside the Glasgow city limits, or at least outside of Scotland, but I'd like to tread lightly as long as I'm simply here on a visit. I'd love to wear the sweater with pride in a "loving" atmosphere, as it were.

Thanks for the contributions. Come by anytime!

7:42 PM  
Blogger Smitty Werbenmanjensen said...

Did I say soccer? Did I say it with a rhotic-r? Can you spot the American?

7:44 PM  
Blogger Middle Kid said...

Wow! Smitty goes truly international. I hope these new readers will continue to enlighten us with their "insiders'" view.

While I was reading this blog, I was reminded of Mr. M.K.'s friend (wearing a Cubs hat), who was involved in a fistfight with some Cardinals fans in St. Louis after a particularly hard-fought game. It's certainly not a Catholic/Protestant/soccer problem. There's something deeper, perhaps having to do with the Y chromosome.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Smitty Werbenmanjensen said...

A fistfight in St. Louis would only come about because the Cubs suck! And they're going to continue to be losers forevermore!

There. I said it. May God have mercy on us all.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Middle Kid said...

You obviously have the Y chromosome. I can't imagine a more ridiculous reason to start a fight than who won a game -- unless it's about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, of course.

10:48 PM  
Blogger oldest kid said...

We have a new soccer team here in Houston, TX. It's called the Dynamo. It was supposed to be called 1836 in honor of when Texas became independent of Mexico. However, that was deemed offensive to Hispanics, because that was the year when Texas became independent of Mexico! Go figure. Anway, we're hoping they do well!

By the way OK's YK's soccer team is doing well this spring!

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Celtic family Smitty. No doubt you will experience the warmth and friendliness all around the world. Here in the USA I have spotted Hoops in airports from Dallas to Detriot and Toronto to Tampa. Don't be shy about singing out a "Hail hail" and introducing yourself to the worldwide Celtic diaspora.
BTW there's no need to be Catholic, lapsed or practising, to support the Hoops.
The fighting and hooliganism you see written about Glasgow is more a social issue than a football pseudo religious confrontation.

4:16 AM  
Blogger Schmutz said...

Ulama - now there's a game that's not for the faint hearted. Imagine a nine pound ball that you hit with your hip through a vertical ring or into an end zone. Winners take all - including the losers' heads. Those Mesoamericans didn't play wimpy games like football (or soccer for us Americans).

1:22 PM  
Anonymous pseudonymous in nc said...

That said, the one thing that sets the Celtic-Rangers rivalry apart from so many others is this underlay of religion and ethnicity.

One reason why George Best went to Manchester United, and why United and Liverpool became popular in NI: you could state your allegiance without identifying yourself as either Protestant or Catholic.

8:36 PM  

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