Shameful traditions

I have no interest in football, although sometimes, even for me, there is no avoiding it.

I notice when there’s a big international tournament on, largely because there’s nothing else to watch on the television, but I would be hard pressed to tell you at any given time if it is a European or a World competition.

A former colleague used to regularly keep me up to date on Arsenal’s mid week fixtures so I could avoid travelling in Underground carriages thick with the foetid odour of unwashed nylon emanating from grown men dressed in what appear to be pyjama tops in team colours, as my journey home passed by both Highbury and the Emirates stadia.

And I did once win £80 in an office sweepstake forecasting the results of some competition or other by virtue of having predicted every result as a scoreless draw.

But apart from that I manage quite happily to avoid all information about it except when, as this week and last, news of its goings on hits the front pages of the newspapers and the main section of TV news bulletins.

The story I couldn’t avoid was about the terrible behaviour on the pitch, on the sidelines and in the stands during an ‘Old Firm’ match last Wednesday, the culmination of which was a stand up knock down confrontation between the manager of Celtic and the assistant manager of Rangers.  To tell you their names I’d have to look them up, and life’s too short for that.

For those of you not from the West of Scotland, ‘Old Firm’ is the name applied to any match between Celtic and Rangers the two largest football clubs in Glasgow.  It’s an old, angry rivalry.  Not only is it about ‘fitba’, it’s about religious sectarianism; as ‘traditionally’ Celtic supporters are ‘Catholic’ and Rangers are ‘Protestant’ (although no-one will have ever verified actual church attendance).

It’s a nasty brew of testosterone, alcohol, long held grudges and specious religion that always ends in violence.  Last week it was just that bit worse than usual and so Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, called a ‘summit’ of representatives from both clubs and Strathclyde police to draw up a ‘plan’.

I couldn’t be bothered listening to much of it, however one fact stuck out: violence in the street, in pubs and, most noticeably, in homes across Strathclyde, dramatically increases  during and after the Old Firm matches.  I guess a statistician would call that a correlation rather than necessarily evidence of cause and effect, but it is undoubtedly shameful.

I’ve always been rather sceptical about the argument that watching violence on television and film turns people to violence; but it does seem that something about watching football matches will.

Also if I believe that looking at art, watching film and reading books enhances and enriches life experience, then I suppose I should also accept that watching something as pointless as two football managers throwing punches on the sidelines should have the opposite  effect.

When I heard the commentators reporting that the traditions of the sectarian divide in Glasgow are still deep, I looked up the nationalities of the players in each team.  It seems to me that for that to be a valid argument in the debate then all the players and staff must be born and bred locally.

But of course they’re not, they are from all over the place (Honduras, Germany, Poland, USA, Sweden, Norway, Mexico, Israel, Czech Republic, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania are the ones I noted before I was overcome with boredom).

So there’s no sectarian traditions among the players; it’s the management and the fans then.

It all brought to mind part of the chorus of ‘He’s fitba crazy’……

The fitba it has robbed him o

the wee bit o sense he had

By the way, the image isn’t one from this year – when I searched for ‘Old Firm violence’ there was an overwhelming 6million results; so I just picked one of the first to appear.

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