Thursday, April 21, 2011

Scottish Football: A Day of Despair

An impressive Celtic performance saw them sweep emphatically past Kilmarnock last night.

It was at least a positive footballing story to end a day of unmitigated despair for our game.

This season had already been depressing, at times poisonous.

But the news that Neil Lennon had been targeted in a mail bomb campaign that could "have caused serious harm" was almost incomprehensible.

This is a new, darker place for Scottish football and Scottish society.

We don't yet know the person or persons responsible for the attempt to hurt, perhaps kill, Lennon, Paul McBride and the former MSP Trish Godman.

But we can say that whoever it is possesses a hatred so warped, a criminality so vicious, that they exist on the extreme, perhaps a hitherto unexplored extreme, of our society.

Yet even as we acknowledge the isolation of the perpetrator we must accept that our lingering complacency over sectarianism and bigotry must now end.

That is not a process that can involve only football. But football provides a rallying point for so many of these issues that to offer only hollow promises of tackling the issues while seeking to shift all blame on to society as a whole is no longer enough.

Football, every employee of every club, every administrator of every organisation, must now be seen to act. Yes, politicians, educators, the police and myriad other agencies have huge roles to play. But football must become a visible, vocal advocate for change, in deed as well as talk.

There can be no dismissive shoulder shrugging and talk of "ninety minute bigots." Recent events are an extreme, and I hope beyond hope, a one off.

But they are a disturbing illustration of where we can end up if we stand by and do nothing.

Somebody tried to murder Neil Lennon because he is manager of Celtic.

Somebody tried to murder Paul McBride because he has worked for Neil Lennon and he is a Celtic supporter with a public profile.

Somebody tried to murder Trish Godman because she is a Celtic supporter who held one of our more low profile public offices.

Read those three sentences out loud. And shudder that this can happen in Scotland in 2011. Weep that our game, this frustrating, passionate, bewitching game, can lead to this.

Was it really only a week ago that I wrote that world football didn't care enough to laugh at Scotland.

Well, they've taken notice now. From UEFA's Michel Platini to the media around the world we've become a talking point. Nobody's laughing.

And the image being projected, the black and white, headline grabbing image, is of a country where a footballing rivalry has got so out of control that a terrorist campaign is being waged.

Not one of us should be comfortable with that. It should leave us feeling ashamed, feeling diminished.

Does football reflect society? Does society reflect football? Either way it is disfigured, ugly reflection that we are faced with this week.

This is modern Scotland.

Depressed? Aye, absolutely.

Sickened? Perhaps never more so with this game that I devote far too much time to.

But not without hope for the future.

Evil has taken us to this point. Football has somehow contrived to provide the vehicle for that evil.

Yet surely we have now reached the turning point, albeit because of an almost unthinkable catalyst.

It's time now for football to provide the driving force, to help put right what's gone wrong.

If football is fed up being the whipping boy for wider problems then it now has both the power and the motivation to start the process of change that we are crying out for. Football can change itself and help change our wider society at the same time.

There has to be hope that in its darkest hour Scottish football can somehow rediscover its soul.

> If Neil Lennon ends this season without trophies he still deserves enormous credit for the way he has insulated his squad from any negative reactions to the disturbing events off the field. You need not be his greatest fan to admire that incredible show of character.

> There's been much written and said since this story broke. Alan Temple's post on the Terrace Scottish Football Podcast blog is one of the best.

> It would be nice if every league ground in Scotland could find a way to condemn recent events and support Neil Lennon this weekend. You don't need to be a fan of this guy or have any sympathy with Celtic on the pitch to utterly abhor what has happened. The sane majority need to begin the fightback by showing solidarity.

> Some of what was written has been predictably moronic. Berwick Rangers terminated the contract of a youth team player for comments on Twitter. And so depression is heaped upon depression.