Friday, April 15, 2011

Rangers, UEFA, Martin Bain. And Me.

Just when we thought we'd had controversy enough this week, up pop UEFA again.

The governing body of European football have now indicated that far from content with threatening to sanction Rangers over their fans behaviour in their away game against PSV Eindhoven they also want a pound of meat over the behaviour of fans at the home game.

Martin Bain is astounded. And, manna from heaven this for the internet conspirators, has indicated that favourable reports from UEFA's delegates have been ignored in favour of reports from FARE - Football Against Racism in Europe.

Indeed Bain went on:

"We have never said that sectarian singing is not a problem, but this now has all the hallmarks of a deliberate and targeted campaign against the club." (BBC)

Let's leave aside the default descent into victim status that is an increasing blight on modern society.

What is Bain actually saying here?

"It's a problem we admit that. But it's big bullies coming along and pointing out that it's a problem that is the real problem."

Is that a defence?

UEFA also need to clarify the role of outside or partner organisations. But that is not Bain's problem right now. The way Bain's reaction will be seen is of the club - backed by the conspiracies flooding the internet - trying to silence not the bigots but an agency set up to tackle bigotry. That is not something Rangers should feel comfortable with.

There is, I foresee, going to be a problem with UEFA's consistency in excercising this new hardline attitude across the continent. Again though that's a problem UEFA themselves will need to address not Martin Bain.

But, again, "what about..." is not an excuse. In fact it's becoming the scourge of Scottish football where the natural reaction is not to accept blame and solve problems but to find somebody whose crimes are worse or comparable to your own.

As for Bain's claim that the club "could not have done more" to stamp out this behaviour? Fair enough. If that's what he truly believes then he's entitled to his opinion. But UEFA are also within their rights to disagree and sanction the club if they think they have failed.

The clearest message Bain could send out, the ultimate proof that "the club could not have done more" would be to take the punishment on the chin and then lay the blame at the feet of those fans who have arrogantly refused to moderate their behaviour.

> I write this with blood on my hands after my own brush with sectarianism earlier today. Please allow me to indulge in a spot of navel gazing.

I woke up to read the following in my Twitter timeline:

"Rumours that Gary O'Connor has been invited to train with huns."

My immediate reaction was "blimey, that's interesting." Without giving it any more thought I re-tweeted.

I've been talking about O'Connor quite a lot since he was released by Barnsley. I've followed his career closely both because I saw him come through the ranks at Hibs and because he was a couple of years below me at school.

So I retweeted the original message.

Only to get this reply from a Rangers fan:

"@ScotFootBlog Why retweet a message containing a sectarian slur? Disappointing."

I actually had to check what retweet it referred to. When I realised I immediately unretweeted and apologised.

Was I, by spreading that one sentence, unmasking my own sectarianism?

The truth actually is I barely noticed the tweet beyond the O'Connor reference. Perhaps it was because I had just woken up, perhaps it's because 25 years of following Scottish football has left me immune to such language.

I'm certainly not sectarian. If we are to take a religous view of sectarianism then I don't have much time for any religion and absolutely no ill will towards anyone who does.

I suppose, and this must have been the inference, I was being accused of sectarianism towards Protestants. In which case I was being bigoted towards the church I was christened in and brought up in. Maybe I'm a case for a Freudian therapist.

Is the use of the word "hun" sectarian in any event? Maybe there is a legal precedent. Certainly dictionary definitions don't seem to refer to it. The etymology of the word is hardly conclusive.

Its widespread usage in Britain during the wars was derogatory towards Germans so it is clearly a slur. But even then it was introduced as a description of the German army by their own kaiser.

Further back, of course, the word refers to Attila the Hun. Clearly that's not a positive association but Attila's religion seems unclear. It was perhaps an amalgam of "shamanism, animism, totemism and ancestor worship" called tengriism, a creed that carries little association with Scottish football.

None of that is really the point. Because it is clear that during its association with Scottish football the word has derived meanings that go beyond traditional etymology. In this debate context is all.

Perhaps I am protesting too much but I present this mea culpa for a couple of reasons.

One, I think it illustrates the atmosphere surrounding our game at the moment. Even being innocently unthinking I was causing offence. The Rangers fan who took me to task was reasonable and accepted my apology. Others, I fear, would have used it with a stick to beat me over a non existent sympathy for Celtic.

And also because I was in the wrong and I deleted the tweet and apologised. This isn't language I normally use so it shouldn't be language I'm prepared to even absent mindedly or thoughtlessly endorse in others.

The point of this blog and accompanying Tweets is not to offend. Unless you're an employee of the SFA, SPL. Or a politician. Or John Hughes. Or, in the interests of full disclosure, Ronnie Corbett.

Could I have argued against the technicality of sectarianism? I could have. But Scottish football is going round in circles arguing about definitions of sectarianism. Sometimes we just have to accept we're in the wrong.

Could I have stated my own right to freedom of speech? I could have. Others do to the point of obsession.

But freedom of speech as it is commonly defined, my vague recollections of first year politics suggest this has at least been the case since John Stuart Mill's On Liberty in 1869, carries with it limitations.

In this case I'd mistakenly, ignorantly, foolishly or whatever used a word that obviously caused someone else offence. In deference to that I made amends. That was hardly a stinging denial of my own freedoms.

A tiny, miniscule, inconsequential example of course.

But is that not all we're asking fans who shout and scream and sing slogans and songs that cause offence to do? To show some respect to the feelings of others?

Anyway, chest fully cleared I'm off to teach the world to sing. In perfect harmony.