By Cheri Burns
FOR many years, Scottish football has been overshadowed by sectarianism and violence between supporters; this is an issue that is particularly highlighted whenever the two sides of the Old Firm cross paths. In the
past, both Celtic and Rangers have backed joint campaigns to show their unity in tackling this and promoting mutual respect between the two sets of fans. However, the latest headline that has come to the attention of people across the country shows that there is still a great deal of ground work that needs to be done if there is ever going to be a chance of kicking this out of the game for good.
After the last fixture in which Celtic met Rangers, on August 31st at Celtic Park, Hoops Goalkeeper Artur Boruc was once again at the centre of controversy after he was seen directing an inappropriate gesture towards the away support. The incident again showed that even professional players can get caught up in the heated rivalry which exists between Glasgow’s ‘big two’.
This led to calls for the Pole to be banned for a number of matches and also brought it to light that the problem of sectarianism is still at the forefront of football in this country and action has to be taken now in order for future generations not to be subjected to the trouble that players and fans are faced with today.
When Boruc’s case was heard in front of an SFA disciplinary panel this month, the Celtic stopper was found guilty of aiming a one-fingered gesture at Rangers fans at Parkhead in the August encounter. Despite being reprimanded for his behaviour, he was not banned from taking part in any matches, but was fined £500. He was also warned about his future conduct and his club have said that they will work with the player in order to help him to avoid any further conduct with fans of opposing clubs. When asked to comment on the issue, SFA President George Peat stated: We certainly have to discourage it as it does no-one any good to try to incite supporters. We have to eliminate that. He continued, “We haven’t had many of these incidents, thankfully, and I just hope that this serves as a message – not so much the fine but the actual fact that he’s been punished.” Although Artur Brouc himself did attend the hearing, he left without comment.
This is not the only high-profile case to involve violence and attacks with a sectarian motive in the midst of a Celtic v Rangers battle. In 1999, experienced and well-respected referee Hugh Dallas was struck in the head by a coin thrown by a Celtic supported during a match against their bitter rivals. Later that same evening, another fan of the Scottish champions then tried to break into the home of Dallas and his family – throwing a brick through one of the referee’s home windows in the process. The case highlighted here illustrates that it is not only players who can let emotions get the better of them when it comes to these games, fans also overstep the mark at times too and confuse passion for their club with violence and bigotry.
There have been many ventures aimed at combating these areas of the sport. In May 2005, in an attempt to tackle this kind of abuse – also referred to as ‘Scotland’s Shame’ – The then First Minister Jack McConnell hosted an anti-sectarianism summit involving football clubs, church leaders and local authorities. At the time Nil by Mouth, which is an anti-sectarian campaign group welcomed the move. A spokesman for the group commented by saying “Nobody is under any illusion; it is going to take a lot of time. No one intervention is going to make a specific difference over a period of time, a number of initiatives can.
In more recent years, there have also been meetings with the clubs involved and other relevant and prominent figures to discuss the issue in detail, but the Boruc saga plainly shows that it is going to take a very long time before football in this county is recognised purely for the quality of the game.