Friday was a day for Halberg reflections and discussions, break-dancing awareness and test match squad analysis. That said, I noticed a very different story, one that made me angry, frustrated, but unfortunately, it was one that wasn’t a huge surprise.
A midweek Scottish Cup replay doesn’t generally make the headlines on this side of the world (it barely does it Scotland to be fair), but after Kilmarnock’s 5-0 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox this week, the game was highlighted for all the wrong reasons.
Steve Clarke started his playing career at St Mirren before transferring to Chelsea in the mid-80’s, where he spent 11 years, before retiring to go into coaching and management. He was a vital part of Jose Mourinho’s backroom team during the Sacked One’s successful first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge and has also been assistant manager at Newcastle, West Ham, Liverpool and Aston Villa; he’s also held the top job at West Brom, Reading and now, Kilmarnock, his first return to Scotland since he left Love Street in 1987.
It shouldn’t matter a jot, but Clarke is Roman Catholic. Why does it matter? Because during the match against Rangers, he was the subject of sectarian abuse from the home terraces. The chants of ‘Fenian b*****d’ rang around the ground. Clarke addressed this in his post-match press conference, with the sarcasm obvious:
‘It’s nice being back in the west of Scotland – really nice. When I was approached by Rangers about taking over the job here I was assured, nah, we didn’t have that in the west of Scotland anymore and it had gone. Hahaha. They can call me a b****** or w***** but to call me a Fenian b******? Come on. We’re living in the dark ages. They’re not allowed to call my assistant a black b but they can call me a Fenian b******. Is that correct? What are we doing in Scotland? I wake up every morning and I thank Chelsea for taking me away from the West. My children have nothing to do this with this thankfully. My children and grandchildren. It’s fantastic to be back in Scotland.’
As unacceptable as this behaviour is, Clarke has received some criticism, with various people suggesting double standards, given the chants of Celtic supporters last weekend when they visited Kilmarnock in the league. On that occasion, pro-IRA songs were heard and Kilmarnock’s former Rangers player, Kris Boyd had coins thrown at him.
I’m not unusual in that I’m an Irish Catholic who supports Celtic. I’m slightly unusual in that my father is from the Republic of Ireland but my mother is from Northern Ireland, but that meant that despite growing up in my early years in the Republic, I was often in Northern Ireland to visit my mother’s family, just a couple of hours drive away. Growing up in the 80’s was tough in that part of the world; it was downright dangerous. I could describe things I saw and heard that would shock you; but socially and politically, things have improved, although they are far from perfect.
I want to make it clear that although this Steve Clarke episode highlights anti Catholic feeling, both sides, in my opinion, are as bad as each other. Despite living in London in the mid 2000’s, one year I treated myself to a Celtic season ticket. I experienced some great nights, both European matches and half-decent domestic action. But I’ll never forget my first Old Firm Derby. Lunchtime kick off, as is the norm, it was an early morning flight up from London, a taxi to the ground, and BOOM you are in the middle of the most incredible sporting cauldron you can imagine. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. But why was it such an amazing atmosphere? Because of passion and hate. Hate is a strong word, a strong emotion. Do Hurricanes fans ‘hate’ the Crusaders? Do Black Caps fans ‘hate’ the Aussie cricket team? Whether they do or they don’t, my point is, you probably don’t know what ‘hate’ is until you’ve experienced this Sectarian s*it on the other side of the world. The problem is, it’s not going anywhere. It’s Kris Boyd and Steve Clarke this week, just like it was Neil Lennon, Nacho Novo, and many others before them. The legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly is often quoted, for saying:
‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.’
Bill, I hope that was tongue-in-cheek, because it really, really isn’t.
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