LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A leading anti-racism campaign has called on Scotland’s parliament to do more to tackle anti-Irish and anti-Catholic racism in soccer.
The call comes after politicians and soccer officials condemned the singing of “The Famine Song” ahead of a meeting between the Glasgow soccer teams Celtic and Rangers.
Although some rivalries can be friendly, the clashes of the “Old Firm” – the collective name for the two clubs – are anything but, mixing nationalism and religious sectarianism with sporting prowess.
Rangers is the Protestant club, while Celtic is the Catholic one – it was even founded by a priest. Although the teams ply their trade in the largest city of Scotland, it is Northern Ireland which dominates the culture of the clubs.
Scottish flags – which can be found almost everywhere in the country – are not common in the teams’ stadiums: Celtic fans fly the Irish tricolor, while Rangers fans fly the Union Jack or even the Northern Irish flag.
Ahead of the Aug. 29 meeting Old Firm match, Rangers fans sang “The Famine Song,” which calls on Irish descended Scots to go “back home” since the mid-19th century Irish Famine is over. The song also repeats anti-Catholic tropes and insinuates Celtic fans support the terrorist acts of the Irish Republican Army.
Anti-Catholic sentiment is common at Rangers games, and the club was disciplined by the governing body of European soccer in 2019 over anti-Catholic and anti-Irish chants at games. In May of this year, a Catholic church was vandalized by Rangers supporters following a win over Celtic.
“Some of the language in videos we have had sent to us – which include phrases like ‘go home’ – are appalling. It is no different to any other form of racism or xenophobia. Whoever utters those words is using racist language,” said Jordan Allison, the Scotland campaign manager for the organization Show Racism the Red Card, which works to fight racism in soccer.
“Referring to the historical movement of people from Ireland is xenophobic. Xenophobia is hatred or prejudice towards people from perceived different countries, communities and religions,” he said in comments reported by The Herald.
“The language is racist towards people from different countries and different religions. You are telling an entire community that calls Scotland its home to ‘go home’. What we are hearing is horrific language. We feel Scottish football has so many more positive stories to share. There is no place for that language,” Allison continued.
“It is targeted towards a marginalized community, and it is racist. Historically, ‘go home’ is used against migrant communities. It is the sort of language the far-right use. It is not welcome in Scottish football,” he said.
The comments come just weeks after Protestant Orange Orders arranged marches that passed Catholic churches in Glasgow. Police officers said that although most of the marchers were peaceful, there were racist and anti-Catholic slurs.
“We are aware that on a number of occasions today there have been outbreaks of racist and sectarian singing by some of those attending to support the Orange Order processions, this is utterly unacceptable and we completely condemn this behavior,” a Sept. 18 police statement said.
According to The Herald, Almost 1000 reports of anti-Catholic abuse have been recorded by police between 2019-2021, with Glasgow accounting for nearly a quarter of the total.
Nearly half of all religiously motivated abuse in Scotland is targeted at Catholics.
“[Glasgow] has long had an endemic anti-Irish and anti-Catholic problem,” said Carol Monaghan, a member of the Scottish Parliament.
“Nevertheless, the past few months have truly demonstrated the intensity of this bigotry,” she told The Herald, mentioning the Orange Order marches and the anti-Catholic slogans of the Rangers fans.
“Some choose to brand this type of provocation as typical ‘Glasgow sectarianism’ or ‘football-fueled hijinks.’ I choose to call it out for what it is: anti-Irish racism and a symbiotic anti-Catholic bigotry,” she told the newspaper.
In his statement, Allison acknowledged, “Racism is bigger than football.” He called on the government to do more to address the problem.
“We need everyone to come together to condemn it. The alleged ‘go home’ chants in Glasgow were almost universally condemned by both Celtic and Rangers supporters as well as politicians which was encouraging to see. The more we see unity in the face of that kind of language the less it will be tolerated,” the anti-racism campaigner said.
“The Catholic community in Scotland tell us that sort of anti-Catholic, anti-Irish language is normalized in the workplace, in society and in some football chants. Far more needs to be done to educate people on the hurt that can cause,” he said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome