Speaking out

Why I refused to stay silent for the Queen Mum. A Celtic fan writes.

Kevin Rooney

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Topics Politics

Apparently I’m a sectarian yob, a lager lout, and a loud-mouthed bigot.

And that’s just how the ‘posh papers’ described those of us who refused to take part in the minute’s silence for the Queen Mother at the Celtic game at Celtic Park on 6 April 2002. The tabloids used even more colourful language – and a Celtic press release rather menacingly vowed to track us down.

As it happens, I was not drunk, and I’m not sectarian or bigoted. I simply exercised my democratic right to free speech by refusing to comply with the gesture of respect demanded by Celtic Football Club and the Scottish Football Association (SFA) – breaking the silence with a demand that the monarchy be abolished.

Slating ‘tiny-minded’ Celtic fans, Scottish Sun columnist Bill Leckie wrote: ‘The place for politics is in parliament, in town hall debates and at the ballot box, not in football grounds.’ I couldn’t agree more, Bill – but tell that to Celtic Football Club, which has spent the past five years politicising the terraces with campaigns like ‘Bhoys against bigotry’ and ‘Sense over sectarianism’.

In fact, much to the chagrin of the small number of committed republicans who are also Celtic fans, singing IRA songs at a Celtic game never translated into political support for the IRA. The Boys of the Old Brigade is as much a Celtic anthem as You’ll Never Walk Alone is for Liverpool fans – with as little political significance. Columnists like Leckie and those who run Celtic have done more to politicise football than Celtic fans ever have.

The irony seems to be lost on club directors who, having spent years banning what they see as the politics of Irish republicanism from the stands, they now demand that all fans join in a public gesture of support for the British monarchy.

Political support for Irish republicanism among Celtic fans may be pretty thin these days – but Celtic’s historic association with Irish nationalism and the team’s strong support in republican areas of Ireland meant the minute’s silence for the Queen Mother was unlikely to pass off without incident. As one caller to Alan McCabe’s Daily Record ‘Sports Hotline’ said: ‘Everyone knew the booing was going to happen, so why have it in the first place?’

But refusing to comply with the SFA’s demand would have been deeply embarrassing for the politically correct regime at Celtic Park, which proudly claims to have kicked bigotry out of the ‘bhoys’.

Of course it wasn’t just the club that wanted to observe the minute’s silence. The vast majority of fans were willing to respect the call, and were angry with those of us who refused to. Yet in the heated rows that took place in between celebrating Celtic’s league win, the most often-repeated objection to my action was that it confirmed the media image of Celtic fans as bigoted thugs – a claim confirmed many times over in the media coverage that followed. Bill Leckie neatly summed up that sentiment:

‘Celitc fans…probably thought they were striking a blow for a political cause. They’re wrong. They were simply hammering another nail into the coffin of their reputation in the world’s eyes.’

Most Celtic fans have little time for the British monarchy. But in today’s climate, standing silent for one minute must seem like a small price to pay to avoid being labelled a sectarian bigot.

The small band of Celtic fans who chose to risk opprobrium rather than honour the monarchy were easily dismissed as a group of ageing unreconstructed republicans. As one commentator noted, ‘It’s about time these people moved into the twenty-first century. People must realise they can’t change the past’. Apart from the obvious irony of accusing us of living in the past while they celebrate 101 years of imperial tradition, the charge says a lot about the current state of politics.

The idea that people might make a stand on a matter of principle today seems to be an alien concept to many political commentators. My own protest had nothing to do with history and everything to do with refusing to put on a show of respect for everything I oppose. It was also a protest against Celtic Football Club’s continuous campaign to police the behaviour of its fans and make us conform to their version of politically correct respectability.

Celtic Football Club should stop doing politics altogether, and divert its energies to what happens on the pitch.

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Topics Politics

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