The weekend beginning on November 26, 2010 will live long in the memory of Celtic fans throughout the globe. Such was the glee that emerged through the removal of Messrs Dallas and McDonald, the dropping of two points at home and the sub standard fare on display at home against Inverness was very much secondary.
At the time of writing it remains to be seen just how much of a watershed moment this could be. Dallas, Head of Referees at the Scottish FA has for many years been a figure of contention and controversy for Celtic supporters. He, for many epitomises the sinister patterns of officialdom that have prompted generations of Celtic die-hards to cite that the game in Scotland has surreptitious methods and subterfuge embedded within it. This angst perhaps best illustrated in a game at Celtic Park in May 1999 when such objections to his performance saw him inexcusably struck by a coin, thrown from within the support. Since then his decision making during games beyond these shores has compelled emotional responses from players and coaches alike in stadia beyond Scottish football and has saw him being victim to attacks, both verbal and physical, the likes of which were incomparable to anything that materialised in Scottish football.
Dougie McDonald and his rise to prominence as the man in the middle came as his former superior Dallas' career was to all intents and purposes was in its twilight. A Grade 1 referee as of 1997 it was into the new millennium that he came more to the fore in top flight Scottish football. It is however over the course of the last 24 months that McDonald has became a figure of opprobrium for supporters. With McDonald taking charge of several Glasgow derbies in the period his officiating has encouraged greater scrutiny and there are now a catalogue of contentious decisions that for large swaths of Celtic fans point to bias, a favouritism that ultimately seeks to benefit Rangers and disadvantage Celtic.
October 17th, 2010 and Tannadice Park, the home of Dundee United and what seems like your standard Scottish Premier League fixture is playing out. Celtic already feeling victimised by decisions during the games opening hour are awarded a penalty. What unfolds in the ensuing minutes may not define McDonald as a referee but it will most certainly will haunt him for many years to come. Many a match official has erroneously pointed to the spot in the heat of battle, that is irrefutable, many have waved play on when the ubiquitous cameras have in the immediate aftermath informed the viewers that such a decision was incorrect. I do not recall seeing what happened next in any other game although that is of course not to say that it has not occurred elsewhere. That he changed his mind is now well known but as time went on the controversy raged and the lies from the media in Scotland sought to negate the contention around the decision of McDonald.
In the ensuing days certain publications told of the assistant referee raising his flag. This has now been proved to be not only innocently false but a blatant lie which went to print as editors and their minions went into overdrive to nullify the long standing claims of Celtic fans around bias. Craven, the assistant referee on the day ran to take up the position that is the norm in light of a penalty being given. Mr Craven in the week after then went public to reveal a bullying culture that Hugh Dallas was chief culprit in the SFA Officials environment, but moreover to disclose that he had been party to, certainly for a brief period, a conspiracy to lie to Neil Lennon and by extension Celtic about the decision that was changed.
Fast forward three weeks and the revelations emerged about Hugh Dallas and 'that e-mail', the usage of that now having the same notoriety which was directed towards Elizabeth Hurley many years ago and 'that' dress'. The e-mail, an attempt at topical satire but undoubtedly offensive to both the Pope and Catholics, came on the same day the Pope celebrated Mass in Glasgow and as anti-Catholicism increased in workplaces across Glasgow and beyond. Whether Dallas forwarded this 'humour' with underlying anti-Catholic motivations we may never know and whilst some may suggest I am trying to exculpate Dallas there is something far more sinister in all of this. The reality is that someone felt sufficiently confident to send this to Dallas, confident that it would meet with his approval. Perhaps the best indication that it did meet such approval is owing to the fact that Dallas then forwarded it on to numbers speculated, but conclusively unknown.
All of the above has infuriated Celtic supporters across the globe. Celtic supporters of any faith and none have a unison on the issue of bias, favouritism, preference etc like no other matter of common interest. There are disagreements and debate on the extent of bias, discussions on whether it is cultural, conspiratorial, or a fusion of both, but the underlying belief is that it exists. The Dallas e-mail, whilst unconnected to Celtic or its fans, is viewed in the context of Scotland. That being that with the unresolved allegations of anti-Catholicism it points to the triumvirate of intolerance that has been ingrained for decades. Anti-Catholicism, anti-Irishness and through both, anti-Celtic bias as the club are perceived to be the most public representative of both and all three that permeate through both the police and the judiciary, evinced by Celtic fans being mistreated by the police and having to contend with superfluous charges.
For all the individuals that have been exposed, this matter is not employee specific, it has its roots and maintenance in an ethos, an ethos that has in time eroded any confidence in those in the Irish Catholic community in Scotland that the Scottish Football authorities not only do not value their contribution to the game in the same way as others but have sought continuously to ensure that a glass ceiling is in operation regarding advancement and aspirations. Whilst a Dermot Gallagher may be able to ascend the referees career ladder in England, unobstructed through a name that points to national and religious identity, there is a clear belief that North of the border difficulties would abound for anyone with such a name reaching the apex of the officiating pyramid.
Sectarianism and racism regarding career are not merely issues around the acquisition of employment, the remnants of such widespread prejudice are to be found around the areas of advancement once in position and progress. Far too many Celtic supporters, and indeed others, are willing to look at specific areas and point to someone they know, or know of, operating in that field or industry and draw the conclusion that their employment in a certain area means that an individual employer is adhering to non-discriminatory practices. They have been hoodwinked, not least by the broad media into absorbing that intolerance can only exist in certain ways. It is a foolhardy assumption which disregards the nuances of prejudice in any given environment.
On this particular issue it would be interesting to find out how many Catholics, or those perceived to be from culturally Irish backgrounds, have advanced through the structures of the national association or have found themselves as part of the decision making process, either through endeavour or through a right of succession that does not have effort and natural progress as part of the criteria.
The English Football Association has a Race Equality Advisory Group, within this group are various individuals from Black Minority Ethnic communities, their presence in such groups no doubt beneficial in relaying the concerns that exist within their respective communities. One example around this being the under representation across football, from grassroots to its highest echelons, from within the Asian community, or to be more specific, those from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds. Yet in Scotland it would be surprising for most to see that amongst the power brokers of the Scottish FA there were several Gallaghers, McDonaghs or O'Donnells. All this despite the Irish immigrant community in Scotland embracing the game in such a significant manner and figures that suggest that the Irish community in Scotland are the biggest immigrant group. When stakeholders allude to change in the game and its structures it is essential that the Scottish FA not only deconstruct the antiquated building blocks that have been in place for so long but they also instill a confidence that positions and places within the national association are available and accessible to all and are no longer enveloped by a nepotism propped up by sectarian and racist pillars or that are contingent on perceived class or social status.
If this alone can be achieved by Stewart Regan, the new Chief Executive then it will represent a huge and significant change in the Scottish Football Association. Regan, in post only since the summer, must be still dazed at all that has occurred around him. Whilst anyone in such a new and pressurised position has to confront hitherto issues, the nuances of Scotland will undoubtedly have left him bewildered. As he recovers from one crisis another emerges and all the while there is little sympathy from the fourth estate, many of whom desire change in Scottish football but are vehemently opposed to it being changed at the behest of Celtic or their supporters. Within the press pack there are calls for the dismantling of the committees, alterations in the powers that certain individuals and panels have, the promotion of changes around promoting the game and continuous frustrations that the well which produced Dalglish, Law, Souness et al has run dry. These of course are valid questions, queries and viewpoints. It is incontrovertible that the conveyor belt has grind to a halt, perhaps not in quantity but most certainly in quality. Broadly speaking however, there are no proclamations within the media which reflects the opinions and assertions that are proffered by those within the Celtic family. In fact, it may well be the case that such is the entrenched position of some and their point blank refusal to entertain our grievances that they would rather sustain the present structure and its shortcomings rather than face the prospect of the necessary changes coming through a united Celtic front or having to admit that 'You know this bias thing, you were right all along'
Bias, the buzzword that has resurfaced intermittently through the events above can be confusing in how it manifests itself. The norm regarding recourse of the media has been to portray the wide Celtic support as paranoiacs, clinging to the idea that former social inequalities still somehow resonate within football. The media repeatedly request hard and irrefutable evidence in the full knowledge that owing to the nature of the allegation this is almost impossible without whistleblowers becoming whistleblowers. The supporters point to a pattern of on field decisions to evince their assertions. The media, and others unwilling to contemplate subterfuge respond with examples of injustices affecting all teams. And so it continues ad nauseum. In the midst of all this toing and froing external comments seem to be lost or at best no significance is placed upon them and at no point has any media commentator sought to collate the remarks of those who are in the game or have been and whose views come from beyond the generally accepted conspiracy theorists. Bias is defined as 'to cause partiality or favouritism'. It is not dependent on size or where or how it emerges. Berti Vogts, one of the external parties said in the book 'Tommy Burns : A supporters who got lucky', on the issue of Burns inheriting the Scotland managers position that 'I think maybe if he was the assistant manager of Rangers, then maybe he could have taken over. If Tommy came from the blue side then I think he'd have taken over after me. Sorry but I have to say that. What exactly would prompt such a comment ? Vogts, bereft of any historic allegiances and without vested interest, has in such a relatively short period of time in Scotland felt that there is some form of favouritism towards Rangers and/or anti-Celtic bias. Craig Levein, the current Scotland manager back in 2008 bemoaned the decisions that went against his then employers Dundee United in a game against Rangers at Ibrox. Despite the loaded overtures of Chick Young to cite Glasgow club stadia as venues where officiating can be a source of annoyance and injustice, Levein was quick to point out to Young that his ire was around visits to Ibrox and Ibrox only. Terry Butcher, now manager of Inverness Caledonian and former Rangers captain, recently gave a post match interview after his team had battled to a draw at Ibrox. Upon being asked about the prospects of being given a penalty during proceedings he sarcastically quipped 'What us, get a penalty at Ibrox'. As many Celtic fans will know Billy McNeill, former club captain has arguably went one further and opined that bias has been in play for decades. So are they all card carrying members of the Paranoiac posse ? Are we to believe that these figures within the footballing establishment are somehow disregarding their own reputations to reinforce long standing views of the Celtic support ? I think not. Adding fuel to the fire has been Graham Spiers and Jim Traynor. The former has accepted that there has been bias but it has been absented in more recent times. Spiers has not offered much more, such as any opinion of when it ceased to be. Traynor, on BBC Radio, reluctantly acknowledged that there probably was bias but its existence was when trams and ration books were commonplace.
Although bias can exist in many forms and as football has evolved it has opened up new avenues for favouritism and prejudice, it is the issue of on field decisions that is the most pertinent amongst the discussions and debates of Celtic supporters. With such convictions around the deviancy of match officials this belief is not likely to abate any time soon. The inception of the internet, the birth of the forum and the easiness in accessing archived materials has permitted the footballing community to locate evidence at the touch of several buttons. Newspaper articles are perused and scrutinized, some acting as all the testimony supporters need to justify their position. From a former referee appearing at a private function and referring to 'Fenian bastards', to another ex-referee having his wish granted to officiate his last ever match which happened to be Rangers penultimate game of the 1997/1998 season whilst the club were on the cusp of securing a tenth consecutive Scottish title . The above being symptomatic from a Celtic fans perspective that Rangers, favouritism, prejudice against Celtic are interwoven and rooted within the culture of officialdom. Also arising from the deeply held belief system around the establishment and the establishment club is the perpetual question of Masonic associations and if they play any role in upkeeping such bias. The Masons, a global body but with autonomy has long been felt to have anti-Catholicism running across it in Scotland. With membership of the brethren, or craft as it is known, being out of reach for most of the financially impotent the reality of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic discrimination meant that becoming a full member of the fraternity would have been beyond many of those from within that particular section of society. From this and maintained to this day is the view that whilst the ethos may be sectarian and racist free, there will exist mindsets amongst the membership that certain individuals and groups are, shall we say, less welcome than others.
Those for whom there has always been a welcome has been the refereeing brotherhood in Scotland. In looking deeper into the machinations of the organisation it only raises more questions than provide answers to any queries people have. Are certain individuals being elevated to positions of prominence in the Scottish game simply because of their craft card ? Is the Masonic pledge to help a brother suppressing the advancement of those who follow procedure but are not within the fraternity ? Perhaps the most relevant question in all of this is just how far will 'brothers' go to assist in the need of their fellow craftsmen. In Musselburgh, November 2009, just a few short miles from Edinburgh, the local Masonic lodge has an open evening. It is designed in part to remove the veil of secrecy which still shrouds this body. Consequently there are figures there from the local community and who are not members.
What is disclosed by Brother Abbot in Lodge 112 is that both the Rangers manager, Walter Smith and his assistant Ally McCoist are both members of the brethren, with McCoist having been initiated more than a quarter of a century ago in Thornliebank, Glasgow. To some this may not come as a great surprise. What it does do is raise questions about the assistance that one brother may offer another and would such brothers be prepared to engage in deceit in their professional life in order to be of benefit to their brethren. We may never know, again without verbal declarations from the people involved or some form of paper trail we are left with conjecture or gut style convictions. It may also explain why Walter, as he is affectionately known by the reporters, is so reluctant to offer any criticism to officials who oversee Rangers fixtures.
It would be interesting to locate any criticism from Smith which was aimed at any of the following in his time in the Ibrox hot seat, assuming of course that these officials were operating during the referred to periods that Smith has been in charge at Rangers, or for those who officiated outwith Smith's tenure, was criticism commonplace from Rangers employees against the following : Jim McCluskey, Stuart Dougal, JRP Gordon, Jim Renton, Tiny Wharton, Mick McCurry, Andrew Waddell, Donald McVicar, Willie Young, John Rowbotham, Davie Syme, Brian McGinlay, Bobby Tait, Les Mottram, Bobby Orr, Bobby Davidson.
Within the above we have referees, Brian McGinlay who has,according to reports described Celtic as 'Fenian bastards', Bobby Tait, given permission to officiate over Rangers versus Kilmarnock in his last ever game in Scottish football, Stuart Dougal, known for his anecdotes in Masonic gatherings, and a certain Mr John Rowbotham.
Rangers FC have won over 100 domestic trophies, many of their players are Scotland born, bred and resident. Yet in April next year the Rangers Supporters Trust have as main speaker at their Annual Dinner dance none of the players who have assisted in any halcyon days, certainly not at this moment, though I suspect that will change, they have none other than a Mr John Rowbotham. Yes, the one and the same from the list above. The same supporters trust who on the departure of Gordon Smith from the Scottish FA bemoaned his departure whilst calling for a radical overhaul of this 'archaic institution' yet seemingly unprepared to entertain the idea that the ethos of this 'archaic institution' may have been what facilitated Smith in being given the position in the first place.
Paranoid. Moi ?
We have arrived at a juncture where there is an unprecedented momentum amongst the Celtic masses, there is a desire for change, events in the last two months have in effect been the straw that broke the camels back. In the 1950's the Scottish FA demanded that Celtic FC remove the Irish national flag from atop the stadium. In the subsequent years more and more became fully au fait with the realities of the sectarian policy that existed at Rangers FC, a policy which flitted between No Catholics and an anti-Catholic diktat. Throughout the period the Scottish FA gave carte blanche to such blatant discrimination. In 1994 Celtic took up temporary residency at Hampden Park, the home of Glasgow neighbours Queen Park FC but also the headquarters of the Scottish FA. In the discussions around the lease, according to the a Guardian interview in 1999 with Fergus McCann, the former owner of the club, Celtic were informed that any attempt to fly the Irish national flag above the stadium would be a 'deal-breaker'. We may have traveled half a century since but some attitudes have not
What is also critical is the Celtic support collectively wanting change. Victimhood has addictive facets to it and even with these issues now having diuretic properties for the Scottish Football Association it still remains to be seen whether the support are prepared to be physically proactive to illustrate that they demand the dissolving of the culture of bias, favouritism, sectarianism and racism. There is also the matter of the club itself and just how far they are prepared to go to in ensuring a more equitable existence for both parties. The clubs former captain Billy McNeill, in addition to his comments about Celtic being susceptible to bias also remarked that 'but no matter referee’s decisions Celtic’s players have to rise above it all'. These remarks were echoed by Celtic new Bhoy Gary Hooper in a recent interview. Well with the greatest of respect Ceasar and Hoops, fuck that. The very least we can expect is impartiality and equality. We should not have to be 'that good' that the bias of officials is of secondary importance. We are Celtic supporters, no better or worse than any other set of supporters. The monies we proffer in maintaining the game in Scotland does not devalue as it travels to the custodians coffers. We are normal people, not 'the people' We expect, nae demand, that as stakeholders in the Scottish game who have contributed financially for decades to its upkeep as well as being ambassadors abroad that has reflected well on Scotland that we are viewed with a respect that should be afforded to any set of supporters irrespective of how large that group may be, or where their allegiances lie.
The Scottish Premier League, fortuitous to date in escaping any adverse coverage have sat idly by whilst the aforementioned attitudes have rained down on players in recent years. Two of the leagues brightest talents have decided to start new chapters in their respective careers, James McCarthy at Wigan and Aiden McGeady in Moscow. Whilst I doubt anyone would opine that the abuse both players were subjected to was the sole reason for departing to pastures new it is to the detriment of the league if figures like Doncaster, Lex Gold and others are unwilling to arrest the abuse of players simply because they are culturally Irish. What kind of business is prepared to let their product be poisoned by bigots to the extent that it can, albeit in a small way, compel the quality of the product to suffer. Can the Scottish Premier League really afford to offer carte blanche to bigots and such bigotry to be part of the thought processes of players in deciding whether to remain plying their trade in Scotland or to seek adventures elsewhere ? I think not.
For change to materialise there can be no complacency from within the Celtic family. There can be no smugness at removing two symptoms this time as opposed to one when Farry departed towards the end of the last century. To collectively fall back, sated by the latest events, will only allow the ethos of bias the opportunity to recover from these blows and the antiquated behaviours to continue with alternative personnel steering its course. For such change to be brought about the role of the support is paramount. The concept of boycott, protest and civil disobedience are matters that should never be far from the thoughts of fans. There is no trust in the broad media, they have for the most part been prepared to be complicit in sustaining football in Scotland as we know it.
With all of this in mind it is essential that Regan and the Scottish FA, as well as the Scottish Premier League, ensure that the game, in its entirety, is a game for all and that every last vestige of bias, sectarianism and racism, also in their entirety, are consigned to history