Community Experiences of Sectarianism

This study explored community experiences and perceptions of sectarianism, based on in-depth qualitative research within five case study communities across Scotland. The insights obtained provide depth and context to other research about sectarianism, including quantitative survey and national criminal offending data.

11. Football

11.1 Football was identified as both the cause and effect of sectarianism in Scotland, a somewhat contradictory result that was fluid and moved with the discussion. For instance, one participant in the Western Isles, when asked who was more likely to engage in sectarianism in her community, said:

It is the football. It is all football-related. I mean the young ones as I said beat each other up after a football match.

11.2 But later, when asked if there were aspects of Scottish culture that encouraged sectarianism on the islands, she spoke about conflicts over local government on the islands, rather than football), and said instead:

Yes. It is historic hard wiring, the absolute Calvinistic anti-Catholics ... and then the thing has been turned on its head and the Catholics have been the people accused of sectarianism. I mean how can 18 percent have that level of power? They don't understand the equation about the power and the prejudice.
(Woman, Interview 5, Western Isles)

11.3 Football has dominated media discussions of sectarianism in Scotland. Furthermore, identifying the extent to which football rivalry overlaps with sectarianism has been a controversial topic in Scottish sports journalism and Scottish academic study for decades. It is probably not surprising that we often found our participants' views about football quite hard to analyse. One topic that occurred repeatedly, though, was the role of Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers.

Celtic and Rangers

It's overwhelming. The question of sectarianism in the West of Scotland and it is inextricably linked to those two football teams, you know, for historical reasons or whatever. I think it has become a lot more diluted in recent years, but there is still a hard core on both sides
Man, Interview 1, Glasgow)

I think when you talk to any Glaswegian person, when you say the word 'sectarian' they automatically assume Celtic-Rangers, Catholic-Protestant. I think that is the overwhelming image, when you want to get into the nitty-gritty of it of course, you can talk about other things. But that is probably the thing your mind thinks of first.
(Woman, Focus group 1, Glasgow).

11.4 The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers was the issue most associated with sectarianism among the participants in this study. Despite it not being explicitly asked about by the interviewers, a great many participants pointed to Celtic and Rangers as two of the principal sources of sectarianism in Scotland. Many spoke about instances of sectarianism on both sides of this rivalry, and spoke of it being used as a means to understand a person's cultural, religious, and political background:

... most of my friends were boys growing up and if they didnae answer correctly they could have ended up in a fight, you know? And it did happen on a regular enough basis that it was an issue. So yeah, that definitely wasn't, you know, sort of 'what team do you support?' It was 'who are you? Celtic or Rangers?'
Woman, Focus group 1, Glasgow).

11.5 She continued by describing the link between football and religion in her own mind as she was growing up, and how she did not challenge such assumptions until her teenage years. She highlighted the conflation of football and religion as central to the formation of a particular social identity in west-central Scotland:

I think especially when you are that age it was one and the same I think. Football and religion was definitely very interconnected and when you are a kid you don't necessarily understand why ... I just assumed that was the way it went. You were Catholic: you were Celtic. You were Protestant: you were Rangers. It didn't occur to me to question that until I was at least sixteen, seventeen.
(Focus Group 1, Glasgow).

11.6 It should be stressed that such strong identification with Celtic or Rangers does by itself not constitute a form of sectarianism. Such 'ownership' of the two teams relates to group identity and has been discussed in academic scholarship on 'fandom' (Gray 2007). What we are examining here is how our participants described this as being sectarian. In another interview, one participant posited:

It is the way for them to self-identify. They [young men] are just entering the world. It is a case of, 'this is what I am! What are you?' And this is the way that they find it, through football, through the lodge or through whatever. And that is how they express it. And I don't think you can blame folk for that. ... But I can well understand these folk who feel powerless in their everyday lives or they want to give their life a bit of meaning. This is a way to do it.

11.7 When asked if he thought there were groups more likely to engage in sectarian behaviour, the same participant said:

It is most likely to be 16-24 year old, white guys who have an interest in football and an interest in drinking. And I think it is because it is that toxic combination of youthful idealism - means as well - which is a big part of it I think. So if you can afford to go to the football, so if you can afford to go to the pub, all these affiliated pubs, or if you can afford to pay lodge fees or whatever, I think means is actually a part of it. So you have got that toxic combination of idealism and means.
Man, Interview 6, Glasgow)

11.8 Throughout many of the interviews in the Glasgow and North Lanarkshire case studies in particular, there was an almost immediate conflation between sectarianism and football. Many participants made it clear that in their view the two issues were so intertwined that they could not be separated. Often, what was evident was the interchangeable nature of the terms Catholic and Protestant with Celtic and Rangers respectively. Pubs and bars affiliated with supporters of either Rangers or Celtic were frequently referred to as Protestant or Catholic pubs, strengthening this association.

11.9 This has been pointed out before, with Steve Bruce et al arguing: 'When people think of sectarianism, they have in mind the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers' (2004: 88). When this conflation of terms was pointed out to participants they apologised for it, feeling that this was perhaps an error on their part and that the issues should be separate; however this consistent amalgamation of the terms does show the importance of football, and in particular, Celtic and Rangers, within the discussion of sectarianism in Glasgow and its surrounding areas (although not only there).

And if you are a Partick Thistle supporter, well it used to be 'are you a Celtic Partick Thistle supporter or a Rangers Partick Thistle supporter?'
(Man, Interview 4, N Lanarkshire)

11.10 Although this importance of football may support the criticism by some commentators that in fact the problem in Glasgow is not one of sectarianism as such but of football violence (Bruce et al 2004; Waiton 2012 and 2013), religion need not necessarily be the only or most prominent factor in sectarianism. Nor does the role of religion need to be based around a narrow concept of religion as dogma:

'The equation of religion with doctrinal statements is an absurd reduction, and when it is used to dismiss religion, it distorts analysis (of sectarianism).'
(Leichty & Clegg 2000: 50)

11. 11 The Rangers-Celtic derby games have taken on a symbolic significance as a clash between the two opposing sides, resulting in the days in and around a game being heightened occasions where the possibility of sectarian actions is increased.

'Most football clubs reflect facets - economic, social, religious, cultural, symbolic, ideological and political - of the prevalent and ascendant features of the wider society and more specific community that they spring from and inhabit.'
(Bradley 2013: 75)

11.12 Occasionally Hearts supporters were mentioned by Celtic-supporting interviewees as being as bad if not worse than Rangers supporters in their sectarianism against Catholics: this was put down, not only to the 'Britishness' of the club but also the perceived affluence of an Edinburgh-based team as opposed to the perceived poverty of Glasgow-based Celtic. There was much less consensus, though, about the presence of such attitudes in the Edinburgh teams:

So there's almost like a group of people in the Hearts fan base who were almost, you know, like taking Union Jacks to like, you know, Hearts games and almost everybody would be sorta like 'fffttt. What?' but they had this kind of 'aw yeah well you know like that's what Rangers do, so'
(Man, Interview 5, Edinburgh)

Participant 2: It's not an issue in Edinburgh no.

Participant 5: I don't think it's as much an issue.

Interviewer: With Hibs and Hearts?

Participant 4: No, not at all, because like, wee Mike and, like, Davie and that said, it's just like, it's just not an issue over there, you know what I mean.

Interviewer: Really.

Participant 2: They are just all football.

Participant 3: Is it? Aye.

Participant 2: Yeah.

Participant 3: I don't think the Hibs march and all that sort of stuff do they?
(Football supporters, Focus Group 2, Glasgow)

11.13 This focus on Celtic and Rangers and sectarianism, it was posited during the second Glasgow focus group, is due to their dominance of the Scottish game. A large amount of media coverage centres upon them, highlighting or magnifying the issue of sectarianism, perhaps misleadingly. To those in this focus group the term 'sectarianism' had essentially come to mean trouble between the two rival football fans rather than relating to issues between Catholics and Protestants. Perhaps paradoxically[17] it was also suggested that the reason for the sectarian tensions was due to the large travelling support from Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, attending games at both Celtic and Rangers, bringing with it sectarian tensions that had then become established as part of the rivalry between the two teams.

11.14 It is sometimes said that Celtic and Rangers fans embrace either side of the Irish conflict partly as a way to exaggerate the difference between themselves and their biggest rivals.[18] The fans have adopted several opposing identities, such as Irish/British; Catholic/Protestant; Nationalist/Unionist; Republican/Loyalist; Palestinian/Israeli; Colonised/Coloniser; Other/ Dominant Majority. This tactic serves to heighten tensions and rivalries, even if the links are only superficial. However, they also heighten the likelihood of causing and taking offence. As a result, it may be that Celtic and Rangers fans are more likely to interpret symbols of Irish history as something intended to cause offence.

11.15 Some participants took the view that sectarian tensions in Glasgow had decreased since the demotion of Rangers to the lower leagues of Scottish football, providing fewer annual occasions in which sectarian animosity between the two fans could be realised.

11.16 Some mentioned that in their opinion Rangers fans are more anti-Celtic than Celtic are anti-Rangers and this would in turn have an effect on sectarian tensions or violence; if either were to take place it would be more likely that Rangers fans would be the instigators. Some supporters of other teams, however, particularly Partick Thistle, rubbished the idea, claiming that both sides are as bad as each other.

11.17 Supporters in other cities also often referred to Rangers and/or Celtic when discussing football and sectarianism. A Dundee resident for instance said she actively avoids sectarianism by refusing to travel to Glasgow to support Dundee:

Participant: Celtic can be ... they are just a bitty ... To be honest I think they are too drunk when they arrive in the town and then they are obviously, they are racist. Their background brings them to things they shouldn't be singing, and at one point I raised a complaint. Because it is supposed to be no allowed in grounds anymore.

Interviewer: You mean sectarian songs?

Participant: Yeah, you are no supposed to be able to sing them, and I raised a complaint with a policeman at the ground and said 'look you are stopping us doing certain things, why aren't you stopping them?' 'Because it is easier for me to throw you out than throw 30,000 of them out. So you either sit down, or you are out.' Haha if you are like that, okay [laughter]. But if you are in a group of 20,000 you can do what you like, because that's never going to change. And none of their sectarian songs are going to change because they still get to do it ... they won't put them out because they are frightened it causes problems in the ground ...

I think wherever they go, they take it. They take it with them because like I say I have been to numerous football grounds, I do travel a lot for football, and I have no experienced it anywhere else. So much so, I won't travel to Glasgow.
(Woman, Interview 3, Dundee)

11.18 Recent problems faced by Rangers aside, the modern history of Celtic and Rangers is of two powerful teams with similarly large fanbases[19] and strongly-asserted identities, somewhat evenly matched and in a combative struggle with each other.

11.19 However, this does not map on to the larger society of Scotland.[20] Whether as religious or cultural identities, Catholicism and Protestantism appear to play a much more muted role in Scottish life than might be supposed from the rivalry of the two teams.

11.20 Many of our participants did not have religious beliefs and did not associate themselves with a faith. Many of those who did have a faith spoke of it as a private matter that they actively took steps to prevent being a source of conflict in their social lives. Often they described this as a choice, although we should keep in mind the discussion in chapter 4 of the young woman who spoke about the Catholics she knew keeping their faith 'semi-quiet'.

11.21 Typically, both groups suggested that religious faith, or identity, did not form a part of their everyday relationships with other people in the community, beyond places of worship, other than as a source of moral guidance. Many also maintained that the religious faith of others whether at work, school or in informal social contexts was of no relevance to how they interact. This was a widespread assertion that manifested itself in comments such as:

My religion is something that is very, very personal to me. I have never ever ... made a judgment on somebody for their ... or I have never thought of somebody differently because they have told me what religion they are.
(Man, Interview 6, Glasgow)

11.22 In the Scotland Census 2011, 15.9% described themselves as Roman Catholic, 32.4% as Church of Scotland, 5.5% as Other Christian and 37% as having no religion. Furthermore, in the Scottish Social Attitudes survey in 2014, only a quarter of those surveyed said that being Protestant or Catholic was an important part of their identity (Hinchliffe et al 2015). The decline has been much more severe for Church of Scotland allegiance than for other Christian faiths.[21]

Because the 2011 Census in Scotland did not ask people for their religion of upbringing, we lack the data to identify whether certain religious or ethno- religious groups (such as those of Irish Catholic origin) are materially disadvantaged compared to others. So many people now identify as having no current religion that it is difficult to track the life chances of those born into a particular ethno-religious heritage. Research suggests that there is now socio-economic parity between these groups[22].

However, despite these caveats, it is worth noting the 2011 Census finding that people who identified as 'Roman Catholic' were much more likely to live in deprived areas (23%) than those who identified as 'Church of Scotland' (12%). It is also important to note that a number of factors have been identified as important in understanding any associations between religion and measures of disadvantage, such as that those identifying as Roman Catholic in Scotland have a relatively young age profile compared to those who identify as Church of Scotland. They also have a more diverse ethnic population, are more likely to have dependent children, and be lone parents.

11.23 The Celtic and Rangers rivalry obscures these differences in population size and religious identity. The rivalry of the teams and their fans is not always sectarian in nature. And when it is, it is not a mirror image of how Scotland's religious groups interact.

Interviewer: Do you think there are particular places or times when you would be more likely to experience sectarian behaviour?

Participant: Oh absolutely … Well you would obviously see it in football. At the marches.

Interviewer: Anywhere outside of football and the marches you might see it?

Participant: No, I wouldn't say so because… there isn't another sort of festival or another game or another type of lifestyle that the perception about religion is so, is so, you know, prevalent.
(Man, Interview 4, N Lanarkshire)


Email: Linzie Liddell

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