Monday, September 12, 2011

Celtic fans' militant drift 'damaging club'

11 September 2011

By Martyn McLaughlin

ONE of Scotland's most high-profile Catholics has warned that some of Celtic's fanbase is causing "untold damage" to the club's reputation by expressing support for international extremist groups.

James MacMillan, the celebrated classical composer, said he is worried about the "militant drift" some followers of the Glasgow club have taken and suggested its founder would be "turning in his grave" at the development. 

He added that while the fans' celebration of Irish nationalism is a "good thing", it is time to rid the matchday repertoire of "pro-violent" songs linked to fringes of the nationalist movement. 

His views are aired in a new book being published this week which charts the experiences of well-known Celtic supporters in Scotland and abroad. 

In We Are Celtic Supporters, written by journalist Richard Purden, the Kilwinning-born composer adds to the debate surrounding sectarian songs at football matches by suggesting Celtic fans should refrain from certain lyrics. 

He warns that the sentiments expressed recently by some fans go against the principles espoused by Brother Walfrid, the Irish Marist brother who founded the side after coming to Scotland in the 1870s.

MacMillan states: "I sometimes worry about the militant drift that some Celtic fans have taken. Obviously the support for Irish nationalism is a given, and that has been a good and defining thing in many ways, but a tiny minority have held on to the support for violent republicanism and that has done untold damage to Celtic's reputation and still does today. 

"Those people are now drifting to support other extreme nationalists in the Catalan district, Basque country and, God forbid, the extremists of Hamas and Hezbollah. Brother Walfrid (the founder of Celtic] will be turning in his grave."

MacMillan, who famously described sectarianism as "Scotland's shame" during a 1999 lecture he gave at the Edinburgh Festival and decried anti-Catholic bigotry, said Celtic should be viewed as both a Scottish and Irish institution. 

He explains: "The whole Celtic experience has been shaped by Irish history and that is an inescapable and generally very good thing, but I think we have got to a stage where Celtic fans need to have a really good look at their repertoire of songs, and if things are offensive for no good reason other than they are traditional songs, then we should ditch them. 

"All the pro-violent stuff should go. The truth is that they are going, they are gradually being filtered out. All the Irish cultural stuff is fantastic, but if there is any hint of songs giving succour to the more violent fringes of Irish nationalism then we should lose them."

MacMillan stops short of naming the songs that are his target, but he condemned the "malicious attempt" in some quarters to have Celtic's support stop singing The Fields Of Athenry.

He says he regards it as a "beautiful ballad" which people should "nurture" and "be proud of". 

He adds: "There needs to be a careful scrutiny of the words and what they represent. Irish rebel songs aren't sectarian; there's nothing wrong with centuries of legitimate political engagement giving rise to that sense of rebellion, but you absolutely must weigh up how things are affecting us now."

The debate surrounding sectarian singing has intensified following on and off the field problems surrounding recent Old Firm fixtures. Two men are to stand trial charged with a parcel bomb plot to kill Celtic manager Neil The Bigot and high-profile supporters of the club.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Government announced its intention to create a new offence to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches by the end of the year. 

Also last week, former Scotland international Pat Nevin told MSPs he was "driven away" from Parkhead after hearing IRA songs from Celtic fans. 

But Dr Jeanette Findlay, chair of the Celtic Trust, an organisation of supporters and shareholders, said MacMillan was wrong to "dictate" to Celtic fans which political causes they should support.

"James MacMillan is entitled to say he does not approve of songs he does not like at Celtic Park. That's a perfectly reasonable debate, but a problem with a lot of these discussions is that people are unwilling to say specifically what they mean.

"I don't think it's for him to dictate to people what their political views should be on international issues or issues closer to home."

A spokeswoman for Celtic FC said the club would not comment on the issues raised by MacMillan.

We Are Celtic Supporters will be published by Hachette Scotland on Thursday. 
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