Confronting Sectarianism and Racism

Years go by and the subculture of elements of Scottish football go unchanged and unchallenged. Racism and sectarianism become completely normalised and you gradually become inured to it. Like a background noise it just becomes indistinct.

But on Sunday in the Scottish Cup Quarter Final a line was crossed that allowed some change to be called for with an open letter from Hibs season ticket holders posted on calling for club bosses to take action.

After a clash of heads between Rangers John Souttar and Hibs forward Martin Boyle, the striker lay unconscious on the ground. TV cameras averted their gaze and the game had a lengthy hold up as the player was thought to be seriously injured. The player was stretchered off and taken to hospital and is now in a stable condition.

As he lay unconscious and unmoving on the pitch the Rangers away support sing: “Die, ya Fenian bastard“.


The statement from Hibs reads:

“Hibernian FC condemns the abhorrent behaviour and chanting made by some supporters in Scottish football.

Over recent years supporters’ unacceptable conduct has become rife in Scotland whether that be through the use of pyrotechnics, sectarianism, objects being thrown onto the field of play or through other actions. This is simply not good enough.

Understanding that the behaviour of certain sections of Hibernian FC’s own support has not been good enough at times this season, the Club has been taking the strongest possible action against those who behave in an unacceptable manner, working with Police Scotland and colleagues at other clubs.

Hibernian FC now implores other clubs to act in a similar fashion and the governing bodies to take serious consideration into the issues to ensure Scottish football is safe and welcoming for all.

Following fan behaviour and chanting from opposing teams this season, the Club’s Board of Directors will be reducing the away allocation at Easter Road moving forward, alongside taking further actions.

Football is a sport for all, and stadiums should be a place where families and friends can come together to support their team. Hibernian FC prides itself on being a club for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, colour, gender, religion, creed, and sexual orientation. Everyone should be able to feel safe and comfortable attending a football match.”

This is a rare example of leadership from Scottish clubs and deserves the support and unison of the rest of the league to put pressure for major changes to alter the culture of racism and sectarianism that still exists. While the financial pressure to put up with sectarian abuse in return for income at the gate, this dynamic is now being challenged. Hibs CEO Ben Kensell had warned recently that the club were prepared to downsize the away section at Easter Road for Old Firm fans after receiving complaints from home fans over sectarianism. It looks like that warning is now being enacted..

“As Hearts have, as other clubs have, it’s our prerogative in the SPFL to reduce allocations if we wish,” said Kensell. “Up to this point, we haven’t. It’s our prerogative to do that if we want to. I think clubs should get together. I think we as clubs should discuss it before taking it to league level.”

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  1. Micheal MacGilleRuadh says:

    It is time to install recording equipment in all grounds. First offence by ‘supporters’ like this, 5 point deduction. Second offence doubles, third offence play behind closed doors, 4th offence club shut down.

    Normal people are sick and tired of this scum debasing the entire country

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      The big flaw in your remedy is that people and organisations who were not responsible for the offensive conduct are being punished for it.

      However, having been attending football matches in Scotland for 70 years, I recognise that the issue is nuanced and is not easily reducible to a single remedy.

      The two clubs involved – Hibernian and Rangers – have long histories and support for the clubs is to a fair extent derived from these histories. Many of those who support either club do so because of the particular circumstances in which the club’s were formed or from major decisions taken by the board of clubs.

      In the case of Hibernian, it is rooted in the persecution of Roman Catholics in Ireland, and the diaspora of Irish people arising from such persecution and the social and economic circumstances which gave rise to the diaspora. The club was formed in Scotland, partly in response to the unwelcoming attitude of some within the local population in Edinburgh and, partly, to enable people from Ireland to retain social links with each other.

      The case Rangers is different. The club was formed by the MacNeill brothers from Argyllshire – part of the Scottish Gaelic diaspora – partly for social reasons and partly to enable them to engage in the the growing sport of football. In their early years, Rangers were ‘rootless’ and played in various parts of Glasgow: east, north and south before settling in the Ibrox area and becoming a local club, amongst others in the area. As such, groups with particular allegiances within the area attached themselves to the club. Local wealthy people began to invest in the club, because they saw it as a way of gaining influence in the community and also as a way of promoting their own philosophies and beliefs. Rangers were not unique in this regard. But, in two ways they were. One was as being a bulwark for Protestantism to protect it from what they saw as the malign effects of immigration from Ireland. And the other was as a means of promoting social control over the working classes. It was an aspect of bread and circuses and of divide and rule. Around 40 years after it was founded, the club adopted its notorious ‘no Roman Catholics’ policy which continued for 70 years and gave rise to the infamous sectarian hatred espoused by a significant section of its support.

      I know many Rangers supporters who do not subscribe to such attitudes. Attachment to a football club is down to many things. On-field success is a major factor, but why do people like me support Partick Thistle, Cowdenbeath, Annan Athletic, Beith Juniors, Shotts Bon Accord?

      In significant ways, Rangers FC has changed and changed for the better. But, it still depends heavily on the Protestant/Royalist/British/Capitalist attraction and the power these give to the Board and the influence they can exert via the club’s significant support in the media.

      I hope that the call by Hibernian to other clubs to address the issues seriously is taken up by other clubs. It might well result in some change. However, as seems likely Rangers win the Scottish League, then I fear we will see again appalling behaviour in George Swuare.

      1. Bill says:

        Like you I support Partick Thistle – WHY? Because the atmosphere in the ground is healthy. You can take the family. The Thistle support even applaud the opposition when they play a good move – of course not on a goal against Thistle. Over the years I have met a range of people from all backgrounds and persuasions who support Thistle – even though they come from a background that would indicate a greater likelihood to support either the blue or the green.

        Sadly I do not feel that Rangers have improved over the years – the episode at His proving the point. That element could have been got rid of – but it suits them to retain it. Celtic still have the element that support the IRA and are no better. It would be good if both of them left for Europe, or anywhere, and we could develop a secular society where all kids went to interdenominational schools that taught atheism.


        1. John says:

          Bill – sectarianism pays in Scottish football even now. When Rangers went belly up in 2012 the people that was most concerned and missed them most was the Celtic board because it was going to cost them money.
          The press in Scotland are complicit in this as the ‘Old Firm’ sells newspapers.
          Many supporters of teams outside Celtic & Rangers do not attend home games against these clubs primarily because it is a toxic environment.
          The only practical solution to the problem of sectarianism and other unacceptable behaviour inside football grounds is a form of liability to the club whose supporters cause the problem. A solution which the the SPFL are desperate to avoid for the very reasons I have outlined above.

  2. Bill says:

    Sectarianism is the stain on Scottish society. However one must acknowledge that the source, in the main, is Glasgow based and is the result of many years of history. We should now be educating children and others into building a society that does not contain such hate.

    There is a certain irony in the fact that a certain order wish to defend Protestantism, supported by people who do not go to church, in a society where church attendance has fallen dramatically. Of course the same may be said of the other side where peace and resolution of differences in the historic source of the problems are being actively pursued.

    As a native born Glaswegian, from a mixed marriage, I fail to understand why in this day and age such prejudice and abhorrent behaviour still obtains. I agree that the issue needs to be tackled in the area of football, but it also needs to be addressed in wider society


  3. Neil Gateley says:

    You’re part of the problem Mr. Small.

    You take great pleasure in highlighting any appalling behaviour by any Rangers fan(s) but never ever any by any other fans and one set of fans in particular – and there’s plenty to choose from. Even the precious Hibernian fans are hardly saintly – absolute hypocrites. Selectivity of the kind you and your fellow haters indulge in is bigotry pure and simple. Either call it all out or call none out – and , if you’re actually serious by all means call it all out, but actually work with all sides and don’t simply add fuel to the fire of division as you never fail to do.

    1. The statement itself by the club refers to Hibernians own fans problems, as I do in publishing it. All clubs have problems its true but none are of the scale and nature of the Rangers support. This is not some parochial view of mine that I hold in isolation, this is universally understood across Scottish football. I’m sorry if that upsets your world view but its absolutely true.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        Hibs fans threw, amongst other things, a corkscrew at Laurence Shankland last week. Far more concerning than a wicked chant, I’d have thought.

        1. The statement itself by the club refers to Hibernians own fans problems, as I do in publishing it. All clubs have problems its true but none are of the scale and nature of the Rangers support.

      2. Neil Gateley says:

        I should be astonished at the sheer arrogance of the editor’s statements………….but I’m not.

        And no Mr. “this scum debasing the entire country” MacGilleRuadh you’re way more of a problem than I am. Apparently you’re “neutral” but your dehumanisation of only one club/set of supporters says it all.

        This is my last contribution to this “debate” – there’s simply no point in trying to put any reasonable point to people with such partisan, simplistic and extremist views. Life’s too short.

        1. John says:

          Neil – if only Rangers fans (who are certainly not all sectarian in behaviour) would take a step back:
          stop claiming WATP
          stop proclaiming ‘no one likes us we don’t care’
          started examining how others outside Ibrox see Rangers
          We might get a more honest conversation, less whitabootery and less defensive attitude.
          No one is perfect, we all have fleas but the first and most difficult step to addressing them is recognising them in yourselves.

    2. MacGilleRuadh says:

      On the contrary, you are the problem, sir. If you cannot see the depths to which this Rangers ‘support’ has sunk then there truly is no hope for you. Scotland is truly cursed to have such a cancerous growth in its midst. The sooner it is disbanded the better. And I speak as a fan of no club

    3. Frank Mahann says:

      Hibernian supporters have long since gave up on sectarian singing, the Ibrox faithful should do so likewise.

  4. John Learmonth says:

    Why is sectarianism still an issue in Scottish football but not in England?
    Historically Everton and Man Utd were ‘Catholic clubs’ whereas Liverpool and Man City were the Protestant clubs. None of the fans of any of the above could care less and haven’t done for decades.

    1. Niemand says:

      Because such sectarianism is still a problem in wider society, whereas it is not, any longer, in England and hasn’t been for a very long time.

      But I think such prejudices get concentrated at football matches (and in many countries). For a long time now they have been places where groups of people exercise bigotry almost as if it is safe space to do so when it is not elsewhere any longer. This can lead to a skewed view of just how widespread the problem is. I think a fair bit of it is a kind cathartic letting off of steam (my Grandad never swore and was a typical upstanding citizen, but at football matches he could be an awful sweary ogre) but it also attracts those who are more organised, committed to their bigotry outside the ground, and they have a ready-made audience of people off the leash willing to stick two fingers up without worrying about what it really means to do so. Combine this with the psychology of crowds and you have a tinderbox.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Niemand, if only there was an example nearer home. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away (apparently):
        Perhaps sectarianism isn’t the only major problem in Scottish football, and it might be worth looking at some of the recent surveys and stories of crowd behaviour and management in the SWPL and grassroots football (etc). Particularly, in the context of this article, the intersection between sectarian clubs/support and women’s football. Just what did happen at Ibrox recently? What was the story about the balaclava menace based on? What did the SFA report on crowd experience at SWNT games say?

    2. Arguably because the English game has been flooded by so much money as to have become completely unrecognisable.

      1. Niemand says:

        Arguably, no. There has been little or no sectarian violence (i.e Catholic v. Protestant), verbal or actual in English football for way before any of the big money in football. In fact, has there ever really been any as serious as the problem in Scotland? I don’t think so. Of course there has been a very serious problem with general violence in English football (mostly thuggery, rivalry between ‘firms’ but also influenced by the far right at times) and that was to a large degree suppressed by the big money but it was not characterised by sectarianism.

        1. John says:

          I agree with your comparison of sectarianism at football in England and Scotland.
          I lived in NW England, near Liverpool, where the history of Irish immigration was not dissimilar to west of Scotland yet the general level of sectarianism in society was much lower. I knew many supporters of the two Manchester and Liverpool clubs and religion was never mentioned as a reason for supporting the club or as any issue whatsoever. There was an intense rivalry between the clubs which did spillover into unhealthy hatred but this was due to football rivalry.

          1. Bill says:

            Could the difference be explained by the difference in nature of the type of protestantism to be found in the various locations. I too lived in the north of England and found that the Anglicanism practised was a much ‘softer’ form of protestantism than the ‘wee free’ of my youth. Scottish presbyterianism was always a harsher approach. In fact there is not that much difference between High Anglicans and Catholics. The nature of the Mass being very similar. Even to this day there are parts of Scotland where the strictures are indeed severe – no work done on the sabbath etc. ( Note the recent article about uisge and uisge beatha in Bella – different water used on a Sunday from that used mid week)

            The serious scourge of sectarianism is really found in Glasgow and environs. My father, born in Glasgow but raised by his grandmother in rural Aberdeenshire had to have a detailed discussion on the issue from his father on his return to Glasgow aged 21. My father told me that to him it was coming to a foreign country.Both Catholics and Protestants where he was raised could be in the Boys Brigade and attend the same schools.

            It does make one wonder and also wonder if it will ever end. For the sake of my grandchildren and others I hope so


          2. Yes but its more to do with the lucrative binary of the Old Firm and the history and culture of Glasgow in a) discrimination and b) a total failure of the Church of Scotland to show leadership

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Bill, by ‘softer’, I guess you mean the Anglican Church was more racist and less sectarian?
            Although being the established Church, doesn’t that simply mean that their sect has won, and doesn’t fear challengers so much? I mean what are they going to complain about, not enough Bishops in the Lords?

          4. John says:

            Bill – my upbringing was in NE Fife and it mirrors your experience in Aberdeen even to the schools and Boys Brigade.
            I found Sectarianism was still an issue in some industrialised (post industrialised?) areas I lived in central Scotland and there tended to be a much higher support in these localities for Old Firm teams although it was a distance from Glasgow.
            In my experience sectarianism still existed, to a much lesser extent in Edinburgh football but was virtually non existent in Dundee – probably related to United changing their name in 1923.
            The Church in Scotland’s attitude to Catholicism was more hostile than other churches though there was a historical context to this – John Knox etc.
            Separate schooling does not help although there does appear more Catholic Schools in areas where sectarianism has had a greater effect. This could be a chicken and egg effect and in my experience there were Catholic schools in NW England and this was less divisive.
            Organised religion has declined over last 50 years and this along with equality legislation have helped reduce sectarianism’s impact on society. Football and Orange Walks now appear to be the main manifestation of sectarianism in Scotland and the Walks are less well supported and more ridiculed than respected now especially amongst younger people.
            It will need a far more proactive approach from football authorities and clubs to finally rid the sport of this form of racism. Not only would the clubs and football be doing themselves a favour if they addressed this issue properly but they would benefit Scottish society as a whole. More power to Hibernian FC in their initiative.

          5. Niemand says:

            @SD in a sense yes, they did win centuries ago and that was when sectarian violence and oppression was rife.

            But I do think Bill has a point – modern Anglicanism is more tolerant and much less harsh (now) and co-exits with the Catholic Church benignly. He is also right about the bells and smells High Anglicanism. The slave trade link is indeed shameful but is not a sign of sectarianism today.

          6. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, to clarify, I was not focusing on events hundreds of years ago, but on the racism experienced by the Windrush generation including inside and by the Anglican Church, as well as on the sectarianism that split the Anglican church which I think you rightly imply has a relevance to its pro-slavery position and anti-slavery among some dissenters:
            as well as the very, very recent move towards recognition, apology and possible reparations by the Anglican Church for its commanding and extractive role in British racialised chattel slavery, with the intensity turned by grassroots activism such as Black Lives Matter. It is pretty significant that the head of the Anglican sect is the hereditary head of state of the British Empire, Charles Windsor. The experience of Windsor generations has of course also been on the other end of racism: that is, doling it out.

            As another Guardian article quoting another black female Anglican bishop said:
            “In 2020, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said the church was ‘still deeply institutionally racist’.”
            “a study published in 2022 found that the church remained a ‘hostile and unsafe place’ for many minority ethnic clergy”.

            That’s pretty damning stuff.

          7. Niemand says:

            But the question is specifically about Catholic / Protestant sectarianism in Scotland personified by the Church and played out ‘on the streets’ at certain football matches and marches. It just does not exist in the same way in England and the question is, why? I am not here to defend the Church of England or its affiliations and I listen to the words of the black female Anglican bishop, though who incidentally is a Bishop and far from alone as a black person in England in such a role. But racism is surely there. But how much might we similarly level at the Church of Scotland and other denominations ‘sects’ that contain how many black leading church figures?

  5. James Mills says:

    Sectarianism ?
    If only those who indulged in this vile practice could be persuaded to show some genuine Christianity – Love thy Neighbour ! But that would require a knowledge of the ”faith ” they claim to espouse .

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @James Mills, if there was only something leaders of all faiths in the UK could agree upon, that would never be a source of division between them… a common thread… something that resonates through sporting clubs too… oh dear:

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