It’s a shame we’re still here – still talking about this and still writing about it.
Let’s make this clear from the outset: abuse is wrong. Sectarianism is wrong. What happened to Steve Clarke – and what has happened to Neil Lennon and others in the past – is wrong. But there’s much more nuance to this issue than the simple hand wringing and shallow despair we’ve seen from sections of the Scottish football community. Collectively, we need to look at each other and ourselves.
In response to Steve Clarke’s passionate rally against the abuse he suffered this week, Rangers manager Steven Gerrard decided that the appropriate course of action to take was to engage in our favourite little compound term: whataboutery.
“I think it’s happened in the last four or five days to Steve and his players. There was stuff said at Kilmarnock v Celtic as well, but Steve didn’t want to speak about the abuse Boydy got at the weekend. But obviously he’s decided to speak about it last night.”
This does not help anyone. While Gerrard seems as though he is addressing the issue, he is – in fact – driving a massive lorry, at 100 miles-per-hour, straight into the issue. Whataboutery only serves to perpetuate the tensions that bear these issues in the first place, keeping both sides firmly juxtaposed in a moral race to the bottom.
As an aside, I use Steven Gerrard as an example here because of his comments on this particular issue. However, both sides of the Glasgow Derby are equally guilty of this frustrating tactic. The issue of whataboutery is discussed in greater depth by my fellow Cynic, Dave Flanigan, in his excellent article on the topic.
While football fans are guilty of this and also need to take responsibility for their own actions, there are certain conditions within Scottish football that serve to maintain divisions. For example, some sections of our media engage in blatant hypocrisy when covering the tensions around Celtic, Rangers, and other aspects of Scottish football.
In the build-up to a Glasgow derby, you are likely to hear some media speak of the rivalry in an inflammatory tone. We are barraged with provocative language and imagery: “hatred”, “a city divided”, “it goes beyond football”. This is a blatant attempt to turn the negative history of the derby into a selling point. If your pre-match VT or headline uses this kind of language, you cannot emerge from your dingy production office to criticise fans when tensions get out of hand. Sections of our media need to look at their coverage of football and consider their responsibilities.
Another issue is the idea that this behaviour is exclusive to football. Like all aspects of culture, football acts as a conduit for present expressions of feeling. Already established political tensions manifest themselves within the football context. It acts like a feedback loop, as culture, politics, economics, sport intertwine – they amplify and perpetuate fault lines that already exist within our current political climate. The argument that we should ‘keep politics out of football’ is tired, worn and flawed. Should we keep hatred out of football? Of course. Politics? No.
Increasingly, British political divides have become more about nationalism and identity. Left/right or conservative/liberal are no longer relevant axes by which to judge one’s politics. You are Scottish, or British, or European, or a mixture of these. Our present climate has exasperated tribal feeling and the frictions that emerge then manifest themselves in football – one of the few arenas where people gather together as collective groups.
This is an issue that goes beyond football. It is very convenient for some to suggest that football fans are primitive morons and that the sport harbours regressive views. This is wrong. If you have this view, you are turning a blind eye to problems of sectarianism, racism and other prejudices that exist throughout our society. Football is not an isolation zone for problematic views; it is a social looking glass and merely the tip of the iceberg.
We are living in a cultural and political feedback loop. Everyone lives within their own extremes – in our own little algorithmic bubble – perpetuated by insularity and complicit, hypocritical coverage that at once condemns and perpetuates.