Friday, 28 October 2016

I really don't do football tribalism

One weekend, about two months ago, there were two footballing derbies played out in two of the great  cities on this island. I've often had reason to compare Glasgow and Manchester with the civic grandeur of both their centres born out of a seismic 19th century industrial landscape that has become the cultural and economic heartland for many millions of people in the nation/region of which it is the biggest city. And likewise both have inevitably come to each have two big teams playing in some of Britain great cathedrals of football. Yet there is still something of a difference between the Manchester Derby and Old Firm derbies in the reputation of each rivalry.

I do not support either Celtic or Rangers though I may make an exception when it comes to the big European competitions in which case it becomes a matter of Scottish national interest whoever gets there. But I generally prefer to stay out of it and away from the politics of committing myself to an Old Firm club. Yes, I do have more of an affinity with the traditional fanbase of Celtic whose general political leanings are to the left - anti-establishment, anti-imperialism, socialist ideals, Irish reunification, Palestinian solidarity etc. The broad-left is where my political home lies but it does not give me any reason to support Celtic. Because when you have a footballing rivalry as big and divisive as that I want no part of it. The team I support is Liverpool while here in Scotland my allegiances lie more with local teams in the South-west - Queen of the South and Stranraer, both of whom could bring something of a boost to their clubs and local communities if they advance further in the leagues. In the Premiership, if there's any team I want to win it then it will be anyone but the Old Firm. So my support goes to whichever club can end the dominance of Rangers or Celtic. Last season that was Aberdeen who sadly missed out on beating Celtic to the top-spot, this season so far its looking like Hearts might be the contender. But I'm just sick to death of Glasgow's dominance in the top tier of Scottish football, unless Partick Thistle were to come along and steal the Old Firm's thunder.

More of this would be nice

Of course Celtic and Rangers have been good business for Scotland to an extent though the cost of policing them makes for a heavy bill. As football clubs they have their fair share of fans who are there just because they love football and have found their place in the family of one club or another. For them and many Celtic and Rangers fans across Scotland it isn't about sectarianism or ideology. They just support the clubs for similar reasons to why other people support other clubs be it a local connection, a family connection or maybe even a classroom influence among peers. Sadly however, at the heart of Scottish football lies this most tribalistic of rivalries. How about considering other rivalries for a change? Like one between Celtic and Hearts to echo the less acrimonious rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, though that would probably just end up like another sectarian derby. It seems there's actually one between Rangers and Aberdeen that started relatively recently in a single match. But how about people just put aside their religious or political bias in finding their club of affinitiy? The thing with the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers is that the bigotry really cuts both ways. In the showdown between the two at Parkhead in September, a number of Rangers fans went and trashed the toilets while someone in the Celtic camp had the wise idea (n.b. irony) of hanging a pair of dolls possibly to symbolise what they saw as a club who died in 2012. We can call all this banter but it's really hard to know what to make of it. Certainly such behaviour can be highly provocative.