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fergus, the 'h' word and nil by mouth

There are many things which I would applaud in the e-tims article on the 'H' word which appeared in NTV 96.

In particular, it correctly states that post 'the Bunnet', Celtic's inaction on the bigotry front has been appalling. However the use of word "Hun" is in, my opinion, up for debate and the article's description of Nil by Mouth as "abysmally naive", is plainly wrong.

I'm old enough to remember when Rangers fans would describe Celtic fans as Huns and vice-versa. It wasn't until the mid eighties that it was generally taken to mean Rangers.

I do not think for one minute that the e-tims or NTV use the word "Hun" in a way that is bigoted. If it did I wouldn't read them. But there are Celtic supporters whose use of the word is becoming more akin to the use of the word "taig" by a section of the Rangers support and population who would describe themselves as loyalists. Increasingly I hear and read it being used to describe non-catholics.

A recent example of this was when I logged on to various Celtic websites the day after Martin O'Neill's tantrum at the launch of Sense over Sectarianism. I read at least five different posts on two Celtic websites that said Forbes McFall, "must be a Hun... You can tell by his name".

Apart from the fact that the person in question is a Celtic supporter (not that it matters), the word Hun was a clear reference in this case to his background. And when it gets to that stage that is where IMHO a line must be drawn, at least by the club.

The club must be respectful to its rivals. That doesn't just apply to Celtic but to all football clubs. Norwich recently sacked an employee who referred to Ipswich as the Scum.

In respect of the Old Firm it is doubly important as no other football rivalry in Europe has the body-count and violence associated with it . Both clubs must at make an effort in trying to take the heat out of the Old Firm. Neither can club can manage it on its own but at the very least they can prevent their own official publications inflaming the situation. It is worth noting that 66% of all complaints about the Rivals webzines refer to the Old Firm websites (although, granted, given who Rivals employ it is hardly surprising).

Where I think the article misjudges it, is that while it ridicules the banning of the 'Hun' word, it seems to think that the Bhoys Against Bigotry initiative would not have done something similar.

Now Bhoys Against Bigotry was a genuine attempt, in my opinion, to address the problem of bigotry at Parkhead. And it is to the disgrace of Fergus' successors that they have failed to follow it up. The article is also correct when it states that the present board seem to have raised the white flag when it comes to the antics of a section of the away support.

However, if Fergus had still been there, I think he would have prevented the use of the word 'Hun' in official Celtic titles. I know for a fact nobody used the term in his presence, or if they did, they were immediately informed that it was unacceptable.

Bhoys Against Bigotry was a lot more than just use of language. It was an attempt by the club to get the message out that sectarianism by anybody was not acceptable. In particular Fergus begged the then education minister, Sam Galbraith, to include sectarianism in his bill to outlaw racism at football grounds. It is a disgrace that the Old Firm have reacted in a lukewarm way with regards to Donald Gorrie's anti-sectarian bill.

I feel that Mr. Clarke should have done a bit more research before he called Cara Henderson "abysmally naive".

Now he may disagree with her views on the use of language but that does not mean that she knows nothing about or doesn't understand the sectarian issue in Scotland. As a personal friend of Cara, I can assure you she knows how deep sectarianism runs within Scottish society and the forces of opposition in Scotland that are against any initiative to combat it.

Much is made about NbM and its campaign against the use of language. What particularly upsets Cara, is that jokes like, "What's the difference between an onion and a Celtic supporter - You cry when you cut an onion" are considered quite humorous in some circles.

In one school, she was told by a pupil that, "Mark Scott deserved it because he was a fenian". I saw first hand at a public debate in a church in Bridgeton, her being abused as some kind of Catholic front!

In July this year she watched the annual Orange parade in Harthill. She saw for herself the myth that there is no relation between the walkers and the hangers-on. She also saw many pillars of the Lanarkshire community in the march and heard speeches that were nakedly sectarian.

Cara and NbM have been liasing with politicians resulting in the likelihood of Scotland at last getting its first anti-sectarian legislation. It is scandalous that England, where the problem is far less acute, will have got its house in order first. While this is certainly not a miracle cure-all for bigotry it would bring two things. First it would send a message that sectarianism is wrong and cannot be accepted.

Secondly it would enable the police and judiciary to finally recognise sectarian motive in crimes. Both are putting enormous pressure against the bill. The attachment I have given you was compiled mostly by Carlos Alba (Of Keeping the Faith fame). The police do not log crimes as sectarian although they are forced to do so now if there is a racial motive.

There is currently research being carried out into how Scotish courts handle sectarianism. Cara has helped with this research. The legal system reacts with fury at claims they, at best ignore and tolerate sectarianism. However when asked to give examples of when a judge has actually penalised sectarian behaviour they are lost for words because it hasn't happened, certainly in none of the cases which are documented here.

The Sense over Sectarianism launch represented two years of work by Cara.

Yes she supports and has called on the clubs to prevent language such as the Hun word which some might consider inflammatory. But the idea of some "Orwellian" rule book is over the top.

Cara has made comment on what comes out of the clubs' official literature and against sectarian jokes - that is hardly the Thought Police is it ?

Cara Henderson and NbM know fine well that there is only so much that the clubs can do about religious intolerance. The majority of the work has to be done by government, schools, churches and parents. Prior to her departure from the country earlier this month, Cara made a 45 minute speech to the SNP conference. In it she complained bitterly about a nation which had tolerated sectarianism in its midst with casual indifference. She made reference to the Old Firm within one paragraph of the speech. Yet that is the only paragraph the Scottish media chose to report.

Cara took a year out of her life (unpaid I might add) to tour schools and prisons and take part in debates about the issue. She firmly believes that more should be taught in schools and has won 500,000 in lottery money to give to groups who are trying to address the issue.

Cara once took me to see a film called "Blinded by Bigotry". The film showed an initiative in Easterhouse where groups of teenagers have become friends with other children who they would have refused to talk to in the past because of their religion or the football team that they might support. It is these kind of projects that will get the 500,000.

It is a sad indictment of Scottish society, that it has taken the efforts of a 21 year old girl to get this project off and running. Surely those at Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Executive, Rangers, Celtic, the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland could have helped back the project financially instead of using its launch as a photo opportunity?

And I hope Martin O'Neill realises that his petulance at the Press Conference overshadowed something that represented genuine progress. I do however accept that the media must also take the blame for failing to mention what the aim of the initiative actually was.

Nil by Mouth is not a front for a certain PR executive, as a rather nasty publication has claimed. The same magazine claimed that the trustees of NbM were lining their own pockets. That claim is nothing more than deliberate, hurtful lies.

Where criticism of NbM is justified is that as an organisation it can be difficult to get hold of. I also fear it will badly miss Cara's drive as she has now gone abroad but I do hope it will continue as I think Scotland needs an organisation that is at least prepared to tackle a situation which should not exist in a 21st century society


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