PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland


Bhoys, Bears and Bigotry - The Old Firm in the New Age
; Mainstream Publishing; 284 pages paperback; £7.99

The first thing that should be said about this book is that there is little in it about Celtic that would be new to any student of the club and its affairs. However, this does not detract from the huge amount of data which Murray has provided and there is much of interest about our rivals and the motivating factors behind that organization and its adherents.

He writes with an easy to read style and given that he is writing about the opposite sides of a great rivalry it would be hard for any author to avoid irritating a reader whose allegiances lie with one or the other.

There are, though, a number of flaws in the structure of the book, most notably, I would argue, in its conclusions, of which more later.

To begin, I found Murray's propensity to re-visit incidents and ideas again and again annoying, in that after a while I did not think they were actually adding anything to the narrative, or to my understanding of the ideas he was trying to develop, but rather seemed more like padding. As a consequence, there is much that is repetitive which he uses to support different chapter headings.

He also leaps about in terms of chronology, and relates incidents and events in support of arguments that left me asking myself when this or that actually happened and what relation there was to the actual point being made.

In one example he discusses the Old Firm in Europe, taking the reader up to the point when Liam Brady's team were thrashed by Neuchatel Xamax before moving on to relate how the club responded to Souness with the appointment of Billy McNeill as manager!

Celtic fans might be interested in the assessment he makes of the clubs' relative fortunes: 'There was a time from the mid 1960's when Rangers and Celtic could reasonably vie for the title of European Champions' !!!

Clearly in a book which sets out to describe and analyse a phenomenon which is not purely about football, the material used covers a wide range of concepts, characters and behaviours over many years, but there is an un-evenness about the manner in which it is presented, which not only irritates, but caused me to wonder about the motivation behind its use.

My principle objection to his first book was that after reading it, I was of the opinion that Murray had formed a view of the Old Firm and set out to prove the truth of his perception by collecting material and organizing it accordingly. My reading of his original work was that he believed that both clubs were equally to blame for the ongoing cancer of sectarianism, and he attempted to prove this in his book. As a writer of some skill he was able to present a version of the relationship between the clubs, which to the reader for whom this was an introduction to the subject, would appear to illustrate that the clubs lived in some form of happy symbiosis and that both contributed in equal measure to the problem. He attempts something similar here, in that frequently he offers information about Rangers and/or their followers before balancing it up with some anecdote about our own side which he feels has some similar connotation or meaning.

In parts, however he has some difficulties in that approach. For example, he has perforce to account for the effect that the culture of Ibrox has on the players, despite the alleged efforts of the club to move away from an undoubtedly sectarian past. The excesses of Gascoigne, McCall, Goram, Butcher and others who are infected by the loyalist pressures from within and without the actual club are recounted in detail, but he has no similar material about Celtic, for the simple reason that there was no equivalent, although he offers De Canio's observations about anti-Catholic bias from officials as a makeweight.

He refers to Man in the Know, who was a correspondent for the Glasgow Observer in the early years of the last century - who provided a completely biased commentary on Old Firm affairs - on three occasions but the only example which he offers of that writer's work is a score-line from the Ne'erday game of 1921: Rebels 2 Black and Tans 0. This is advanced in the middle of several pages describing the antics of the Orange Order and its involvement with the Ibrox club both here and in Northern Ireland.

He has a chapter entitled The Greatest Fans in the World, which does not go where a reader familiar with the topic might expect, but rather begins with the following statement: 'In 1984 the reputation of the Rangers fans was at an all time low saddled as they were with a club being berated for its bigotry and performing poorly on the park. Both Rangers and Celtic had their hooligan fans, but over the previous 20 years the worst examples of spectator violence had involved those of Rangers. Since then it has been Celtic who have been in the news for the wrong reasons'. This alleged behaviour amounts to not much more than Michael Kelly reporting on the abuse which he and his family suffered during the Sack the Board era, and on the 'Terrible Hatred' that existed between Kelly's father and Sir Robert Kelly - two brothers who passed each other for years in the Directors box at Celtic Park without exchanging a word. The fact that this is a family quarrel is ignored and that one of these men died in the early 1970's is not even mentioned.

David Bennie, the author of Not Playing for Celtic is excoriated for an anecdote in the book about 'Battering a wee boy's head for annoying him outside his recently deceased father's house.' Without wishing to condone violence in any form, it should be noted that in Bennie's book, the story is about an attack on an unemployed youth, not a wee boy, and the incident is to do with anger and grief and has nothing whatsoever to do with Celtic Football Club or his allegiance to them.

The section goes on to describe the various histories of both clubs, including the fanzines. From his own description those of a blue persuasion are largely saturated with a sectarian world view, and even those which attempt not to be cannot avoid a triumphalist perspective where 'We are the People' is the continuing mantra. Contrary to his opening paragraph he singularly fails to paint a picture of Celtic fans engaging in general mayhem either at home or abroad.

This approach, of statement unsupported by evidence, permeates this book, and throughout it he is prepared to attack Celtic chroniclers and commentators on the topic of sectarianism if their conclusions do not match his. One bizarre example of this occurs when he quotes James Handley (Brother Clare) who wrote the Celtic Story in the late 1950's. 'Until a Catholic centre forward in a Rangers blue jersey scores a goal against a Celtic Team the tension will persist. If that should ever come to pass then the rabble would be bewildered and all its fire extinguished. The notion that the mob can be ultimately educated to see the folly of its ways is a hollow one, for the creatures who compose it are in-educable.' Murray describes this view as 'tripe' and 'snobbish tripe at that'. He goes on to say: 'A Catholic player has scored that historic goal, the 'mob' and the 'rabble' have shown themselves to be more educable than Handley gave them credit for, but the tensions persist. Clearly today as in the past the problem is not just on the terracing'.

I found myself confused by the use of this example and why he should feel that it was tripe. If the 'mob' have shown themselves to be educable, it is as a consequence of what Brother Clare said - they have been faced with the reality of Catholics wearing the jersey and scoring against their fiercest enemies.

His final phrase becomes more interesting as the book enters its final sections. The final chapter : Pride, Prejudice and the New Crusaders begins with an account of the origins of the Nil by Mouth campaign and the involvement of the politicians. Describing the violent deaths of young men following Celtic v Rangers matches, Murray suggests that there is a balance of such events, even though he admits that with some incidents in which a Rangers fan was the victim, there was no clear evidence that this allegiance was a factor in the attack.

He then goes on to explore the attitudes of various individuals in the Catholic community on the issue of sectarian behaviour, leading to the subject of Catholic Schools. It soon transpires that this is the bone upon which he really wishes to chew.

He goes on to castigate anyone who opposes his view that the cause of sectarianism is separate Catholic schools. Writers such as Professor Willie Maley or Professor Pat Reilly are dismissed, and their work compared unfavourably with the outpourings of such as Owen Dudley Edwards, who supports Murray's view. Apologists for Catholic Education are ridiculed while he carefully chooses examples of Catholic supporters, sometimes quoting them without reference to the context in which they have originally spoken.

Among these he gives the clearly equal examples of Billy McNeill and Lorenzo Amaruso! My own recollection of McNeill's view on separate denominational schools was that it was based on his children's experience of integrated education in Aberdeen, a far cry one would argue from the West of Scotland. To be fair however it is the view of a practising Catholic. Whether the same is true of Lorenzo I am not in a position to judge, but given that his was the stated view of Rangers Football Club and that he was their captain it is unlikely he would say anything different, especially since as far as I am aware, he has not been in a position of actually experiencing life in a Catholic school in these islands.

Murray ridicules James McMillan several times in this book because of the address he made at the Edinburgh Festival on the subject of Sectarianism. He more than once indicates that McMillan is qualified to speak on music but not on any other topic. This is curious since those he lauds for sharing his own view come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

People's views on the whole topic of sectarianism, in society in general or in the context of football, are coloured by their experiences and their education. The latter fact he argues is a reason for abolishing separate Catholic Schools although he does not provide a shred of evidence to support his thesis that this is the continuing cause of the problem. The closest he comes is in a quote from Bishop Joe Divine, who is regarded by Murray as the only real intellectual amongst the Catholic Hierarchy, in which he claims Divine says; 'Denominational education is an enabler of sectarianism. Roman Catholic schooling is divisive ...' He does admit, without reference to the Bishop's actual words, that Divine went on to say that this was a price worth paying as it combined the academic with the moral and spiritual life.

If we look carefully at what Joe Divine says it is not noticeably different from saying that Celtic Football club is an enabler of sectarianism inasmuch as it, the club, exists at all. Does this mean that because its existence causes angst to our rivals that Celtic F.C. should be abolished?

Murray's book is, I would contend, fundamentally dishonest. He accuses those who oppose his viewpoint of lacking in intellect, and, curiously at the same time, of arrogance. He pretends to take a dispassionate view of the topic, but clearly has his own pre-formed opinions, which he seeks to support by a judicious use of the 'evidence'.

Where he does exemplify events, personalities and opinions, the mass of material pointing to outright bigotry and sectarian behaviours is heavily weighted towards one side, no matter how hard he tries to pretend it is not.

A young man of my acquaintance recently failed to achieve a 2.1 in History because his final thesis on the Spanish Civil War only got a C grade. The tutor wrote that he enjoyed reading his paper but it owed more to opinion than to proper use of evidence and sources. This book, in my opinion, falls into the same trap.

One final thing that puzzled me was that amongst his collaborators and advisers he gives greatest credit to Pat Woods that brilliant Celtic Historian. He does admit that his judgements are his own and absolves Pat from them, but I remain surprised that the manner in which he presents the material would have received pass marks from a writer of Pat Woods' distinction.

LACHIE MOR