ARTUR Boruc, the Celtic goalkeeper, was at the centre of fresh controversy last night after blessing himself in front of Rangers supporters during yesterday's Old Firm game.
Television footage showed the Polish internationalist making the sign of the cross as he walked towards his goal at the Copland Road end of Ibrox Stadium before the start of the second half.
A row broke out earlier this year after it emerged that Boruc had been cautioned for making provocative gestures towards Rangers supporters during a match at Ibrox in February.
The controversy prompted the Crown Office to take the unusual step of clarifying that Boruc had not been cautioned for blessing himself, but for other hand gestures he had made in the direction of the home fans.
Last night, a Rangers fans' spokesman accused the Celtic goalkeeper of trying to incite the crowd by blessing himself during yesterday's game - which ended 1-1 - and called on the Parkhead club to warn Boruc about his behaviour.
The latest furore comes just days after the Scottish Executive held a summit to look at ways of tackling the problem of religious sectarianism.
John Macmillan, the secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association, told The Scotsman: "In normal circumstances, there is nothing wrong with someone blessing themselves.
"But in today's environment, it is not advisable to do it at a football match.
"I was at the game and although I didn't see him doing it, I did hear a roar from the Copland Road end before the start of the second half and it was pretty obvious what Boruc had done.
"A couple of the guys who get on my supporters' bus said they had paid particular attention to him before the game started and they said he hadn't blessed himself in front of the Celtic supporters. If that's the case, you really have to ask why he did it at the Rangers end.
"These things shouldn't really mean an awful lot, but if a player is out to provoke other fans, someone has to do something about it.
"It should be clamped down upon and it's time the Celtic management advised him not to do this type of thing."
A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police would not comment on whether any supporters had complained about Boruc's action. "No offence or crime has been committed," she said.
A Celtic source insisted Boruc had blessed himself before both halves.
A spokesman for the club added: "The police have said they have no problem with Artur Boruc in this regard and neither does Celtic Football Club."
Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church, said: "It's my understanding that it's common practice for Artur Boruc to bless himself before the start of each half. We're pleased with the reassurances we've had that blessing yourself is not deemed to be offensive in any way."
Eight supporters were arrested at yesterday's game, three for what police described as "sectarian breach of the peace".
However, Chief Superintendent Robin Howe, the match commander, praised the behaviour of both sets of fans.
He said: "The drive to eliminate sectarianism from Scottish football continues at a rapid pace and there was a considerable improvement in the behaviour of both sets of fans at today's match."
SFA TACKLING SECTARIANISM
POLITICIANS and football authorities joined forces last week to make it clear that sectarianism has no place in Scottish society.
On the day of a summit on the issue organised by the Executive, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) unveiled new measures that could see teams fined and even have points deducted for fans' sectarian behaviour.
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, also announced that a new body called Football for All would be set up, with the backing of the SFA, to tackle sectarianism in the sport.
The measures have been backed by Celtic and Rangers, who have also been stepping up their efforts recently to stamp out the problem.
David Taylor, the SFA chief executive, said: "Both clubs deserve enormous credit for the work they are doing and we have already seen the Rangers song 'The Billy Boys' has been eradicated, certainly from Ibrox. That shows the power of the message, if you get it right."
Brian Quinn, the Celtic chairman, welcomed the proposed sanctions.
He said: "If you want to apply sanctions that are effective, they have to hurt.
"Money hurts but deducting points hurts even more."
Officials from both Old Firm clubs were among 100 delegates who attended last week's summit at Glasgow's City Halls.
The event heard how Cardinal Keith O'Brien and Alan McDonald, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, plan to attend an Old Firm match together in a sign of religious harmony.
However, Cardinal O'Brien also warned the summit that "institutional sectarianism" still existed in Scotland.
He said that too much focus was being put on football and parades, while scant attention was paid to anti-Catholicism.