THE head of a Celtic supporters' trust has provoked outrage by defending the singing of pro-IRA songs by the club's fans during matches.
Dr Jeanette Findlay, who chairs the Celtic Trust, which represents supporters and small shareholders, claimed chants about the IRA were "songs from a war of independence".
She was speaking during an interview on BBC Radio Five Live's breakfast programme. Her comments prompted a furious response from listeners.
Dr Findlay, who is a research fellow and economics lecturer at Glasgow University, had been replying to questions by presenter Nicky Campbell about the trust's opposition to the appointment as club chairman of the former home secretary, John Reid, who was a cabinet minister at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Dr Findlay said the trust's opposition was to do with Mr Reid's "leading role in relation to what many believe is an illegal and immoral war".
Mr Campbell then asked her if she was more uncomfortable with the singing of pro-terrorist songs or the appointment of Mr Reid.
Dr Findlay responded: "I have tried to explain about the nature of Celtic as a club. It was founded to help the poor Irish immigrants to Scotland.
"They may take a particular view of the history, of what happened in Ireland, which is different from many other people, so I don't call those pro-terrorist songs. What history tells us is that it is facile to say that politics and sport will ever be separated."
Mr Campbell said he was not referring to songs such as The Fields of Athenry, but to "actually chanting: 'The IRA'."
She replied: "Many of those songs are songs from what was essentially a war of independence going back over a hundred years."
Celtic fans bombarded the show with angry texts and e-mails and some members of the trust said they would quit.
One said: "I listened to her on my way to work. I was actually shouting at the radio for her to please shut up."
Another fan, Sean from Derry, texted: "Her one-eyed hypocritical views... are disturbing and a ludicrously perverted take on history. She doesn't represent the majority of opinion of Irish nationalist Celtic fans."
A Celtic FC spokeswoman distanced the club from Dr Findlay's words: "These comments are unrepresentative of the Celtic support... and we are delighted with the way in which our fans currently support the team."
Richard Benjamin, director of the anti-sectarian group Nil By Mouth, said: "While I defend Dr Findlay's right to express her personal beliefs, context is important. Expressing religious and political views in football can be damaging, not just to the sport, but to the wider community, too. I think most football supporters would not be exposed to chants about the IRA at matches."
Dr Findlay was unavailable for comment last night. The controversy came on the day the Scottish Government launched its Kick Out Bigotry campaign.
EXPERT IN FOOTBALL ECONOMICS
Dr JEANETTE Findlay is widely acknowledged as one of Scotland's top experts on football economics.
Beyond her main role as a lecturer in Glasgow University's department of economics, she has been closely involved in a campaign to establish a Scottish national unit dedicated to helping football supporters become more involved in the running of their clubs.
The Celtic Trust, which aims to promote the interests of small shareholder fans and is thought to have about 200 members, is one of the first registered trusts in Scotland.
Dr Findlay is also the co-director of the Glasgow University Football Research Centre and is currently involved in setting up a postgraduate course in sport and public policy.
She is also carrying out a project to study the local economic effects of stadium development.