One night out in Benidorm, San Antonio or Magaluf is enough to confirm to any passerby how acidic, toxic and mind-numbing many Scottish football followers are.
Celtic tops with their sponsor emblazoned on it are worn by thuggish louts who shout out songs telling me they were “soldiers”, while bright blue Rangers top-clad heavies chant lyrics that include memories of the past where “Fenian blood” gets a mention.
All of course washed down with cheap, watered down lager at two euros a pop and kebabs that have probably never even seen a piece of meat. This is one of the reasons when asked if I like football, I just say no.
Having been brought up in a “Celtic” family, I know only too well about bigotry and blind loyalty to a football team and wild, expletive-ridden shouting at the TV on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen, first hand, hatred of the other side. And the sad thing is, it is still in me.
My father, who was a simple man with big vision, but who also had his demons, to a certain extent kept me away from the outright bigotry and sectarianism that’s awash in Scottish football.
But, that changed when Santa Claus brought me a ticket for a New Year clash between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox when I was 17. My dad told me it was “time to learn what it was all about”. And I did, as Maurice Johnston, who was playing for the green, white and gold that day, netted a couple, I think. I was on my way now and there was a clear distinction between us and them.
And we shouldn’t kid ourselves on by saying that religion and football are not conflated. The common denominator between them is separate schooling, working class areas, different churches on a Sunday and history.
I vividly recall when attending mass on the Sunday after Celtic beat Rangers with Graeme Souness just in the door and the priest having a joke in his sermon about the victory the day before.
We all laughed, comfortable in the knowledge that Father B was “one of the bhoys”. But, while I was not a real football follower who went to the away games, I was still holding a torch for Celtic and it was only when I joined Strathclyde Police that it all begin to makes sense.
There was a whole new vocabulary that opened up about football, religion and the no-man’s land where they meet. I was stationed in Bridgeton. Enter the Orange Order and the marching season.
I’d police marches, where the participants would meet early in the morning wearing Rangers tops, already on the cider and looking forward expectantly to a day of chanting.
I’d police Old Firm games in the stands and latterly in the police control room. The frenzied atmosphere was hostile, toxic, accusatorial, angry and at times violent.
However, the worst sectarianism and bigotry took place not in a football stadium, but in the police office itself.
When I joined as a blue-eyed boy, I was naive. I recall in my first two weeks, walking into the sergeants’ room, filled with cigarette smoke.
I looked around apprehensively. There were two sergeants from another shift there. One of them looked at me and said: “You look like a Catholic.”
He was right of course, but it took me a long time to figure out why he uttered these words.
A little later on, when Rangers were on their way to matching Celtic’s nine-in-a-row, I was categorised as a “tarrier” by one of my colleagues who was not happy at the football scores that day. I just happened to be in his line of fire. I look back now and think of how sad, small-minded and bigoted this was.
But, at the time, it was fair play for some to use such language. It is even sadder today that we still see the confusion and blurred lines between football, religion and history. Make no mistake, in a society were division in so many areas of life is now rife, sectarianism is flourishing. Just ask the Catholic priest who was spat on outside his chapel in the Barras or Kilmarnock forward Kris Boyd after he was abused by Celtic fans.
So, despite both Celtic and Rangers football clubs being great bastions of condemnation when it comes to this sort of behaviour, they will never truly get rid of it.
To be fair, it will take more than a club statement to stop it. It’s endemic in our society. Unfortunately, it sells tickets and keeps the lights on.
Of course, the PR people there won’t like reading this. It is best not talked about, albeit it runs through the veins of many supporters.
Taking it all into consideration, my upbringing, schooling, the violence I have seen, the murders as a result of football, the sectarian singing about a time long gone and having travelled the world to see what else is out there, I’m definitely no follower of football.
In fact, when the question arises as it did this week, I simply cut the conversation off by saying clearly and expressly that “I don’t follow football”. The response can be interesting. It either results in the “oh really why?” scenario or we just move on to another topic.
I honestly could not tell you what the last Old Firm score was or who any of the teams in the Premier league are playing next. It is just not part of my world.
The unfortunate thing is so many youngsters are still being “schooled” in anachronistic and outdated ways that are stopping Scotland from moving on to a brighter future, independent or not.