Former Scotland international Pat Nevin has told MSPs he was “driven away” from the football club he loved after hearing sectarian chants from Celtic fans when he was at Parkhead with his young son.
He also revealed the “intimidation” he felt after being targeted by the club and its fans when he criticised their chanting live on air at this season’s Scottish cup final.
Nevin was giving evidence yesterday to Holyrood’s justice committee on new laws to crack down on bigotry in the game.
Supporters branded the new laws “dangerous and anti-football” and warned that they have been introduced in a climate of “hysteria”.
Nevin, now a media pundit, told MSPs he had grown up in the east end of Glasgow, where the club is based, and was part of the area’s Irish catholic Diaspora.
“I supported Celtic for most of my life,” he said.
“But one day, I found myself sitting in the stand with my son, who had started to take an interest in football, hearing the song Ooh ah, up the RA.
“I could not accept bringing up my son alongside that, so I was driven away from the club that I loved. I was very disappointed about that.”
Nevin was commentating for the BBC at this year’s cup final between Celtic and Dundee United when he provoked the ire of the club when he hit out at a section of their fans over their chants.
He told MSPs: “The song went something like, ‘As a young man, I’m going to join the IRA – provisional wing’.
“It offended me and I do not want to hear it at a football ground.
“I was shocked and surprised that Celtic Football Club and a great number of fans complained to the BBC, because I expect to hear them say that they do not want to hear that sort of song at their ground.”
He also voiced disappointment at the club’s “refusal to accept that there are problems” in recent years.
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill aims to stamp out abusive behaviour from football fans whether they are watching matches in a stadium, in the pub or commenting online.
It would raise the maximum jail term from six months to five years, but was delayed amid concerns that it was being rushed through earlier this year.
But football fans yesterday dismissed the need for legislation.
Jeanette Findlay, chair of the Celtic Trust said: “It’s unclear what types of behaviour would be criminalised.
“We think it’s unhelpful that the bill would criminalise football fans – that would be young men up to the age of 25 who are already disproportionately presently in prison.
“We think it’s dangerous. We think it’s anti-football and it has no justification and any of the behaviours of a serious type are already covered by existing legislation.”
She also clashed with Nationalist MSP Humza Yousaf over the use of the word “Hun” in chants at games, claiming it was not an offensive term.
“It’s never been used to refer to a Protestant or any member of any religious group – it refers to a Rangers supporter,” she said.
“And up until a few years ago Rangers supporters referred to themselves as Huns. It doesn’t have any religious connotation whatsoever, it never has.”
Mark Dingwall, board member of the Rangers Supporters Trust, told MSPs that fans have collectively decided that they are not going to be the only ones in the spotlight of this law,
He said: “If we see something that offends us. We’re going to go after the opposition fans in the way that people have gone after us. So, you reap what you sow.
“The debate around football has been conducted in an air of unreality, both in regard to the behaviour of football clubs and the nature of Scottish society. But around football, we have this hysteria that paints Scotland as a very dark place to live.”
Greig Ingram, board member of the Aberdeen FC Trust, said the legislation is already covered by a whole range of other legislation and said there needed to be a far clearer explanation of what sectarianism is.
“You don’t make a rule that you can’t enforce and it would be dangerous if this bill was passed just now because its unenforceable.”
Dr Stuart Waiton, lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of Abertay, Dundee, added: “This is a snobs’ law, potentially.
“We’re targeting, specifically, football fans.
“Not comedians, not anybody else, football fans – particularly rowdy football fans, ie rough, working-class blokes and lads who shout and sing songs for 90 minutes, and then go home to their Catholic wife and Protestant grandparents and so forth.”