Tom English: 'In effect, they were using the Pope as a pawn in their game'

You only had to look at some of the websites on Friday night to understand the sickness of some who attach themselves to football clubs in this country. In this instance, we are talking about Celtic. And we are talking about secrets and lies.

When the news came through late in the evening that Hugh Dallas had left his post at the Scottish Football Association, a near-orgasmic glee broke out in some parts of cyberspace where Celtic fans were gathered. They contributed in their hundreds, if not their thousands, each one acclaiming this to be one of their greatest days, one of their finest triumphs. Their venom for Dallas was untrammelled. It was, and I use the word advisedly, an orgy of abuse.

A man claiming to be 71 years old said that the only sad part about it all was that his father and his uncles weren't alive to see it - "but I hope they're cheering in heaven". We had to cut the quote short because what he said about Dallas thereafter doesn't warrant repeating. Suffice to say that the pensioner has entered his dotage without a shred of perspective in this world. It was the kind of contribution that made you feel more sorry for the person who wrote it than the man it was written about.

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These people purported to defend the Pope's honour in the wake of the toxic e-mail sent from Dallas's computer at Hampden. These are people who jumped on the bandwagon by declaring themselves insulted and offended by the lampooning of the Holy Father, who demanded that Dallas be sacked for a supposed act of sectarianism that grossly disrespected their faith and the head of their church. On Friday, this righteous flock turned into a baying mob and in that moment we saw their duplicity in all its ugliness. For these people, the Dallas e-mail wasn't an affront, it was an opportunity, a chance to hound a man they have had a grudge against for years and an association they've harboured bitterness about for generations.

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There was never any doubt about what these denizens of Celtic cyberland were up to all along, but their reaction to Dallas's departure gave the game away at any rate. When the news came through, suddenly there was little talk of the Pope, little mention that his honour had been protected or that, in their view, the right decision was made at Hampden in the interests of decency and respect to the Catholic community.

No. What we got was unrestrained triumphalism and vows that this was "just the beginning", that Celtic would soon "rock Hampden to its foundations" and "remove those who have cheated us for years".

It was not about them being offended by an e-mail or having had their faith insulted, it was now about "the fall of the Hun empire", about "Who's next to be sacked ye corrupt bastards?", about revelling in what guy called a "gloatastic day".In effect, they were using the Pope as a pawn in their game.

I don't doubt for a second that there were people who were genuinely troubled by the Dallas e-mail. Of course there were. Naturally, he shouldn't have forwarded it and quite obviously he was in breach of some internal policy at the SFA. But let's keep this in some kind of perspective. It was a joke, maybe a joke that was in bad taste, but a joke nonetheless. It was not like he put it on his website, not like he tweeted it around the world. He forwarded an e-mail that was meant for one or two people in his office. This was not a deliberate attempt to offend, it was a stupid e-mail the kind of which we have all sent. These moral arbiters online, have they ever forwarded anything that was a bit risqu?

The problem here is that Old Firm football is awash with individuals who are highly skilled in the business of taking umbrage at things. They go to great lengths in order to get offended, dreaming up all sorts of ways to score points against their enemies, be it the poppy or the Pope.

They bring others into their world purely by weight of numbers. These people are resourceful. They bombard newspapers and television and radio in order to further their cause. They write to UEFA. They call the police. In this case, the media director of the Scottish Catholic Church, Peter Kearney, got exercised and wrote a letter to Hampden saying that the e-mail was "gratuitously insulting to the Pope, deeply offensive to the Catholic community of Scotland and incitement to anti-Catholic sectarianism".

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It should be remembered that Kearney also claimed two years ago that the song, the Hokey Cokey, was anti-Catholic in origin.

The other day I hosted an online chat on our website and got into an exchange with a Celtic fan who insisted I condemn Dallas for the e-mail and call on the SFA to sack him. I said he was over-reacting. He said I was part of the problem. I said there were people attached to both Celtic and Rangers who seemed to want to take offence at everything. He replied by saying that I was endorsing sectarianism.

As Dallas exited Hampden for something that was pathetically minor, I thought about that guy online, preaching about the disrespect Dallas showed and how it proved that all at the SFA are out to get his club. No doubt he was out there again in cyberspace on Friday, whooping it up and planning the next storming of the gates of the national stadium.

Fair enough, they got their man in the end. Congratulations, bhoys. You nailed him good and proper. Tick him off your list and come back for more.

What sticks in the craw about all of this is not the e-mail, but the awful insincerity of these online champions.

They did it for the Pope, did they? Well, I'm guessing if his Holiness took a look at some Celtic websites on Friday night he would have wished they hadn't bothered.