Tuesday, December 30, 2008

a brief word on religion

RT 015: photograph by janette beckman; rigid digits music 1979.

The Catholic Church has a saying:

"Give me a boy until the age of seven, and I will give you the man."

Well. My grandfather was taught by Jesuits, and renounced religion in order to marry my grandmother. His priest was livid.

I grew up in a family of devout agnostics - atheists even - a token Presbyterian enclave, and like my father before me I supported Celtic. Ordinarily, protestants on the west coast of Scotland support Rangers FC. Every New Years' Day there is an old firm derby to further cement the mutual contempt.

One thing. When I was a child of eight or nine, I remember being taken into town to purchase a new school bag. The vogue was for nylon in football colours. Primarily, blue or green. I remember asking for a Rangers grip - just to fit in with my schoolmates, although my school was ostensibly 'mixed' - and I'll never forget the withering look my dad gave me.

Back in those days, Rangers were famous for refusing to field a Catholic. Celtic's most famous manager, by contrast - Jock Stein - was staunchly Presbyterian by upbringing, as was their most celebrated player on the park, Kenny Dalglish. Rumour even had it that Stein had a tattoo of King Billy (of Orange) on his forearm. He went far, although he was never made a fully fledged member of the board; on account of his not being Roman Catholic, of course.

After some prompting, I finally settled on a Scotland International bag. This was a source of some minor embarrassment. Both Rangers and Celtic were respected the world over as league champions. Scotland, on the other hand, were crap.

The only person who objected was my grandfather. A notoriously lapsed Catholic, he detested Celtic with an uncomely vengeance which bordered on the ridiculous.

Things have changed a modicum on the sectarian footballing front. Rangers now routinely field Catholics, as anybody familiar with the politics of the game will surely attest. On the terraces - or stands, rather - the old discriminations continue to fester.

It's still a bag of shite, and I live right in the cancerous heart of it.

I'm thinking of this as I look at newsreel footage from Gaza. Try to remember should you feel your sympathies tilt one way or the other that there are no heroes in white hats in the midst of this bloodshed; neither side offered a referendum, and rest assured that today's orphans have already received an AK-47 as their 'Christmas' gift. Oiled, loaded and ready to spit.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS: BREAKOUT from "Inflammable Material" LP (Rough Trade) 1979 (UK)

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS: GOTTA GETAWAY from "Nobody's Heroes" LP (Chrysalis) 1980 (UK)




Peewit said...

Signing in from my brother-in-law's computer in Romsey, Hampshire.
We've been on a 'tween Xmas and New Year house swap in my brother-in-law's house while they are away in New Zealand. Their house here was built in 1653 originally as a sawmill and latterly used as a pub and it has been freezing seeing as they have been away since the 1st December and we arrived on Dec 26th when it was -2C (as he said when we phoned him in NZ to find out why the heating wasn't working "welcome to living in the 17th Century!)

I'm not sure if I'll get back on line before 2009 as we are travelling back home tomorrow (31st) and paln to meander home. So if I don't get back to my own computer Happy New Year,ib!

ib said...

Enjoy the rest of your time in the millhouse, Peewit. The temperature up here has dropped considerably too. Cold as a witch's tit, as they say.

If you don't make it back online until 2009, Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

But religion is really just the banner for the rivalry, surely. When Gascoigne played the air fiddle, clearly a sectarian symbolism, he wasn't making a comment about Catholicism (though I think Terry Butcher did in his many ways), but he was winding up the Celtic fans.

I would not be surprised to learn that most Celtic fans are just as happy to say FTP, but probably in a paraphrased form.

But as a Catholic, I naturally despise Rangers and prefer Celtic, in as far as I have any passion about the Scottish league.

Ramone666 said...

Well said Ib. Btw: I´m an atheist myself, but Celtic always was my fave of the two. It´s the colours probably... One of the nicest in Europe, with Ajax and Barca. Happy new year!

whiteray said...

Being stateside, I'm can't fully understand the passions of the (other kind of) football fan. As much as I try to think so, Celtic/Rangers is not quite the same as Vikings/Packers. Since the advent of the 'Net, howeve, I've begun to follow (the other kind of) football some. I don't have a Scottish team as a favorite, but I do have some affection for two sides in Europe: Werder Bremen, as one of my ancestral farms is near Bremen; and Liverpool, because the Beatles came from there (and because it's not Chelsea). Nice post, and Happy New Year!

ib said...


Graham Roberts was the worst culprit during that era, I seem to recall. I am thinking of that mimed incident with the penny whistle, and the game where Chris Woods was stretchered off following Peter Grant's ill-timed challenge.

I was once a frequent fixture in the jungle at Parkhead. The days before they mandatorily enforced seating and completely rebuilt the stadium.

I also remember some crazy scenes in Glasgow when Rangers signed Maurice Johnston. In one bar on Paisley Road West, an irate publican stripped the entire lounge of its Rangers paraphernalia and torched it outside in a trash can in protest at their signing a Catholic. Just along the road in the Gorbals, there is a well-known bar where you would get a glass embedded in your face if you ventured in (or merely past) wearing Rangers colours. The sectarian aspect to all this is superficial, but firmly entrenched.

It's Scotland's home-brewed (and centuries old) precursor to the Crips and the Bloods. Absurd, but nonetheless vicious.

ib said...


Speaking of Ajax, I still have fond memories - though not quite on a par with George Best - of Johan Cruyff in the '74 World Cup. What a player!

Happy New Year!

ib said...

Thanks, Whiteray.

The disparity between American football and ours could not to greater. As a european, of course, I refuse to employ the horrendous terminology of "soccer"!

Happy New Year!

ib said...

In the event that anybody is wondering, I replaced the original sectarian mural which led off this post with the cover image to SLF's 1979 45 of "Gotta Getaway".

The paramilitary imagery was just too fucking dismal.

ib said...

The little kid in Janette Beckman's photograph reminds me very much of Dudley D. Watkins' "Oor Wullie".

Brushback said...

Though a lot of U.S. bands claim SLF as an influence, it never passed its way on down to me; I only really owned one of their albums (the one with the green lettering on it). These two songs are pretty good, though.

ib said...

SLF were a great band in their first incarnation, signed to Rough Trade through Rigid Digits who also had the brilliant Protex in their corner.

"Inflammable Material" and all the singles up to and including "Straw Dogs", the first 45 on Chrysalis if I remember correctly. The were at their best at their most overtly political under the management and guidance of journalist, Gordon Ogilvie who was a keen admirer of The Clash under Bernie Rhodes.

After their signing to Chrysalis, however, in the aftermath of their relocation to London from Belfast the group seemed more keen to cement a radio friendly reputation. Revisiting "Nobody's Heroes" demonstrates a polish of production at odds with the ragged excellence of their first LP, even though many of the songs try hard to maintain the integrity of the themes on "Inflammable Material".

I've always felt J Mascis was greatly influenced by the early SLF guitar sound.

Your driver said...

Aha! This all explains it. There's an Irish bar on Geary Blvd in SF that proclaims itself as the home of the San Francisco supporters of Glasgow Celtics. I always wondered why they couldn't pick an Irish team to support. Jeezis, I haven't heard "Inflammable Material" in a long, long time.

ib said...

Yes. Every week during the football season, coachloads of Irish fans en route from the ferry to the Celtic game disembark two hundred yards from my apartment block and make a pilgrimage to the Brazen Head pub.

Anonymous said...

My god, SLF were good! W.