December 6, 2002
Celtic vs. Rangers: Catholicism vs. Protestantism
Most European cities can boast of a professional football (soccer) club and a competitive rivalry with a neighboring team. However, Glasgow, Scotland is the home of one of the oldest and most heated rivalries in the world. Two of the most prestigious football clubs in Europe, Celtic and Rangers, both call Glasgow their home. The cross-town rivals first met on the pitch on February 28, 1888. At that point, "none of the 2,000 spectators at the game could have guessed that they were present at a historic occasion, for that evening marked the first of what was to become the most famous, long-lasting – and bitter – sporting rivalry in the history of football" (Murray 4). Almost a hundred years after the inaugural match, the conflict between fans came to fruition when Celtic and Rangers met in the 1980 Scottish Cup Final. Immediately following an entertaining and relatively problem free match, built up tension exploded into violent riots before anyone had even le! ft the stadium. Celtic supporters, excited after the victory, rushed the field to celebrate with their beloved players. Angered by the loss and the expression of joy shown by their nemesis, Rangers fans also rushed the field. However,
…There was no question of celebration in the minds of the fans who invaded from the West end of the ground. They had violence in mind and no sooner was it offered than it was returned with enthusiasm. The brutal and disgusting scenes which followed as bottles flew and drunken supporters charged and counter-charged from one end of the field to that other, brought disgrace upon the two clubs concerned, upon Scottish football generally, and were an affront to Scotland as a nation (Murray 196).
The riots after the 1980 Scottish Cup Final acted as a springboard for the conflict between Celtic and Rangers. Before that game, the extent of the tension between the two groups had gone unrealized. However, the truth behind the violence on the field that day continues to plague the rivalry today.
Despite the age-old on field rivalry, the tension between Celtic and Ranger supporters runs much deeper than what takes place on the soccer field. The conflict between the fans has erupted into violence on many occasions, with games between the two clubs ending in some of the worst riots and greatest tragedies in sporting history. Despite the tension created through competition, the origin of hatred between clubs and fans is not just the result of bad tackles and endless taunting. Soccer in Glasgow has become a public stage for sectarianism, the religious bigotry that has plagued Scotland for hundreds of years (Murray xi). The very foundations of the two Glasgow football clubs are built on the religious division between Catholicism and Protestantism. Traditionally, Rangers supporters are Protestant while Celtic fans support the Catholic Church. Sectarianism in Scotland emerged after 16th century reformations of the Church of Scotland (Sanders, Origins ! of Sectarianism). At the beginning of the 16th century, Scotland was a piously Catholic nation. Despite strong devotion to the Catholic Church, educated Scots began to look beyond Rome and its doctrines, seeking more personal forms of a spiritual experience. The emergence of the influential John Knox and the circulation of Lutheran books expressing the Protestant ideas of Martin Luther gave those searching for more something to embrace. When the Reformation initially split the Church into Catholic and Protestant factions, Scotland took its first step in the transition from a once Catholic country to a country having a Protestant majority (Renaissance and Reformation). Even though Protestant support had almost completely wiped out Catholicism by the beginning of the 19th century, support for the Catholic Church would soon retake its place in Scottish society. It did this with sheer numbers as Irish Catholics were forced to move to Scotland because! of the great potato famine in Ireland. Not only did the potato famin e increase the number of Irish Catholics in Scotland, but it also increased the bitter feelings on the part of a threatened Scottish Protestant population (Sanders, Origins). This tension would only grow with time .
Problems continued in Glasgow as more and more Irish Catholics looked for refuge in Scotland. Since families left Ireland because of famine, they arrived in Scotland with almost nothing, just the clothes on their backs and the hope to make a new life. With more people in the same space, fierce competition erupted between the two groups. Protestants found themselves competing directly with Catholics for jobs, often losing out, as Irish Catholics were willing to work harder for longer periods of time at lower wages (Sanders, Origins). The Glasgow shipyards epitomized this struggle as Catholics tried to get work in an industry that had traditionally been controlled by the Protestant population. While some industries hired Catholics in order to obtain cheaper labor, some remained loyal to Protestant only policies. Rangers football club adopted the Protestant only policy early on in the team’s development. A major proponent of the Protestant only policy, Rangers maint! ained it for 116 years and was eventually one of the last to see the policy go. Because of the unfortunate circumstances that brought them to Scotland in the first place, the Catholic community also found itself failing to meet the respectability standards laid down by the Scottish Protestant community. Protestants frowned upon the Catholics blue-collar way of life, as well as certain Catholic policies on divorce, contraception, mixed marriages and what they saw as the desecration of the Sabbath. Rangers actually refused to play soccer on Sundays (Sanders, Origins). It was small differences like these that pushed the two religious groups to hate one another.
Even though Scotland provided better conditions than a famine stricken Ireland, Irish Catholics found that 19th century Glasgow was not as pleasant as they had hoped. In addition to living in extremely poor conditions in a highly industrialized city, oppression and abuse plagued the Irish Catholic community as well. Struggling to settle into their new community, Catholics found that Protestants did everything they could to make life more difficult for the newcomers. Because of these obstacles, leaders in the Catholic community recognized the need for something to help their people settle into their new home. Their savior was soccer. Celtic Football Club was initially founded in November 1887, and then officially established in 1888 to raise money for a Catholic charity, the Poor Children’s Dinner Table. Leaders of the Catholic community hoped that the team would also help maintain people’s interest and devotion to the Catholic faith. This was so impo! rtant in a time where Protestantism and the possibility of a better way of life tempted even the most devout Catholic supporters (Sanders, Celtic FC). Despite its beginnings as a vehicle to promote Catholic support, over time the Celtic Football Club moved away from the religious foundations on which it was based. Although an 1895 resolution suggested that the team introduce a limit on the number of Protestants allowed into the team, this was rejected and the club has since remained open to all faiths. By not practicing any form of religious exclusion, Celtic quickly became one of the most successful football teams in the country.
Glasgow Rangers had a very different beginning than its counterpart Celtic. Formed in 1872, Rangers Football club’s initial connection to Protestantism, like many other football clubs at the time, was not much more than that they were made up of Protestant players. In addition to this, Rangers immediately found support and created strong links with the world of shipbuilding, a predominately Protestant profession at the time. However, despite these connections, Rangers’ association with Protestantism was pushed to the forefront until after the formation of Celtic. With Celtic’s strong ties to Catholicism, Protestants in Glasgow wanted a team of their own. Conflict and competition between Catholics and Protestants in the shipbuilding industry naturally pushed Rangers to take that role. "Given the anti-Catholic feeling at the time, it is no surprise that Celtic’s success was not well received. Scottish society demanded a Protestant team to redress the balance! and it was Rangers who emerged as suitable candidates" (Sanders, Glasgow Rangers). Unlike the movement of Celtic away from its Catholic roots, Rangers supporters seemed to embrace Protestantism and the conflict between the two Glasgow sides. It was not until the 1960’s that sectarianism forced itself into the public spotlight. The combination of several events re-ignited the conflict at the foundation of which Celtic and Rangers are based. First, a former Rangers player publicly announced the club’s Protestant only policy, a policy they had kept since the formation of the club. The discrimination angered Catholics, mostly because their club had no such policy. When questioned about the policy, vice Chairman of Rangers Football Club Matt Taylor stated that he felt the policy was "part of our tradition…we were formed in 1873 as a Protestant boys club. To change now would lose us considerable support" (Sanders, Glasgow Rangers). To keep the policy meant! to promote sectarianism. Shortly after this decision, Rangers suppor ters openly practiced this racial bigotry. In the opening moments of a football match in 1963, Rangers fans jeered during a minute silence taken for the assassinated Catholic U.S. President, John F. Kennedy. Supporters of Catholicism were furious with this blatant act of bigotry. Even local papers, indifferent of the tension created by sectarianism, were embarrassed by the Rangers indiscretion. Ian Archer of the Glasgow Herald was even quoted as saying, "as a Scottish football club, they [Rangers] are a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. This country would be a better place if Rangers did not exist" (Sanders, Glasgow Rangers). The Catholic community fully supported this statement.
In Glasgow, violence and abuse have gone well beyond football hooliganism. No longer can people view the conflict solely as football fans rioting after an exciting victory or a heartbreaking defeat. Cara Henderson realized this at age 15 when her boyfriend was murdered for supporting the wrong team. On October 7, 1995, Mark Scott was murdered by sectarianism.
On the day that he would die, Mark Scott's mother urged him not to wear his Celtic top in case it brought him trouble. Zipping his jacket to cover the green and white hoops, the 16-year-old schoolboy had laughed. "Don't worry, Mum," he said. "They don't do that kind of thing any more." But they did, and hours later Mark had his throat cut by a man who picked him at random from a group of Celtic supporters as they walked home from a match through a Protestant area of Glasgow. His jacket was still zipped (A Game of Two Halves).
The Mark Scott tragedy is one of many that have plagued the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers in the recent years. Like Scott, people were not aware of the level of seriousness that which sectarianism had reached. It took a personal tragedy and the love for a lost friend to prompt action. Cara Henderson was so motivated by the killing that she launched "Nil By Mouth", a campaign to put an end to sectarianism in Scotland. In 1999, four years after her friend’s murder, Henderson took it into her own hands to increase awareness and stop the violence on the streets of Glasgow and throughout all of Scotland. Recognizing that the problem existed in the way that people thought, Henderson devised a program to improve education and increase awareness of sectarianism. Addressing the murder of her friend, Henderson thought that, "when that Rangers fan stepped out from the pub doorway and looked into the crowd of Celtic fans he didn't see Mark the schoolboy, Mark the brot! her, the son, the friend...he saw Mark the Fenian, Mark the tim..." (Sanders, Old Firm Supporters). With the help of others, Henderson launched her anti-sectarianism campaign with the following objectives:
- To inform the general public about, and promote through education and awareness of, the problems of sectarianism and bigotry within Scottish society
- To promote the integration within Scottish society and the celebration of cultural diversity
- To encourage people to respect all cultures and to resist sectarianism, racism and bigotry in any shape or form
- To encourage everyone to take responsibility for their own attitudes and language, recognizing that this will help to change our society
- To raise awareness of the damage, violence and death in our society resulting from sectarian behavior (Sanders, Campaigns).
With increasing support from Rangers, Celtic, a series of schools, employers and political parties, Nil by Mouth has gained recognition and support in both the Catholic and Protestant communities. With the recruitment of public figures, Nil by Mouth hopes to become more influential as it appeals to wider audiences. Henderson herself has appeared in a series of debates broadcast on television and over the radio encouraging people to abandon sectarian behavior. Nil by Mouth’s publicity campaign extends beyond the spoken word in a series of posters displaying anti-sectarianism sentiments through the harsh realities of its consequences. These posters, released in mass quantities in 2000, included a picture of a gravestone with the words "don't be a die hard" below and a face covered in stitches with the slogan "sectarian jokes can have you in stitches." Both were accompanied by the phrase "sectarian behavior can lead to violence and death" (Sanders, Campaigns). A strong ! start in the campaign supporting anti-sectarianism has given people like Cara Henderson hope for a peaceful future.
Great strides have been taken in order to improve education and increase awareness of the conflict in Glasgow. However, to the extent at which sectarianism has plagued the supporters of Celtic and Rangers, and the rest of the country for that matter, it is not something that is going to disappear overnight. Changing peoples’ attitudes, especially those that have grown out of such strong belief systems like Catholicism and Protestantism, is not going to be easy. The competition between the two football clubs will make the movement away from sectarianism even more difficult. Even with today’s increased awareness, supporters from both clubs still chant sectarian songs during matches. Even though most people may sing to support of their respective club, the roots of the songs represent discrimination and religious bigotry that began even before the establishment of the two clubs. Until people make a serious commitment to put an end to sectarianism, like Cara Henderson,! others may find themselves losing loved ones simply because of the color of a shirt.
"A Game of Two Halves." The Guardian.
Murray, Bill. The Old Firm: Sectarianism, Sport and Society in Scotland. John Donald
Publishers, Edinburgh, 1984.
"Renaissance and Reformation."
Sanders, Andrew. "Old Firm Supporters and Sectarian Violence."
Sanders, Andrew. "Scottish Football and Sectarianism: Campaigns and Conclusions."
Sanders, Andrew. "Scottish Football and Sectarianism: Celtic FC and Sectarianism in
Scottish Football." http://www.realmaroonfc.com/documents/feat_sectarianism_4.htm
Sanders, Andrew. "Scottish Football and Sectarianism: Glasgow Rangers FC and
Sectarianism in Scottish Football." http://www.realmaroonfc.com/documents/feat_sectarianism_3.htm
Sanders, Andrew. "Scottish Football and Sectarianism: The Origins of Sectarianism in
Scottish Football." http://www.realmaroonfc.com/documents/feat_sectarianism_2.htm
I’m in the "Religious Tolerance" section, which meets Tuesdays at 1:15. Last Tuesday there was not enough time to videotape all of the presentations. I just wanted to let you know that I was one of the students who was unable to give my presentation because of the time constraint.
Thanks, Roger Levesque