I have been a football fan for more than a quarter of a century. A long time. In that time, I have heard fans abuse players for (allegedly or in fact) being: cheats, illegitimate, ugly, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too rich, bald, hairy, homosexual, paedophiles, mentally disabled, physically disabled, rapists, thieves, terrorists, gangsters, junkies, traitors, or living up to racial stereotypes.
All have taken place without the offenders being arrested and without football or other authorities saying or doing anything about it. Fact. On other occasions, there have been arrests, condemnation etc for some of the above. Fact.
My favourite goal celebration of all time was that of Robbie Fowler pretending to snort the byline after scoring against Everton in 1999. I thought it was hilarious. A young man who had been subjected to the filthiest abuse and insults by foul-mouthed morons without anything being done to protect him chose to celebrate a goal by making a joke of what the morons were accusing him of. Suddenly he was treated as though he had been the perpetrator of the abuse. If he had been discovered to be planning a trip to Disneyland with Gary Glitter, Fowler would not have been treated with any less of a witch hunt. He was hit with a suspension and fine, whilst the hooligans escaped scot-free.
So, let us get to the latest controversy sweeping Scottish football. As always, it involves the Old Firm. Back in May, I made clear my feelings about Rangers. I would not change a single word of what I wrote. One thing I will say in defence of Rangers fans, however, is that they tend to be reasonable in accepting that you support another team (especially if it is not Celtic). On the other hand, Celtic fans who hear you criticise them are liable to immediately allocate you a place in their pantheon of demons, somewhere between Satan and the Rev Ian Paisley.
In recent times, Rangers fans have been developing songs which are more foul, depraved, racist and, to be downright honest and reasonable, which is not recommended in the west of Scotland, often more humorous than ever before.
"Nakamura ate my dog" alleges that Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura shares a taste that 8% or so of his compatriots do indeed admit to. Accusing him of actually abducting poor old Fido is, of course, quite unfair and untrue.
"Big Jock knew" alleges that former Rangers fan and Celtic manager Jock Stein knew and covered up the sexual assaults on Celtic youth players in the 1960s and 70s by James Torbett, the then coach of Celtic Boys' Club. Stein, in fact, sacked Torbett when he discovered the offences although he did nothing to have him prosecuted. In those days, to be fair, child abuse received much less attention than now. Sacking someone and considering the matter to be concluded is probably as much as most employers would have done.
However, The Famine Song really takes the biscuit for controversy. The lyrics urge descendants of the Potato Famine to 'go home'. After pressure from the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh, Rangers fans who sing the offending ditty are liable to be arrested.
My humble opinion is, however, that it is the least offensive of the above songs despite having received the greatest attention, for reasons which I shall explain. As they say on Dragon's Den, let me tell you where I'm at:
Some of my ancestors arrived in Ayrshire around the time of the potato famines. Some of them were from Ireland; others were from the Highlands (whose famine doesn't get the same attention for some reason). However, that was a long time and several generations ago. Where I grew up in the west of Scotland, for better or worse, is where I am from.
I think the Famine Song is directed against people who refuse to put the past behind them and who pretend to be something they aren't, so I am personally not offended by it. I think it is bizarre for Scottish-born Celtic fans to wave the flag of the Irish Republic (which didn't exist at the time) and spout their support for the IRA. I am no racist, but I don't have a problem with suggesting to people who prefer a foreign country over their own that they should go and live in the place they have such fondness for. If they love this country and want to be here, then that is fine.
One of my earliest memories of football is of being bewildered as a young boy when I heard Celtic fans singing pro-IRA songs and waving Irish flags. Most of us who have Irish ancestors are fully integrated into Scottish and British society: for those who refuse to let go, I am not convinced that they should not be invited to 'go' to where they consider to be 'home'.
A current controversy is that James McCarthy of Hamilton and Aiden McGeady of Celtic allegedly deserve the disapprobation of Scottish fans for treacherously choosing to represent the Republic of Ireland rather than Scotland, where they were born. I happen to think that young players like McCarthy and McGeady should want to play for their own country, which in their case is Scotland. I never had a problem with guys like Owen Coyle and Tommy Coyne choosing to play for Ireland later in their careers when it was obvious that Scotland weren't going to pick them, but young lads should be knuckling down and showing that they are good enough to play for their own country. Scottish fans rightly feel betrayed by them.