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Home » Sport » Football

Celtic shamed by poppycock protesters

And so the malady lingers on. Celtic's 9-0 drubbing of Aberdeen on Saturday will go on record as a day of new highs and familiar lows for the Glasgow club. A record winning margin in the SPL was sullied by the cavemen who decided to soil the memory of the fallen.

Whatever the moral rights or wrongs of a country going to war, a somewhat cursed debate at the best and worst of times, a routine football match in Glasgow is not the appropriate forum to promote one's views on such weighty issues. Some supposed "supporters" of Celtic decided otherwise.

The malcontents who decided to unfurl several flags decrying what they view as the impending imposition of the poppy on the Celtic shirt on Remembrance Sunday succeeded only in besmirching the reputation of a club they claim to cherish.

At such despairing moments, Scottish football appears to be a law unto itself, a narrow-minded little forum that remains depressingly outwith the boundary of good taste.

One wonders why such figures can be bothered turning up at a match when they clearly have other things on their minds. Celtic were winning 4-0 against Aberdeen at half-time on their way to an unheralded win, but instead of nipping off for pies and bovrils, the lunatic fringe decided to show off their handiwork at arts and crafts.

"Your deeds would shame all the devils in Hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No bloostained poppy on our Hoops," read the statement. No 'd' in 'blood', no advisable thought process in the actions. Who cares about spelling when you appear to be teeming with bad blood. On a happy day for their team, there was some angry people out there.

Of course, such a message was all a sweeping generalisation, lumping together vastly different conflicts to suit their own ends and, some would contest, inflammatory, toxic tosh that should be trotted out far, far away from a healthy football environment.

Aberdeen's players were not the only assortment of figures who should have left Celtic Park on Saturday night nursing an acute sense of shame. Celtic revelled in picking up a fair play award for the conduct of their fans at the 2003 UEFA Cup final, but such behaviour does little to enhance any attempts to assist their club in selling brand awareness outside of the financial straitjacket of the Scottish Premier League.

Most objective followers of the club, who pride themselves in the goodwill extended towards the club on their sojourns abroad, will be casting wincing glances at such a lamentable episode. In particular, the outset of November suddenly seems to be a period in time when the reputation of Celtic is dragged into the gutter on a yearly basis.

Celtic and the other SPL clubs will rightly have the poppy on their tops on Sunday, but the club's officials must already be shuddering at what lies in store before they visit St Mirren.

A minute's silence to remember the dead was interrupted before Celtic faced Falkirk a year ago with dissenting voices, probably heartened by a few bottles of tonic wine down their gullets, clearly audible outside of the ground. Sky TV wound up muting the sound of around 40 fans chanting rebel songs. Not good.

Expect more of this excruciating, embarrassing stuff on Sunday. After Saturday's stunt, it seems a certainty. Do these people really know what they are shouting about?

From a personal point of view, one remembers visiting the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle to see the name of a great grandfather who had fought and died at the Dardanelles in the first World World War. He was a proud Irishman. Remembrance Sunday remembers those who fought and died in the two World Wars to quell the threat of fascist invasion.

Such stuff is usually appealing to the political persuasion of some of the more protruding fans of Celtic, but bizarrely enough, some have a problem with it. You couldn't really make it up.

It will be argued that there is a freedom to protest in any civilised society, but the right to be heard was only brought about because of the millions who died in bloody, miserable conflict.

"Any disrespect shown to the memory of the fallen has always been the work of a minority," said a Royal British Legion Scotland spokesman. "Celtic and their supporters have a long record of serving their country, as fine as that of any club."

Hijacking the emblem of the poppy at a football match to advance whatever cause these people think they are furthering is completely wrong, as perverse as suggesting that your political, religious and sporting affiliations should hinge on whether or not you wear a poppy. Some parts of Scotland continue to thrive on such guff.

There are a lot of young men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, a whole mix of football fans. Many decided conscription was the best course of action rather than to join the dole queue and the massed ranks of the unemployed back home. Quite ironic, as one comedian wryly observed, that you can be trusted to use a gun, but not a phone or a computer back in the UK.

It is not their fault that they were sent to war. They never chose this course of action. These figures deserve our utmost respect. Many do not return to see their children grow up. Some return with their limbs blown off.

Ignorance and a lack of compassion for a neighbour's predicament lie at the core of this issue, a poison that seems to seep deeper into society with every passing year. It is wholly unfortunate that it is played out against the innocent backdrop of a football match.

Celtic would be right to ban those who unfurled the flags. Whether or not their beliefs are right or wrong, this stuff has no place in football. Weeding them out should prove an easy enough task.

The other non-football issue that should not be swept under the carpet but was played out in a football environment over the weekend, is an alleged email referring to the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church that has clamped itself to the much-maligned Scottish Football Association.

Whether or not such an email was sent to or by Hugh Dallas, the head of referee development at the SFA, on the day of the Pope's visit to Scotland, as has been alleged in various organs over the weekend, the seriousness of the subject makes this deeply offensive.

If such an email has knowingly been bouncing around office bearers at the SFA then their fitness to govern must be called into question. Can you imagine the outcry there would be if the email was against any other creed or colour?

Without pointing out the obvious, the SFA already seem to have taken a vow of silence on the "party tunes" that can be heard at various grounds around Scotland. If anybody is in any doubt about the nature of these ditties, listen for them tomorrow night when Hearts host Celtic at Tynecastle when the home fans are likely to be wading once again in "fenian blood". It is enough to make one weep.

Scottish football has nothing to do with such wild-eyed, warped views on the Poppy or the Pope, wherever you are coming from.

The sooner such dullards are outlawed from muddying the waters of all that is good about football, the better for the general health of the game and the parts of society they continue to infect.

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