Only a game? - Sectarianism and football - a potent mixture

What planet are Rangers fan from? Are they really that ignorant that they can see nothing wrong with singing sectarian chants at football matches? And let me be clear, this goes for Celtic supporters too, sectarianism and football should never go together.

Earlier this week Rangers fans were told by UEFA that they would be disciplined if their fans continued to sing sectarian songs at football matches.

In the last few days history has unfolded before our very eyes in the North of Ireland. It was poignant that after representatives from Republican and Unionist backgrounds came together at the funeral of murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr, an Irish newspaper led with the headline ‘United Ireland’.

I’m sure that in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh where constable Kerr was laid to rest there were both Celtic and Rangers supporters. No matter who they supported, every single person inside that church was united in their condemnation of the murder of Constable Kerr and were equally determined not to let the North of Ireland return to the dark chapters of its past.

A few days ago it was reported that a 21-year-old man called Christopher McKee from Ballymena had died as a result of meningitis whilst studying Sports Journalism in Sunderland. Christopher was a dedicated Rangers supporter and had said that his dream in life was to become the next Jackie Fullerton.

When asked about Christopher, his sports journalism lecturer Neil Farrington said he was a dedicated supporter of Northern Ireland and Rangers and always enjoyed a bit of banter with Celtic supporters in his class.

Christopher McKee showed that it is possible to support Rangers without loathing Celtic fans. Don’t get me wrong, Celtic fans have their fair share of bigots too but equally there are Hoops fans just like Chris McKee.

I went to university with many people who happened to be Rangers and Northern Ireland supporters. Like Chris McKee, I enjoyed the banter and I always enjoyed reminding them that they’d been dining out on Gerry Armstrong’s goal against Spain in 1982 for too long. But that’s where it ended, it was just banter. When the Republic lost a game they enjoyed rubbing my nose in it but it didn’t stop us from heading out for a few pints to watch whatever game was on that night.

I remember my first visit to Lansdowne Road was in the mid-nineties. I had travelled all the way to Letterkenny to buy tickets for the cup competition between Lazio, Liverpool, St. Patrick’s Athletic and my beloved Leeds United.

Leeds’ opening game was against Lazio. I remember taking my place behind the goal just before the game and what followed totally disgusted me. Leeds United fans proceeded to sing songs glorifying the 1958 Manchester United Munich air tragedy - 23 people, including players lost their lives.

I was so angry that these so called men thought it acceptable that just because they supported a certain football team gave them the right to gloat over such a tragedy; it’s something that never sat right with me, even to this day.

Whether it be Leeds fans singing about the Munich air disaster or Rangers fans singing the Billy Boys this type of behaviour is wrong and is not acceptable.

I’ve been attending Republic of Ireland matches for years and have been able to show my patriotism without being aggressive. A big part of going to football matches is meeting up with and having the craic with the other supporters - even the French!

The world of sport could take a leaf out of the book of many of Ireland’s public representatives. The way they rallied together this week espoused emotion, admiration and astonishment. The sense of unity had many people from the North expressing how proud they were to come from a place that had come so far - I was one of them.

There is no place for intolerance in a society that through its very essence of being claims to be tolerant. Although the twisted bigots on both sides might not want to hear it they have to know that the vast majority of people have moved on and no longer want to waste time and energy on the futility of hatred.

It’s inevitable that people reading this might think this a tad wishy washy but believe me this is how it’s going to be. If we are to stand any chance of moving towards an even more honourable society then we have to eradicate the hatred and the bitterness otherwise we stand no chance of moving forward.