If one managed to glimpse the back page of last Saturday's Daily Record newspaper - or Scotland's best for news and sport as it likes to be known - it would
have been easy to believe we were in for one of those horrid weekends in
pockets of the country, particularly in and around the west coast, that seem to bring
out the worst in folk when Rangers and Celtic face each other in Glasgow.
One of those gigantic tabloid headlines that seem to be
aimed at the hard of seeing roared out from the back page of the paper: "Who's more
hated at Ibrox? Is it Lennon or the taxman?" All that seemed to be missing was Barry Took from Points of View complete with a Cockney voiceover.
With a picture of the Celtic
manager Neil Lennon and the Inland Revenue's long-standing symbol Hector the Taxman
complete with bowler hat and moustache, it was a headline that appealed to the
base instincts of a pond life in those infected parts of Scotland who continue
to try to take more meaning than there actually is out of Northern Irishman Lennon overseeing Celtic's football affairs.
The game itself was one of the better examples of a Glasgow
derby in recent times. There were six goals, a few thoughtful examples of the
passing game and a richly deserved win for Rangers, who ran through the visitors like
they were invisible in the second period at Ibrox.
The debate over football was not enough for some. It remains quite baffling why organs like the Daily Record - apparently boasting a circulation of over 300,000 this weather - go out of their jurisdiction to compare Neil
Lennon with Rangers' well-publicised tax problems while using the word
"hated" in a headline. This is a man who has been assaulted by a Hearts 'supporter' for no reason, is subjected to some sickening abuse in public and on the internet, has been assaulted in a street in Glasgow and has somehow been the subject of a murder plot involving explosive devices sent to him.
At best, such 'journalism' was humourless, tasteless and probably offensive. At worst, it was supporting the notion that here is a publication with
a long-standing agenda against Celtic. This comes after years of shattering the club's crest
without much thought, a publication that once tailed Celtic's players on a Christmas night out in Newcastle before coming up with the headline "Thugs and thieves" to describe several Celtic players who wrongly spent a night in
the cells a decade or so ago.
Just for the record - no pun intended - the
behaviour of the fans attending the Old Firm match was superior to sections of a media looking for snow when
there was none falling.
Fifteen arrests were made which is in keeping with more tasteful
happenings, or as tasteful as it is allowed to be in this vicinity, at a fixture blighted by sectarian bile. This of course omits
the anti-social behaviour that clamps itself to football in Scotland on such days, but that is for a
"It's not us who are stoking up the fires," Lennon
told a reporter in the immediate aftermath. "It's some of your fellow
colleagues in the media."
A degree of sympathy should go to journalists working on such a
publication who had nothing to do with the decision to validate such a shabby
headline, but it does pose the question: why should newspapers like the Record
expect football fans to behave properly at an Old Firm match
when it fails to reel itself in when people are naturally
working themselves up ahead of the occasion? Is incitement the sole preserve of the uneducated?
Having earned a
crust in a previous life from attempting to sensationalise a story when a tale is not fit for purpose, one can understand the reasons why journalists get involved in
such activities on tabloids. Namely, to sell papers and justify their living, but all that the
above headline does is alienate a selection of readers at a juncture when
newspapers are very much a sunset industry. People are not stupid. They can quickly decide to go elsewhere for their daily
There was an apology on the Monday morning from the
newspaper, like there was to Lennon after the club's festive night out in Newcastle, but the damage has been done. In keeping with traditions, the
apology failed to mimic the size of the original headline.
An ardent Rangers fan, clearly distancing himself from the Record headline, told me after the match that the majority of his fellow supporters only "disliked Lennon from a football perspective because he was manager of our main rivals". The rest of the material swirling around Lennon's persona was, he said, "hard to understand".
In keeping with such bewildering behaviour, attempting to understand the reasons behind such a headline
is almost as difficult as trying to make sense of the Offensive Behaviour at
Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. It sounds problematic.
To this onlooker, it seems the natural way ahead is for the authorities
to continue to have the powers to hand out football banning orders. Taking away a fan's right to watch his side for several
years due to anti-social behavour - or worse - in and around the ground is enough to prompt many to behave themselves. The threat of a severe penalty from the courts or club can be a simple enough deterrent.
Police will apparently have the right to decide what is or is not offensive singing, but it seems to be riddled with holes which may end up hindering rather than helping the authorities. Ridding Scotland of anti-social, sectarian marches would be a better use of the public purse, but do hold your breath for that legislation.
If leading Scottish newspapers like the Daily Record do not get what is right
or wrong a day before a match between Rangers and Celtic, there must be doubts
over Scotland's government's ability to deliver what is necessary to preserve the health of the national sport.