“Bullet packages sent to Celtic boss,” reported the Sporting Life over the weekend. Last week a package addressed to Neil Lennon and Celtic player Niall McGinn was intercepted in Northern Ireland and turned over to the police, who are now investigating.
On Saturday, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona by an apparently deranged young man. Giffords is still alive, but among the six people killed was Christina Green, a girl born on the 11th of September 2001 – a girl whose short life began on a day of terror and ended in a moment of terror. Since the shooting, the US airwaves have been filled by politicians of all persuasions calling for restraint and a reduction in the aggressive rhetoric that is increasingly today’s norm.
Someone in Berwick didn’t get the message: after Celtic’s cup game on Sunday, they threw a bottle at the Celtic bus, breaking a window (no-one was hurt).
Neil Lennon reportedly tweeted: “Bottles and bullets today! Wish they’d quit all the stupidity so we could all just concentrate on the football.”
For once, I agree with him.
Someone else in Northern Ireland doesn’t: on Wednesday morning in Glasgow, bullets were found in an envelope, posted in Ulster, addressed to another Irish Celtic footballer, Paddy McCourt.
Meanwhile, two middle-aged Rangers fans are serving prison sentences for beating Neil Lennon unconscious in Glasgow’s West End in September 2008, hours after an Old Firm game which Lennon’s team lost.
In the days following Lennon’s assault, the address of Rangers player Nacho Novo was published on a Celtic internet message board.
Early last year, Rangers player DaMarcus Beasley’s car was set on fire – a deliberate act, said the police, though no-one was ever prosecuted.
And, just in case you’re getting all smug about this being an Old Firm thing, in March last year the Hearts player Calum Elliot was assaulted outside an Edinburgh club. Assaulted by none other than the Hibs player Darren McCormack.
I could go on.
A 2005 United Nations report found that Scotland was one of the most dangerous places in the world, on a par with notorious cities like Rio and Johannesburg for violent crime. So maybe it’s unfair to highlight football-related violence when there’s so much of it going on across our Bonnie Scotland.
But maybe it’s not.
America has an enormous number of law-abiding gun owners, but it also has a large number of gun-owning paranoid schizophrenics. So it isn’t the wisest place to be talking about “second amendment solutions” to political problems (second amendment: right to bear arms) or using “Don’t retreat: Reload” as a slogan to attract the votes of these crazies. What you end up with is a climate where elected politicians get shot in the head – which is something that’s only supposed to happen in places like the Philippines or Russia.
Likewise, Scotland is a nation with a well-known “bevvy and blades” culture: violent alcoholism is a proud national tradition. So maybe it’s not the best place to be whipping up a persecution complex to help a football team accumulate an extra point or two, or using youtube videos to wind up players (and fans) on “the other side”.
Where will it end? Maybe history tells us.
In 1980, Celtic beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final, both sets of fans went on the pitch and had a ‘square go’ at each other. Bricks and bottles, not blades, were the weapons for this shameful episode, and the damage was mainly to the Hampden pitch (the reputation of Scotland’s fans could hardly have been lower back then). The main outcome from that day was the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act which barred alcohol from football grounds. Alcoholics might call that a moment of clarity.
Perhaps the inevitable conclusion of the Old Firm’s dominance – and the hyperbole attaching itself to the meagre SPL – is that at some point the tension will again explode into violence, and in the aftermath everyone will have a “Giffords moment” of clarity.
But it shouldn’t need to come to that. The iconic image from the 1980 Cup Final wasn’t Danny McGrain lifting the storied trophy; it was a wee boy in a Rangers away top, sitting with his dad in the relative safety of the goal area, holding back the tears as he looks around him, terrified at the madness.
Is that what it will take for us to calm down?