Football Must Unite and Deal with Bigotry

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CATHY JAMIESON has been there, sitting down in a room in Glasgow with figureheads from the Orange Order and the Irish Republican movement and finding common ground. She still has a copy at home of the accord they signed that day 13 years ago, during her past life as Minister for Justice in the Scottish Government, to tackle abusive and anti-social behaviour at parades and marches. It took a lot of talking to get to that point. It brought no shortage of flak and abuse.

Jamieson understands all too well why the very mention of addressing sectarianism engenders fear in others even now. But that one document shows her what can be achieved when there is a desire to bring people together in a spirit of co-operation. The Kilmarnock director wants Scottish football’s authorities and the rest of the game to realise that, too, and take assertive, meaningful action to find a workable solution in the wake of a worrying surge of bigotry and anti-social behaviour in our grounds.

Jamieson’s club have witnessed it first-hand during the past year. Former manager Steve Clarke hit out at West of Scotland culture after being subjected to sectarian abuse at Ibrox, while his ex-captain Kris Boyd was struck by a coin and branded an ‘Orange b******’ while warming up during a match with Celtic at Rugby Park. Pitch invasions, missile - throwing, attacks on players. All of that has slowly crept back into the national sport, with Rangers having to play their opening Europa League group match against Feyenoord in front of empty sections at Ibrox after being found guilty by UEFA of a second charge of sectarian singing from their supporters.

Jamieson, 62, reckons enough is enough. And she insists the SFA and SPFL have to put their heads above the parapet and place themselves in a vanguard for change — particularly when it comes to sectarianism. ‘I suppose the warning signs have been there for a while from the point of view that, if this continues, one of the footballing authorities somewhere is going to clamp down,’ said Jamieson, whose club travel to Celtic Park tomorrow.

‘UEFA has obviously done that. There are messages there at the moment that it is time to put our house in order. This is where I will maybe get into difficult territory but, at some point, the football authorities, football clubs, supporters and everyone else have to come together to say: "Look, this is not the way we want Scottish football to be known around the world”. ‘I genuinely believe it can be done if you bring people together, name the problem and identify the culture you are trying to shift.

‘It is not about denying people’s history or anything like that. It is about saying there are certain bits of behaviour that are not acceptable in the 21st century. I wouldn’t want it suggested that I think the football authorities are not doing anything at all. It is a sticky problem, no one has an instant solution and the football authorities probably can’t do it on their own, but they certainly have a big role to play. It would probably send a powerful message if they were to be seen to be wanting to be very much part of it. There are decent, ordinary fans who would come together, but it will take some leadership to do that. I know from the past that you will end up being shot at by both sides but, sometimes, you have to step up and do something.’

Former First Minister Jack McConnell spoke earlier this month about the ‘cancer’ of sectarianism and accused the SNP of ‘political vandalism’ over their decision to stop anti- sectarianism summits after taking power in 2007. Jamieson believes, however, that much of the work initiated by McConnell can be revisited. In particular, the efforts she was involved in to bring the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland and Cairde na hEireann together that momentous day — particularly with the violence that has exploded around parades and marches in Glasgow of late.

‘I still have a copy of the accord in my house,’ she revealed. ‘A lot of work had been done beforehand and they sat in the same room in Glasgow and signed up to it. I was involved in a lot of the work in bringing people together around shared campuses in schools, and with representatives of both Old Firm clubs and supporters’ trusts. There was also a very clear education programme looking at how we challenged stereotypes and financial support for certain organisations. We weren’t pretending there was an instant solution, but it was about bringing people together and trying to do something about it. It is time to get some of these things back in a co-ordinated plan. Sometimes, you can use legislation as a bit of a catalyst for change, but if you want to actually change behaviours and the culture, people have to be sitting down with each other.’

Jamieson has represented the Killie Trust on the board at Rugby Park for over a year now and is certainly strengthening a new sense of togetherness there. She became Kilmarnock’s local MP as the town was coming to terms with the closure of the Johnnie Walker whisky plant and understands the role the club can play in fostering fresh identity and spirit around the town. There are plans to build new community pitches behind the Moffat Stand at Rugby Park and safe-standing areas in the ground itself, with the smell of fresh paint, walking through the stadium, pointing to the renovation work that has been taking place within the suites and lounges.

Jamieson laughs about her Kilmarnock mum dressing her pram in blue-and-white ribbons ahead of the 1957 Scottish Cup final to make a point to her dad, who came from Ayr. She remembers being allowed to stay up late after the league triumph of 1965 and has a season ticket in the East Stand positioned where she used to stand on the terracing. It is this background that singled her out as the prime candidate to be the bridge between board and supporter.

It also allowed her to understand the anger and confusion that threatened to consume the club following new manager Angelo Alessio’s failure to beat Connah’s Quay Nomads in Europa League qualifying — and help bring it to a point where there is now light at the end of the tunnel. ‘There was just raw grief after Connah’s Quay and lashing out,’ she said. ‘As a fan, I understood that. I think fans are now seeing from Angelo, though, that he really cares about getting it right here. He sees fans and community as being important and he wants to be part of that.’

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