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Renewed controversy over silent tributes

Killie's Comic DJ










Sound of Silence

Once again Scottish football has been caught up in controversy over remembrances for prominent public figures. This time it was the refusal of a significant number of Hearts supporters to observe a minute's silence to mark the passing of the late Pope at their Scottish Cup semi-final tie against Celtic.

We've been here before and unless the authorities get their act together this is an issue which will continue to haunt our game and scar our reputation in the future. Three years ago - almost to the day - we were embroiled in a similar scenario. On that occasion it was Celtic fans - who behaved impeccably during the tribute to the Pontiff - who forced referee Willie Young to blow his whistle halfway through the silence for the Queen Mother.

In that same season - 2001-02 - we also saw the ridiculous situation whereby Scottish League Cup matches went ahead as per usual on the same evening as UEFA cancelled all fixtures under its jurisdiction as a mark of respect to those killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks.

There was also the farcical occasion the same season when a silence was held at a Hearts v Rangers game (observed solemnly by both sets of fans) to mark the passing of Princess Margaret while no such tribute was paid at any other league game in Scotland.

We commented on these events here

We've no wish to rehash all the old arguments here but a few points do need to be raised. Firstly, the SFA said that as a secular organisation they would leave the matter of a silence for the Pope to the clubs - a position that was backed by the SPL and the SFL. It was only after an enormous amount of pressure chiefly but not solely from Celtic supporters that they changed their minds
Now, hands up everybody who thinks they would have committed such a volte-face had Rangers rather than Hearts been Celtic's opponents.

That clears that one up then.

Here at scottishleague.net we think the initial decision to leave it to the clubs was right. This columnist was in attendance at the Kilmarnock v ICT league game the day before the semi-final brouhaha. There was no silence. Tellingly, there was also no outrage, no suggestion of offence being caused by the failure to mark the death of a religious leader.

That is not to defend the reprehensible actions of those Hearts fans who refused to observe the silence 24 hours later. Like their Celtic counterparts in 2002 they may have strongly disagreed with the decision to hold a silence and may also feel the reasons for their objections were valid ones. But once the decision was made (even if it was the wrong decision) then it should have been observed. In all honesty how hard is it to keep your mouth shut for sixty seconds?

But it wasn't just Hearts this time and Celtic last time that demonstrated the levels of bigotry which afflict our game. At the first semi-final, between Dundee United and Hibs, a number of United fans failed to observe the sixty seconds tribute. Their behaviour has been overshadowed by the larger and more raucous disruption of the following day.

And on the day after the Pope's death thousands of Rangers fans were to be heard giving maximum laldy to 'No Pope Of Rome' - their twisted take on the old cowboy song 'Home On The Range.'

Here's some news just in for the benefit of the bigots - THERE'S GOING TO BE ANOTHER POPE.

Let's clear up one other matter while we're at it. While only the truly bigoted and/or moronic would refuse to observe sixty seconds silence there are a large number of perfectly normal, perfectly sane, perfectly rational supporters who vehemently disagree with the staging of these silences.

There are many whose opposition to the principle of hereditary monarchy would dissuade them from wishing to participate in tributes to the Queen's mother and sister. And there are many whose atheism or agnosticism would prevent them from wanting to observe a silence for ANY religious leader. There are also those - including many of a religious persuasion - who would feel distinctly uncomfortable at being required to pay tribute to someone whose policies on contraception, AIDS and women they considered to be responsible for increasing the sum of human misery in the most poverty-stricken regions of the planet.

And, it has to be said, there are those who recall the Papacy's failure to acknowledge let alone tackle the growing scandal of clerical child abuse. They too harboured doubts as to the wisdom of a minute's silence.

There are many too who would seek to avoid all controversy by limiting silences to those with a direct football connection. We don't go that far. As we said in 2002 football can't operate in a vacuum. That way leads us back to the bad old days such as when the Scottish League refused to cancel a Ne'erday match at Love Street the day after a cinema fire in Paisley claimed the lives of scores of children.

We said then that the SFA sold the pass when they postponed a World Cup qualifier for 24 hours because of the funeral of Princess Diana. That decision has come back to haunt them. The argument now is 'If you can do it for Diana you can do it for (fill in name of deceased dignitary here).'

We pointed out that on the day of the funeral of arguably the most important British figure of the 20th century - Winston Churchill - a full programme of League and Cup matches was played throughout the UK and would use the contrary argument. If we DIDN'T do it for Churchill then we SHOULDN'T do it for Diana/Margaret/Queen Mother/Pope John Paul II etc etc.

Back then we suggested this rough rule of thumb for tributes:
Terrible events like Sep 11th or an earthquake - YES
Football tragedies like Heysel or Bradford -YES
The deaths of footballing legends like Jim Baxter or Bobby Murdoch - YES
Pampered centenarian aristocrats and spoilt princesses with no known interest in the game - NO

To which we would add in 2005:
Victims of incomprehensible human tragedies such as the Asian tsunami - YES
Reactionary octogenarian religious leaders - NO

Song Sung Blue

To lighter matters. In an oft-times depressing season at Rugby Park one of the rare highlights has been the emergence of Kilmarnock's match DJ 'Pedro Junior' as a source of much-needed entertainment, providing 'appropriate' music to accompany the entry of the opposition onto the field.

And at a time when every single TV post-match report in the UK seems to be accompanied by the strains of Tony Christie in his never-ending quest to locate a town in Texas (somebody buy the guy a map please), a little variety is to be welcomed.

Because of the narrowness of the Rugby Park tunnel, teams cannot enter the pitch side by side thus allowing Pedro and the home support the chance to enjoy a laugh at the opposition's expense as they emerge first. Even if, as has been the case all too often this term, it's the away fans that have left the ground with smiles on their faces.

To date the bold Pedro has welcomed a Motherwell team two down at half-time in the Scottish Cup back onto the pitch to the strains of the theme from 'Steptoe & Son' and as Celtic went into their famous 'huddle' Rugby Park reverberated to the sound of the 'Hokey Cokey.'

But against Inverness Caledonian Thistle the DJ excelled himself as the visitors from the Highlands 'enjoyed' a song before the start of either half. They entered the field with 'Duelling Banjos' echoing in their ears and returned after the break to hear Andy Stewart asking 'Donald, Whaur's Your Troosers?'

OK, maybe you had to be there to fully appreciate it but trust me; there have been a fair few occasions this season when Killie fans felt like voting Pedro 'Man of the Match.'

The ROAR Of The Crowd

We've recommended many publications here at scottishleague.net in the past so we hope you'll forgive us for taking some time out to promote one of our own. 'The ROAR Of The Crowd' is written by scottishleague.net's David Ross and will be published in May by Argyll Publishing (click on 'forthcoming' then scroll to the fourth on the page).

This is the first book ever to take a comprehensive look at Scottish football attendances. It's a 256-page paperback available for just £7-99 and we thought we'd give you a sneak preview of the contents.

The first chapter covers the period from 1872-1918, taking in the first game for which there is evidence money changed hands - the Scotland v England international of 1872. From there it goes on to look at the growth of crowds particularly in international and Scottish Cup matches, the formation of the Scottish League in 1890, the rise of the Old Firm, the Ibrox disaster of 1902, the Scottish Cup Final riot of 1909, the world record attendance being set in Scotland and the effect on the game of the First World War.

Chapter Two deals with the inter-war period, looking at the post-war boom in attendances, the reintroduction of the Second Division, the failed attempt to establish a Third Division, the great depression and the deaths of many clubs.

The next chapter studies the revival in the late 1930s and new records created at Hampden, Ibrox and Parkhead which endure to this day.

From there the fourth chapter takes up the story from the outbreak of war to the dawn of the Sixties, encompassing wartime closures, the phenomenal post-war boom with gates of over 100,000 for friendlies and even B' Division teams topping the 10,000 mark on average, the setting of many ground records and the first signs of declining support with just 875 at a Hibs home game and 172 at Albion Rovers.

The fifth chapter takes in the period up to the reorganisation of 1975 and looks at the impact of some of the greatest players ever to grace our game. Law, Baxter, Dalglish, Bremner et al dominate this era on the pitch while Jock Stein does so as a manager. It covers the effect of TV on the game as crowds continued to fall even though big matches still attracted huge gates. The impact of floodlighting and our clubs success in Europe also feature and the tragedy of the Ibrox disaster of 1971 is recalled.

The ROAR of the Crowd

In Chapter Six our game reaches rock bottom. Violence on the terraces, recession and unemployment combine to force crowds to their lowest levels for eighty years even though domestic competition is strong, our clubs do well in Europe and the national team qualifies regularly for the World Cup. There are the pitched battles of the 1980 Scottish Cup Final, the challenge from Aberdeen and Dundee United, the arrival of Graeme Souness at Ibrox and the effect of his signing of Maurice Johnston.

The final chapter takes the story up to the present day. Starting with the arrival of Fergus McCann at Celtic, progressing through the massive modernisation and building programme which has transformed Scottish grounds, the increasing grip of the Old Firm, the decline of the national side and both the arrival and departure of Berti Vogts. There's the creation of the SPL and the financial crisis which engulfed the game in the early 21st century. Ross concludes by offering a few suggestions for the future.

That's followed by a club section with an account of each and every club's record gate, including all former members of the Scottish League. From the oldest record - Dundee Wanderers in 1887 - to the newest - Caley Thistle in March 2005, they're all there. Every single club and ground record in Scotland is covered including the European record held by Scotland for nearly 70 years. And the home line-ups for all the record-breaking matches are also included.

This section throws up a few surprises, shedding new light on club records like those of Alloa, Berwick, Celtic and Clyde where Ross challenges some popular misconceptions.

As a bonus the book also includes every club's average league attendances for the past 100 years and also for the first three league seasons. This information has NEVER appeared in print before.

And if that's not enough there's some splendid vintage photography dotted around the book.

This superb record of the game will shortly be available for just £7-99 - or just over one-third of the cost of admission to the average SPL game.

And if anyone needs any further incentive to buy this book, there's free delivery to UK addresses if you order from the publishers website.

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