"Billy Boys", also titled "The Billy Boys",[1] is a loyalist song from Glasgow, sung to the tune of "Marching Through Georgia."[1] It originated in the 1920s as the signature song of one of the Glasgow razor gangs led by Billy Fullerton[2] and later became viewed to reflect the long-running sectarian religious hatred directed by some Protestants against Catholics in the city. It is associated in particular with Rangers F.C.

Billy Boys is set to the music to Marching Through Georgia

Origins edit

Billy Boys originated in the 1920s as the signature tune of the Billy Boys, who were a Protestant street gang in Bridgeton (an area of Glasgow historically associated with the city's Protestant population, and with Scottish unionism - Brigton is the Scots form of Bridgeton) led by Billy Fullerton. The gang was named after King William of Orange, popularly known as "King Billy".[3] The gang often clashed with Roman Catholic gangs such as the Norman Conks and the Calton Tongs.[4] Fullerton was a member of the British Fascists, who was awarded a medal for strike-breaking during the 1926 General Strike and formed a Glasgow branch of the British Union of Fascists with the onset of World War II.[5][6] The Billy Boys song was often sung loudly when the gang performed it. They regularly sang it when they marched through primarily Catholic areas of Glasgow on Catholic holy days. This often led to the Billy Boys being attacked by members of the Norman Conks as a result.[7] Despite being primarily based in Glasgow, in the 1930s the Billy Boys were invited to march in Belfast and sang Billy Boys while they were there as part of The Twelfth celebrations.[8]

The Brigton Billy Boys and their youth wing, the Derry Boys, started to attend association football matches in the late 1920s and early 1930s. During this time, they attended Rangers matches and Rangers fans started to sing the Billy Boys song as part of a perceived affiliation with the Billy Boys.[3]

Despite Percy Sillitoe, the Chief Constable of Glasgow, eradicating the Glasgow razor gangs[6] and most young Protestants joining the Orange Order instead of the remaining gangs, Rangers fans continued to sing the Billy Boys in tribute to Fullerton as he still retained a prominent position among Glasgow Protestants even after the gangs had disbanded.[9] The Orange Order then adopted the "Billy Boys" song and changed the lyrics to be played on Orange walks, with the references to Billy being altered to refer to King William II of Scotland and III of England and Ireland.[10]

Football song edit

Rangers edit

Rangers F.C. supporters adopted "Billy Boys" as part of a perceived affiliation with the Brigton Boys

Even after Fullerton's death, Rangers fans continued to sing "Billy Boys" to commemorate Fullerton and the Brigton Boys.[11] In later years, attempts were made to portray the song as being against Irish republicanism rather than Catholics.[12] In 1999, the Scotland national football team manager Craig Brown was filmed singing "Billy Boys" (as part of a joking exchange with his Catholic girlfriend) and faced calls to step down from his position in charge of the Scotland national football team. However, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) gave him their backing.[13]

The song was at the centre of a controversy surrounding "ninety-minute bigots", an expression allegedly coined by former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray: "Ninety-minute Bigots do not hold beliefs but nonetheless sing songs at football matches which are sectarian, simply to join in with the rest of the crowd."[14] Rangers have adopted several measures to tackle this behaviour including attempts to bring older Rangers songs back into popular use, with Murray speaking out against the singing of the "Billy Boys" on many occasions.[15] In 2006, Rangers were charged by UEFA for discriminatory chanting over the singing of "Billy Boys" during a UEFA Champions League game against Villarreal. Rangers were found not guilty due to "Billy Boys" having been sung for years without the SFA or the Scottish government intervening against it and ruled that it was tolerated as a social and historic song.[16] However, after an appeal where they were warned, Rangers were ordered by UEFA to make a public announcement at all home games, prohibiting the singing of the song[17] despite UEFA admitting they were unable to do anything about it because it was a Scottish social issue.[18]

In 2011, "Billy Boys" was included in a list of chants that had been banned from Scottish football grounds as part of new legislation from the Scottish government. It was specifically banned because of its "Up to our knees in Fenian blood" line.[19] It was banned because it was decided by the Scottish government that "Fenian" in the context of the song meant Roman Catholics and was thus sectarian.[20]

Despite the ban, "Billy Boys" has still been sung at Rangers matches,[21] including their match against Queen's Park at Hampden Park in 2012.[22][23] Other Scottish football clubs, among them Heart of Midlothian, Kilmarnock, and Dundee, use versions of "Billy Boys" adapted to support their own clubs.[22]

Northern Ireland edit

The Billy Boys song has also been used in Northern Ireland, which may have arisen as a result of the Brigton Boys' march in Belfast.[8] It is often used by supporters of Belfast club Linfield[24] due to historic links with Rangers as "Blues Brothers".[25]

The song was sung in 2013 by supporters of the Northern Ireland national football team during their match against Luxembourg at Stade Josy Barthel in protest against the Northern Ireland team anthem, God Save the Queen, not being played at the Irish Cup final.[26] In April 2014, the Irish Football Association (IFA) introduced punishments for "any ... song or chant that is undeniably sectarian or offensive".[1] Linfield advised their supporters that this included all variations of Billy Boys, including the Marching Through Georgia tune.[1] The IFA based their decision on the precedent from the UEFA decision regarding Billy Boys and Rangers in 2006.[27] There was doubt expressed by fans as to how the IFA would enforce the ban on the Marching Through Georgia tune if it was used in a song other than Billy Boys.[28]

Lyrics edit

Hello, Hello
We are the Billy Boys
Hello, Hello
You'll know us by our noise
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood
Surrender or you'll die
For we are
The Brigton Billy Boys[29]

The 'Derry Boys' were a smaller, youth faction of the Billy Boys, and the original version used the term Brigton Billy Boys in its place.[30]

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d "Irish FA bans 'Billy Boys' song for Linfield fans". BBC Sport. 16 April 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Evil faces of Glasgow's gangsters revealed". The Scotsman. 19 July 2004. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 30 January 2007.
  3. ^ a b Bessel, Richard (2000). Patterns of Provocation: Police and Public Disorder. Berghahn Books. pp. 45–47. ISBN 157181227X.
  4. ^ Petrol bomb pensioner shows old gang hatreds die hard, Janey Godley, The Scotsman, 6 January 2008
  5. ^ "Resistance to fascism". Glasgow Digital Library. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b Razor gangs ruled the streets but even in the violence of pre-war years, one man stood out, Daily Record, 19 October 2007
  7. ^ Haining, Peter (2007). The Jail That Went to Sea: An Untold Story of the Battle of the Atlantic, 1941–42. Anova Books. p. 54. ISBN 978-1844860500.
  8. ^ a b Davies, Andrew (2013). "11: The Billy Boys in Belfast". City of Gangs: Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster. Hatchett UK. ISBN 978-1444739787.
  9. ^ McIlvanney, Liam (2011). All the Colours of the Town. Faber & Faber. pp. 69–70. ISBN 978-0571278510.
  10. ^ "Hurrah! Hurrah! We are the Billy Boys / We are the Billy Boys". Glasgow Guide. 12 April 2006. Archived from the original on 31 January 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  11. ^ "Performing Sectarianism: Terror, Spectacle and Urban Myth in Glasgow Football Cultures" (PDF). Goldsmiths, University of London. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 April 2014. Retrieved 18 April 2014. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Flint, John (2013). Bigotry, Football, and Scotland. Edinburgh University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0748670369.
  13. ^ Jack O'Sullivan (14 July 1999). "Scottish FA stands by its coach". The Independent. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  14. ^ "'First steps' on end to bigotry". BBC Sport. 14 February 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2007.
  15. ^ "Rangers revive traditional songs". BBC News. 4 August 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  16. ^ "Bigotry a Scottish problem – Uefa". BBC Sport. 13 April 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  17. ^ "Rangers told to axe 'Billy Boys'". BBC Sport. 9 June 2006. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  18. ^ "Rangers fined after Uefa appeal". BBC Sport. 24 May 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  19. ^ "Bigotry Bill: Fans told the songs they can't sing". Daily Record. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  20. ^ "Panorama – Scotland's Secret Shame transcript". BBC. 27 February 2005. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  21. ^ McNally, Brian. "Why Rangers fans must put the Billy Boys song to bed". The Mirror. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  22. ^ a b "Rangers fans sing sectarian Billy Boys song at Queens Park game". Scotzine. 30 December 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  23. ^ Queen's Park 0 Rangers 1: Onwards and upwards, The Herald, 30 December 2012
  24. ^ "Union flag erected by Linfield fans at Dublin stadium". News Letter. 6 March 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  25. ^ "Linfield to make history at Rangers". News Letter. 13 April 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  26. ^ Black, Rebecca (13 September 2013). "Loyalist flag protester Jamie Bryson defends alleged singing of sectarian 'Billy Boys' song". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  27. ^ "'No more Billy Boys' – Linfield". UTV. Archived from the original on 18 April 2014. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  28. ^ "Irish FA bans the "We are the Billy Boys" song". When Saturday Comes. Archived from the original on 18 April 2014. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  29. ^ "The bitter divide". BBC. 2 June 1999. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  30. ^ "The history of Glasgow's street gangs: Brigton's Billy Boys". Glasgow Live. 13 November 2018.

External links edit