Sectarianism in Glasgow

Supporters of Celtic (left) and Rangers during an Old Firm match at Celtic Park in 2008. The Union Jack flags signify the Unionist culture of many Rangers supporters.

Sectarianism in Glasgow takes the form of religious and political sectarian rivalry between Roman Catholics and Protestants. It is reinforced by the fierce rivalry between Celtic F.C. and Rangers F.C., the two football clubs known as the Old Firm, whose support is traditionally predominantly Catholic and Protestant respectively.[citation needed] A 2003 report for Glasgow City Council indicated that people clearly believe "sectarianism is still prevalent in Glasgow", but that members of the public were divided on the strength of the relationship between football and sectarianism.[citation needed]


From the fifth century, Scotland was a Roman Catholic country; however, after the Protestant and Scottish Reformations, Scotland adopted Presbyterianism (the Church of Scotland) as its state religion.[1] Due to economic hardship, many Irish Catholic emigrants settled in the east end of Glasgow, leading to increased competition for employment and housing and, in some instances, antagonism and conflict between competing groups.[1] In addition to this, rife religious discrimination and established social networks augmented the tension between Protestants and Catholics.[1]


Deaths and serious assaults have been directly linked to sectarian tensions within the city.[2][3][4] Many of these have occurred either before or after Old Firm football matches. The murder in 1995 of Mark Scott, a Celtic fan, by Jason Campbell resulted in the formation of the anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth.

In June 2003, after the publication of the Scottish Executive's Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland,[5] Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 was implemented. This set out the situations when a criminal offence was aggravated by religious prejudice.[6]

In 2004 and 2005, sectarian incidents reported to police in Scotland increased by 50% to 440 over 18 months. Scottish Government statistics showed that 64% of the 726 cases in the period were motivated by hatred against Catholics, and by hatred against Protestants in most of the remaining cases (31%).[7][8]

In the five years before 2011, annually there were between 600 and 700 charges of an offence aggravated by religious prejudice in Scotland.[9]


Sectarianism in Glasgow is visible in the rivalry between the supporters of Glasgow's two main football clubs, Celtic and Rangers, together known as the Old Firm. One study showed that 74% of Celtic supporters identify themselves as Catholic, whereas only 10% identify as Protestant; for Rangers fans, the figures are 2% and 65%, respectively.[10] At Rangers' Ibrox Stadium, the Union Flag and Ulster banner are often displayed, whilst at Celtic Park, the Irish tricolour prevails.[10] During the late 19th century, many immigrants came to Glasgow from Ireland, of whom around 25% were Protestant and around 75% Roman Catholic. The foundation of Celtic, a club with a distinct Irish Roman Catholic identity, was crucial in the subsequent adoption by Rangers of a Protestant, Unionist identity.[11] From the early 20th century onwards Rangers had a policy of not signing Catholic players or employing Catholics in other roles.[12][13][14][15] Particularly from the 1970s, Rangers came under increasing media pressure to change their stance,[16] despite several of the club's directors continuing to publicly defend the position.[11]

In 1989, Rangers signed Mo Johnston, their first major Roman Catholic signing.[17] Johnston was the highest-profile Catholic to sign for the club since the World War I era, although Rangers were actually signing Roman Catholics before Celtic FC were formed.[12][18] Since Johnston's signing, an influx of overseas footballers has contributed to Catholic players becoming common place at Rangers.[19] In 1999 Lorenzo Amoruso became the first Catholic captain of the club.[20]

One Rangers spokesman used the term "90-minute bigot" to explain part of the problem of religious bigotry among supporters and suggested this bigotry should be dealt with first.[21]

While the majority of Celtic fans are Catholic, some of the key figures in the club's history (Jock Stein, Kenny Dalglish, and Danny McGrain amongst others) have come from a Protestant background.[22]

In recent times, both Old Firm teams have taken measures to combat sectarianism. Working alongside the Scottish Parliament, church groups, pressure groups such as Nil by Mouth, schools and community organisations, the Old Firm have endeavoured to clamp down on sectarian songs, inflammatory flag-waving, and troublesome supporters, using increased levels of policing and surveillance.[23]

Both Celtic and Rangers have launched campaigns to stamp out sectarian violence and songs. Celtic's Bhoys Against Bigotry, Rangers' Follow With Pride (previously called Pride Over Prejudice) and the cross-club Sense Over Sectarianism campaigns have attempted to reduce the connection between the Old Firm and sectarianism.[24]

In August 2003, Rangers launched its 'Pride Over Prejudice' campaign to promote social inclusion, which has urged fans to wear only traditional Rangers colours and avoid offensive songs, banners and salutes. This involved publishing the 'Blue Guide', known as the "Wee Blue Book", which contained a list of acceptable songs and was issued to 50,000 supporters in August 2007.

Research, however, suggests that football is unlikely to be the main source of sectarianism in Glasgow. An audit from the Crown Office in 2006 of religiously aggravated crimes in Scotland between January 2004 and June 2005, found that 33% of these were related to football. Given that 57% of religiously aggravated crimes in Scotland happened in Glasgow, at the very most approximately half of religiously aggravated crimes in Glasgow could have been football related in this period.[6]

In 2011, Celtic staff and fans, including then-manager Neil Lennon, were sent suspected explosive devices and bullets. [25][26] Subsequently, Dr John Kelly of University of Edinburgh suggested that "Recent events have buried the myth that anti-Irish Catholic bigotry no longer exists."[27]

Orangeism and Irish republicanismEdit

The Orangemen of Glasgow (members of the Protestant Orange Institution), parade in the city around the historic date of the Twelfth (12 July), commemorating the victory of King William of Orange's Williamite army over the deposed King James Stuart's Jacobite army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 following the Glorious Revolution two years earlier. Irish republican marches use much the same format to commemorate various important dates in the history of Irish republicanism, such as the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the 1981 hunger strike. The two main Irish republican organisations in Glasgow are Cairde na hÉireann and the West of Scotland Band Alliance, both of which claim to represent Irish republicans in Scotland. These marches are often a source of tension (and are now subject to stricter controls as a result), with each side accusing the other of supporting Northern Ireland-based paramilitary groups such as the Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army or Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.[28]

According to The Review of Marches and Parades in Scotland by Sir John Orr, of the 338 notified processions in Glasgow in 2003 nearly 85% were from Orange organisations (Orr 2005, p. 67).[29] A report into parades in Glasgow from Strathclyde Police in October 2009 highlighted the increased number of common, serious and racially motivated assaults associated with the marches. These included assaults against the police. There was also a rise in arrests for weapons possession, vandalism, breach of the peace and street drinking.[30]

A series of developments during the 2010–11 football season has led to an intense public debate over the question of the nature and extent of religious sectarianism in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) government has responded with a new piece of legislation which has been widely criticised and has prompted some commentators to speculate about a political ‘own goal’. This article provides a guide to the debate around sectarianism and its historical and political dimensions. It also suggests that the Irish roots of the problem in Scotland should be properly acknowledged, and that a possible way forward could involve cooperation between Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland within the structures and procedures of the British–Irish Council (BIC).[31]


Steve Bruce, who has studied the decline in religious adherence in Western Europe,[32] says surveys comparing people's ideas about sectarianism with their actual day-to-day personal experience show that the perception of sectarianism is much stronger than its occurrence in reality, and that the city's problems with health, education and social exclusion are of much greater daily concern to most Glaswegians.[33]

Bruce also found that less than a third of one percent of murders in Scotland over nearly two decades had any sectarian motive, and those that did were the result of football allegiances, not religion or ethnicity.[34]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "History of sectarianism". May 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Sectarian killer who slashed Celtic fan now up for parole". The Scotsman. 9 January 2010.
  3. ^ "Violent reminder of sectarianism". BBC News. 22 September 1999.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "Sectarianism : Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland" (PDF). Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Use of Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 – Religiously Aggravated Reported Crime: an 18 Month Review" (PDF). Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  7. ^ Carrell, Severin (28 November 2006). "Catholics bear brunt of Scottish sectarian abuse". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2006.
  8. ^ "Row over religious crime figures". BBC News. 27 November 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 27 September 2011. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  10. ^ a b "Sectarianism in Glasgow". Glasgow City Council. January 2003. Retrieved 24 August 2006.
  11. ^ a b Armstrong, Gary & Giulianotti, Richard (1 June 2001). Fear and loathing in world football. Berg Publishers. pp. 25, 26. ISBN 1-85973-463-4. Retrieved 15 August 2012. Primrose with associated with the most virulent anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment, and was openly allied with the orange order.
  12. ^ a b Murray, William J. (2000). The Old Firm: Sectarianism, Sport and Society in Scotland. John Donald Publishers. pp. 60, 64, 65, 189. ISBN 9780859765428.
  13. ^ Giulianotti, Richard (1999). Football: A Sociology of the Global Game. John Wiley & Sons. p. 18. ISBN 9780745617695. Historically Rangers have maintained a staunch Protestant and anti-Catholic tradition which includes a ban on signing Catholic players.
  14. ^ Gallagher, Tom (1987). Glasgow, the Uneasy Peace: Religious Tension in Modern Scotland, 1819-1914. Manchester University Press ND. p. 300. ISBN 9780719023965. Retrieved 18 August 2012. The conflict in Ireland failed to be the catalyst which swept the religious cobwebs from the Ibrox-based club's terraces and boardroom. One of its managers even had no qualms in the 1970s about urging his players to roar out the loyalist battle-cry 'No Surrender' as they ran up the tunnel at Ibrox.
  15. ^ Souness, Graeme & Gallacher, Ken (1989). Graeme Souness: A Manager's Diary. Mainstream Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 9781851582242. For years Rangers have been pilloried for what the majority of people saw as discrimination against one section of the population. Now we have shown that this unwritten policy at Ibrox is over. It's finished. Done with.
  16. ^ Archer, Ian (11 October 1976). "Ian Archer says...". The Glasgow Herald. p. 3. They are the only club in the world which insists that every member of the team is of one religion.
  17. ^ Laing, Allan (11 July 1989). "Ibrox lands double coup with johnston". The Glasgow Herald. p. 1. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  18. ^ Kuper, Simon (2006). Football Against the Enemy. Orion. ISBN 978-0-7528-4877-8.
  19. ^ Kuper, Simon (18 March 2012). "Decline and fall of the Old Firm". New Statesmen. Archived from the original on 11 November 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012. In the past 15 years, both clubs have tried to stamp out bigotry, largely for pragmatic reasons. The IRA guff puts off sponsors and when the market in foreign footballers opened up in the 1990s, the old prohibition on signing Catholics became irksome for Rangers. Many of the foreign players who have since come to Glasgow must have struggled to remember whether they were playing for the Protestant team or the Catholic one.
  20. ^ "Former Old Firm Italians give their take on derby clash". 7 October 2009. Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2012. I've been Rangers' first Catholic captain
  21. ^ Kennedy, Doug (14 February 2005). "'First steps' on end to bigotry". BBC News. Retrieved 14 January 2007. Lawrence Macintyre, head of safety for Rangers FC, said: "There's a thing in a football ground called a 90-minute bigot, someone who has got a friend of an opposite religion next door to them. But for that 90 minutes they shout foul religious abuse at each other and we've got to handle in the first instance the 90-minute bigot."
  22. ^ Wilson, Richard (2012). Inside the Divide: One City, Two Teams... The Old Firm. Canongate Books. ISBN 9781847679673. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  23. ^ "Who's getting cuffed today?". Sunday Herald. 24 April 2005. Archived from the original on 30 August 2008.
  24. ^ "Bigotry puzzle for Old Firm". BBC News. 11 October 2001. Retrieved 30 August 2006. Celtic and Rangers have teamed up to support a campaign to fight religious bigotry. But the Glasgow football rivals admitted they did not know how they can go about eradicating sectarian chants among their own supporters.
  25. ^ "Neil Lennon bomb police probe fifth suspect package". BBC News. 26 April 2011.
  26. ^ "Annabel Goldie shows racism the red card". Scottish Conservatives. January 2011. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2011. Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Annabel Goldie MSP described bullets sent to Neil Lennon and a number of Celtic players as “racism and sectarianism”.
  27. ^ John Kelly: Scotland's Shame is alive and kicking - News -
  28. ^ "Marches may be banned in Glasgow". BBC News. 23 February 2005. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  29. ^ "Review of Marches and Parades in Scotland" (PDF). Scottish Executive. 2005. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  30. ^ "Police chief: 'too many' marches". BBC News. 1 October 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  31. ^ Walker, Graham (1 April 2012). "Scotland's Sectarianism Problem: Irish Answers?". The Political Quarterly. 83 (2): 374–383. doi:10.1111/j.1467-923X.2012.02296.x. ISSN 1467-923X.
  32. ^ Bruce, Steve (27 January 2011). Secularization: In Defence of an Unfashionable Theory. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780199584406 – via Google Books.
  33. ^ Bruce, Steve (15 February 2005). "Beware myths that tarnish 'sectarian' Scots". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 3 January 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2006.
  34. ^ Bruce, Steve (24 April 2011). "Scottish sectarianism? Let's lay this myth to rest – Steve Bruce". The Guardian. London.

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