Running towards the sound of gunfire.

My old Chairman at the Scottish Premier League, an ex Sir Humphrey type mandarin at Whitehall, called Lex Gold, told me so many things of value. I was young, and he’d seen it all, at the highest level:


Never run towards the sound of gunfire, young man.

For some bizarre reason, I’ve never followed Lex’s advice too much. Must be small-man syndrome.


This is an article I’ve always shied away from, as I never felt I was smart enough to give it a go. Or good enough as a writer, even if I was. But more than that, it is a subject matter where the odds of the author getting out alive are not high. The stench of the gunpowder and noise of the guns should indeed deter any assault. That would be Lex’s smart play.


But seeing my club’s stadium full of Palestine flags on the same days as the horrors of last week’s attacks leave me no option.


Regardless of all the rights and wrong of Middle East history and injustice, this was, at very least, not the day.

Not when you saw the glee of the attackers, under that flag, in Israel, in Iran, in various European capitals, celebrating what was nothing short of massacre and evil. Those were the bodies of innocent people, dragged around like cows in an abattoir.


And we are flying those same flags on the same day, justifying it?

I care too much about Celtic, and its story, to not know that this was going to be a damaging horrendous “look” for the club, on an international stage much bigger than Glasgow’s petty tribes and obsessions.

This Sunday Column is not about identifying the good and bad guys in the Holy land. That’s impossible.


It’s about politics and sport.

And about a club founded gloriously for oppressed Irish immigrants, in Scotland, as a sanctuary from sectarian discrimination.


Celtic is a great club, with one of the most impressive backstories, on and off the field. It is a badge, a brand, I have carried in all my travels, with pride. Well, almost always.


This week would be one of those exceptions.


Fanatics (fans in sport’s case), by definition, live their lives with 10-word certainties of truth. They are not beasts of nuance and complexity. However, we do not live in a world of absolutes.


The world, especially under the character limit of Twitter, loves easy bombast, and the worst and most base versions of ourselves have in this way come to dominate society.


Sorkin, via Bartlett, explains all this very well:


Absolutes always come with body counts.

Ten Word Answers – “The West Wing” – Presidential Debate


If bad blood exists for millennia, in anything, it’s usually because both sides have a decent argument.
I personally feel very confident, having worked in Israel for 4 years, and known in depth so many Israelis, that I could argue either side of the argument with credibility and, perhaps, even end up winning for either side, at the Oxford Debating Society.



is like a house in a street, where every single neighbour has taken a blood oath to burn the house down and kill all inside.
If that was your house, your family, you’d feel entitled to go to any means to defend your family.
Your debate would throw in the obvious never-dying anti-semiticism and the Holocaust.



has had its rightful lands taken away from it, and its people are now forced to live in an open air prison,
where they are given the minimum food and energy, like goldfish. It’s hell on earth.


Israel, when you spend time there, hits you as a misunderstood place. Many of the towns are already Arab, like Nazareth and Bethlehem. The oxymoron Arab Israeli absolutely exists. Most Israelis, all who are fully exposed to the deadly reality of their situation, through military service, are extremely conflicted by their governments stance. Bibi Netanyahu is fairly universally detested it seems. This below tweet from Jewish American comedienne Sarah Silverman is what I heard for 4 years. It’s the best summary I saw in these days.




Zealots and tribes never like any of this balance
in their angry certainty.

They feel comfort and belonging in falling back on their absolute truth. Indeed, when one reflects, you rarely see a truly intelligent decent person fanatical about anything, aside from their football team. Mature worldly people know that there are a lot of very very bad things committed, often by what most would consider the good guys, in the name of national security. Any recommended reading list would include Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.


P.S. All this nuance is also true of Ukraine and Russia. Once again, I’d feel confident of debating the case for Russia not being the only bad guy here. Not that I believe that necessarily, I’m no Putin apologist, but there is enough evidence for me to argue my case with credibility.


A large section of Celtic fans instead see only black and white, which, with green-tinted glasses, translates perfectly into the famous hoops. The Celtic Board in these days put out a statement, that frankly they had to… Celtic is, my God, a listed investment vehicle.


Banners displayed in a section of Celtic Park prior to Saturday’s game do not represent the views of Celtic Football Club and we disassociate ourselves from them. We condemn the display of such messages at Celtic Park. Celtic is a football club and not a political organisation. One of our core values from inception is to be open to all regardless of race, colour, politics or creed. That is why the Club has always made clear that political messages and banners are not welcome at Celtic Park, or any match involving Celtic. At a time of loss and suffering for many, it is entirely inappropriate for any group of individuals to use Celtic Park as a vehicle for such messages. We call on all supporters, regardless of their personal views, to unite in backing our players and the club while respecting the rights and beliefs of others; particularly those whose lives are affected by violence and hatred.


This did not go down well with that section of the fan base known as the Green Brigade.

Celtic have always had this problem. Their fans, or part of them, have always been susceptible to the freedom fighter narrative, most obviously the IRA. This is a club whose history is intrinsically linked to the Irish Famine, the British occupation of the 6 counties of Ulster, and the armed struggle for a United Ireland. It’s clear, then, that the Palestine cause is a natural bedfellow. It’s in their DNA to attack “occupiers and repression” everywhere.


We all know this story.

Any child of the 70s in Glasgow is going to have a very acute sense of what were the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Glasgow was Belfast without the weapons, and we all lived what it meant. Split apart, as Catholics and Protestants, when sent to segregated schools at 5. We felt every tremour across the water from all that went on, from Bloody Sunday to Bobby Sands. The gut-churning horrors of say Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987, where war veterans were blown up.


Every weekend, in Glasgow, the Troubles were replicated at Celtic and Rangers, amid the chants of Fuck the Pope, and Up the Ra. At Saturday night parties, often the guy with the guitar would eventually slip into the “rebel songs” about taking back the 6 Counties, re-uniting Ireland, getting rid of the “occupiers”. All this was a very big part of my generation’s Glasgow Upbringing.

Most of us however weren’t zealots. Weren’t into the “revolution”. Especially when the bombs went off.


High profile Southern Irish also were getting to the end of their tolerance of the “revolution”, the idea of a united Ireland.


Here is Bono of U2, in the USA, in his pomp.



U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday

Some years later in 1994 the Irish band Cranberries released Zombie, another anti-Troubles song. An “enough-is-enough” song.


Dolores O’Riordan, the lead singer said she was not taking sides (exactly like this article) and the song expressed disgust at atrocities committed in the name of Irelandby some prick, some airhead, who thought he was making a point.


My thoughts exactly this week
seeing those Palestine flags in Glasgow.

The Celtic Board statement didn’t go down well.


Zionists and Tories out. The club was born as a political organisation! It belongs to the fans, not you. We believe in supporting the oppressed, this is from where our club was born.


I followed all of this on Twitter, some of it directed at me, and all I thought of was Animal Farm. How quickly the wires of good-intentions can get crossed in time.


The very difficult truth for the owners and Board of Celtic is this. They have let, over the years, an increasingly rabid and intolerant section of the fanbase become acutely politicised. I would argue that this is also a reaction to the fact that Celtic as a sporting force, internationally, is no longer what it once was. The tribe on its travels gets slapped down everywhere now. That hurts pride. What has now replaced it, IMHO, is hard-core strident politics. We may not be good at football, but by God we know our Gramsci.


Generally, as football polarises, and so many teams now have very little chance to compete on the biggest stages, this will become more common. Finding a cause. A tribe needs purpose. Often simply a common enemy. The tribe needs to shout at someone in anger.


The Green Brigade is now so out of control to be considered by me as an obvious Fifth Column inside the club itself.


One beacon of hope.

In all this sectarian context, there was always one shining light for me in this tragedy. One beacon of hope.

The Irish rugby team played as one country, seemingly in total harmony. In the era of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley, this to me seemed like some kind of divine intervention of peace. A white dove of sanity. For this reason, whilst I’m not a rugger bugger, I’ve always loved the Irish national team.


Then, in what I still consider the most positive geopolitical event of my lifetime, rivalled closely only by Mandela, the Tony Blair government brokered a peace deal in Northern Ireland, on Good Friday 1998. We have since lived 25 years in relative peace.


Now, in an absurd irony that makes you wonder how long this world has left to spin, the amazing success of the Irish rugby team in the World Cup, together with the adoption of Zombie as a cute fan anthem, has stirred up old overly bitter tensions about right, and wronged, in those years. If the “partition” between the two Irelands should go. The glory of a United Ireland. This story made the FT.


The peace in Ulster is fragile. Nutters still exist.

Sport and its industry we can see is utterly joined at the hip with geopolitics, and it is going to dictate its future so completely, well beyond the very unfortunate events at my club this week.


One suspects however that religion will continue play a dominant role in it all.


Israel and Levant is all about religion. The Jew, the Shiite, the Sunni. In Glasgow and Belfast, the Catholic and Protestant.


All of this preoccupies my thinking on the lake, as I see no escape from an inevitable tragedy of what will be the big geopolitical challenge of this generation. Europe needs young workers, Europe needs money. Both of those will inevitably come from Islam countries.


It is what MBS of Saudi calls the Arab Renaissance.


This video below is the most dramatic any of us can watch today, and will utterly dominate the future of the sports industry by consequence.
Tobias Jones, the editor of my book, on the same theme, wrote this last week.


The battle for births: how the far right are exploiting Italy’s ‘demographic winter’ | Italy | The Guardian.


Toby’s analysis is correct, and immigration of young North African Muslims is inevitable. Where I’d perhaps disagree, is in how easily old Europe, and especially Italy, takes to this multiculturalism. It will not be facile for Italy, which has the strongest culture of any country.


Italy has exported progress and knowledge to the world twice, from Rome and then Florence. The Italian way of life, the Catholic DNA, their family values, all has very deep roots, and it will not gently and willingly merge with religious opposites.


We go into very troubled waters.

Sport, and young kids playing it, is born pure. It wants nothing to do with all this ugliness in the world.


Wishful thinking. Sport’s popularity is power, and has always been used by those that seek to change things. Sometimes, blessedly, it’s used for good.


The most obvious example, twice, has been South Africa. In bringing the apartheid regime to the table after being excluded from global sport; and then being used by Mandela to bloodlessly bring a country together, embracing the Springboks.


The Green Brigade should study Mandela.


One of Mandela’s most powerful acts of forgiveness occurred shortly after his release from prison in 1990. Instead of seeking revenge on his former oppressors, he worked to build a new South Africa based on equality and reconciliation. He famously said:


As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.


Nothing good comes from hate.

To Celtic fans cheering on, as Palestine flags created a theatre of death, I’d say:


Forgive them Father,  for they know not what they do.

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