Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gers and Hoops, oh my!

Last night, while hanging out with upstairs Scottish neighbors, I learned that we can see Ibrox -- home of Rangers FC -- from the flat!!! Of course, said Scottish neighbors are three floors above me, and so they have a much better view of it, but just the fact that I can see it, even a smidgen, from my room makes me quite happy. I hadn't realized that Ibrox was so close!

Football (soccer) is a really, really big deal in this town. I'm having trouble thinking of anything else that quite compares in the States. Maybe the Leafs in Toronto (though I realize, not the States). Or OSU football in Columbus. But even then, it's still not on quite the same level of insanity. As my new Scottish friend put it last night, in Glasgow, priorities go "football, then religion, then politics."

Though in Glasgow, football and religion are very closely linked. The two big teams are Rangers and Celtic, respectively Protestant and Catholic. This is not a light distinction; there are over a hundred years of religious strife between the two teams, that actually boiled into legitimate bigotry (apparently for decades, Catholic players weren't allowed to play for Rangers). And then there's the social designations that each team seem to carry (again, as explained by my Scottish neighbor). Celtic supporters are the Catholics, largely working-class, living in the lower-income, rougher neighborhoods of the city (the East End, mainly). Rangers seem to be a bit hipper, kind of the "cool" kid in town -- supported by the posher, more well-off Protestant population.

So in addition to the actual sports side of it (imagine if Yankees/Red Sox, Eagles/Cowboys, OSU/Michigan, etc, played in the same city and caused a huge division in its population, dividing it in two), you have this component of seemingly-sanctioned religious discrimination and racism (most of the Catholics in Glasgow -- though this is probably a sweeping generalization -- came from Ireland and were working class, and a lot of the prejudices, from what I gather, stem from that). It's really, really fascinating, especially because in the UK/Ireland, Catholicism and Protestantism isn't just about religion, it then brings in this whole other component of unionism versus anti-unionism (as in Ireland/Northern Ireland, not like labor unions). So there are quite a few heavy undercurrents for something that should just be kicking a ball about.

Because it's so heated, there's been a lot of Old Firm (the nickname for Rangers and Celtic, collectively) related violence over the years, blatantly displaying allegiances is frowned upon. They say that if you go to Quebec, you don't talk separatist politics with the locals, unless you're a scholar or someone with legitimate knowledge. Well, in Glasgow, you don't talk footie unless you're sure you can back up everything you're saying. You also don't wear Rangers or Celtic shirts in certain parts of town, and not in the way that "you wouldn't wear a Giants shirt to a Eagles game, because someone will pour beer on you." It's more here that someone will stab you. They don't mess around. And almost all the bars/pubs I've seen have big signs outside of them stating "NO FOOTBALL COLOURS." Not shirts, but colors.

Logic would dictate that because I'm Catholic, I'd support Celtic. But for now, I think I'll support whoever won't get me stabbed.

(It's hard to see in the small picture, but Ibrox is that white structure, located under that big lightpost. You can see it better if you click on the picture to see in full-size.)



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