By Kenneth Roy
In its apology to Celtic Football Club for using the word ‘hated’ in a headline reference to the club’s manager, the Daily Record said that it opposed intolerance. Most newspapers would say the same. But is this assurance altogether supported by the facts? It seems that hatred is not confined to Neil Lennon. Where football is concerned, it spreads itself about.
After yesterday’s editorial, a Scottish Review reader, Mark Reilly, drew my attention to an incident earlier this month in which sectarianism was not the issue, but a contagion just as poisonous: an excess of patriotism. The incident concerned a Mr Blom. I confess that, until Mr Reilly told me of his existence, I was unaware of Mr Blom or of the indignation he had aroused in over-sensitive Scottish breasts.
I now know that he was the referee of a football match between Scotland and the Czech Republic in which, according to the Daily Record, he denied the Scottish side a penalty to which it was entitled while awarding the Czechs a penalty to which it was not. The match ended in a draw, as a result of which the Scots’ presence at a football tournament called ‘Euro 2012’ was cast into doubt.
Mr Blom – again according to the Daily Record – ‘incensed the nation’ with these alleged errors. As a citizen of the nation in question, I do not recall being incensed by Mr Blom. I cannot own up to so much as a mild irritation. As I say, I knew nothing of Mr Blom until yesterday. I have spoken to others in this office and they too admit to a state of ignorance and indifference.
Mr Blom appears to be human. That’s pretty obvious. He is also Dutch, which may be slightly less obvious. The following day, when he arrived at Glasgow Airport for a flight home to the Netherlands, he was approached and followed by a representative of the Daily Record who demanded explanations for his refereeing decisions. Mr Blom replied reasonably enough that he was not allowed to discuss them. It is possible that football officials, unlike tabloid newspapers, are bound by certain rules.
The Daily Record chose to interpret Mr Blom’s refusal to answer its demands as a further affront to a nation already incensed by his activities. It ran a story claiming that Mr Blom was both ‘shame-faced’ and ‘arrogant’ – always a tricky facial contortion to pull off. It further claimed that he had been ‘preening himself’ but that he had now ‘fled the country’.
This was the headline over the story:
We can see you sneaking out! Most hated man in Scotland, Dutch ref Kevin Blom, dodges questions on Hampden howlers
It tells us what happened when the team won. What happened when it lost? It describes in a few lines an individual disfigured by an obsession.
Where does the use of the word ‘hated’ or of the term ‘fled the country’, as if Mr Blom were a fugitive from justice, leave the Daily Record’s assurance that it opposes intolerance? As our correspondent Mark Reilly writes: ‘Most hated man in Scotland? Over nothing more than a game of football? We really are a dysfunctional society if this is what we are prepared to accept from our so-called popular media’.
It might be said in the referee’s favour – I am surprised it has not occurred to the Daily Record as a mitigating factor – that he united the nation, with the exception of the odd people who work for the Scottish Review, by bringing together otherwise rancorous football supporters in a common cause: a hatred for Kevin Blom. But the only expression of hate for which the Daily Record has apologised so far this month is its now notorious reference to Neil Lennon.
A second letter received in response to yesterday’s editorial brings us back to sectarianism. We suggested to the author that, for her own protection, it should be published anonymously. She agreed. This is the letter in full:
Congratulations on the article. It hits the spot with me.
I was an Old Firm widow, but thankfully I had the strength and courage to leave and not put up with it any more. I believe that you are correct regarding the media adding fuel to the underlying fire of the West of Scotland disease.
Every weekend I would get Sky Sports on mute for those important snippets of information, radio on to listen to the bile spouted by ‘educated journalists’ and the carry-out in (always start early, mind). Then we would get to an Old Firm weekend. The above x 100. Carry-out before the pub, off to the pub to listen/watch the game if no ticket was available.
I knew all the players’ names, knew every game inside and out, waiting and hoping that they scored. He would be a happy drunk then. But even that wouldn’t stop it. There would be a celebratory drink (or five), wondering if what money we did have would make it home, wondering if I’d get an earful for being the progeny of a mixed marriage, and that’s if they won.
This topic needs to be out there, and thanks for making Scottish Review part of it.
Among the many points of interest about this letter is its quality of under-statement; the sense of things left unsaid. It tells us what happened when the team won. What happened when it lost? It describes in a few lines an individual disfigured by an obsession. Beyond that, it gives us a painful, all too credible glimpse of a society of deep emotional immaturity. And it is frank about the culpability of the media – a culpability that extends far beyond the machismo of the Daily Record.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review