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Spiers on Sport: Celtic, a Roll of Honour, and point-scoring galore

A pretty remarkable thing has happened in Scottish football in recent days - the Celtic fans have in effect just stormed the national charts with 'Roll of Honour', the Irish rebel song.

The song, recorded by The Irish Brigade, laments the fate of the IRA hunger strikers who died in the Maze Prison in 1981, and cites all 10 of them as the verses unfold.

It is a song which a more politically-active section of the Celtic support has chanted and, in this current scenario of national chart success, is aimed at cocking a snook at the confused - some say plainly botched - Offensive Behaviour At Football Act in Scotland.

Celtic fans and many more believe the act is a draconian hammer of free speech, and complain of police harassment in their home and on their way to matches. They have deliberately campaigned for 'Roll of Honour' to be given a Britain-wide airing in order to highlight their grievances.

The campaign has been a success, and is yet another example of how football fans, if they can get their act together, can take on the establishment and have their voices heard.

But this is not the half of it. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this 'Roll of Honour' saga - notably from a few Rangers fans on social media who have been working extremely hard at dredging up their revulsion.

We can very quickly cut to the chase here…what exactly is 'Roll of Honour'? There are two diametrically opposing views on this, and each claims to the gospel truth of the matter.

Celtic supporters say the song is a lament, a ballad, commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the others in their struggles on behalf of Ireland. In this definition, Sands is a heroic martyr.

Some angry Rangers fans see it very differently. Their narrative has no time for the "Irish martyr" stuff. This song, they claim, openly celebrates murderers, pure and simple. In this definition, Sands is a terrorist.

I don't need to labour the point about Rangers, Celtic, and the Irish stuff. In both supports, historically, there has been a songbook overspill from The Troubles and the entire Irish Question.

As embarrassing as it is to many, the IRA, the UVF and the rest of that bloody story has filled many an hour of chanting by Old Firm fans, though there is evidence in recent years that this has diminished.

In this particular case of 'Roll of Honour' what we have seen is a classic case of confected anger, of faux outrage by a few Rangers fans which has been totally transparent. It is this very obvious charade which has caused Scottish newspaper editors, in the main, to totally ignore the story.

Nonetheless, the question should still be asked: do we want or need this sort of stuff being chanted by Celtic and Rangers fans?

Some Celtic supporters love 'Roll of Honour' and its respect for the IRA. Some Rangers fans love and sing 'Build My Gallows', a song on the very same subject, except its message is in reverse - it's about going off to fight the IRA.

On and on this pantomime goes, of blow and counter-blow, revulsion and counter-revulsion, outrage and counter-outrage.

I've had a quick check of recent columns I've written on this business. I'm on record as saying the IRA stuff among some Celtic fans is "deplorable", "detestable" and "cack". Nothing in recent days has made me change my mind on that.

On the other hand, I'm perfectly aware that "the Irish question" has divided politicians, writers and thinkers for nigh-on 100 years. Narrative and interpretation are the very keys to this vexed story.

Which is why I respect the right of certain Celtic supporters to severely disagree with my own view of some of their polemics.

And I'll take no lectures from anyone - Rangers fans or anyone else - who happily insist that interpretation is nothing, that the age-long dispute among writers and thinkers about Ireland is an artifice, and that terrorists are terrorists, end of.

The fact is, the truth of this political saga reaches way beyond football fans and their phony outrage and cyber point-scoring.

Ironically, while 'Roll of Honour' has stormed the charts, the Green Brigade have made an unexpected reappearance at Celtic Park, to be lauded by Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager.

This is also quite confusing - because not 10 weeks ago this bellowing group of Celtic fans were evicted by the club due to some of their antics.

Celtic FC continue to struggle with their identity, their tradition. They want the Green Brigade - Lennon loves them - but not their Irish politics. The club loves their chanting, but not their Bobby Sands displays.

There is no end to this. Football wants politics kept at arm's length, but football fans across Europe - not just in Glasgow - are having none of it.

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