FORMER football commentator Archie Macpherson has called for an “open and bold” debate on Catholic schools after saying he does not like separating children at the age of five.

Macpherson, who is writing a book on sectarianism and the Old Firm, said the issue of faith schools is a “hot potato” but insisted there had to be “plenty” of discussion on it.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church hit back: “The right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs is a universal human right. Suggestions that Catholic schools somehow contribute to sectarianism are unfounded, deeply unhelpful and offensive. There is not a shred of empirical evidence to back up such claims.

"Since sectarian anti-Catholicism long predates the existence of Catholic schools in Scotland, the schools cannot be the cause of it. Catholic schools exist in dozens of countries around the world, including England, nowhere else are they charged with being the engine of intolerance.”

Macpherson, who is now in his 80s, was a highly-regarded football pundit who commentated on dozens of Old Firms matches over the course of his career.

He held the microphone during the notorious 1980 Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Celtic at Hampden, which included a riot and fights at the end of the match. Both clubs were fined, more than 200 arrests were made, and the ban on the sale of alcohol at matches that was introduced afterwards persists to this day.

As the scenes of mayhem broke out, he said at the time: “This is like a scene now out of Apocalypse Now..... We've got the equivalent of Passchendaele and that says nothing for Scottish football. At the end of the day, let's not kid ourselves, these supporters hate each other.”

Macpherson, who was brought up in Glasgow’s East End, was also a teacher in the North Lanarkshire village of Glenboig in the 1950s. Speaking to the Herald on Sunday, he said he hopes his book will be out in the spring.

“Not a sociological book. My own personal experiences of it,” he said.

“There is probably much less sectarianism in professional and working life [than there was], but within the parameters of the Old Firm it is still there. There is still bitterness there. It is all about attitude of mind. Of course, attitude of mind means bigotry.”

However, Macpherson said the conversation had to be wider than football and suggested education must be part of the discussion. Under the 1918 Education Act, Catholic schools were brought into the state system and retained their distinctive religious ethos.

He said: “It is not a case of looking at football, it is looking at society. How do we educate people? How do we bring them together? How do we have social cohesion? We separate children at the age of five. We’ve got to look at that, as well.”

Asked his view on this “separation”, he replied: “I don’t like it. I never have, as a teacher and a headmaster myself, I never liked it.”

Asked about phasing out faith schools, he said: “I think the discussion of it should be open and bold. It should be discussed. One of the aspects of our society is we acquiesce. We don’t question enough.” He added: “What sort of education system do we want in an increasingly secular society?"

He also mentioned a recent column on Catholic schools by Herald columnist Rosemary Goring, who wrote: “Complete integration, however, should be the goal. The building blocks of society must mirror the kind of world we want future generations to inherit. No matter how you look at it, denominational schools have become an anomaly. If sectarianism is to become a thing of the past, then so should they.”

Macpherson said: “I saw Rosemary Goring had a piece in...about these things. These are profound matters that unfortunately spring from looking at the Old Firm.”

His comments come after Tom Wood, the former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders police, called for Catholic schools to be abolished in a bid to end divisions.

Responding to a recent eruption of sectarian violence in Glasgow, he wrote: “I have no doubt that the provision for separate Roman Catholic education . . . was a good idea 100 years ago, but is it acceptable that in the 21st century we emphasise differences by separating five-year-old children based on their parents’ religion?”


Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, responded that Catholic schools were not the reason for the West of Scotland’s sectarian problem.

He said: “Around Europe, and across the world, Catholic schools exist and prosper in societies bereft of the bigotry and intolerance found here. The historical religious divisions that still leave us tainted with sectarian bigotry, pre-date the existence of Catholic schools, so cannot have been created by them.”

Historian Sir Tom Devine, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, backed Kearney’s claims. He said studies had dismissed a link between Catholic schools and bigotry. He pointed to an advisory group set up by the Scottish Government in 2013 found that sectarianism did not have its roots in Catholic schools and that sectarianism would not be eradicated if Catholic schools were to close.