I WANTED to begin this homily by comparing football to Marmite but felt the equal love-hate split was mathematically inaccurate.

Where Marmite, like Brexit, is loved by half the population and hated by the other half, football I would say is loved by four-fifths of men and, at the time of going to press, one-seventh of women (and growing). Don’t ask me to show my working on this. It’s way over your head.

If you’re a fifth of a man or six-sevenths of a woman, fear not, for I am not about to discuss football as sport but as sociological phenomenon, ken?

I witter thus in the wake of numerous incidents off-the-pitch, involving flares (and, last weekend, a coconut for reasons no one understands) being thrown, fans coming onto the pitch and confronting players, racist insults and general bad form.

This week, Hibs announced they were enhancing their CCTV and exploring the use of sniffer dogs to prevent drugs and flares being smuggled in. All perfectly understandable, even if it makes attending a match feel like going in for a stretch at Sing Sing. The moves follow incidents in which a bottle was thrown at a Celtic player and a fan came on to the pitch to confront a Rangers player.

But you’d have thought all that was necessary to identify a bottle-thrower was the naked eye, whether that of the stewards, police or fellow fan. As for running on to the pitch, this was one crazed individual.

It’s the same with racist insults. One individual in a crowd of 20,000 shouts something inane and, next day, it’s all over the papers. It wasn’t that long ago that 19,999 would have been shouting racist insults.

But you get this over-the-top, pious reaction. It’s the equivalent of the news reporting: “Women are bad drivers, a man down the pub claimed last night.” Who cares?

At Hibs’ rivals Hearts, meanwhile, part of the ground housing a seething sea of bile is to be closed down. This, again, is perfectly understandable, but of course these leading intellectuals will just congregate elsewhere.

You don’t have to be a leading intellectual to figure out that all the flare-throwing, bottle-bunging and pitch-invading could be prevented by high, protective fencing. You see this all the time at foreign grounds but in Britain its use, as I understand it, was banned after the Hillsborough disaster.

However, surely it cannot be beyond the wit of four-fifths man to devise a collapsible or folding fence which could be let down if there were a perilous crush and fans needed to come on the pitch for safety. In these days of all-seater stadiums, that’s hardly a likely scenario anyway.

While the players have no segregation from the fans, opposing supporters are segregated from each other, which has made the climate of hate worse because they can threaten each other with impunity. In the past, they could get at each other, particularly at half-time when fans switched ends.

All of this hostility is encouraged by the primeval chanting, reminiscent of the Zulus in the famous 1960s film. It’s pre-battle taunting and bravado, wretched up from deep in the DNA of man. Mind you, some singing is funny, my favourite of recent years being by Fulham fans about their striker, Zamora, who’d a habit of ballooning the ball over the bar. To the the tune of That’s Amore: “When you’re sat in row Z/And the ball hits your head/That’s Zamora.”

But, otherwise, another factor in fan frustration must be that the game itself has become desperately dull, with interminable passing of the ball backwards – something that attracted boos in the past but now occasions only yawns.

I long for the days when the ball was routinely booted up the park towards the opposing goal, something that only happens in the last few minutes now when a team is so desperate it has to consider the option of scoring a goal.

I also long for the days when men would go to the Hibs ground one week and Hearts the next purely for the joy of watching football. Today, it has become more like war, and likewise is probably best enjoyed on television.


SHOCKING claims have been made by author Salman Rushdie that he was “groped” by Margaret Thatcher, the late Prime Minister known for being somewhat prim. Worse still, according to Rushdie, she spanked Christopher Hitchens.

The claims were made during an interview on American television, where Salman said: “I have a little experience of being sexually violated by a powerful politician. In my case it was Margaret Thatcher.”

He explained: “The thing that people don’t know about Margaret Thatcher is that she was very touchy-feely. You’d sit with her, and she’d put her hands all over you. I had this meeting with her, and she was, like, pawing at me, and I thought, ‘I’m being groped by the Prime Minister.’”

The late, great political commentator Hitchens got it worse after writing something she didn’t like. According to Rushdie, she called him “a very naughty boy”. Then: “She made him bend over, and she spanked him with a rolled-up magazine.”

Nearly half-way into the month and I still keep checking for April Fools. Still, I suppose it adds a human side to Lady Thatcher, while lending credence to the metaphor of her molesting and spanking the nation.


OUTRAGE has unsurprisingly been expressed at someone scratching graffiti on one of the standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar, in Orkney.

I share that outrage, while also feeling a bit odd about it. I’ve visited the Ring many times and, when there, always look for the Viking graffiti on one of the stones: “Bjorn”, someone’s name. It adds a thrill to think of someone carving this so many hundreds of years ago.

It’s the same at the nearby Neolithic chambered tomb, Maeshow, which is festooned in Norse graffiti, some of it lewd and libidinous, and offering little to our understanding of ancient times.

My favourite is a message that was carved high up near the ceiling of the chamber. Surely, archaeologists thought, this will tell us something interesting. It reads: “Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up.”

At least it showed that Scandinavians then were as prosaic as they famously are now. However, what was all right then is not all right now, particularly since the single word carved at Brodgar recently– a foreign name by the looks of it – is neither thrilling to us now nor likely to aid the understanding of folk centuries hence.


MY sympathies are with the women in Kirkliston, west of Edinburgh, who is at her wit’s end with the chimes of an ice cream van getting on her wick.

How this tinny tintinnabulation is still allowed in this day and age is a mystery. Surely, one loud blow on a bugle, or perhaps a short burst of operatic singing from the van man, should suffice.

Unsurprisingly, in today’s yahoo-dominated world, commentators online have rallied behind the racket. One said with typical grammatical imprecision: “Are you too posh for an ice cream van to come around your scheme is that the problem?”

Another sought to widen the debate: “While yous are aw at it can u put in a complaint about the church bell cause am stick of being woke up at 11 on a Sunday rough as tatties, cheers.”

This particular ice cream van is accused of advertising its health-sapping presence at the loudest volume, indicating a lack of sensitivity that is surely unusual in such a noble profession.

It’s also well observed that such vehicles don’t pollute wealthy suburbs, whose residents don’t eat ice cream and sweeties, or at least would never be seen queuing up to buy them so publicly.

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