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Soup of This Day #257: I Know More Than I Knew Before

October 22, 2012

Hampden Park 1920
Hampden Park, the cathedral of Scottish football. Now with a capacity of a shade over 50,000, this hallowed ground housed crowds that exceeded 150,000 in the 1930’s. As well as the being the home of the Scottish national team the ground also houses the Queens Park Football Club – The only amateur outfit in the Scottish League. Their motto is the brilliant Ludere Causa Ludendi, which roughly translates as ‘to play for the sake of playing’Photo: Unknown, 1920. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Religion and I are passing acquaintances only.

For sure, it’s not your random ships that pass in the night kind of thing – More the relationship of folks who live across the street and offer a companionable nod from time to time but not much more.

Which is an appropriate analogy for me because I grew up across the street from a church and its attendant buildings. The priest often offered a wave as he drove or walked past and he never seemed to complain as we fished out footballs, tennis balls and even frisbees from his front yard. For all that I don’t recall him ever dropping by to visit us and I can’t remember a conversation that went past a request for empty bottles for recycling drives.

Our swimming club used to collect empty glass bottles that could be exchanged for valuable funds. I have fond memories of the musty smell of aged and empty port flagons. As it happens, I don’t like port so maybe it’s fitting that my favourite kind of port flagon is an empty 1.

For the record, I don’t recall the priest having that many bottles and I think they were largely soft drink 1s – No copious volumes of port for him.

And no family.

He was a Roman Catholic priest and so his house and grounds had a lonely, almost deserted air to them. You might even say spooky, but that was more a product of my natural superstition born of horror films – The quiet, forbidding church yard, with a screen door creaking in the wind, a small pile of Mellow Yellow bottles out for collection and what I thought was the tallest pine tree in the world. It was Picnic at Hanging Rock, only without the rock.

Or the picnic.

So I tended to avoid the place. I only visited the church once and that was for a funeral. My parents were agnostic and didn’t force the issue, leaving it up to me to make the call, without much of a hint as to what they believed in.

Although Dad did like to fire up his chainsaw on Sunday mornings. Or the lawn-mower. And now that I recall it, he did seem to spend an excessive amount of time revving either of those up in concert with what I believe was the Sunday service.

So it’s safe to conclude that I’m not really your theological go-to guy. This however is a sporting blog and religion can be found in sport as surely as the Pope is Catholic. There’s a stark example of this in Scottish football.

The game as played by the Scots is a fascinating thing to behold. It somehow marries dour practicality with exuberant flair and comes out with an idiosyncratic simplicity that feels new and comfortable at the same time. There’s a quirkiness, with some pitches so sloped that teams seek the benefit of going downhill in the 2nd half and there’s a toughness, with conditions bordering on Arctic at times.

And there is a strong thread of religion, particularly in Glasgow, where the 2 most prominent sides are Rangers FC and Celtic FC, known collectively as the Old Firm. Those 2 leviathans of the Scottish football landscape are separated geographically by less than 5 miles but they might as well be a world apart.

Celtic you see had its genesis in the Irish Scots community. The very Catholic Irish Scots community. It’s still quite common to see the Irish tricolour being waved by Celtic fans.

Meanwhile Rangers has a largely Unionist base. A very Protestant Unionist base. It’s still quite common to see the Union Jack being waved by Rangers fans.

We’ve all seen how well that has gone down in Northern Ireland.

Obviously I don’t have a solution for all of that discord. What I thought I’d try to do in this post though is to educate myself on what it is exactly that Catholics and Protestants are so divided over. So this next bit is my trying to understand the basic theological differences, hopefully without appearing to take sides or to offer criticism.

Even with those good intentions there is an even money chance that I’m going to end up in purgatory (If the Catholic folks are right) or go straight to Hell (If the Protestant people are on the money).

Because that is a key difference – Catholics believe that if you’re essentially a good person but that you’re just a little short of the entry requirements for a life of eternal bliss with God in Heaven, then you get to hang out in purgatory. There you can attain purity via a sort of penance – Purgatory being a temporary sort of squaring of the ledger.

Protestants do not believe in that kind of thing. For them there is no penance and no supplementary exam – If you don’t meet the standard it’s off to Hell. Where it’s not very nice but the heating is at least always on.

Why the difference?

Well, purgatory isn’t really covered in the Bible. This then is the nub of the divide – Protestants sheared away from the Catholic church because they hold a little more strictly to the testimony of the Bible and they felt that a number of Catholic concepts were taking liberties interpreting that earnest tome.

For instance Catholics venerate Mary, whereas Protestants argue that she hardly features in the Bible and that to pray to her is idolatry. Mary you see, is either an unwelcome distraction from a person’s relationship with God or, as God’s mother, a conduit by which you can better know God.

So revered by Catholics is Saint Mary, that many of their churches bear her name, including 1 in Calton, Glasgow. It was in that St Mary’s church hall that Irish Marist Brother Walfrid constituted Celtic FC on the 6th of November 1887, primarily to raise money for food for poor children.

It was a noble start for Celtic (pronounced Seltik) although I’m not sure how well they got on with the charity. I can tell you how well they got in with the football though…

Bloody brilliantly.

Of the 116 Scottish top-flight football titles since the 1st in 1890, Celtic have won 43 of them and been runner-up a further 31 times. They have also notched up a record 35 Scottish Football Association Cups, a staggering 27% of the 128 editions of the world’s oldest national soccer contest.

Rangers were formed by a quartet of rowing enthusiasts who witnessed a game of football being played and presumably decided that it was better to play a sport where you didn’t have a decent chance of drowning if you fell over. That epiphany struck them in 1872 and it proved to be a providential 1 for Rangers FC have won 54 Scottish top-flight football titles, finishing 2nd a further 30 times. In Scottish FA Cups they have been bested by Celtic but only just, having secured 33 triumphs.

So between those 2 venerable rivals they have won 97 of 116 League titles, leaving just 19 for the remaining clubs in all of Scotland. Indeed, the 1984/85 season was the last to feature a winner from outside the Old Firm – Aberdeen being the victor then.

That’s the good narrative. The not so good can be summed up by the 1980 Scottish FA Cup Final, which featured the Old Firm playing at neutral Hampden Park. The game itself was tight and it took a Celtic goal in extra time to separate the 2 giants. Which is just football – The real battle began after the final whistle when joyful Celtic fans invaded the pitch to celebrate. A core of Rangers fans reciprocated, albeit with little in the way of celebration in their hearts. A riot resulted and it was memorably described by commentator Archie MacPherson:

‘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.’

Ignoring the obvious hyperbole – Passchendale was a World War 1 battle that bloodily claimed north of 450,000 casualties – the word that jumps out here is ‘hate’.

That can’t be healthy.

Fortunately the Old Firm war is, as of this season, on an enforced hiatus. This is because, in an effort to keep up with Celtic, Rangers got themselves into financial difficulty. They were subsequently wound up and after some to’ing and fro’ing were allowed to reform as a new Rangers entity with entry to the 4th tier of the Scottish League, where they play along with Scotland’s oldest football club and the only amateur team in the league, Queens Park FC.

This does mean that the chances of an Old Firm derby are now greatly lessened. Which is probably bit frustrating for their supporters. I do have something to help ease that bitter adjustment though…

Rangers supporters might find it therapeutic to hang around outside Celtic matches, revving lawnmowers and chainsaws.

I Know More Than I Knew Before

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