Monday, May 25, 2009

Night of the living neds

(City Chambers, George Square, Glasgow)

"A Glasgow stabbing is more fun than an Edinburgh wedding," runs a popular saying, and my informant tells me Glaswegians say this with pride.

I got out of town before the celebration worked its way to full steam, but I expect occasional acts of yobbery happened in honor of Glasgow Rangers' wrapping up the Scottish Premier League soccer title on Sunday.

Championship games seem to follow me around. On Friday, I joined a boatful of Leinster fans on the Belfast-Stranraer ferry heading for Edinburgh to watch their team play for the Heinken Cup in rugby (They conducted themselves well, though an Edinburgh acquaintance complained that a Leinster fan accidentally bopped her in the head with a flag.) And last year, I wandered into Dublin in time to witness what may have been the greatest team performance in the history of hurling.

(Holyrood Park, Edinburgh)
That same head-bopped Edinburgher replied (good-naturedly, I think) to a Glaswegian's comment about her adopted city last week. "Don't, she wrote, "be led too far astray by those cunning Glasgwegian types." So yes, I learned something of the rivalry between Scotland's two largest cities. (For more insight than I can offer on the passions stirred by Scottish sports, see a long, thoughtful comment here.)


© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Unfortunately someone was murdered by a sectarian mob in Coleraine N.Ireland following this Scottish Premier League championship decider. I think you have to be Scottish or Irish to understand the depth of rivalry between these two teams. I think there is nothing like it anywhere else in sport.

May 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I feared that violence might happen between the time I wrote this post and the time it appeared; I had heard that the Celtic-Rangers rivalry was the worst in sports. The revelry in Glasgow seemed to be building slowly. A few hours after the game, I'd seen just a few loudly celebrating fans. I wondered what might happen if anyone gave them some lip.

May 25, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

I'm very sorry to hear that.

May 25, 2009  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

I had a flat in Glasgow for more than a year when I was stationed on a Navy tugboat at the U.S. nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland in 1974-1975.

I had been told that Glasgow was a rough town, but having come of age in South Philly in the 1960s I felt at home there.

I also served a year previously in Southeast Asia and I walked down some very mean streets in Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Phillipines, so Scotland did not seem too rough for me.

I did not have any trouble with the Glasgow locals until a "football" match between England and Scotland produced a threatening pub crowd.

I was in the pub with a Scottish girlfriend and I told her to leave and I looked for a good weapon to fight about a dozen drunks.

One of the sports fans approached me with a great, drunken snear and asked "Are you English?"

"I'm American," I said with some arrogance and I stood my ground.

"He's a fookin Yank," the sports fan yelled to his friends, and then he turned and politely explained the unfriendly natural of sports rivalry in Glasgow.

I called my girlfriend back in and we had a few rounds with the sports crowd.

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Rather an odd feeling to see quoted myself above the line!

To be fair to the Leinster fan, I don't think he was being violent on purpose. (The moral of the story is to be careful when attaching large flags on sticks to rucksacks.)

And yes, I was joking. Though I've heard quite a few people whose opinons I generally value complaining about the "West Coast mafia." They seem to view the possibility of Scottish independence with concern, not because the concept is unviable, but out of fear that decisions will be made in Glasgow and the central belt though the parliament is here. (I'm not sure I know enough about the situation to comment either way.)

As far as football goes, Glasgow Celtic was set up in the model of the Edinburgh "Irish" team, Hibs, and I believe proceeded to poach a number of players. But Hibernian's Irish Catholic heritage is much more diluted, and I'd argue the local derby in Edinburgh is a bit more about location and class than religion. There's still match day violence (and I'm told the 80s were nasty), but I don't think it's embedded in wider society to the same extent.

Mind you, I have friends who can't believe shiny cultural Edinburgh has an underbelly. I've had people tell me Trainspotting was set in Glasgow...

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Re: Rangers/Celtic, they actually rearranged the fixtures so that the title wouldn't be decided in a derby match, because of fears it would be impossible to police.

Here's a comment on the aftermath of the earlier match:

Alcohol and sectarianism are a nasty mixture.

That said, Glasgow's a great city which really doesn't deserve to be defined by its football 'fans.'

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I think American sports fans' celebratory violence tends to be characterized by anarchic, destructive outbursts. It lacks, as far as I know, the ugly political and sectarian edge one sometimes gets in European soccer (football).

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, that's a terrific story, and I hope you and your girlfriend enjoyed your drinks. Perhaps the threat of violence rippling beneath the surface sharpened your enjoyment.

I especially like it that the sports fan's polite explanation of his belligerence. No, wait. That's pretty chilling, isn't it?

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, I'm just as apt to associate Glasgow with this guy and the Kelvingrove Museum and Scotland with all the writers and philospohers honored with statues. I don't think we do much commemoration of writers in America.

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yikes, Lauren, I didn't mean to suggest the Leinster fan had clouted you intentionally. I'd taken you to mean you were bopped by someone who got carried away by celebration. I rode over on a Belfast-Stranraer ferry full of Leinster fans, and they were generally a well-behaved lot.

Your post answers some questions that I asked during my brief visit: about rivalries between cities and regions of Scotland and about whether sectarianism extends beyond football. To the latter question, I got a decided no.

Crime-fiction readers ought to know from reading Ian Rankin about Edinburgh's dark side.

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Paul Davis said...


Well, I knew from the dark looks and low chatter that the drunk football fans were gearing up to jump me.

Fortunatly, I had a good number of drinks in me, so I didn't worry all that much (and I was young then).

I was more concerned about my girlfriend, although she might have taken one or two of the boys herself in a fight. She was a Glasgow girl, after all.

My pub mate (once he discovered that I was not English) was polite as well as matter-of-fact in informing me that had I been English they would have stomped me bloody.

But to be fair, at that point in my life I saw far more violence in South Philly than I saw in Glasgow or anywhere in Scotland in those two years. Most of the Scots I met were good people.

Compared to Philly, there was not much violence or crime.

When I installed a deadbolt lock on my flat's door my Scottish girlfriend made the comment that the added security was truly not needed.

"This is no Philadelphia," she reminded me.

May 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Dark looks and low chatter." Hmm, it's the premeditation rather than the violence that lends the story its chilly edge, the idea that these guys were fully in control and prepared to choose their targets.

So it's the women one has to look out for in Glasgow, is it?

May 26, 2009  

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