Do Politics Belong in Football? the Case of Celtic F.C.

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Maureen MCBRIDE, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
In recent years, debates surrounding the question of whether politics can be legitimately expressed in the context of football have been reinvigorated in Scottish society. In 2016, the Scottish national side, along with the English national side, were fined by FIFA for displaying the remembrance poppy symbol on their strips in a World Cup qualifier, in breach of a rule which prohibits 'political, religious or commercial messages at football matches'. Football supporters are subject to similar restrictions, particularly in Scotland, where the contentious Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (2012) Act criminalises, among other behaviours, forms of political expression.

This paper draws on my recently-completed doctoral research: a qualitative exploration of the meanings and experiences of football supporters in the West of Scotland. Through semi-structured interviewing and ethnographic observations, the research uncovered binary representations of football supporters as ‘roughs’ and ‘respectables’, as supporters for whom football is a site for alternative political expression are routinely marked out and treated differently from 'respectable' supporters by the authorities. This paper focuses on participants’ narratives regarding how they internalise and in some cases resist these stereotypes, reclaiming football as a space for class solidarities and alternative political expression. The paper focuses specifically on a sub-section of supporters of Celtic Football Club who engage in expressions of support for Irish Republicanism. It explores how their football affiliation is bound up in their understandings of their national, ethnic, social class, and political identities. Given the current political context, as Scotland's place in the United Kingdom is increasingly insecure, participants' narratives offer an important insight into how complex identities are made sense of in a time of significant political, socio-economic and cultural change.