Monday, 8 February 2016

We've Got To Talk About Billy

Silence speaks volumes, often saying something unintended to the wrong people, encouraging them to think that silence is tacit approval.

The near silence of the traditional Scottish MSM on bigotry seems to empower many (on all sides) who seem slow to tackle it. This undermines the argument that silence helps defuse the issue. In fact, events intermittently remind us that the issue stays on a slow burner, exploding every now and again, such as last month, when the casualties included two journalists, Graham Spiers (who wrote an article condemning bigotry in songs sung at Ibrox) and Angela Haggerty (who tweeted solidarity for Spiers), whose services The Herald dispensed with after complaints from The Rangers.  The Herald's legal advice was that a contention made by Spiers could not be defended with any guarantee of success in court. 

Graham Spiers alleged that someone at the club had suggested The Billy Boys was a great song (the words to the version sung by Rangers fans being originally sung in the 1930s in praise of Glaswegian razor-gangster Billy Fullerton, a member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and indeed the founding member of the Ku Klux Klan in Scotland).

The melody of this song was originally the tune to Marching Through Georgia, a marching song celebrating the 1860s American Union Army’s marching through and liberating Confederate Georgia, freeing slaves.

The catchy tune was popularised and adopted by others all around the globe as far as Japan, India and the UK. It was adopted then its lyrics adapted by followers of Billy Fullerton’s razor gang in Glasgow in the 1930s. It was they who introduced the song at the football ground they attended, Ibrox, home of Glasgow Rangers. The song subsequently spread through the crowds there over time until it became one of the main Rangers anthems, despite it containing the line, “up to our knees in Fenian blood”.

Because many in the Rangers tradition have an affinity with Protestant King William of Orange who, in their view, saved Ireland (and indeed Britain) from Catholic King James 11 in 1690, the song The Billy Boys is presumed by many to be a celebration not of a 1930s sectarian, fascist-supporting razor gang, but rather the monarch of 1690s Britain and Ireland. So, it is argued by many Rangers fans, that The Billy Boys is not about fascists or the Ku Klux Klan member at all, but about King Billy.

(NB. The Ku Klux Klan past of Billy Fullerton is where The Klan references on social media come from. The term Klan is arguably fairly used when it is describing anyone with an expressed sympathy of Ku Klux Klan member Billy Fullerton through song. That he was a member of the KKK is a matter of historical record. Klan is never a term that should apply to all Rangers fans by any stretch. Indeed, journalist Angela Haggerty has made this good point many, many times, as has Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. It’s ironic too that many complaining about the use of the term Klan are disturbingly comfortable using the term Bheast, often using it to describe all Celtic fans, somewhat diluting the validity of their moral outrage felt at the use of Klan).

Many Rangers fans among my family and closest friends genuinely had no idea about the Billy Fullerton connection of The Billy Boys anthem. But that wasn’t their trouble with the song. Regardless of which Billy it is about, it still contains lines of sectarian hatred. Hence, it is deemed legally offensive.  Hence, it is not sung approvingly by anyone with genuine disgust of sectarian hatred.

The tune to this song is undeniably rousing and almost tailor made for being sung by a crowd. If anyone had been praising this element of the song then that would simply be a matter of musical taste and uncontroversial. Indeed, a Rangers friend wondered perhaps if someone originally praising it might subsequently deny doing so for fear their appreciation of the tune being mistakenly taken as sympathy with the lyrical content in the adaptation sung by a subsection of (i.e. not all) Rangers fans.

The Rangers is not the only club with a problem with a subsection of its fans. All clubs have to employ the most effective deterrent with offensive or sectarian songs – and that’s self-policing. This subsection however is vocal, as anyone who’s heard The Billy Boys being sung at Ibrox can attest. One can imagine the looks a fan next to a large crowd of other offensively-singing fans might get if he/she suggested politely that they desist from the singing when it is in full flow.  Yet it is people willing to make that suggestion to their fellow fans that need the support of the club, and fans groups. That same principle (of clubs & fans groups supporting those willing to self-police) applies throughout football to all clubs.

Unhelpfully, a number of Rangers fans who one might imagine would be keen to take a lead in confronting anything that reflects badly on their club, including sectarian singing, appear to be in denial that The Billy Boys is being sung after years of it being more or less absent from Ibrox (due to some good under-the-radar work by the old Rangers). Some disingenuously even contended that the words Fenian Blood were replaced by the term EBTs (a reference to the side deals the old Rangers paid some players with), that last denial embarrassing even some Rangers fans who were there. If the term EBTs was being used, it appeared to have been drowned out those not sticking to that script.

Some fans have put a lot of energy and activity recently into chasing down folks considered to have spoken out unfairly in their view about the issue of sectarian singing, and thereby damaging their club. One can only hope then that an equal amount of energy and activity is going into calling out the actual singing of sectarian songs and the attitudes behind it which are as damaging as anything.   

No comments:

Post a Comment