‘Crossing the divide’: The experiences of Asian football fans in Glasgow

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Over the last few months CEMVO Scotland have established a partnership with Rangers Football Club, with the aim of strengthening relationships between the club and Glasgow’s diverse communities.

Asian Image spoke to two fans to hear of their personal experience of supporting Celtic and Rangers.

Faisal admits that visiting Ibrox on matchdays “back in the day” was not a particularly pleasant experience.

The son of a South Asian migrant reflects, rather vividly, attending home games in the nineties and being subjected to racist abuse by some of the club’s supporters.

He recalls: “I’m not going to lie, walking down the Broomloan Road was hostile. I would be racially abused. I would be told ‘my kind’ wasn’t welcome. Sometimes they didn’t have to say anything, the looks and stares would be enough to put you off. It was hatred.

“Despite this I would still encourage some of my other [Asian] friends, who supported Rangers, to come with me. They would come the once and never return. They found it very intimidating.

“But I didn’t let the abuse put me off, if anything it made me even more determined. I used to go with a Scottish guy and he would always back me up.”

A combination of a young family and work commitments means visits to Ibrox are not as regular as they used to be. However, he feels that he would not necessarily have the same concerns for his son or daughter going to see Steven Gerrard’s side on a Saturday afternoon.

He added: “Back then you would have groups like the BNP selling their newspapers close to the stadium. That wouldn’t happen in 2019. Well I hope it wouldn’t! There were hardly any black faces on the pitch let alone the stands. That’s not the case now. Glasgow, Scotland has moved on from 20, 25 years ago.

“My son’s favourite player was Madjid Bougherra. Here we had a Muslim, who was brown skinned and he could relate to him in a way I never could [to a player] when I was younger. “I grew up whispering I supported Rangers. For my son it’s a completely different story.”

Faisal states that as soon as he reveals his football allegiances especially to other Asians, he would often be asked how could someone from an [ethnic] background support Rangers?

He explains: “First and foremost I’m a supporter on footballing reasons. I grew up with the Nine In A Row team. I’m talking about the likes of Ally McCoist, Jorg Albertz, Gazza and Brian Laudrup.

“I didn’t really understand the politics of Northern Ireland, the role of the UDA and UDF. I didn’t really understand the significance of the songs. At the time I was desperate to fit in. I was just happy that it was another group or community that was being targeted.

“The club is doing as much as it can to be more inclusive. Every team has its minority of fans who have a cave man mentality. But I do feel that there is more scrutiny, a double standard when it comes to Rangers. “It has worked with the likes of Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC) and Kick It Out. I have taken my family to the finals of the Asian Football Championships at Ibrox. The Rangers Charity Foundation gets involved with local schools and community groups as well as the likes of Unicef. But you guys [the media] never cover that.”

The divide between Celtic and Rangers is split predominately along Catholic and Protestant lines. There is some anecdotal evidence that the Asian community is split along religious lines regarding Scotland’s two biggest football teams – also known as the Old Firm. Indian Sikhs favouring Rangers with Pakistani Muslims supporting Celtic.

Community Group Boots and Beards organised a viewing of the Old Firm clash back in December 2018 with a traditional South Asian desi breakfast thrown in.

This season Scottish football has witnessed a number of sectarian and race related incidents, as well as anti-social behaviour including coins being thrown at players and managers, rival fans ripping out seats and throwing them at each other along with pitch invasions. Justice Minister Humza Yousaf has warned clubs to get their ‘house in order’ or face the prospect of the Scottish Government stepping in.

When abused by some Rangers fans in February, Kilmarnock manager Steve Clark, addressed the media and said: “They are not allowed to call my assistant (Alex Dyer) a black b****** but they can call me a fenian b********. What are we doing in Scotland? Where are we living? The Dark Ages?”.

Later that month SRTRC held an event highlighting the need for anti-racism education throughout Scottish football. In addition, the Fare Network, pointed out that a flag of the former founder of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, was unfurled at Ibrox, whilst video footage also emerged of Hearts supporters chanting his name with their faces covered.

Ali a Celtic fan since his childhood says his affinity with the team is both on footballing and non-footballing grounds.

“My father came to the UK from Azad [Free] Kashmir in the 70s,” he says. “He initially settled in London before moving to Glasgow. This was during the ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ era. Asians had an affinity with [Irish] Catholics.

“My father was a typical Asian in that he wasn’t a football man. He liked cricket. But when you come to Glasgow you have to choose between Celtic or Rangers. My father would be asked ‘are you Catholic or Protestant?’ He would say ‘I’m Muslim’. He would then be asked ‘yeah but are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim?’.

“He chose Celtic because their colours of green, white and yellow were the same of those associated with Pakistan and Kashmir. But for me supporting Celtic goes beyond football. I 100% buy into Celtic’s mantra of a club created by ‘immigrants for immigrants”.

He adds: “In my opinion Celtic fans are more open minded and left wing in their outlook. With Rangers it’s the whole ‘Rule Britannia’ ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Union Jack aggressively shoved in your face. That puts a lot of Asians off.

“Young Muslims in particular prefer Celtic because of the pro-Palestinian displays by supporters along with opposition to [British] imperialism and colonisation. But it’s not just international issues. You have Celtic fans helping local asylum seekers and refugees settle into Scotland through football.

“That’s not to say I have not heard racist comments at the matches. I personally don’t agree with the pro IRA chants. But overall I have more in common with the average Celtic supporter compared to others.”

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