Guest writer David McSweeney with a piece lauding the humanitarian gestures of some sportspeople in the face of hypocrisy from the hierarchies that employ them.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black power raised fist salute during the 1968 Olympic Games 200m medal ceremony; both men paid a huge personal cost for bringing the world’s attention to the plight of their fellow citizens. Theirs was a peaceful and dignified act. The revenge of those who opposed the two athletes was to make their ability to earn a decent living post the Olympic Games all but impossible.
Looking at a picture of Smith and Carlos in a recently bought sports book, I thought of two young Irishmen, professional soccer players, who have been very brave and dignified in not being bullied into abandoning their political principles and values. The two young men in question are Anthony Stokes and James Mc Clean. I would respect them I suppose because I share their Irish Republican politics. As with Smith and Carlos some have called for the two young footballers to have their careers wrecked, for in Mc Cleans case standing up to Poppy fascism, in Stokes case paying respects to, and supporting, the family of a deceased friend of long standing from his native city.
Following Celtic is becoming an increasingly confusing pastime for me. Nir Bitton, a Celtic first team player took to twitter recently during Israel’s mass murder in Gaza. Bitton posted a prayer that is recited for the support and wellbeing of the Israeli Defence Forces, his approval of the unfolding slaughter was made clear. Silence from the Celtic FC hierarchy.
Billy McNeill is one of my all time football heroes. McNeill's father served with the hated Blackwatch Regiment of the British army, never influenced my idolising of him, because as Willie Maley one of Celtics iconic figures said “it is not his creed or his nationality that matters, but the man himself”. I added “or who his relatives are” - that bit into the equation in my own mind. Maley was a passionate supporter of the British royal family away from his football duties.
McNeill holds the role of Official Club Ambassador with Celtic Football Club. During the Scottish Independence referendum the Lisbon Lions captain involved himself in politics in a blatant way. Mc Neill gave his name to a Scottish Soccer Eleven for a No vote. He was also splashed across media outlets calling for a No vote. It should be noted that in doing so he aligned himself with such hate groups as the Orange Order and the BNP. Silence from the Celtic FC hierarchy.
I took my young son to the 2014 Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs annual Charity dinner in June. We shared a table with a brilliant group of people from Buncrana, Belfast and Glasgow. Jim Craig, a Lisbon Lion, and frequent participant on official Celtic FC media outlets spoke to the audience. What is worth noting is that to finish off his words he told a yarn with the punch line “tell those English bastards nothing”. There was an uneasy silence at our table. One of the guys present commented “that made Kris feel very welcome no doubt”. It was a reference to one of the Celtic players, Kris Commons, who had got a massive ovation from the crowd on his introduction to the top table. Commons is a class player but more importantly he and his family have been top class people in recent years in the compassion they have shown to people who have suffered much. Commons was born and bred in England even though he represented Scotland through his paternal grandmother; I am sure he feels affinity with England and the English.
Ian Bankier, Chairman of Celtic spoke on the night also. The moment he stood up he gave off the vibe of “Tory Boy” from the “Fast Show” sketches. Bankier exuded arrogance. The Celtic Chairman was there to welcome people and thank them for their continued support, end of. Instead he gave a personal history the centrepiece of which was his pride in his British military lineage.
Anthony Stokes was officially disciplined by Celtic Football Club in 2012 for attending a function to raise money for the dependants of a friend of his from Dublin who had been murdered. Anthony would not betray his friends memory, neither would he see the man’s two infant children suffer when he was in a position to help. That is to his eternal credit.
James McClean was living the dream as a professional footballer when he refused to wear the poppy. James put on the line an earning capacity to make the eyes water, Heroic, Honourable, Brave.
While watching a member of the Bloody Sunday British military killers on the recent BBC programme Who won the War say he has no regrets for what he did that day and add “he would do it again”, I thought of James McClean. The young Derry player was not going to honour a lowlife such as this.
Fair play to James and Anthony, Fair play. Both men have faced death threats for their Irish Republican politics, and in Stokes case multiple racist attacks on his home. Unbowed, Unbroken.
A certain lad’s birthday came up a couple of weeks ago. Usually a staple of the pressie would have been the hoops, this year he had a choice. The jersey of a local club embedded in the community was chosen. Droggie will be proud.