EXCLUSIVE: They are arguably Scotland’s two biggest institutions: Celtic FC and Glasgow Rangers. And six months from now, the two football clubs will bring their storied and intense rivalry to Australia for the very first time. Yet, hidden deep within that history of the Old Firm is a horrid decades-long tale of organised paedophile rings amongst youth football coaches.
Now, ahead of the Australian tour to take place in November, families of the victims of child sexual abuse have spoken out and are livid that their experiences continue to be whitewashed and sports-washed. Gary Johnston reports.
With the news that Scotland’s most celebated – and best supported – football clubs, Glasgow Rangers and Celtic FC, will play against each other in a Sydney tournament later this year, an event widely derided as a marketing ploy, the issue of sporting morality in the so-called World Game, takes on a local flavouring.
Opinions differ but there is a strong feeling afoot that the proposed Glasgow derby game is either a diversion or a straight out money-spinner, and probably both.
Any game between Celtic and Rangers is habitually hate-filled, dangerously tense, permanently volatile. It’s not, never has been, and won’t this time, be a friendly encounter. It will serve no purpose other than turning a buck. A smash and grab.
One of the most famous quotes in the game is attributed to legendary Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, forever acknowledged as the single most influential figure in the development of the club from the lower divisions of the English league to the colossus of world football it is today.
Whether or not Shankly actually made the quote – accounts vary – the background of the grizzled Scotsman would suggest that he knew, as much as anyone could, that whilst football – any sport – was a part of the process of mortality, it was not more important and that the game, and the people within it, had a responsibility to improve people’s lives through the essential values of fairness, humanity and compassion.
Shankly’s experiences, from a Scottish mining village to the killing zones over Dresden he lived through as a RAF airman, inculcated in him, according to Bob Holmes’s definitive biography – Shanks, Yanks and Jurgen: The Men Behind Liverpool’s Rise – key elements of what became and still is known as the ‘Liverpool way’. His own beliefs were described by lifelong Socialist Shankly himself as:
“The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.”
That was then. This is now.
“Super”: The Sydney Super Cup will feature Celtic and arch rivals Rangers, as well as Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers (Image: Supplied)
Regular readers of True Crime News Weekly will be aware that we, alone amongst Australian news outlets, have for some time, reported on the scandal surrounding the Celtic Boys Club (CBC), a feeder organisation for the mighty Celtic FC itself, where over a period of 30 years, numerous young aspiring footballers were sexually abused by officials of the Boys Club, with some perpetrators convicted and jailed, including head coach paedophile James Torbett, currently serving a six year custodial sentence in a Scottish prison, with further charges pending.
A key aspect of the victim survivors and the families of the young men now tragically deceased’s plight, is their demand of Celtic FC to elicit a recognition of how much the parent club knew of the abuse, to accept responsibility for apparent inaction and – crucially – to apologise for its role in hundreds of instances of pain, trauma and blighted life’s.
Despite significant evidence to the contrary, Celtic have consistently denied that they and the Boys Club were intrinsically connected, contending instead that CBC was a ‘separate entity’, any assumed relationship was informal and that therefore, Celtic FC had no part to play, no responsibility, no liability towards those abused.
‘Tragic for sure, but nothing to do with us’, was Celtic’s perpetual, some would say cynical, catch cry.
Pick up the ball, play on.
Continuing the prism of cynicism, many commentators, including this writer, were of the opinion that any acknowledgment of knowledge and obligation could well result in Celtic being financially liable for the proven abuse, leading to compensation claims, a massive financial consequence for a team perpetually building for domestic and European success under their new head coach, Australian Ange Postecoglou.
And this is where the stated views of Bill Shankly, his real views, not those expressed in a possibly mythical sound bite – come into sharp focus.
Legendary Liverpool manager: Bill Shankly (Image: Supplied)
Celtic FC were founded by a Marist priest in 1888 for the expressed desire of ‘alleviating poverty’ in the Glasgow’s multiply deprived East End. Their initial purpose was to provide support and succour to the many Irish immigrants in the industrial city, a cohort habitually discriminated against, destined in live in sectarian penury; Celtic was established in accordance with those values purported by Bill Shankly, those of collective effort, community support and a concept that individuals do not live or work in isolation but can only prosper through cooperation and compassion, humanity, understanding and care.
Oh, the irony.
But as I say, that was then, this is now.
Football is no longer run on charitable grounds, it’s a massive worldwide business, an association of conglomerates, run solely on the basis of success and profit. A club’s roots may have been steeped in good works and benevolence, but those days are long gone, now it’s all about winning and revenue, not people.
Perhaps. But in a recent interview with his one time adversary Craig Foster, the ex-player and pundit who now advocates on behalf of refugees, coach Postecoglou paid homage to Celtic’s history, declaring an affinity with its initial and indeed continued policy of ‘social justice and fairness’.
Not Postecoglou’s fault of course, his responsibilities are restricted to what happen on the pitch, but in this context at least, his words do not bear witness to Celtic’s current behaviour.
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On the 6th of June, a procedural hearing will take place in Edinburgh’s Court of Sessions, the highest in the land, after Judge Lord Arthurson gave permission for 22 (now thought number 40) former Boys Club players to launch a class action claim against Celtic FC, in respect of sex abuse allegations.
(NOTE: Some charges have been confirmed through conviction, others impending and therefore ‘alleged’)
The nub of the argument, now for the first time to be considered in the Civil Court, will focus on the term ‘affiliation’.
The victim survivors contend, that in the words of their barrister, Ian Mackay QC, Celtic FC and the boys club were ‘intimately connected’; Celtic claim as they relentlessly always have, that the organisations were ‘separate entities’.
‘Group proceedings’ as these actions are known, are a relatively recent occurrence in Scots Law, having only been introduced in 2020, but the legislation now opens the door to class actions, something previously denied to Scottish individuals of limited means.
The claim, said to total multi-million pounds, will also, it is felt by the victim survivors, provide some level of closure in that, for the first time, Celtic FC will admit that they – certain individuals within the club, some still alive – knew about the abuse of the boys.
Celtic FC manager Ange Postecoglou has a chat with Craig Foster and Mark Bosnich (Image: Stan / Supplied)
Discussed it. Considered it, even in some cases, were appalled by it.
Did nothing about it.
No reports to the Police, no Child Protection Investigations, nothing.
And tragically, disastrously, the abuse continued.
Under the auspices of a Section 11 Court Order, the identities of the class action members must remain anonymous, but some members were prepared to talk in confidence to True Crime News Weekly about the significant evidence they intend to produce, establishing, in the words of their brief that:
Complicating the issue is the significance of social media. Victim Survivors have used various outlets to spread the story, honouring the legacy of ex boys club members now dead, but this has in turn, opened them up to criticism, threats and abuse.
Many Celtic fans on Twitter etc have castigated the group action as a money grab, telling the victims to ‘just get on with life’ and that their pursuit of Celtic is motivated by jealousy, resentment and – bizarrely – their support for Rangers FC, Celtic’s local rival, destined for Sydney in November.
If the claim was against a church organisation, a religion, a school, or any indeed any other football club, would the victim shaming / blaming be as blatant and loud?
Would deflection and avoidance of responsibility be tolerated then?
Ah, but, you see, this is football. Those community values are long gone. The alleviation of poverty is a thing of the past, even if poverty itself, isn’t.
The clubs are marketing monoliths. They are worldwide corporations run at the top level at least, by billionaires, oligarchs, Arabian royalty, retail tycoons, venture capitalists, investment brokers and asset strippers.
Not many of them care too much about the poor. Or, for that matter, the abused.
But the fans. The people who pay their gate money or their subscriptions to TV based games, they should – must – care.
The defenders of the Catholic Church in Australia, amply demonstrated by the supporters of convicted and then freed on appeal Cardinal George Pell, were rightly typified by blind obedience, unthinking, complaint automatons who lacked the ability to determine right from wrong due to their affinity with an organisation who knowingly failed a duty of care.
Is your average football fan equally deluded, equally easily brainwashed? Equally cult-like?
Answers on a postcard please.
If they are being duped and that’s certainly the case in Australia where fans don’t seem to realise they’re setting themselves up for a feature performance in 83,000 capacity nightmare, must they also be ignorant of fairness, justice and resolution?
“All we want is an acknowledgment,” a victim survivor family member told True Crime News Weekly.
“All he (name withheld) wanted, was to be believed. But being disbelieved, being ignored and vilified, the abuse is continuing. It never ends. Celtic need to acknowledge that. They knew. They did nothing.”
Is money more important than humanity? Than justice?
Or, in Celtic’s case, than history?
I know whose side Shankly would have been on.
It’s not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but in football terms the class action is at half-time.
All to play for. Game one.
The second half, should be interesting.