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The Old Firm

Submitted by on April 2, 2014 – 2:21 pmNo Comment

GangCutting

The latest book by Andy Davies, original AFL contributor and FC United founder member, has been released on paperback.

‘City of Gangs’ is about Glasgow and how it earned a reputation as Britain’s Chicago. For more information, or to buy the book click here.

Here is an excerpt, which featured in AFL issue 11…

The passion for football appeared to be near universal among men and boys in Glasgow’s tenement districts.

As social investigator Charles Cameron noted during the late 1930s: “Pass along any street in the working-class areas… at any time of day, and where there is a vacant piece of ground you will most probably find a group of young men kicking a ball.”

Many gang members were first hauled before the magistrates for playing football in the street. Some gangs formed their own teams, challenging each other to matches on Glasgow Green, although these encounters frequently descended into brawls between players and supporters alike. Most young men followed either Rangers or Celtic.

Allegiances were dictated by religious affiliation: the clubs were firmly identified as ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ respectively, which meant that football rivalry frequently inflamed the city’s sectarian antagonisms.

Rangers and Celtic supporters routinely travelled to their team’s matches in ‘brakes’, or motorized charabancs. These were festooned with flags and banners proclaiming allegiance to the rival national causes of Britain and Ireland. (Religion and nationalism were inseparable in the minds of many supporters.)

Many Rangers supporters drove through districts with sizeable Irish-Catholic communities en route to Ibrox Park, Rangers’ stadium in Govan. Likewise, Celtic followers passed in huge numbers through the vicinity of the Bridgeton Billy Boys gang’s stronghold of Bridgeton Cross on their way to Celtic Park.
The conduct of ‘brake clubs’ was calculated to offend: the waving of flags, singing of ‘party’ songs, shouts of sectarian abuse and issuing of threats to passing pedestrians frequently met with violent ripostes and many ‘brakists’ armed themselves.

In October 1925, police tracked a brake carrying Celtic supporters from the Garngad on its way to Ibrox. Green and white flags were draped around the vehicle before it set off. The occupants were waving banners and Celtic colours, shouting and singing as the charabanc wound its way through the city-centre and crossed the River Clyde. Their songs included an improvised ditty in which Celtic’s leading players formed an alternative royal family with Paddy Gallagher crowned King of Ireland and Jimmy McGrory Prince of Wales.

Police stopped the vehicle in the Gorbals and confiscated green and white banners, flags, scarves and painted bowler hats along with a concertina. Twenty-nine young men were arrested; all but two were subsequently fined for disorderly conduct.

Gang chief Billy Fullerton worked his way up through the ranks of the Bridgeton Billy Boys gang by organizing the gang’s Rangers ‘brake clubs’. During an interview he told the readers of Thomson’s Weekly News in 1932 that the gang employed its own ‘official’ poet – nicknamed Kipling – who penned poems and songs celebrating the exploits of ‘the Billy Boys and the Rangers’ alike.

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Kipling, who dressed smartly but avoided ‘gangster’ fashions, was known not just to the members of the Billy Boys’ committee but also to ‘several of the best-known sportsmen in the city’. He was a regular fixture at Rangers’ home matches at Ibrox Park.

He stood apart from the Billy Boys, and used a series of signals to warn them of the approach of the police and the presence and numbers of rival gangs. While games were in progress, a dozen Billy Boys worked their way round the terraces selling printed copies of Kipling’s latest verses at twopence per sheet. Fullerton himself sold thirty-six dozen at one match early in 1932. His takings of three pounds and twelve shillings went towards the gang’s funds.

On the days of ‘Old Firm’ matches, territorial gang rivalries were momentarily eclipsed. Larry Johnson, fiercely proud of his standing as a member of the Beehive Boys gang, was also a proud Protestant, and when Rangers played Celtic he would make his way to Bridgeton to join up with the Billy Boys. In his words: “…when it came to the Rangers and Celtic game, I always went over to Bridgeton and became one of the Billy Boys for the day … you were always getting involved … it was usually bottles that they were throwing, and you didn’t know who was hit with them anyway so you didn’t care so much.”

Some of Johnson’s fellow Beehive Boys were likely to be among the crowds of Celtic supporters that he was bombarding. Yet this form of violence was relatively impersonal and meant that his gang loyalty could be reconciled with his allegiance to Rangers.

Even children could be at risk when banter over the respective teams’ fortunes turned to abuse. In March 1929, an eight-year-old boy appeared at the Eastern Police Court to testify to an assault that he had suffered at the hands of three lads aged in their mid teens. The boy described how they accosted him in Tobago Street in the Calton area, telling him that Celtic had been defeated that afternoon.

When the boy contradicted them, they kicked him in the stomach, pulled his hair and grabbed him by the neck, squeezing his throat until the boy’s aunt came to his rescue. In the court room Bailie Stevenson asked the victim if he knew why he had been assaulted. The boy replied: ‘It is because I am a Catholic and they are not.’ The three accused claimed that they had been acting ‘in fun’ and had only ‘shaken him a little’. Bailie Stevenson fined them ten shillings each.

Antagonism between supporters of Rangers and Celtic worsened during the early 1930s against the backdrop of prolonged mass unemployment and fierce anti-Catholic agitation by a new figure in Glasgow politics: Alexander Ratcliffe. The high profile of the Red Clydesiders in Parliament tended to deflect attention from the importance of sectarianism in Glasgow’s municipal politics.

While socialist candidates won the majority of local seats at four successive general elections from 1922, the Unionist-dominated ‘Moderate’ group (The Conservative Party was known as Unionists in Scotland) retained control of Glasgow Corporation until 1933. Ironically, it was the short-lived growth of Ratcliffe’s militant Scottish Protestant League (SPL) during the early 1930s that paved the way for Labour’s municipal triumph.

In the 1933 local elections the SPL polled a quarter of the vote, fatally undermining the Moderates. Working-class support for the SPL derived in significant part from unemployment. The decline of the shipbuilding and engineering industries had led to significant downward social mobility among Protestant manual workers. Many of the skilled craftsmen who had previously formed an elite among the industrial workforce now found themselves jobless. If their sons found work at all, it was frequently unskilled, low status and temporary.

In July 1933, violence flared across Glasgow following the ‘Orange Day’ parade, held that year at Bothwell. More than 1,000 police struggled to maintain order. They made fifty arrests, but as soon as reinforcements were rushed to one trouble-spot, disorder broke out in another. The first processionists to arrive back in Glasgow, members of the Keppochhill and Springburn Lodges, were showered with bottles and ‘free fights’ erupted in Parliamentary Road. Garscube Road in the Cowcaddens became a ‘battleground’. Police made fifteen arrests, but were powerless to prevent fights breaking out along the length of the road.

More serious disorder broke out in the Garngad, where for two hours: ‘in addition to street fighting, the two factions engaged in raiding one another’s homes, smashing in the doors, breaking their way into the houses and assaulting the residents.’ By midnight, a two-hundred strong crowd had gathered outside the Northern district police office, where they sang ‘party’ songs in support of those locked in the cells.

Colonel Archibald McInnes Shaw, Grand Master of the Orange Order in Scotland, told the Sunday Mail that those responsible for the violence had ‘nothing whatsoever’ to do with the Order.

Readers of the local press, however, were all-too-aware that the ‘Orange Walk’ had led to an orgy of violence – even if many of those arrested were Catholics.

This featured in issue 11 of A Fine Lung. To buy visit our online stall.

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