Yet again the past week has shown us that sectarianism is not considered as big a deal as racism or sexism in our society.
Strathclyde Police moved swiftly after racist comments were made towards Rangers pair Kyle Bartley and Maurice Edu. Within a day of the tweets, a man was arrested and a day later appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court. Every major media outlet covered the story and the alleged perpetrator was rightly roundly condemned by football fans, including Celtic supporters.
Elsewhere Ipswich manager Paul Jewell was featured in all major media outlets after claims he was being sexist in his assessment of a female referee assistant. “I think everyone to a man thought it was a penalty. Unfortunately to every man, but not a woman,” said Jewell, after his side were denied a spot kick.
What left the Hoops fans scratching their heads then was why, in a society that moves swiftly to stamp out racism and where incidents of sexism are headline news in the national media, was there a seeming apathy towards Jeff Winter’s alleged sectarian comments on his website? According to the comments attributed to Winter, altar boys could be at risk of being “abused in celebration” after Celtic’s victory over Rangers. “Would it have been worse in the anger of defeat? Or would they just get abused anyway?” continued the article. “What’s this got to do with football, nothing, but anyone who backs the Catholic Church that is fronted by a dress wearing, Nazi, kiddy fiddling protector deserves all the vitriol it gets. FTP [F**k the Pope]!! [sic].”
Of all the major news outlets, only the Daily Mail, Daily Record, the Mirror and STV covered the Winter story on their websites. It’s all the more bewildering when you consider that Winter is not merely a football fan, like the person arrested over the Bartley/Edu tweets, but a former English Premier League referee who took charge of an FA Cup final. Yet this apathy is only to be expected from the likes of Sky Sports, who themselves have yet to cover the Winter incident but gave ample coverage to the stories involving racist tweets and alleged sexism. Remember this is the firm that sacked Rodney Marsh for a racist joke and fired Andy Gray for sexist comments, but retained Jim White and Charlie Nicholas despite their jokes about the Famine.
While both Celtic and Rangers fans took to Twitter to lambast the person accused of racist tweets towards Bartley and Edu, some of the Ibrox club’s supporters failed to realise the hypocrisy of criticising racism while showing support for Winter, not in spite of the bigoted, sectarian comments attributed to him but because of them. ‘We Are All Jeff Winter’ became a popular slogan among some Rangers fans on the social networking site after the former referee’s alleged comments. Firstly, it’s yet another example of Rangers fans failing to come up with an original idea by copying Celtic fans’ ‘We Are All Neil Lennon’ motto to show their support when the Hoops manager was being sent bombs and bullets through the post and being attacked in a football stadium. Secondly, anyone claiming ‘We Are All Jeff Winter’ because of the comments on his website is condoning and subscribing to those bigoted, sectarian views.
The anger at the imbalance of reporting and reaction to the separate incidents almost threatened to overshadow the original comments attributed to Winter. Firstly, the comments suggest an intrinsic link between Celtic and the Catholic Church. Of course the club does have a majority Catholic support and has its roots in religion, being founded by a Marist Brother, but there are many Celtic fans, like myself, who are not practising Catholics. Those fans, and the majority of Celtic’s Catholic support, wholeheartedly condemn child abuse in the Catholic Church. Celtic fans are not guilty of the crimes of the Catholic Church yet the comments try to combine the two inextricably.
Secondly, the comments, and others elsewhere on the site referring to the abuse at Celtic Boys Club, appear to imply the author is only concerned with child abuse in the Catholic Church and at Celtic Boys Club. If Winter is so appalled by child abuse in all its forms, why doesn’t he do something more productive than the alleged crude, cheap shots at the Vatican and Jock Stein on his website? Why doesn’t he join Childline, front a charity’s campaign against child abuse or take part in a well-organised, sophisticated protest as other high-profile figures have done?
The reason is he’s not a high-profile figure and his opinion now carries little weight outside the ‘We Are All Jeff Winter’ contingent. The rent-a-quote ex-ref will hopefully soon find his media career at a swift end, the ultimate punishment for someone who thrives on being the centre of attention. Even the title of his autobiography, Who’s the B*****d in the Black? (chanted when a referee’s decisions anger the crowd) implies he enjoyed making the headlines during a game and relishes being disliked.
A telling quote from his autobiography, referring to the last game he officiated at Anfield, shows the kind of over-inflated high regard in which he holds himself: “I played a little bit of extra time, waiting until the play was at the Kop end, before sounding the final shrill blast. The fans behind the goal burst into spontaneous applause. It was longer and louder than normal, even for a [4-0] home win. Did they know it was my final visit? Was it applause for me? They are such knowledgeable football people it would not surprise me.”
While unfortunately this won’t be the last incident of sectarianism in football, and the Bartley/Edu incident will sadly not be the last example of racism in the game, hopefully this is the last we hear of the self-important Jeff Winter.