Scottish football’s child sex abuse victims deserve far more than tribalism and triumphalism

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PREMIUM

A NUMBER of years ago, I was covering an Old Firm game at Parkhead when I spotted Alan Brazil, the former Ipswich Town, Spurs, Manchester United and Scotland striker turned popular talkSPORT presenter, in one of the hospitality seats adjacent to the press box at half time.

He was looking across to the section of the stadium which housed the Rangers support with something of a bemused look on his face as chants of “who s****** all the boys?” received a repeated airing.

Brazil had been one of the men who had given evidence in the trial of Jim Torbett in 1998 and helped to convict the Celtic Boys Club founder for shameless and indecent conduct with juveniles between 1967 and 1974.

Unlike so many of those poor souls who Torbett had preyed on, he had gone on to enjoy a long and successful career at a high level in the professional game. He was, then, accustomed to the poison that can emanate from the stands during matches. He seemed quite unperturbed.

He would, though, have been entitled to despair at being exposed to such bile. Was that his reward for bravely going public on the sickening abuse he had suffered?

The 33 people who recounted the ordeals they experienced as kids to those who compiled the Independent Review of Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football commissioned by the SFA must have had cause to question why they bothered at times during the past fortnight.

The reaction to the long-awaited publication of the review this month from many members of the public has been as depressing as it has been predictable. Who’s said sorry? That club is mentioned the most! Who hasn’t responded? This club is involved too! Who’s shown genuine remorse? Who hasn’t been contrite enough? They were far worse than us!

Receiving a public apology from the current custodians of a club where abuse took place is certainly of enormous importance to a victim and is one of 97 recommendations put forward.

It is an acknowledgement that what happened was heinous and an acceptance that more could and should have been done to prevent it at the time. It is a vital part of the healing process.

It is undeniable the response of many, both those who have issued statements and those who to date have not, has disappointed large numbers of their fans.

Paying out financial compensation would be a significant gesture too. Manchester City, who set up a redress scheme two years ago which has seen survivors of serious crimes receive six figure sums, have very much led the way on that front. 

Do Celtic, whose repeated insistence that Celtic Boys Club was a “separate entity” has been dismissed by the report, and other Scottish clubs not have a moral obligation to do exactly the same?

Yet, it is highly regrettable the testimonies contained within the 191-page SFA review, which are detailed, harrowing and highly disturbing, have almost been overlooked amid the frenzy of finger pointing.

Far more time and energy should have been spent reflecting on the distressing accounts, examining how the perpetrators of the evil acts were allowed to get away with them for so long, considering if the safeguards which are now in place are sufficient and debating what more, if anything, can be done in future.

It was certainly encouraging to hear Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, confirm that 80 per cent of the suggestions contained in the review have either been put in place or are in the process of being implemented.

This protracted and painful exercise has been worthwhile. The sport is a far safer place for our children today than it was in years gone by and will hopefully continue to be so. That is what those who agreed to speak had hoped to achieve.

However, for so many to use the findings as nothing more than a stick to beat clubs with is shameful. This issue deserves to be treated with delicacy and compassion, not utilised for one-upmanship and point scoring. The unbridled glee that has greeted some of the passages has been nothing short of pathetic.

Football culture is, of course, unpleasant. Sorry individuals have long pored over the incidences of domestic violence in Glasgow following derby matches.

If they are higher after Celtic have lost it is, in the warped minds of certain Rangers fans, proof Celtic fans are scum. If they are higher after Rangers have lost it is, in the skewed worlds occupied by some Celtic fans, evidence Rangers fans are low life.

Tribalism and triumphalism have also been prevalent for some time when it comes to the discussion of historical child sex abuse in Scotland. Weaponising this serious subject is a sad indictment of the lives of those responsible.

Is it really too much to ask that petty football rivalries are put to one side and the plights of those who suffered, whose lives have been ruined in many instances, are treated with the reverence they deserve? 

     

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