RELIGION: Father and son shouted sectarian abuse at woman

Marna Ferguson was called a ‘Fenian’ by Robert and Alastair Kirkwood at Ibrox Stadium on February 6, 2022, when Catholic school teacher referee Willie Collum officiated at Rangers v Hearts match

Ally Kirkwood
Rangers fan Ally Kirkwood and his father pled guilty (Image: Spindrift)

Notebook by Bill Heaney

We are often told that sectarianism is a disease that affects only a tiny minority who spoil sporting occasions for everyone else and who wouldn’t dream of offending the perfectly well behaved thousands of people around them at football matches.

The sports commentators, politicians and police spin doctors have their “lines to take” after any incident which might impact the gate and television money that flows in from football matches involving not just Rangers and Celtic but Hearts and Hibernian and Aberdeen. It’s not just a West Coast thing.

Recently, a large portion of the Scottish public have sheepishly gone along with the edict that supporters of one team only should be allowed into matches involving Celtic and Rangers.

That is not how football was ever meant to be. The fans themselves should have boycotted these matches, of course.

One suggested solution put forward frequently to this huge problem which brings verbal abuse, violence, domestic abuse and bottle throwing – and sometimes even death – to our Scottish towns is the segregation of our schools.

The Catholic Church defends segregation vigorously, but is their position really sustainable in the 21st century?

New alliances have been formed recently between Catholics and Protestants and Archbishops and Moderators of the Church of Scotland have shaken hands on them.

We have movements such as Churches Together, which in Dumbarton does great work and members attend religious services together.

The “spin” goes on and on however. It’s not just drunkards and thugs of low intelligence who bring this shame into our communities and sports grounds.

Unfortunately it’s people whose names and photographs appeared in the national press this week following a case at Glasgow Sheriff Court. It was reported in The Daily Record.

The newspaper rightly named them, but did this shame the bigots involved and the institutions who turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to pleas to abandon their prejudices. The report states:

A woman suffered sectarian abuse after she pulled up a father and son who abused referee Willie Collum. Marna Ferguson was called a “Fenian” by Robert and Alastair Kirkwood at Ibrox Stadium on February 6, 2022.

Mr Collum officiated as Rangers faced Hearts in a match that the hosts would go on to win 5-0. Glasgow Sheriff Court heard the pair were part of a group of Rangers fans chanting “Who’s the Fenian in the black?” at Mr Collum.

Miss Ferguson – who was with her 15-year-old daughter – told the duo who are season ticket holders to “mind their language”. Both men – aged 59 and 31 – took offence to being challenged and called Miss Ferguson a “F***ing fenian” and a “Fenian b******.”

Miss Ferguson and her daughter were stated to be upset as a result of their conduct. Security was later notified and Alastair Kirkwood was arrested at his home in the city’s Barlanark later that night.

Robert Kirkwood, of Coatbridge, handed himself into a police station a week later. Both men pleaded guilty to behaving in a threatening or abusive manner aggravated by religious prejudice.

It was revealed that Alastair Kirkwood has two analogous previous convictions from 2011 and 2017 when he was given fines.

Ross Yuill, defending, told the court that Alastair Kirkwood is an expecting dad working as a project engineer near London.

The lawyer said: “The sort of chanting that happened shouldn’t have been happening at all. They should not have been joining in and they recognise and accept responsibility for that.”

Mary Ellen Scobbie, defending first offender Robert Kirkwood, stated her client is a construction engineer.

She said: “He has been a season ticket holder for 12 years and sits in the Sandy Jardine stand. He said before this incident, the section received a behaviour warning due to the carry on in that section.

“He thinks this is why the victim spoke up about this incident. He is embarrassed to be in court.”

The sheriff said: “You are a disgrace to football fans and a disgrace to the team you say you support – Rangers Football Club. They are well rid of you from their stadium and matches.

“Not only did you shout sectarian abuse, but when a football fan was brave enough to call the two of you out on it, you proceeded and threatened that woman in front of her daughter. How dare you?”

But dare they do, and people like them will continue to do so. The Kirkwoods were banned from all UK football matches for five years each.

Many people, having read the court story, will be thinking today that the ban should have been for much longer.

Top picture: Lord Wallace, politician and former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and Archbishop Leo Cushley, of St Andrews and Edinburgh sign the “peace pact” between the two Churches.

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