Rangers and Celtic supporters have united in condemning sectarianism following fears raised by a minority of Gers fans over a Hoops function hastily moved from the TA hall.
The Shetland Celtic Supporters Club moved its 30th anniversary weekend celebrations from Fort Charlotte, where the club have been holding events for the last 15 years, to the Tingwall Hall.
The event, which came ahead of this weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final tie at Hampden Park between the Old Firm rivals, was attended by Celtic band Charlie and the Bhoys.
Ex-player George McCluskey was also there, and drew a raffle for the fans. The event was later said by Celtic fans to have been a big success.
The decision to move was made by the club after concerns were raised the event risked being overshadowed by the scourge of sectarianism.
Those fears have been rubbished by the club’s chairman, Ian Blance, however, and Rangers club supporters have dismissed the claims, insisting there is no room for sectarianism in the isles. But others fear intolerant views could be held by some people originally from outwith the isles.
“As far as I’m aware, there is not much in the way of sectarianism up here,” said Mr Blance.
“I’m certainly not in favour of it. I’ve never been religious/political myself, and neither has the club. It’s just simply a club for the fans of Celtic Football Club, and that’s it.
“I’m not going to point the finger at the Rangers [supporters] club, because it was not the club that complained. It was two or three individuals.
“The event went off without a hitch. There was no trouble. We moved because Rangers fans complained about it but it’s a venue we’ve always used. It was a 30th anniversary do for the club.
“There was a few comments … from a couple of individuals that went on Facebook and it was just a lot of ‘blah, blah’ about nothing.
“We thought it was rather strange seeing as we’ve been using the TA for 15 years. It was just a Celtic band coming up to sing Celtic songs for Celtic fans and that was it.
“It took place, went well, and there was no problem with anything.”
Chairman of the Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club Shetland, Graham Nicolson – whose brother is a committee member of the Celtic organisation – insisted there was no bad blood between the two organisations.
“It was raised by a Rangers supporter but not by the Rangers supporters’ club in Shetland. We wholeheartedly support the Celtic supporters club in Shetland.
“We have never done anything to malign or bad-mouth Celtic Supporters Club. My brother is a committee member of it.
“You will get certain people who say certain things and align themselves to a club to say that they are speaking on behalf of a club, but they are not speaking on behalf of our club.
“The Rangers Supporters Club, ourselves, have a sectarian policy. It is not tolerated.
“The biggest trouble is, you get people who take it too seriously. You have to lose sometimes, you can’t win all the time.”
He said he had asked several Celtic supporters if they had enjoyed the weekend, and had said sorry to them for any offence caused.
“But it certainly didn’t come from our club,” Mr Nicolson said. “I can not say forcefully enough how much we support the Celtic Supporters Club in Shetland.”
News about the change of venue was greeted with sadness on the Celtic club’s Facebook page.
“I feel quite saddened that the traditional good banter in Shetland (not the Scottish mainland) between Celtic, Hibs, Aberdeen, Rangers [and] Hearts has been affected and wonder if we’ll get that back again,” one post read.
Fan Mark Finlayson stated: “So it’s true the venue for the concert is being changed then? Heard this last night. Funny how Charlie and the Bhoys can go to Uist and Orkney without any bother, but they come up here and there’s a hassle about it.”
However, lifelong Rangers fan Bruce Williamson, who posted on Facebook about the planned event, accused Charlie and the Bhoys of holding sectarianist views.
“Shetland is a place where we can go and have a craic with other fans in the pub without there being trouble,” he said.
“Gradually that’s getting eroded away by people moving up from the mainland and bringing their sectarian views into our community. This is the latest step in a long line of that …
“Had it been a normal Celtic band, nobody would have had an issue with it. But it’s the fact of who it is, and what they sing about.
“I think it [the TA hall] is a totally inappropriate place for it to be. The only place that would be more inappropriate would have been the Legion.”
The Shetland Times attempted to make contact with Charlie and the Bhoys, but received no response by the time of going to press.
Army spokeswoman Martine McNee said no official contact had been made regarding the hire of the TA hall.
“No official approach was made with the army with regards to this event in the army reserve centre in Lerwick,” she said.