Dave Donnelly: Ignorance is no excuse - racist symbols have no place in the stands

Fri, Nov 03 2017

The rebel flag on display, before being removed by fellow supporters, at Dalymount Park. Credit: Eoin Smith

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Sunday afternoon sees the Rebel Army march on Donnybrook for an Aviva Stadium double-header as men's and women's teams take on Dundalk and UCD Waves respectively in their FAI Cup finals.

 

In spite of the 100%-not-forced plea from Cork City men's captain Alan Bennett for fans to leave their flares at home (pyrotechnics, that is – flared trousers are optional and, at the moment at least, legal), it promises to be a jovial event for fans of all four teams.

 

Whether the football on the field matches the atmosphere in the fans' enclosures remains to be seen – the last two final meetings between Cork and Dundalk have dragged out goalless for close to 120 minutes – but cup finals are usually less about the aesthetic spectacle as the drama.

 

There's been the usual quagmire with regard to ticket sales (as I type this, just one block is on sale to neutral fans, in the nosebleed section) and the attendance, while strong in terms of league, will inevitably be some way short of capacity.

 

That will be of little concern to the diehards of Cork City and Dundalk as 3.30pm approaches and the respective sets of fans congregate in their clusters at opposite ends of the stadium to fly their banners, sing their songs and drink bottles of coke with the cap taken off.

 

City goalkeeper Mark McNulty may even hear a familiar air- and his less-than-diplomatic interpretation of its lyrics - filter through his ears, depending on which end's goal he's required to tend in the first half.

 

While Stephen Kenny and some of his senior Dundalk players registered their consternation at a certain Corkonian goalkeeper's karaoke choice in the week, and there may be some niggle on the pitch, by and large the occasion will be good-natured and pass without incident.

 

What it could do without is a repeat of what happened the last time a Cork representative side played a major sporting final in Dublin – as repeat warnings from concerned fans went unheeded and some bright spark unfurled a Confederate banner during the All-Ireland hurling final against Waterford.

 

The 'rebel flag' has occasionally held a place in the repertoire of symbols favoured by a very small and unrepresentative minority of sport fans in Cork – mainly due to Cork's association with being 'the Rebel County.'

 

Leaving aside that Cork gained its title from taking a particular side in the British War of the Roses, while the Rebel Flag's rebel designation came from taking a side in favour of keeping people as property, it's not a good look for anybody involved.

 

I wrote a piece a couple of months back following the incident at Croke Park that argued it was probably a case of when rather than if we see the rebel flag unveiled at another sporting event by some crass individual or group of individuals.

 

What was surprising was that I saw it so soon afterwards, and at a League of Ireland football match of all places, when the flag was brought out by certain individuals at Dalymount Park as the team they claim to support attempted to seal the league title in front of the television cameras.

 

The TV producers, thankfully, didn't spot it, but it didn't go unnoticed by the Bohemians supporters, who vented their displeasure with a chant of 'dirty racist bastards,' while right-minded folk in the City end quickly ensured the flag was removed and those responsible reported.

 

Those of a cynical bent might wonder why it was that this particular match, rather than any other, would be chosen to unfurl a flag that represents the oppression of black people in America and, even today, carries clear racist connotations from some who fly it in that country.

 

A certain type of cynic – or perhaps realist – would note that Bohemians had two black players in their ranks, one of whom has been a target for particular derision from a section of City fans since he won a controversial penalty in a win at Turner's Cross some weeks previously.

 

Racism does exist in League of Ireland terraces – as it does in other codes and in the country in general.

 

I've personally witnessed the abuse of black players based for the colour of their skin, offensive songs about players' African backgrounds, derisive songs about Pakistani people and more from fans of several different clubs from around the country.

 

Even if that's not the reason, ignorance is no defence – with the events in Charlottesville still fresh in the mind of anybody with an ounce of curiosity, and previous controversy over the flag at Cork GAA games, it's unacceptable for anybody not to at least twig that it's offensive.

 

The response of Cork City fans to the presence of the rebel flag at Dalymount Park was heartening – in a bigger stadium, with a much bigger focus on the fixture, I hope they're not forced into a repeat action to show that racism is not acceptable in our stands or anywhere else.