When Kenny Hodgart finished his football column for the Sunday Herald the other week, he could scarce have imagined the fire-storm of recrimination and loathing his words would provoke.
I’ve never met this young journalist but, by all accounts, he is a good sports sub-editor and, if his columns are anything to go by, a wry and pithy observer of the Scottish football scene.
Within a few days of his column appearing, though, he would be publicly humiliated by his own newspaper who would devote a full page of their sports section to tell the world that his wit and wisdom would no longer be appearing.
So what was Hodgart’s heinous crime?
In his column of Sunday, April 13, he considered some of the reasons why a section of the Celtic support have never been happy with Gordon Strachan as their manager. He suggested that some of them would be happier if it was ‘a bead-rattling Hoopy the Huddle Hound’ who was Celtic’s first team coach. ‘Hoopy’ is, you understand, Celtic’s lugubrious team mascot. After some of Celtic’s performances this season, some of us thought Hoopy had indeed been promoted to first team coaching duties.
Celtic immediately protested to the Sunday Herald that the use of the word, ‘bead-rattling’, was derogatory and that it in some way portrayed all Celtic supporters as superstitious Catholics. They said that they had received numerous complaints from Celtic fans.
The result? The Sunday Herald sports editor penning a hand-wringing and craven apology, pointing out that his paper was the most diverse, inclusive and inclusively diverse paper in the known universe and that ‘bead-rattling’ should never have appeared. Furthermore, Hodgart was being immediately relieved of his writing duties. There was also a ragout graphic of the offending column, followed by a selection of letters and emails from outraged Celtic fans whose Sunday breakfasts had been spoiled by having to read such supposedly ‘obscene’ terminology.
It was a bigger apology than that which Express Newspapers gave to the parents of Madeleine McCann for suggesting that they were involved in their daughter’s disappearance
I’m a committed Catholic who works in the media and I have been known to frequent Celtic Park on occasion. I wasn’t offended. My Catholic friends were not offended either. ‘Bead-rattling’ is, at worst, a slightly derogatory term to describe Catholics in the context of Celtic/Rangers rivalry.
Hodgart’s use of the phrase was merely intended to illustrate an extremely valid point about some Celtic supporters. It was colourful and cheeky. It was not offensive.
Hodgart though is a young journalist making his way in the game. He does not have the profile, clout and friends in high places such as his more venerable colleagues, Ian Bell, Iain McWhirter or Muriel Gray, the three Humanist high priests of the new Scottish enlightenment. Nor is his mantelpiece yet groaning under the weight of the journalistic baubles that these three grand writers have. Yet, some of Ms Gray’s work some Catholics may have found truly offensive. But I would gladly go to a burning stake to defend the right of each of them to write whatever they like about the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, Hodgart, when he needed his paper’s bosses to defend his right to free expression most, found them wanting.
So if you’re reading this Kenny, keep your head up and let all the nonsense subside. You’ll be stronger for it. And there’s a couple of glasses waiting for you in McConnell’s Bar if you’re feeling down.
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