October 16th 2015

Note: This article was originally published by Third Force News on October 12th 2015

Football isn’t the main cause of sectarianism in Scotland.

That’s the message of the latest charity campaign to take social media by storm.

Hundreds of football fans have joined with anti-sectarianism charity Nil by Mouth to tweet photographs kissing something they love about the game using #KissBigotryGoodbye. Their aim? To show the public that not everyone who enjoys football is a bigot.

Sadly, it is a campaign that is necessary because the majority of Scots do associate football with bigotry.

A recent Scottish Government survey showed 90% of us feel that football is the main driver for sectarianism in Scotland, yet the truth is only around 30% of arrests for sectarian crimes are linked to the game.

Dave Scott, campaign director at Nil by Mouth, said: “Kiss Bigotry Goodbye is about putting forward a positive message which seeks to encourage people to see the beauty of football rather than let the loud, angry voices which pop up from time to time dominate the game,” Scott said.

“It’s about remembering why we love football and focusing on the shared highs and lows of being a supporter.

“It’s not about setting aside rivalry or denying the earthier aspects of the game’s culture.

“It’s just trying to tap into the simple and shared emotions that go through fans heads at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.”

The campaign launched at the start of the football season in August and has been so successfull, Nil by Mouth has created an online Hall of Fame of the photographs (find our favourites here).

The photographs feature players, celebrities, politicians and ordinary football fans from around the country.

“We’ve had them from fans of teams right across the country,” Scott continued.

“John Finnie MSP sent in a photo of a young fan pushing an older one in a wheelchair on their way to a game in Spain and it’s a very powerful image.

“My favourite though is a wonderful folder of images made up by a class at Our Lady’s High School in Cumbernauld after we visited them in September. It really captures the essence of what we are trying to do.”

The initial idea of the campaign came from a competition Nil By Mouth ran in partnership with the City of Glasgow College.

Students were asked as part of their HNC/S course to come up with a campaign on a shoestring budget of £200 which raises awareness of sectarianism and offers people positives messages for change.

#KissBigotryGoodbye was chosen as the winner as it tackles the gap between the perception and reality of sectarianism in football.

Scott admits while the statistics prove football is not the only problem, it is clear there does remain a problem.

He hopes the campaign may force the game’s governing bodies into doing something to protect the reputation of the majority of fans who turn up at matches week after week.

“The high profile of football means instances of sectarianism at matches, be that signing, banners or other actions, are immediately picked up on by the media and wider society,” he continued.

“The fact that the game’s governing bodies have been so woeful at dealing with the problem also adds to this.

“Scottish football seems paralysed when it comes to this issue, and has yet to dock a point or a pound from a club or player for sectarian behaviour.

“Until football is seen to step up and introduce UEFA’s Strict Liability model (where clubs are punished every time there is a problem with sectarianism at their ground) then the general public will always have a poor view of the sport’s record in the issue.

It’s now 20 years since the sectarian murder of Mark Scott, the act that sparked Nil by Mouth into being and forced Scotland to start to face up to this problem.

Things have changed, but sectarianism in 1995 looked, sounded, tasted and felt the same as it does today, the difference is society is much more aware of it today.

“There was also a tendency to talk about 90 minute bigots and view it simply as a football issue,” explains Scott. “Today we have a much stronger evidence and research base and it’s clear the issue goes much further than our touchlines and terraces.”

The next step for the campaign is to take it on tour around supporters clubs.

First up is a Lowland League event in November at Gala Fairydean Rovers.

Football writers such as Daniel Gray and Ron Ferguson have been invited to take part, and readings by the authors will be combined with a special football quiz, raffles and telling people more about the campaign and how they can participate.

The aim is not to lecture fans or browbeat anyone but simply to appeal to the too often silent majority of fans who have had enough of this type of behaviour.

Getting them to speak up is no easy task – and Nil By Mouth doesn’t have a pot of money to throw at the problem.

“Because we have a strong media profile I think people sometimes seem to think we are a multi-million pound operation,” said Scott.

“In truth we only have three members of staff and we’re operating on a grant of £75,000, having had a 25% reduction on last year’s levels.

“Now we aren’t going to blow that out of proportion, these are difficult times and all charities need to realise that we do not have a divine right to exist or be supported. But there is a huge demand on our services and we cover the entire country and this can place great strain on our resources as we offer them free of charge.

“To its credit the government has invested record levels in anti-sectarian work and with an election on the way next year we will be looking to see if various parties plan to continue this investment or divert funds elsewhere.”

Reported by Paul Cardwell, Third Force News

Post your selfie on Twitter showing what you love about football using #KissBigotryGoodbye.