Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hatchets And Hammers - Not Wanted at Windsor

In the past week, the famous song ‘Hatchets and Hammers’, “inspiring Linfield fans to commit violent acts for over 40 years” (copyright any sensationalist journalist/politician wanting to do Linfield FC down at every turn) was vilified on air by attention-seeking media whore and part-time radio DJ Stephen Nolan. What he particularly objected to was the fact that this song was part of a CD being sold under the counter (a lie) at Windsor Park, and how this song incited violence. Linfield FC, smelling a PR disaster for the club and not wishing to offend others, particularly those going out of their way to be offended by all aspects of Linfield FC, denied knowledge of the contents of the song (a lie), backed down and announced the withdrawal of the CD from official sale.

Throughout the week, fans of the club felt affronted not just by Nolan’s, the Sunday World’s, Sunday Life’s and Gail Walker’s witchhunt, but by the betrayal and lack of courage shown by the Management Committee of their club. This song has been doing the rounds for at least 40 years, and my intelligence is frankly insulted by anyone who suggests it makes me a violent bloodthirsty scumbag wanting to kill or maim. It’s a football song, non-PC for sure, but welcome to football, it’s a competitive passionate sport, and posturing and one-upmanship is part of the deal. I don’t see Nolan going after the record stores for selling rap and hip-hop songs which glorify gangs and gang violence, are sexist, racist and homophobic. But that’s because he has an agenda, and Linfield are an easy target, a club associated with Unionism and Protestantism, and by definition a bunch of bigots. Apparently.

My circle of friends’s annoyance with the demonisation of the club, the fans and the song was such that we decided to mount the ‘Hatchets and Hammers’ flag, a flag funded and made by members of the ‘Hatchets and Hammers’ web forum:

While carrying the banner through to the Kop Stand, a number of people offered us vocal support and congratulated us. The evils from the blazers of the MC were all too obvious as well though. We were in the process of draping it out over the seats in the top right corner, when the Linfield chairman, Jim Kerr, made his way over to us from the other side of the stand. I might as well give the gist of his points/ claims in bullet form:

- he asked us politely to remove the flag, or it would be removed by stewards
- he said that ‘Hatchets and Hammers’ flags would be removed and no longer be tolerated
- he said that the pressure on him all week had been immense, particularly in the past few days from the IFA
- he claimed that we would be under extra scrutiny and that if we committed another offence, we would be docked 3 points, possibly costing us the league, and asked us how we would feel with that on our conscience
- he said that TV cameras were in attendance at our game in anticipation of something happening, that normally they would be at the bigger game of Crusaders – Glentoran (a lie) that it would be a PR disaster for the club
- that from next Saturday at the Glentoran home league game, there would be a ‘neutral IFA observer’ at our games watching our every move and that we’d have to be extra careful
- he went on and on about the 3 points deduction
- he said they were aware of the HnH forum for some years now
- that invoked the memory of David Crawford somewhat distastefully in my opinion as a reason for complying with his wishes
- he said he was prepared to have a meeting with us/some fans to discuss the matter further
- that there were many more goings-on behind the scenes that he would have liked to divulge, but couldn’t
- that he was having a meeting with a PSNI officer immediately after talking to us
- that he was acting on behalf of the MC
- he expressed the desire that the original HnH song should not be sung anymore, but the alternative Nolan/ Mars Bars and Snickers versions
- that they were trying hard to change the image of the club and, when we suggested that some would even take offence at the Union Flag being flown, said there was never any danger of that being removed

We ‘discussed’ the matter for maybe 15 minutes, during which time the steward heavy mob moved into close proximity, and another MC and pal approached Jim Kerr to check if everything was ok. He kept saying that he appreciated we were true Linfield fans, but that the reputation of the club and the League title itself was at stake. We reluctantly agreed at the end to remove the flag – better that than causing a scene with stewards and risking losing it – but expressed our anger and disappointment with the request, and the inability/ unwillingness of the board to stand up for/ defend the fans. We carried the flag back out again, much to anger of the fans we passed. They expressed empathy and word of the decision spread quickly.

On the one hand, fair play to Jim Kerr for having the guts to approach us personally and to try to explain his position and answer our questions/ accusations. I do understand he is in a difficult position, there are legal discussions being held and information he cannot divulge, and I can see how the paper media might have taken yesterday.

BUT: the request was not made in the interest of the fans, or, in my opinion, of the club itself. Let me re-iterate: these people who are sniping at us, be they politicians, the media, or even the IFA, will not stop at a song that has been sung since time immemorial. They wish to see every aspect of Linfield FC and its tradition watered-down or done away with. They have no interest in the fact that we have Catholics at all levels of the club; no interest in the True Blues, or Dunfield, or Windsor Roar initiatives. In their eyes, Linfield FC as an institution is bigoted, represents one of the last bastions of ‘supremacist’ unionist/ protestant culture, and they will never cease to attack it, even when it is innocent. I have supported initiatives to get rid of sectarian singing from IL football, it has no place in the game, even though a song does not offend me. But I draw the line at trying to make me out to be a scumbag thug because of a traditional club song that no-one takes literally except those actively seeking to be offended.

But the club wish to appease these people at every juncture. They say they have to do this to comply with UEFA/IFA legislation, but I have yet to see a list of proscribed songs, nor a ruling that says a banner with ‘Hatchets and Hammers’ on it, a football forum name lest we forget, is an incitement to violence that is punishable by a 3-point penalty. Our board should be standing their ground and defending the club and its fans, not meekly saying ‘yes sir, no sir, please no 3 points off sir’ to every political opportunist that wishes to attack our club. And where do we draw the line? Our colours and the flag we fly at our ground clearly mark us out as belonging to the one tradition, is that unacceptable in today’s ueber-PC World? Should we change our kits to grey, or pink? Windsor Castle on the badge, has it got to go? I am exaggerating of course, but these people wouldn’t find the suggestions all that far-fetched.

Many many Linfield fans feel alienated and let down by their own MC. It’s happened time and again, and with our ticketing restrictions being the strictest on the island and maybe the UK, matters coming to head at the home Derry Setanta game last year when hundreds of home fans were turned away from our home ground despite there being thousands of empty seats. It seems our MC doesn’t trust our supporters an inch and wish to create a sanitised fan base of ‘Stepford Supporters’ (copyright Raff’s Tache), who they can take anywhere and who won’t ‘play up’. Dwindling supporter numbers, even on Saturday, are testament to many people’s loss of enthusiasm for Linfield after having been treating like dirt by their own club again and again. But we, unlike our MC, will not be dictated to on matters where we are not in the wrong. The solidarity shown by the fans on Saturday, almost everyone in the ground joining in ‘Hatchets and Hammers’ and ‘If you hate Stephen Nolan’ after the 4th goal went in, filled me with pride and hope.

I will continue to sing Hatchets and Hammers with pride. I will wear my HnH badge. I hope that hundreds of the small HnH flags are on show next Saturday. I will not be dictated to by people who hate me and my club because they are the intransigent bigots. And I will continue to hope, possibly in vain, that my Management Committee will finally have the courage to stand up to those that hate us. Altogether now…


linfield fc 1886 said...

my old man says to be a linfield fan and dnt dilly dally on the way we'll take the oval in half a minute we'll take coleraine and all thats in it with HATCHET and HAMMERS STANLEY KNIFES and SPANNERS we'll show the glentoran how to fight if u cnt take a glenman in half a minute then ur not a linfield fan! ALL TOGETHER NOW



Anonymous said...

linfield are our brothers across the sea the only team that helped our beloved glasgow rangers the teddy bears when in our hour of need so to all true blues keep our colours flying high for we are the bridgeton derry boys.

Anonymous said...

linfield. rangers till i die. big jock knew.