St Pats 1, Rangers 0

7th April 2006 at 01:00
We are to combat sectarianism and we are being selected for the launch of some of the new materials in the national anti-sectarian resource pack. St Pats is to host the launch along with our neighbouring non-denominational school - Woodfields.

We have been selected for our "examples of good practice", such as combined discos, shared playing fields and joint fundraising efforts. This is a big event, and will be graced by the presence of the minister, the bishop and the moderator. A private PR firm from London has been taken on to organise the event, ensure maximum coverage in the media and manage the phoney photo opportunities and anodyne soundbites.

I have been well briefed. Do not wear green or blue. Do not display the Irish or Union flags. Do not give any one religious leader preferred treatment or privilege. Replace potentially provocative items, such as photos, statues or religious icons. Issue a prepared statement to any press enquirers. Avoid leading questions.

I was given an idiot's guide to entrapment and the jargon of offensive sectarianism - such as Billy, Tim and left-footer.

This was a high-risk strategy, and the invited guests included representatives of the Hibernian and Orange lodges, the local Rangers and Celtic supporters associations and various local councillors known for their allegiance to one persuasion or the other. I tried to warn Mandy and Trudy, the PR girls, of the potential dangers, but they assured me they knew what they were doing. They had just finished a "difficult" assignment with a new Latvian lager launch. Ideal preparation.

Mandy and Trudy were on their 14th cappuccino of the day, and I swear the good Trudy had a wee whiff of the "herbal cigarettes" about her. The hall looked good. Plenty of neutrality. We had a last-minute call to say the BBC would take a live feed for Newsnight Scotland. Quick check of the warpaint.

Which was my best side? Not to be outdone, STV were also sending a team.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Executive were also promising to send in "some big hitters". This event was growing arms and legs, but thankfully no red hands - yet.

Nil By Mouth was coming, as were Bhoys against Bigotry. The SFA was sending someone from the Show Racism the Red Card initiative. Would they all get in?

The place was bathed in television lights when I eventually looked in. I was merely to introduce the platform party, and welcome everyone to the school. I was handed a note from Mandy. The First Minister and the Cosla education spokesperson were now coming in person. I needed a breath of fresh air.

Television wires were trailing everywhere. The heat in the hall was unbearable. Trudy had just heard on her headphones that the director of the Catholic Education Service was on his way along with the president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. The rumour abounded that the First Minister was going to make a big, big announcement tonight.

The car parks were full to overflowing. The streets were blocked by outside broadcast vans, ministerial Mondeos and the usual collection of chip vans, ice-cream sellers and cars jacked up on bricks.

Jannie Jim was having apoplexy. "Ma flair's ruined. A' that polish and sealer - wasted."

Mandy rushed up to me. "Delay, darling. FM's stuck in traffic!" Presumably FM meant First Minister. "Could you be a sweetie and put on some sounds?"

Even in the midst of this chaos, I remembered my brief. Nothing contentious.

I found Jannie Jim and told him to play something suitable. I told him exactly who was coming and how much was at stake. No mistakes. Don't offend anyone. Maybe something suitable for schools and children? After all, "we are binning sectarian attitudes into the dustbin of history", aren't we?

I announced the delay to an audience that was less than amused. Arms were folded. Brows were knitted. Teeth were gritted.

The speakers blared out. "If you go down to the woods today, you'd better not go alone . . ." The Celtic fans stood up, and some started to walk out.

I heard words like "insult", "disgrace" and "provocative" from some, while others shouted approval for the very mention of the Teddy Bears.

I quickly apologised for the oversight and urged Jim to put on an Easter track. Most, but not all, returned to their seats, flicking fingers at their rivals. Songs of (ecumenical) praise started up as Jannie Jim tried to drown out the increasing verbal abuse by turning up the volume. "There is a green hill far away . . ."

The First Minister and his entourage arrived as some of the Rangers contingent exited, muttering words like "insult", "disgrace" and "provocative".

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