Desmond Kane

Celtic must sack Leigh Griffiths – anything less is double standards

Desmond Kane

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Neil Lennon - who said he would not tolerate discriminatory behaviour - with Leigh Griffiths

Leigh Griffiths could be found meandering around Celtic Park last Saturday afternoon with the rest of Celtic's first team squad acknowledging the Glasgow club's fans who had stayed behind after a tepid 1-1 draw with Ross County.

The result was fairly irrelevant with Neil Lennon's side coming off a 5-0 win at Partick Thistle that sealed a third straight Scottish Premiership title before March was out.

All in the garden looked rosy for Griffiths, who has been part of the Scotland squad in recent times and had been settling in well at Celtic after a move from Wolves in January. Five goals in nine league games apparently justified his signing from the English League One leaders for a measly fee of around £800,000.

That was until the player decided to wash up in Edinburgh for the city's derby match between Hearts and Hibernian at Tynecastle 24 hours later.

Griffiths is a Hibernian fan. He has turned out for them on loan from Wolves over the past two seasons, scoring almost 40 league goals and helping them reach last May's Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park, a match they lost 3-0 to Celtic.

He was bright spark for Hibs, but it turns out that the man nicknamed 'Sparky' is not so bright upstairs.

There is nothing wrong with a professional footballer supporting another club. As long as he remembers that he is always representing the club he plays for when he is 'off duty'. Especially when that club is Celtic.

Video footage of Griffiths emerged early last week answering the call of Hibernian fans in Edinburgh's Roseburn Bar near Tynecastle to kick-start some community singing:


The forward duly obliged by mounting a chair chanting "Hearts are going bust" in reference to the financial problems that continue to blight Hibs' time-served rivals.

Sticking out like a sore thumb, some would say.

Tasteless, vulgar and ill-advised, but not career-threatening. Celtic disciplined the player, and reminded him of his professional duties. The Scottish Football Association also cited Griffiths, but it sounded like much ado about nothing. A bit of banter. End of story.

The problem for Griffiths is that the tale is just beginning after more footage emerged from the same pub with Griffiths apparently looking like he is leading the "parish" in a fairly rancid song about the former Hearts attacking midfielder Rudi Skacel.

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Skacel was a real talent for Hearts during two spells at the Edinburgh club, twice winning Scottish Cups. Such a thorn in the side of Hibernian that their fans still feel the need to sully his name in song when he is long gone.

But there was rather more sinister undertones to the song Griffiths can apparently be seen spouting.

Singing "Rudi Skakel is a f"""ing refugee" cannot be passed off as harmless banter.

Griffiths' behaviour is at very odds with the essence of Celtic, a club founded by refugees, many of whom departed impoverished conditions in Ireland in the hope of a better life in Scotland. A club founded by Irish priests to help the poverty-stricken in Glasgow's East End from across the Irish sea.

What Griffiths was singing about goes against the founding fathers of Celtic, a club who only came into existence after Hibernian were founded by Irish immigrants in 1875. It is an abhorrent chant that besmirchs the roots of both clubs.

It is also deeply ironic - stupid even - that Hibs fans should sing such a song, as their club was also founded by Irish immigrants escaping famine and poverty. Hibs may be less entrenched in the Irish psyche than Celtic, but they share a common history and ideals.

Griffiths is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Racism is a sensitive issue relating to Scottish football these days. An anti-Irish racism theme has blighted the Celtic manager Lennon since he signed as a player from Leicester City in 2000. The Northern Irishman has suffered death threats, been sent bullets in the post, letter bombs and assaulted during his time living in Scotland. He needs a bodyguard to look after him when he is out and about. Lennon was already riled by Griffiths' antics in the pub.

He more than anybody else is likely to look dimly upon the latest entry to Griffiths' video diary.

"I have a zero-tolerance rule. I have spoken to the players about this before," said Lennon last season. "We are an open club and we have been since the club was formed 125 years ago.

"Any sign of any sort of racism against colour, religion, background will be an instant sackable offence. At this club we see everyone as equal and all I see are footballers and men and we treat them that way."

Lennon and Skacel are not black yet suffer from a form of anti-social racism. How else do you explain away a bar of Hibernian followers chanting this sort of stuff?

The illegal 'famine song' is sung by parts of Scotland's host football community urging some fans with Irish origins to return home. It is directed towards Celtic supporters, who will now be asked to forgive a player indulging in similar conduct about a player who has been branded a refugee because he is from the Czech Republic.

And this specific chant about Skacel appears to be racist, not xenophobic.

It is racist because the presumption of refugee status is made on the basis of his ethnic origin as a Slav, not on the basis of his country of origin, the Czech Republic, which has been an EU member since 2004.

You cannot be classified as a refugee if your status in a nation is not dependent on escaping conflict or persecution, and particularly not if you have complete, unconditional freedom of movement within an economic area. He is no more a refugee than Henrik Larsson, who like Skacel ended up in Scotland because he was offered a job on the basis of his talent. Yet no Hibs fan would contemplate such a chant against a Swede.

And anyway, being a refugee should be worn as a badge of honour. The mark of a civilised society lies its ability to help those less fortunate than yourself seeking refuge. Some of the greatest figures in the world are refugees - from the fields of sports, science and business.

It is a little more than stomach-curdling when a professional footballer trousering thousands of pounds a week can find nothing better to do with his time than apparently fraternise with racist chanting.

Griffiths is like a figure from a reality TV show who has courted controversy on Twitter in the past. This one is turning into the Only Way Is Celtic. It is something the club can do without.

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At the age of 23, he has four kids to three different women which suggests his prowess is not between his ears. Why could he not just enjoy a quiet pint on his day off?

In a bar brimming with mobile phones aka recording devices, it takes some special level of stupidity to start waving your arms about like an air traffic controller. Ignorance is no defence for racist chanting.

Celtic banned members of supporters' group 'The Green Brigade' from Celtic Park after they laid waste to Motherwell in December, with some ripping out chairs amid scenes of mindless drunkenness, but if they are demanding high standards of the fans, they must expect the same from their players. Anything else is double standards.

Griffiths had slipped below what is expected of a professional footballer when he decided to mount a chair in the Roseburn. He has become lost in the abyss with his latest shenanigans.

It is damaging to the club's reputation. Unlike the cost to Liverpool or Chelsea in shedding John Terry or Luis Suarez at the height of their notoriety, at only £800,000, Celtic will find another Leigh Griffiths. But they will toil to overcome the stench of this episode if they are trying to reach the palace of wisdom.

Griffiths is a loose cannon. And is probably not racist. He may need educating on what he is singing about, but Celtic do not need to save him.

If he is granted rehabilitation, he will be fortunate. He is more of a danger man off the park than his worth adds up to on it.

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