An email arrived in late December from Bryan Kay, who introduced himself as a sportswriter for The Herald, a newspaper of Glasgow, Scotland.
He was writing an article about soccer, and in particular Kearny, New Jersey, in the 1930s. Kearny was my hometown and I had written several essays, published by The Daily News, that concerned soccer, Kearny and its people. He had come across my essays and asked for more information about that time and place.
Two companies from Scotland brought their manufacturing know-how to Kearny in the late 1800s – Clarks Mill, a thread manufacturer, and Congoleum Nairn, which made linoleum. The plants were about a mile apart.
It wasn’t until his article was published in The Herald on March 30 that I learned that it centered on prejudice. It is timely because of the growing spread of violence against Jews, Muslims and Christians because of their faith, here in the U.S. and around the world.
Kay focused on Hugh O’Neill, a 22-year-old soccer player in the U.S. who played for Hartford in the NASL in the 1970s. O’Neill wanted more playing time on the “pitch” and let it be known that he would welcome a trade.
He got more than he bargained for because the team that selected him was the Glasgow Rangers. His dilemma: The Rangers were a Protestant organization and he was a practicing Catholic. O’Neill, who grew up in Kearny, was afraid to tell his father about the trade. Newspapers in Great Britain wrote July 11, 1989, “Rangers 1st Catholic signs on.”
There were tense moments when he arrived in Glasgow. He was attacked a few times on the street and once on the team bus. Ethnic violence is particularly visible in soccer, the world’s No. 1 sport and one of the oldest.
In 2012, the Scottish government, concerned about tensions to game-related violence, passed the Offensive Behavior at Football (soccer) and Threatening Communications Act after a series of violent incidents in Glasgow between the Celtic (Irish Catholic) and Rangers (Scottish Protestants). Local ethnic violence has been curtailed to a small degree.
Unfortunately, the “British Disease” continues wherever local fans travel to cheer on their team, but engage in hooliganism and hatred of opponents.
An essay I wrote in 2002 concerned my first recollection of my grandfather, “Pop” Campbell. In 1935, at the age of 4, I sat in the stands at Clarks Field in Harrison, New Jersey, with him and his three sons, one my father.
The Scots Americans were playing the Irish Americans or the Battle of the Boyne (1690) revisited. An altercation started on the field. Pop and his three sons jumped out of the stands to join the fray, leaving me crying my eyes out that I would never see them again. What a welcome to sportsmanship!
Nothing has changed, and it has gotten worse in many parts of the world – on the field and in the stands. Africa has seen a rise in their soccer fortunes, but many players have been the subject of prejudice playing for teams in Germany, Italy and Spain. Discrimination against such players is not based on reason and by it their rights are disrespected.
I learned from Bryan Kay’s story about the religious prejudice that existed in my hometown and in Glasgow firsthand. When my mother and I visited my grandmother in Glasgow in 1937, two of my uncles took me to a Rangers vs Celtics soccer match to celebrate my eighth birthday.
My uncles pressed me to go down the stands to a gentleman wearing a black cloak and a collar, an Irish priest, and ask him which team was the Celtic. The priest, knowing right away I was a Yank, said to me, “M’lad, who asked you to come down here and ask that question?”
Without hesitating, I pointed out my uncles. He shook his fist at them as they doubled up in laughter.
When we arrived back at my grandmother’s and they told the “funny” story of what happened, my mother and grandmother were appalled. They shouted that I might have been killed, a victim of ethnic homicide.
It is a cruel world that we live in; we made it that way, not our creator. There is little love lost between people. Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied, “Love the Lord, your God with all your soul and mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Robert D. Campbell is a resident of Newburyport.