Celtic stars deny sectarian chants

Two Celtic footballers have denied making sectarian chants at a supporters’ function.

Two Celtic footballers have denied making sectarian chants at a supporters’ function.

Stephen Pearson and John Hartson appeared on an amateur video on which shouts of “IRA” could be heard from people in attendance.

Scotland international Pearson and Wales striker Hartson both strongly denied taking part in the chants.

The grainy footage, which has been widely distributed on the Internet, shows the players on stage at an event in Ireland with three fans during a boisterous singalong.

Both players join in with a rendition of the Irish folk tune Fields of Athenry and are cheered on by figures in the background.

The song, which is a favourite of the Glasgow club’s fans, is punctuated by shouts of “IRA” and “Sinn Fein” on the video but both players insist they did not join in any chants.

The video was reported by the Aberdeen-based Press and Journal newspaper today.

In a statement, a Celtic spokesman said: “We can’t comment specifically on this as the club and both players are currently considering their legal options.

“However, anyone who knows Stephen and John will be clear that suggestions of sectarian behaviour on their part are utterly laughable and completely without foundation.

“Both players freely admit they joined in the singing of the Fields of Athenry, a well-known and popular Irish folk song, at a supporters’ event in Ireland but absolutely did not join in any sectarian chanting.

“Indeed, both players utterly condemn sectarianism in any form, a view shared and fully endorsed by the club as a whole.”

Pearson’s agent today confirmed the 23-year-old midfielder featured on the clip but strongly denied that he had joined in any sectarian shouts.

Willie McKay told the Scottish Press Association: “Stephen’s seen the video and he said he sang Fields of Athenry, but he never shouted ‘IRA’.

“This song is sung at Celtic games and at supporters’ nights every week, there’s nothing sectarian about the Fields of Athenry.

“I can assure you that Stephen is not sectarian at all.”

Hart son's agent, Jonathan Barnett, dismissed the report in the Press and Journal as “complete rubbish”.

Celtic have won plaudits from Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell for their campaign to stamp out bigotry.

Manager of the Glasgow club Gordon Strachan was questioned about the newspaper report at his weekly press conference today.

He said: “I have not seen it. I have no comment to make.”

Fields of Athenry – a ballad about the 1840s Irish famine, rebellion and prison ships – has become an unofficial anthem for the Parkhead faithful.

A spokesman for the anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth called on Celtic to investigate.

The spokesman said: “Nil By Mouth has written to Celtic Football Club requesting that they investigate this matter, making their findings and action taken clear.

“The video clip appears to display an event that has Celtic players and supporters present while behaviour appearing to support a paramilitary organisation, namely the IRA, is being displayed by some of the people in attendance.

“We are concerned at what this clip appears to imply, that is the promotion of a paramilitary organisation, although we do note that the footage is far from clear.

“However we expect Celtic, with its stated anti-sectarian stance and its stated opposition to the promotion of paramilitary organisations, that this is a matter that they would wish to fully investigate and act accordingly based on their findings and to publicise the outcome.”

The vice-chairman of Celtic’s Old Firm rivals Rangers, Donald Findlay, quit in 1999 after he was filmed singing a sectarian song at a social club.

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