A Brief Look At What Really Happened On Boxing Day
On Boxing Day, Celtic travelled to the fourth largest city in Scotland to take on newly promoted Dundee on their home ground, Dens Park, for the first time this season. City rivals Dundee United faced St Johnstone at Tannadice at lunchtime, and due to this, as well as the influence of television companies, the Champions’ match was set to kick off at 7.30pm. And so it, did, with fantastic goals from Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper meaning the three points would return to Glasgow with the visitors.
However, as I’m sure the vast majority of you will have noticed, our travelling supporters have been the subject of a fair amount of criticism since the event. For example, the ever reliable Scottish Sun had things bordering on a “full-scale riot”, as if the events were similar to those of Manchester in 2008, before claiming that there were “up to 200 believed to be involved in the shocking scenes”. Due to the tabloid press’ long history of sensationalism, I have instead chosen to speak to people who were in attendance at Dens Park in an attempt to work out exactly what went on.
Now, it is an undeniable fact that five people were arrested at the match itself. The inference on Twitter seems to be that four of these five were Celtic supporters. Today, it has come to light that at least one of these arrests in the Celtic support was made for singing relating to a pro-Republican song. So, all in all, that leaves a potential total of three people who were arrested for some involvement in violence.
You can then, potentially, take away the lad who was huckled away by police after leaving the stand as the support celebrated the Greek Gazelle’s opening goal. Whether or not he was arrested, or simply ejected from the stadium, I do not know.
Having spoken to people in attendance, I have heard several different accounts of what went on. The views of these individuals, whom I will not name, were different in some regards (perhaps affected by where in the stand they were located) but several of their tales corroborated well.
From these discussions, it is clear that there was some form of a scuffle outside the ground as people queued for entry. However, whilst this isn’t anything to be proud of, several people have described it as “nothing worse than you could see on a night out”.
Inside the ground itself though, the accounts take wildly different routes. A good few people have told me that they didn’t really see anything out of “the ordinary”, other than a couple of arrests, and fairly widespread drunkenness from some. People have reported that some folk were “just trying to pick fights with fans who were just there to watch the game”. According to a couple of reports, many of the ejections came from other people getting involved when stewards or police decided to eject someone else for being too drunk. I also spoke to one individual who was ejected for smoking, despite the fact he is not a smoker, and was merely talking to someone who was. One other report even cited a child (somewhere around the age of seven) crying his eyes out as the adult he was with was dragged off of the premises by police.
There has been widespread, if private, criticism from people I have spoken to who questioned why some of the people were even let inside the ground in the first place, considering they were “far beyond just drunk”. If police and stewards feel you are too drunk to watch the football civilly, then they should deny you access to the stadium, rather than allowing you to proceed inside before complaining about it later.
I’ve even, sadly, had reports from a couple of people, who say they heard a small group of individuals singing about the second Ibrox Disaster (I only highlight the fact that the 1971 was indeed, the second such event as twenty five Scotland supporters had also died at the stadium in 1902) both in at least one pub prior to the match and inside the stadium itself. Do not misunderstand me; this was not a stand full of Celtic supporters singing this, but there were, sadly, a tiny minority singing it, and that is utterly deplorable.
Now, if you take a group of people as large and varied as the Celtic support, you will, naturally, find differences in opinion. Some people will feel pyrotechnics have a place at Celtic matches, others will not. Some people will feel that it is acceptable to leave matches early to beat the traffic, others will not. Some people will feel that Adam Matthews is a better right back that Mikael Lustig, and others will not. These differences are an inevitability. Generally, even if I disagree with someone’s point of view, I respect the fact they have every right to hold it and discuss it, providing they can do so in a civil manner.
However, if you think that singing about the deaths of sixty six people at Ibrox, then I have no time for you. Personally, if you think that event is worth glorifying, and you are reading this, then I’d like you to close the tab on your web browser and don’t bother coming back.
Some people will, of course, criticise me for writing this. I suppose this could be perceived as sensationalistic, just like the quotes from a tabloid newspaper highlighted above. The vast majority of people who attended the match on Boxing Day did not hear this singing, and that is not a surprise, because so few people actually indulged in it. It was literally only sang by a few individuals, but the fact it was sang at all needs to be highlighted, so it can be eradicated in the future.
To put it in context, until I heard the song for the one, and only time, in my life that I have actually heard it, I didn’t even know it existed. Even then, it was being sung by a few neds on a bus, who were met with scowls from the other supporters present, before being told in no uncertain terms to, well, shut up (somewhat less politely than that I confess). All in all, it’s simply incredible that there are still a tiny minority willing to sing about this stuff, but the minority is present, and that is something which should trouble us all.
Returning to Boxing Day night itself, we once again heard the distinctive bangs of fireworks coming from the away end. Much was written about this issue by many people within the support (including myself) recently, and my more detailed views on the matter can be found here. With regards to this match, I’ve had several people tell me they make them leap out of their skin when they go off, and others even saying a group of supporters next to them felt they would rather leave the match at half time and watch the second half in the pub due to the risk they perceived the devices posed.
The behaviour of some home supporters at Dens Park is also worthy of note. Firstly, Efe Ambrose was noticeably booed every time he touched the ball in the first half. There have been varying reports as to the reasoning and manner of this booing, with some say Efe was exclusively targeted (as it appeared on television) and others saying he was not the only one to be the subject of the abuse. Now, it would be very easy to jump to the “obvious” conclusion. However, there may well be a more innocent reason than plain racism for this treatment of the Nigerian.
One person told me he was booed because he scored an own goal at Tannadice to give the home side a point against Celtic, whilst another said Efe Ambrose claims he grew up as a Dundee United supporter? Personally, I don’t believe either of these to be a reasonable explanation, but if you know more than I do, and can enlighten me somewhat please feel free. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions there anyway.
Secondly, reports of home supporters scuffling with stewards, including one who “was sent tumbling down some stairs” have also come to light, although the chances are you won’t find them given many column inches in the Scottish press.
All in all, it is clear that this was not a black or white scenario. By that I mean that it wasn’t as bad as many people are making out, but that our support clearly weren’t totally innocent of poor behaviour either. I feel it is all too easy to blame the events in Dundee on alcohol. I myself was in Barcelona only a couple of months ago, when thousands of Celtic supporters drank rather a lot. However, there was no violence or bad feeling in my experience in the city (other than the occasional incidence of pickpocketing). No supporters fought amongst themselves to my knowledge, and the atmosphere, both in the city and inside the stadium, was truly excellent.
One thing that does trouble me about the events of the other night did not actually occur on the night itself, but in the forty eight hours hence.
In recent weeks, we have seen eight people arrested at Ibrox, as home supporters battled with stewards and police on the night they faced Annan Athletic. In the past few years, we have seen countless examples of Rangers supporters destroying property inside Celtic Park, with video evidence proving that not only did the police take no action to stop these criminal acts, but also that one of the fans was, in fact a serving police officer. Finally, “The Rangers” striker Francisco Sandaza recently told a Spanish newspaper that he was advised upon joining his new club that he should not bless himself before matches. Of course, “an Ibrox source” has denied these revelations, and that seems to be the end of the matter, despite the fact it is a sad indictment of a new Club which has, clearly, felt it necessary to continue to condemn open displays of Catholicism.
The differing manner in which stories regarding certain Clubs in certain sections of the Scottish press are reported is very noticeable. In saying this, I’m sure a quick search on Google could find you another blogger, who supports another team trying to tell you that it is, in fact, the opposite way around. Undoubtedly, things regarding our last match have been blown out of proportion in some veins. Regardless, that does not excuse the behaviour of a minority, and it is no surprise that both the Manager and Chief Executive of the Club have since condemned these actions.
If you are going to act like an idiot at a football match, and ruin the experience for other supporters, don’t bother attending. If you are going to pick fights with fellow supporters for no reason, or sing songs celebrating the tragic deaths of Rangers fans in 1971, don’t bother attending.
The debate around fireworks, kick off times, and heavy handed policing will go on. However, we must all remember that when we enter a football ground following our team, or pull on a jersey or a scarf, we represent not only ourselves with our actions, but our Football Club and, critically, it’s fan base as a whole.
The Celtic support is truly fantastic. It is a pleasure to make up a very, very small part of it myself. As those of you who are regulars on this site and/or on Twitter, you will know that I very rarely criticise any of our supporters, unless I feel there is a need for it. In fact, I’m generally someone who will leap to supporters defence, but some of the events outlined above, regardless of how badly they were portrayed in the press, were and are wholly unacceptable, and the people guilty of such actions only succeed in mildly tarnishing the good reputation of our support, which we have all worked so hard over the years to build upon.
If this is my final article of 2012, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families all the best for the year ahead.