Thoughts On The Event, And The Ensuing Debates
Yesterday, as the vast majority of you will no doubt know, Celtic hammered Dundee United by six goals to two (a scoreline that will make many of you smile, I’m sure) at Celtic Park. Whilst the performance on the field was very impressive, and the team were cheered on by a fairly full stadium, there was something missing…or should that be “somebody” missing?
Yes, as mentioned in the title of this article, the increasingly famous Section 111 at Celtic Park lay empty for the entirety of yesterday afternoon, without any prior warning from it’s usual occupants, the Green Brigade. As several of you may have noticed, I’ve not became involved in any of the ensuing arguments regarding this event. As the proverbial fire-storm raged on Twitter, and across much of the Celtic supporting online world, I chose to take a step back, and wait for some clarity to emerge before throwing in my “two cents”.
Now, before we dive into the inevitable discussion, let’s stop for a moment to consider the group in question. The Green Brigade are, fundamentally, Celtic supporting ultras. This does not mean that they are hooligans, as a certain stereotype would suggest, and I feel I should stress that they have absolutely no track record of violence.
Across Europe, and the world, there are groups of football ultras with violent pasts. In some places, the line between “ultra” and “hooligan” is a rather blurry one, but in Scotland, and in the case of the Green Brigade, the aforementioned line is distinct, and it is not one which has been crossed.
And yet, whenever there is a case of violence within the Celtic support, many people in this country are very quick to point fingers in the group’s direction. If we consider the recent example of the “riots” at Dens Park on Boxing Day, 2012, several individuals quickly cited the Green Brigade (and/or it’s members) as the reason for any trouble, without any proof whatsoever. Of course, these accusations were proven to be wholly untrue.
However, taking a look at the word, “ultra”, dictionary.com states that it is a word with the following meanings:
“1. going beyond what is usual or ordinary; excessive; extreme (adjective).
2. an extremist, as in politics, religion, fashion, etc (noun).”
The Green Brigade openly describe themselves as “ultras”, so it’s reasonable to consider them as such. By their very nature, they are hardcore Celtic supporters, who happen to be rather vocal not only in football grounds across the country, but in the views they hold regarding various issues, such as standing at football matches in Scotland, the use of pyrotechnics, and politics.
As a group who hold publicly hold such views, it is inevitable that, when we consider a fan base as large as the Celtic support, there will be differences of opinion. This is not to say that one side are right, and the other wrong; far from it in fact. However, it is something which we must all learn to accept. It is far better, and significantly more progressive, to discuss any issues we may have as a fan base, openly and calmly. When it comes to issues regarding the Green Brigade, there are sections of the Celtic support who are all too quick to jump on the proverbial bandwagon. I’m sure the group themselves would admit they are not perfect – none of us are – but for people to pretend that they are either impervious to sin, or bastions of wrongdoing, is utterly nonsensical.
We must address each issue as it comes along, and that has, and will always continue to be, my approach when dealing with incidents such as that which occurred yesterday. A level of controversy will always come with “ultras”. In the past, I have criticised some things which the group have done, but more often than not, I have found myself praising them highly. Whilst personally I have disagreed with incidents such as the “bloodstained poppy” banner of November 2010, I remain in awe of the noise, colour, and general craziness they consistently bring to matches at Celtic Park, and other venues across Scotland and Europe.
The effort these people put into supporting Celtic is gargantuan in it’s scale, regardless of whether it is jumping about singing for ninety minutes, or creating one of the countless memorable banners we have all enjoyed and photographed, and that effort should not be roundly ignored by some people. Yes, they can be controversial, and no, they should not be free from criticism, but no one, and I mean no one, can criticise them for any lack of effort or love for the team we all hold so dear. For people to suggest that the group didn’t attend the Dundee United match because they “like the attention” or because they were “throwing the dummy out of the pram” is just ridiculous.
With regards to the events of yesterday, details were sketchy at first. Initially, I heard a rumour of drums not being allowed in, resulting in a boycott. This story then evolved into a banner, and not drums, being the offending item. However, now that time has passed and information has become more easily available (and we’re not hindered by the dreadful 3G reception at Celtic Park), we see that those rumours were far from the full story.
According to Green Brigade posters on several well known forums, it appears that members of the group were being photographed upon entry to the stadium, with many of them being ejected immediately and told they were banned (or to report the ticket office to solve issues with temporary bans which had previously expired). With threats of arrest being banded about, and a Celtic steward informing them the police had a list with names and pictures of “targets”, the group, as a collective, decided that it simply wasn’t worth putting themselves through the grief, and chose to abandon their efforts to see the game.
Whilst I was at the match yesterday, I did not see this with my own two eyes, and therefore I can only go on the reports of those who claim to have been there. For this reason, if anything above is incorrect please feel free to get in touch so I can alter it, or perhaps cover the event in more detail.
Now, there is an argument which states that “the group bring it on themselves”. This is certainly not something I wholly agree with, but it is perhaps unsurprising that the police naturally target the group of supporters they deem to be the “most extreme”. After all, people who jump about and rarely keep quiet are far more likely to draw attention than a supporter like myself, who sits fairly quietly in comparison. However, and I must make this absolutely clear, this does not mean that it is right for them to be targeted, and it does not mean that they are necessarily guilty of any wrongdoing.
Nobody should be persecuted simply because they are affiliated with the Green Brigade, or the Celtic support as a whole. One thing people must remember is that the group itself is actually far smaller than what many would believe. Not everyone who jumps about at matches, or wears Green Brigade merchandise, are fully fledged members. For example, I’ve stood alongside them, and I could buy (for argument’s sake), a group hoody online, but that doesn’t make me a part of the Green Brigade. To their credit, all but one member whom I have met in person have been lovely people, with a strong passion for Celtic Football Club and their group. Once again, this is not a crime.
Much discussion has involved the fact Strathclyde Police appear to be “upping the ante”, and this looks like it may well be the case. Forgive me if you disagree, but nobody, should be treated differently by the police because they describe themselves as an ultra. As I have highlighted, while the Green Brigade are ultras, they are not hooligans. There is a clear, distinct difference, and the police must recognise this. These individuals are not criminals simply because they happen to stand behind a particular banner.
Debates regarding which songs should be sung, and whether or not pyrotechnics should be used, should perhaps be encouraged and welcomed by the fan base as a whole. However, the actions of the police and, potentially even the inaction of the Football Club, is driving a wedge through the support.
Fundamentally, with any issue such as this, we must realise that there will be differences of opinion, and we must respect the opinions that other members of the support hold, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. However, with such treatment being reported on a wide, consistent basis by members of the Celtic support, there is certainly a viewpoint which says the Club must officially address these concerns, rather than allowing them to continue unchallenged. Another opinion would say that it is impossible for the Club to address these concerns without being seen as being officially pro or anti-Green Brigade. However, there are always two sides to every story, and perhaps even more in this case, but that doesn’t mean heads should be buried in the sand regarding it.
For supporters of our Club to continuously be arrested, and subjected to all of the stress and notoriety that comes along with a visit to Court, only for the allegations against them to be laughed out of that Court time and time again tells it’s own story. It cannot be allowed to continue.
One thing is certain, above all else, the Green Brigade, whether you love them or loathe them, form a vibrant part of the Celtic support. As the years, decades, and now centuries have passed, Celtic Football Club and it’s supporters have grown and evolved. In recent years, the Green Brigade have been a notable addition to the support as a whole. They may not be perfect, but I for one would be tremendously sad to see them go. And yet, if the treatment of their members continues to worsen as it has been, I couldn’t blame them.
We’re all Celtic supporters. We have our differences, yes, but that simple fact unites us all in a way few with no love of our Football Club can understand. No supporter is truly bigger than the Club, but without each supporter, the Club would not be what it is today, and without the Green Brigade, imperfect as they may be, the fan base wouldn’t be what it is today. Consider it for a moment, life without the Green Brigade. Would most of us continue to go to the football and support Celtic? Yes. However, do you feel we would really be any better off without them? I suppose that’s up to the individual.
I, for one, hope they’ll be here next season, and beyond.
Perhaps it’s time for Celtic Football Club, and potentially Strathclyde Police, to put their cards on the table, and address this growing issue publicly. If not, rumour, suspicion, and concern over allegations on all sides will only continue to fester, and we’ll be no closer to a positive outcome.
If you have any comments, thoughts, or opinions you’d like to add, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact us on Twitter.