Having returned from Amsterdam only this afternoon, I must confess that I would much rather sleep for a few hours than write an article, but with accounts of the events of this week in the Dutch capital streaming in from various media outlets, I feel somewhat compelled to throw in my own two cents.
Firstly, it is immensely regrettable that there is any need for me to do so. Generally, when Celtic supporters return from trips across Europe, the primary focuses of discussion are the football itself and the good times had by one and all. However, this is sadly not the case today.
The fan base which we are all fortunate enough to be a part of has a sterling reputation for a reason. Our Club’s supporters have an almost endless list of places they have visited and, on the whole, they have behaved impeccably, not only in modern times but across the generations, winning friends of many different nationalities and cultures.
Now, before continuing, I would like to highlight the fact that the majority of Ajax supporters who I spoke to in Amsterdam, as well as members of the general public, were lovely people. In fact, several of them expressed disdain for the “hooligan community” which they say “makes us all look bad.”
Do not allow anyone to tell you that the immediate reaction of a Celtic fan upon seeing an Ajax supporter in the city this week was to attack or goad them, because that is totally nonsensical. Prior to violence breaking out in the early evening, some Ajax fans had mixed happily amongst the travelling support in the Dam Square without any issues. Photographs were taken, a few scarves were even swapped, and the mood resembled party, not pillage.
Clearly, that changed as darkness fell. Having spent the majority of the day in and around the square, enjoying the delights of some cheaply priced Heineken as I mentioned on Twitter at the time, I left the area when riot vans began to arrive without cause (notably there had been no hint of violence at this point).
Mounted police had been present for several hours by that stage, trotting up and down the street – clearly making their presence known – but nothing more than that. However, the police clearly anticipated violence, and perhaps this anticipation actually added to the likelihood of such an occurrence.
As I watched the videos from the Dam Square filmed later that evening, it looked like a totally different place from the location I visited during the day. Police in plain clothing batter supporters, some of which appear to be running away with arms raised to show they pose no threat to anyone. Others wield batons and administer their heavy-handed form of “justice” that way.
Now, ask yourself the following questions:
“If you found yourself in a dark, foreign city, with men in plain clothing streaming through a chaotic scene attacking people (seemingly) at random, would your first thought be that they were police officers or hooligans?”
“In the same situation, would you think twice about attempting to defend a fellow Celtic supporter, let alone a friend or family member, as groups of these men punched and kicked them?”
With this in mind, I do wonder whether many of those who were involved knew what was going on amongst the chaos and were simply attempting to defend themselves and those around them. Of course, if individual cases whereby any Celtic supporter has attacked someone without reason are proven, such an argument would falter, and they should be dealt with as the individual cases they are.
Neil Lennon has since speculated that our Club’s supporters were likely subjected to “immense provocation” and this led to their actions in the Dutch capital, and I feel he is correct in this regard.
Don’t forget that it was Ajax hooligans who marched through Glasgow looking for trouble only weeks ago.
Don’t forget that it was Ajax hooligans who threw seats and coins at members of the Celtic support (those in the family section no less) inside Celtic Park on the same night.
Don’t forget that it was Ajax hooligans who attacked a pub full of Celtic fans in Amsterdam on the night prior to the match, and don’t forget who unveiled a banner reading “Fenian Bastards” inside the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night.
Granted, the Celtic support is not perfect, nor is any group of people from any walk of life numbering in the hundreds of thousands (if not millions). The fan base has always been very good at policing itself, telling those who have had enough to take it easy for a while and, on the rare occasion upon which it is necessary, telling those who do act out to behave.
In all, forty-four people were arrested, twenty-eight of which have been quoted as being Celtic supporters. With a travelling support numbering somewhere in the region of ten thousand supporters, this statistic speaks for itself. Make no mistake, this was not Manchester in 2008, and nor will any efforts to draw similarities change that.
Yes, these were immensely regrettable events, but the Celtic support are not hooligans and nor do we have a problem with hooliganism. I’m sure the people of Barcelona, Milan, Turin, Lisbon and Moscow (amongst many, many others) would stand as recent testament to that.
If anything, my trip to Amsterdam has not put me off travelling abroad with my fellow Celtic supporters (far from it, in fact), it has simply put me off ever travelling to the Dutch capital as a football supporter again, and for me to say that about the land which spawned “Total Football” is sad indeed.