Celtic’s Green Brigade ultras, are known to most people on the Glasgow left for their work challenging racism and fascism, their fundraising in aid of asylum seekers and the poor. Further afield they have attracted media attention for their in-stadium displays, recently their display of solidarity with Palestinian hungers strikers had a huge impact in Palestine and was covered by Al Jazeera. The display for which, arguably, they were to pay a political price for was their anti-poppy display with its anti-imperialist message reading: “Your deeds they would shame all the devils in hell, Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan: No blood-stained poppy on our hoops”.
The Daily Mail was up-in-arms. Attempts to curtail the group by the embarrassed establishment figures within Celtic PLC such as Iraq war-criminal Dr John Reid (during his reign the Green Brigade banner was held upside down at every game in protest at what they saw as an anti-immigrant war criminal sullying the Celtic name) ultimately failed as their popularity amongst the Celtic support grew to hegemonic proportions. Step-in Alex Salmond. Seen by many as an attempt to pander to reactionary elements like the Orange Order that is linked to the other side of the Old Firm divide, the Scottish government embarked on a rather cumbersome and populist legislative attack on working class football fans in general but on the Green Brigade and Celtic fans in particular. Not only is this a potentially huge political mistake on Salmond and the SNP’s part with an independence referendum to win, it represents yet another serious departure point from the SNP that the pro-independence left must make. Independence must be about empowering the working class, not repressing or criminalising them. Not everyone may like or care too much about the Green Brigade, or even football for that matter, but there are some things we must consider. Anyone who reads the statement below and the events it recounts must agree that we do not want to live in a society, independent or not, where this kind of thing goes on. The police should not be given a free hand (or a blank cheque) to pursue people in this manner, after the loss of the 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough it is a disgrace that the police can be charging into packed football stands to arrest teenagers, fans safety is being seriously put at risk by the kind of police tactics used against the Green Brigade. Students and other anti-cuts activists will see many similarities with the police repression that began in earnest post- Millbank.
The Green Brigade may not be an overtly political organisation but their work in spreading an anti-racist, anti-fascist message amongst working –class people, their contribution to solidarity with asylum-seekers and front-line anti-poverty work in working class communities should, I’d argue, earn them the respect and solidarity of the left. Underlying all of this of course is that white elephant in tartan decorated room, the Irish in Scotland. 125 years ago Celtic was built by the Irish to feed the poor in the largely Irish slums and although many don’t like it or like to even acknowledge it, till this day Celtic FC, for right or wrong has largely been the focal point for Irish identity in Scotland. Much has been rightly written about the divisive effect religious and political sectarianism has had on working class unity. Much of this may be true but the political expression of singing Irish republican songs goes back to at least the early 1920’s and probably earlier. The Irish who came to Scotland, despite all they contributed, faced years of discrimination and were never truly given their place. Until they are, there will always be socially abrasive expressions of Irish identity and this is why any denial of that identity must be opposed by the left. The SNP and ‘polite-society’ Scotland are not going to address the issue, only the left can as we begin to put forward a vision for a more radical and inclusive Scotland. In the meantime everyone on the left should be very concerned when they read the following statement.
Last year was somewhat unique. It will rightly be remembered as the year our great rivals died. Yet what seemed to almost slip under the radar amidst the hilarity at Ibrox was the continued harassment of the Green Brigade, and the Celtic fans in general by Strathclyde Police both before and after the SNP legislation was scribbled. We have remained relatively quiet on this issue up until now, but it has got us nowhere and the harassment has continued; in fact it has worsened.
Most Celtic fans heard about the unprecedented case of the 17 year old Celtic fan remanded in custody at HM Polmont Young Offenders Institution for an alleged breach of the peace. The fall-out and the protests of other Celtic fans led to that thankfully being overturned before too much damage was done to a young boy. However, there are numerous other cases that haven’t been made public and so the Police have escaped criticism and been allowed to arrest and charge who they want, when they want. These include three of our members arrested by CID (two at home, one at work) after holding a banner reading ‘Huns FC’. Their case lasted the best part of two years before finally a ‘Not proven’ verdict was delivered. The cost of that case will have been astronomical. Clearly unhappy at this, the Police arrested one of the above AGAIN, this time for alleged sectarian singing. This never even made the courtroom, after the CCTV was shown outside the court, showing him clearly singing ‘Up the Celts’ much to the embarrassment of the officers who turned up as Prosecution witnesses.
After the highly-successful ‘Fans Against Criminalisation’ demo at George Square, Celtic played Hibs in a bore 0-0 draw. The game will be remembered by many though, after the Police unnecessarily waded into 111 looking to make arrests for reasons unknown. On the concourse after the game, they successfully arrested one of our members, accusing him of abusing their officers. Again, this was nothing but a blatant lie and led to another court case with THREE different trial dates. A Not Guilty verdict was returned when the case was finally heard.
A month or so later, and we had another member in court. This time his alleged crime was for ‘assault and resisting arrest’ at a Semi-final at Hampden. Again though, he was found not guilty. We have some other court cases pending as we speak, but we are confident these will go the same way as every other one so far. However, they are still obviously causing massive inconvenience and are having a huge effect on people’s livelihoods.
These charges have all led to our members missing matches watching and supporting the team they love. Celtic had banned every one of them while the cases were on-going. Indeed, the club do all they can to facilitate the Police and have offered no help whatsoever to their own support. After the match in Udine in December, Celtic banned a handful of supporters after flares were lit before kick off. One of these fans was a female season book holder in 111 whom, rather bizarrely, was watching the match from the comfort of her own living room! Thankfully, this was overturned eventually after it was pointed out to Celtic security that they had quite clearly made a rather embarrassing yet damaging mistake.
The level of surveillance applied to section 111 and the Green Brigade specifically verges on the surreal and is an astronomical waste of tax payers’ money. 90 minute surveillance clearly isn’t sufficient though as we learn from being filmed when approaching and leaving stadiums. A small band of Strathclyde Police following our members around Europe attempting to make their trips abroad uncomfortable also now appears to be common practice. Perhaps the hardest one for us to take is being filmed when inside Celtic Park hours early setting up for a display. Further from Celtic officials obviously accommodating such procedures they now believe it to be acceptable to hand over personal details of our members. Private information such as mobile phone numbers, names and addresses have been swapping hands without consent, even in instances where there is no alleged crime to answer for. Sadly, for us at least, this type of behaviour isn’t wholly surprising from Celtic officials – whether it is being sanctioned by Chief Executive Peter Lawwell who privately described our songs as ‘cancerous’ or Head of Security Ronnie Hawthorn who willingly will ban dedicated Celtic supporters offering them no chance of a defence against their alleged breach.
In recent weeks there has been a noticeable upsurge from Strathclyde Police in targeting the Celtic support. Up until now they have tried and failed to secure convictions for singing Irish Republican songs, attempting to concoct all manner of charges desperate to find one that will stick. Under their new ‘Anti-Football Legislation’ they are now targeting the Roll of Honour with a number of fans being arrested and charged with ‘offensive behaviour’ and even ‘Racial BOTP’ for singing this song. The most recent arrest being one of our members who was arrested while leaving Celtic Park at the Kilmarnock fixture and who has only just been released after being handed a weekend in the cells.
Co-coincidentally, or ironically even, the accused just happens to be someone who has already been through the charade of a football charge with all the accompanying delights and he came away victorious. You’d excuse his paranoia for thinking he was being targeted and tested here.
Perhaps quite unbelievable to some it is not just at or around matches where we get such unwarranted attention. A few months ago one of our members applied for a licence to become a taxi driver. Normally, this would be a straight-forward procedure for a young man with nothing but a minor Breach of the Peace charge from his teenage years. Not quite. He received a letter explaining that his application had been rejected on the grounds that he’s not a ‘fit and proper person’ – an accusation based solely on his connections to the Green Brigade. This had come from the Chief Constable. Thankfully, after appeal, the licence was granted in the end but with no thanks to Strathclyde Police.
The above is just some of the instances of police harassment in the last 10-12 months. Not only is it causing innocent football fans great stress and hitting them badly in the pocket, it’s also costing the taxpayer a fortune. For too long, we have sat back and let them do as they please but it has to stop, and we hope that the coming weeks and months will eventually see a change in their approach and we can get back to supporting our team without fear of arrest at home or away. We believe we sacrifice an awful lot as individuals and as a group in what we do. We dedicate our time and money for our passion of supporting Celtic in our style and we have always attempted to maintain an amicable working relationship with Celtic employees for the benefit of both parties – even when in dispute over certain issues. However we will not tolerate the level of harassment we continue to face nor Celtic PLC’s compliant attitude.