Some of the club’s fans are flying the wrong flags, displaying a lack of understanding of their club’s true traditions, writes Michael Kelly
PETER Lawwell’s determination to stop the harm being done to Celtic every week by the Green Brigade deserves the support of anyone who understands the history of the club. That knowledgeable group excludes the Green Brigade who have created a false history in which Celtic, since its inception, is portrayed as an institution committed to and supportive of Irish nationalism – a tradition which they see as their responsibility to carry on. That basic dichotomy between the facts and their version of them is clear from the discussion that took place between the club and this particular section of customers last week. Because of the Celtic support’s previous misdemeanours, the club was warned by Uefa that special attention would be paid to the behaviour of the crowd during last week’s match against Milan. Celtic conveyed this message to the Green Brigade to be given the assurance that all banners would be “100 per cent relevant to Celtic”. The offensive banner was a rather clever juxtaposition of images of William Wallace and Bobby Sands to challenge the SNP’s Offensive Behaviour Act, which has seen Celtic supporters arrested for singing the praises of Irish freedom fighters.
To the Green Brigade, with their distorted view of Celtic’s history, that would appear to be “100 per cent” relevant. Those of us who know what Celtic is really about can vehemently contradict that view. Apart from what written history exists, I can offer strong anecdotal evidence. My father was the son of James Kelly who was the first player Celtic signed, the captain who later went on to become chairman and a major shareholder. My mother’s uncle was Michael Dunbar who also played in that first team and who was also one of the few who held early shares. Never throughout my childhood and subsequently did I hear anyone in the family express personal support for the IRA – either for its goals and certainly not for its methods. Never were the politics of Ireland listed as events on which Celtic should take a position. I was told that Celtic was founded as a Scottish club and that the men involved were Scots. As players, they were capped for Scotland.
The antecedents were never forgotten, of which the flying of the Irish tricolour at the Park was a symbol. But what emerged as the philosophy of Celtic, a club in a city that was riven with prejudice, was not a position on Ireland. Rather, based on experiences there and on the discrimination that surrounded the founding fathers and their families, it was a commitment to human and civil rights. Celtic championed the underdog and was faithful to its country. Thus James Kelly lost two sons in the First World War fighting in the Highland Light Infantry and Desmond White, a later chairman, permanently lost the use of his right arm while serving with the RAF in the Second World War. Celtic used its influence to have Russian clubs barred from European competitions after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Basque and Palestinian flags are seen at Celtic Park as opposed to Spanish and Israeli ones. Support for Mandela and the ANC was strong. Billy Graham preached at Celtic Park. This demonstrates that Celtic has a political conscience. To distort that into a stand on Irish nationalism is an unjustified attempt to convert it to a platform it never was. The Green Brigade may wish it otherwise. They are wrong.
They are not the only ones who are endangering the club. While the reaction of the Dutch police does seem to have been excessive, Celtic fans must share the responsibility of the trouble in Amsterdam. Thousands travelled without tickets. For what? A bevy. It’s a recipe for trouble that has brewed again and again. Responsible people do not put themselves in a position to be chased by police. As well as seeking justice, the club should take a hard line.
A harder one still should be taken with the Green Brigade. Apart from the fundamentally false premise on which it justifies its disruptive action, there is the negative effect it has on the football. At the game on Tuesday last we were bombarded by incessant singing and chanting, none of which was related to activity on the field or the score at any particular time. It was simply a background noise which detracted from the atmosphere a supportive crowd can produce. These guys were singing for their own sake, to draw attention to themselves. The singing did not rise to a crescendo when Celtic were attacking, nor did it diminish when a move failed. The fact that the Green Brigade organise huddles during the game which demand the supporters turn their backs on the pitch says it all about how much interest they are showing in the football. I doubt if they spend more than ten minutes actually watching the game. No wonder Neil Lennon has had enough of them. He’s well rid of fans like them. They hold him in high regard for all the wrong reasons. They perceive him to be persecuted for his nationality and religion. They view his occasional petty behaviour as a justified resistance to authority rather than incidents which themselves embarrass the club. They do him no favours encouraging him.
The Celtic board are running the club as well as it could be, given the parlous state of Scottish football. Showing profits in the current climate shows exceptional commercial skill. On the field, Lennon has produced results well above what could have been expected from severely limited budgets. So Lawwell, who is credited with how well things are running, is in a position of strength to remove this alien and unhelpful element from the support. In any action he decides to take he can call upon the genuine Celtic fans, who are mainly looking for success on the field and not a united Ireland, to back him up in the certain knowledge that he is not betraying the club’s history. He is strengthening its traditions which demand that Celtic continue to pursue sporting excellence as a non-partisan, non-sectarian organisation fully aware of its social obligations.