Celtic's 'Green Brigade' in stand-off with police over flare at cup tie

A GROUP of Celtic fans was involved in a tense stand-off with police at yesterday's Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Strathclyde Police officers went into the crowd to arrest supporters responsible for setting off a green flare.

However, they were unable to remove the individuals because fellow fans - believed to be members of the Parkhead club's "Green Brigade" group of hardcore support - physically held on to them.

Police said four men were later arrested in connection with setting off what they describe as "a smoke bomb".

The arrests came as figures emerged showing police dealt with more than 2,400 crimes linked to the Old Firm in the past two years alone.

Strathclyde Police and British Transport Police said they dealt with 264 serious assaults, 18 attempted murders and 44 attacks on emergency workers linked to Rangers and Celtic.

Last night, a spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police confirmed the latest arrests.

She said: "Officers went into the crowd to lawfully arrest a number of people."

She acknowledged the police's initial attempt to apprehend the fans had been unsuccessful, but said the alleged perpetrators were later detained.

She added: "Four people were arrested in connection with someone setting off a smoke bomb inside the ground. This is contrary to the stadium regulations."

All the arrests involved Celtic fans, though a red flare was also set off in the Aberdeen end of the ground.

More than 100 Green Brigade members walked out of Hampden in protest at the arrests, missing the final goal by Shaun Maloney in their side's 4-0 victory.

Trying to enter a ground in Scotland armed with a flare is contrary to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.

One fan who made an early departure said: "The cops tried to remove one of the young boys, but the Green Brigade were having none of it.

"He was asking the cop why he was being led out, but the officer wouldn't tell him. So he just said, 'Well, I'm not going then'."

Members of the Green Brigade made headlines last year when they unfurled an anti-poppy banner around the time of Remembrance Sunday.

Some Celtic fans say the group has brought shame on the club, while others insist it has improved the atmosphere on match days.

Next weekend's Easter Sunday match between Celtic and Rangers will see 35 Strathclyde Police officers mingle with the crowdto target sectarianism. The plan was drawn up after the 2 March game, which resulted in three red cards, touchline and tunnel confrontations and 34 arrests.

Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan said: "We believe alcohol is the problem. Football is just the excuse. The vast majority of football fans out there enjoy these high-profile matches, without being affected by any violence.

"Unfortunately, there is a minority of people who use the matches as a cover to cause disorder and disruption.

"As a result, they get drunk, become full of aggression and, inevitably, they cause antisocial behaviour or seriously assault somebody."

In February, after the widely condemned behaviour at an Old Firm clash, Scottish Police Federation chairman Les Gray called for an outright ban on any Celtic versus Rangers games.