There were a tremendous number of decibels in the traditional kick-off-approaching rendition of club anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. The sea of green and white scarves on all four sides of the stadium produced the usual arresting sight, and prompted the obligatory thrusting of camera phones upwards from visiting journalists. Yet the empty corner created by the club’s banning of the Green Brigade for their latest self-regarding behaviour did make the scene feel like a vivid canvas with one corner left entirely blank.
However, the third of the standing section that was filled and all other corners of the stadium did their best to generate an atmosphere on a tense night, without the Green Brigade focal point there was a certain dissipation on the night that was also true on the park.
It could be no other way, though. The Scottish champions self-absorbed Ultras, frankly, painted Celtic into a corner with their brainless pyrotechnic display at the closing game of last season that they followed with the nod-to-paramilitaries banner display at last week’s Linfield encounter that has brought them a two-game ban.
And the Green Brigade statement that they would “never allow our style or our politics to ever be diluted” on the back of their debarring was brainlessness to the nth degree. Effectively, it amounted to an assertion that they won’t ever play by the rules.
The equivalent would be Leigh Griffiths saying he will continue to tie scarves round goalposts even if it keeps getting him suspended, as he was for Rosenborg’s visit.
Griffiths and the injured Moussa Dembele were missed more than any supporters in a frustrating first leg of Celtic’s third round Champions League qualifier that leaves their qualification hopes firmly in the balance as they head to Norway next midweek with no lead to protect. They are lucky they don’t have a deficit to overcome after Craig Gordon was forced to produce a couple of reflex blocks in the second half. As a result, a scoreless draw was registered that means the away goals rule can only go in their favour in a week’s time.
Now when you think of it, the away goals rule might be a daft. Equally, the rules might be daft that bring sanctions for tying scarves to goalposts or making any political gestures. So too, though, is disregarding them. It is a form of monstrous self-importance that in the final analysis is always likely to prove self-defeating.
To many of us left-leaning folk there is nothing particularly objectionable about the politics of the Green Brigade. The objectionable element is the double-standards of these self-proclaimed Marxists. For the fact is if they were genuinely unable to set aside their political principles in the football arena they wouldn’t come within a mile of Celtic. As they have acknowledged, it is a club that has had a Tory Lord in its boardroom. Moreover, in largest shareholder Dermot Desmond, the club have at their head a ruthless billionaire hardly likely to be adorning his walls with Trotsky pictures.
Celtic is an organisation that was once in thrall to multinational kit supplier Nike when that company was slammed by Labour Behind the Label campaigners for garment workers’ rights worldwide. And so on, and so forth.
Celtic is a football club that operates within the rules of the game. The Green Brigade’s pomposity shouldn’t prevent them doing likewise.