Brendan Rodgers quizzed on Celtic-Green Brigade row - 'if you offer a hand, make sure they don’t want the arm'
It could be tempting to conclude that Celtic should include a course in geopolitics as part of the package they put together for their managers.
Current boss Brendan Rodgers is content to concentrate on what must always be his primary focus: football. But he is not pretending it is possible to be oblivious to the situation with the currently exiled Green Brigade. And, to his credit, being willing to express an opinion on what could only be considered a distraction as he prepares his squad for their Premiership encounter with Ross County this Saturday lunchtime.
Across the ages, the Celtic fanbase have never been slow in making their feelings known. Whether that is over Ireland’s troubled history, British militarism and monarchy, and now, vexatiously in some quarters, the plight of a Palestinian people being bombed in Gaza by Israeli forces following Hamas’ massacre and hostage-taking of Israelis on October 7.
The Green Brigade, and their acolytes, have presented club’s decision to suspend their season tickets and away allocations as a reaction to their Palestine flag display at the recent Champions League home encounter with Atletico Madrid in solidarity for Palestinians. It is a conclusion that fails to recognise the consistently loutish behaviours that underpins an expulsion representing a fourth such dissolution in the fractious relations between Celtic and, essentially, the political wing of their support. Rodgers, for his part, believes the Green Brigade should not forget what allowed them to become trailblazers in UK football with the accommodation the club made for them in 2016.
“I’m not naïve, I know what’s there, but there’s no way I am trawling through stuff to understand it, you know?” he said. “But I understand what’s happened, and at any club – especially at a club like here – that synergy is so important because it is such a force, Celtic. The club, and hopefully the guys who are out of the club, can find a solution. Because they are amazing, I will say that.
"Take away the political stuff, it’s understanding that the club had the first standing area in Britain, OK? So, the club have clearly reached out to supporters to put that in place. So, the club wanted to work with the supporters. I just think in life you always have to be careful. If you offer a hand, make sure they don’t want the arm. So, you put out your hand to help supporters, and they take the arm, not the hand. For me, our club’s strength is being together behind the team, and hopefully very, very soon we can find that, and we can support the football.”
At times, you can have to keep reminding yourself that Celtic is actually a football club amid such a backdrop. The most storied manager Jock Stein once stated that football without fans is nothing. It would seem for some sections among the support, the football is nothing of what truly exercises them – as evidenced by the clubs’ other ultras, the Bhoys, staging a walk-out during the 2-1 win over St Mirren in midweek in protest at the Green Brigade ban. Missed by Rodgers, the action was lost on him. “I don’t really understand it if you pay the money to come in and watch a football match…” said the 50-year-old.
Negotiating these issues makes being a Celtic manager appear to demand diplomacy skills that could be Nobel Prize winning, but Rodgers sees the situation in more straightforward fashion. “It’s very simple, I concentrate on the football,” he said. “I know that 99.9 percent of this fanbase are amazing, the support they give the club and they give the team is fantastic. Of course, it is clear we have a situation with a really small group of our support base, with which that dialogue and everything else is there with the board. They will speak on that, I will only speak for the club of course, but it’s very easy for me to narrow my focus in on the football because ultimately that is what brings the club together.”
Rodgers does concede that in few such football management positions would such concerns be directed towards the man at the helm. “No, and we’re not specialists in it … I don’t know why we get asked about all these things whenever our lives are all about football,” said the Irishman. “But of course, as a manager – and especially as a manager of a big club – it’s multi-functional in terms of what you are required to do. When you are experienced, you can also offer your support and experience to players, but it’s very, very straightforward for me in terms of I know the end game for me is to be successful on the field. I can laser my focus in on the football very easily.
“Football clubs are about football. That’s the simplicity of it for me. When you come to the football, you’re coming to watch the players on the pitch and support the team. The social media stuff, gladly I’m not involved in it and I have no interest in it, so a lot of what goes on in and around that I actually don’t know about. I’m not naïve, I know what’s there, but there’s no way I am trawling through stuff to understand it, you know?”
And what Rodgers appreciates is that, if supporter elements seek to create a menacing, pyro and all-sorts fuelled culture then there are disincentives for all those sections of society entitled to consider attending games as placing them in a safe environment for a social past-time. "It is recognising that for most clubs, football is for families to come along, support their team, have a day out and enjoy the football,” he added. “There should never be any risk going to any game of football. Listen, for Celtic, in the main that’s what it’s about. Supporters come from up and down the country here, they come on boats and planes to get to games. It’s a brilliant day and if their team wins, even better. That’s the end game for every game and hopefully we can get to that point.”