Green Brigade Disgrace Scottish Football Again
- 18 March 2013
First of all my apologies for speaking about an Irish Republican political group on a Rangers site but the continuing attempts to shoehorn the Green Brigade and the Union Bears into the same pigeonhole has prompted this response. When journalists and politicians start treating the situation with the Green Brigade honestly then I won’t have to write about them ever again. Something I look forward to.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Saturday’s police clash with the Green Brigade was the first time football fans have come a cropper due to the draconian new laws targeting them in Scotland. Of course you would be wrong. Police have on occasion been heavy handed with fans from many different teams in Scotland. However, those attempting to use this latest example as an excuse to berate the police would be well advised to take a step back, because on Saturday they were not policing mere football fans but a political group which Celtic have, until recently, allowed to operate unencumbered within Celtic Park. Normally I wouldn’t care, but I’m noticing journalists, social commentators, bloggers pretending to be journalists and even politicians trying to liken the Green Brigade to the Union Bears in an attempt to disguise their support for fellow Celtic fans as some sort of crusade on behalf of all football fans.
The Union Bears and the Green Brigade both bring something unique to their respective stadiums and to the away grounds visited by their respective clubs. The similarity ends there. The Union Bears are a genuine fan group who, along with The Blue Order, have brought colour and noise to Ibrox whilst simultaneously being instrumental in cleaning up a songbook which continued to get the club into trouble. The Green Brigade, in comparison, have brought colour and noise to Celtic Park with a repertoire of songs in support of IRA terrorists and banners which depict various acts of violence towards those of a Rangers’ persuasion including burning down Ibrox and shooting Rangers’ fans that they depict as apes. The Green Brigade online forum is littered with political threads, many of which have the sole purpose of showing support not simply for a united Ireland but for convicted IRA terrorists.
Something which appears to have been missed, judging by some of the newspaper reports on the subject, is that the Green Brigade members who turned up to the march on Saturday were breaking the law. The police are perfectly within their rights to veto requests for marches which they believe to be contentious. Clearly a group of IRA supporting neds marching through the city centre of Glasgow on a busy Saturday afternoon falls within that definition. When the Union Bears came up with a plan of marching from Battlefield on the south side of Glasgow to Hampden, prior to the Queen Park game, it was also vetoed by police and made clear to them that the organisers would be arrested. Unlike the Green Brigade, who clearly believe themselves to be above the law, the Union Bears grudgingly accepted this decision and the march was cancelled. Were they happy about it? No. Did they comply with the law? Yes.
There have been a number of outraged reactions to the police action on Saturday. Angela Haggerty, blogger, led the way with a little help from another blogger, Phil MacGiollabhain. Angela attended the march in what we are apparently to believe was a personal capacity. She then predictably decided to write an outraged blog about the terrible treatment the Green Brigade had suffered. She included several reports from people who did not, conveniently, wish to be named. Presumably we are just meant to take her word for it.
She and MacGiollabhain carried on some sort of pantomime sketch on Twitter where he described her as a journalist and a colleague and she returned the favour. They amusingly made it sound like a TV anchor on the line to an intrepid reporter in a warzone. Apparently, only her press card protected her from a savage beating at the hands of the police. Thank goodness she had Phil on speed dial. Now, frankly, if this nonsense had just been confined to them I’d have ignored it. We know the agenda there and increasingly few people, even amongst the Celtic support, pay attention to them. However, now we have mainstream journalists following suit, ably backed up by minor politicians, lawyers and Celtic minded ‘celebrities’.
The Scottish press, so quick to highlight any bad behaviour by Rangers fans, has been virtually comment-free. No outrage at the illegal march attempt, no comment on refusing a police escort to Celtic Park and no criticism of the fact that many Green Brigade members attempted several times to break a police cordon and were therefore arrested. If you are a law abiding citizen and the police tell you that you can’t march down a road with, what Angela Haggerty estimated, was 200 of your pals then you might ask them why - what you wouldn’t then do is ignore them and decide to do it anyway. Even if you are not a law abiding citizen, if you acted this way you would have a reasonable expectation that the police would stop you and possibly arrest you. What we have here is a pathetic combination of people who want to break the law but then cry foul when the police take action.
Gerry Braiden, of the Herald newspaper, took to Twitter to play down the Green Brigade as “a bunch of studenty lefties”. That is nonsense. Unless University has had a radical transformation for the worse since I was there, (admittedly a while ago) then what I saw in the videos, posted by Celtic fans, was a gang of neds. Neds attempting to conceal their identity and intent on causing trouble and disorder.
To be fair to both Gerry and the Herald they have been at the forefront of those questioning the draconian laws which are now being applied to football fans. They are correct to take this approach because the Bill brought in by the SNP is a shambles and there is no question football fans are being unfairly targeted and treated as lesser beings because of it. However, that does not mean that people who attach themselves to football for political reasons should be given carte blanche to act however they like. Not every instance of police taking action against football fans is wrong, especially when that group of so-called fans have the record that the Green Brigade do. The paper is correct that criminalising fans for singing songs is ridiculous, however that is not what happened on Saturday and it is lazy journalism to try to equate the two. If the Herald wishes to make an important and timely stand against this appalling bill then they could not have picked a worse group to hold up as their champions.
They have a track record of violence within stadiums. At a game against Hearts at Tynecastle in May 2011 they fought with stewards and police for having the temerity to try and arrest some of them. It was clearly captured in this video:
along with chants of “P.I.R.A.” which followed. More recently, in Dundee this season, there was an outpouring of violence from rioting Celtic fans that the Dundee Operations Manager, Jim Thomson, described thus:
“I have never seen anything like the behaviour of the Celtic fans in the 20 years I have been running games at Dens Park.
“The situation was almost unmanageable and I have never seen so many people drunk.
“Our fans were abused, our stewards were abused and no doubt the police were abused. The turnstile operators were visibly shaken.
“The away fans had no respect for their surroundings — they were doing the toilet where they stood.
I say that the Herald has picked the wrong group to attach their campaign to but actually that might not be accurate judging by the bizarre response in some quarters to Saturday. Far from accepting that Green Brigade members were breaking the law, attempting to breach a police line and clearly resisting arrest, there has been an outpouring of anguish from many commentators and politicians.
The Herald has Brian McConnachie QC demanding action. I wonder where he was when the Union Bears were denied permission to march and actually did the correct thing and declined to do so. Would that not have been a better time to make a point about restrictions on law abiding fans – when they actually were law abiding? According to McConnachie “if the police believed there was going to be an issue they had days to resolve it”. How were they supposed to do that? The Green Brigade knew they were not allowed to march but went ahead anyway in contrast to the decision taken by the Union Bears on a similar issue. They have also managed to get what they describe as a “senior Glasgow SNP figure”, another Glasgow councillor, Graeme Hendry, calling for an inquiry.
Aside from the Herald’s response, we have seen a Daily Record report which went with a headline that appeared extremely sympathetic to the Green Brigade ‘cause’ - “Celtic fans' fury as Green Brigade accuse Strathclyde Police of 'heavy-handed' tactics”. It seems police all over the world are ‘heavy handed’ with Celtic fans. The Sun reported the same, the day after the Juventus game, with regard to Italian police.
George Ryan, the Labour councillor for Shettleston, also supported the illegal activities of the Green Brigade. “Let’s not criminalize our young people” cried George on Twitter. An admirable idea, let’s also ask our ‘young people’ not to break the law then shall we George? He retweeted several Celtic fans outraged that police had stopped this illegal march and branded the police “stormtroopers”. George is also an expert on policing, declaring that the action was “totally disproportionate”.
The Union Bears have had their troubles with the police this season too. Their treatment has been very poor at times and I’m sure this is mirrored by other genuine football fans across the country. This is an inevitable consequence of these new laws which are without doubt a shambles. It is also true that many young men who attend football don’t exactly have a natural affinity with the police. This is the same the world over and groups like UB, and other groups in other stadia all over Scotland, will continue to have trouble with a law which specifically targets football fans.
What the Union Bears have not done is take part in the type of scenes that were seen in Dundee. What they have not done is go ahead with a march they knew was banned because they think the law doesn’t apply to them. What they have not done is attempt to convey a militant political message with the help of the club they support. By all means let’s challenge this ridiculous bill but let’s do it on behalf of genuine football fans and not some Irish Republican political group.
Celtic created the Green Brigade. They moved other fans to accommodate them and plenty of decent Celtic fans are sick of the Irish Republican political message they bring to Celtic Park and away games. However those decent fans have a problem. Their supporter groups are littered with people for whom support of the IRA appears to be the norm. Joe O’Rourke, the head of the Celtic Supporters Association, happily describes the IRA terrorists from the song ‘Roll of Honour’ as “ten young men who gave their lives in the fight for freedom for their country”. Jeanette Findlay of the Celtic Supporters Trust caused a storm in 2007 when she supported the singing of IRA songs by Celtic fans, leading to Celtic distancing itself from her but not actually doing anything to address the problem - a problem which has subsequently got much worse due to their accommodation of the Green Brigade.
The Celtic Trust attempted the most bizarre justification of the Green Brigade on Twitter by saying, “pity a huge section of the Irish Community has just been attacked by Strathclyde police”. Of course this nonsense is just part of a well-established campaign to stop those who openly show support for the IRA from being policed. Cries of racism are always sensitive no matter how ridiculously inaccurate. They justify this scandalous statement with what they call “the worst video yet” of the police action against the Green Brigade:
Were there too many police present? Probably. That is the only reasonable criticism I can see that could be levelled at the police from that video. In a world of mobile phone videos the 'worst' that has yet been produced is someone being arrested for breaking a police cordon and then resisting arrest. We are used to seeing police outnumbered at such events but, when you have hundreds of people intent on disorder, is there a rule which says the police have to be outnumbered? I think if I was a police officer then I would feel more able to do my job if I and my colleagues were not seriously outnumbered by those attempting to break the law.
My hope is that the criticism levelled at the police by journalists, bloggers, lawyers and local politicians, many of whom are far too willing to go into bat for Celtic and their fans no matter what the circumstances, will prompt them to detail exactly what the Green Brigade are about and why they took the action they did. Perhaps then we can get rid of a poison in Scottish football and get back to the game. Here’s a novel idea, maybe Celtic could even finally do something about them? Of course, given what we have seen in the past couple of years, it is equally possible that the police will be politically pressured into a public climb-down for, on this occasion, simply doing their job. Let’s hope not.