Naive, idealistic, and thoroughly imperfect many of them may well be, but their passion for the club is unmistakable, my own impression is they are ultimately well-meaning, and personally I can always understand, up to a point, the tendency for those who are so inclined to seek to reconcile Celtic with something more profound in their lives, a broader meaning, or a sense of kinship with their overall personal values. I say that because that is the role the club plays in my own life and what makes the experience even more than a mere sporting one, as great as that can be in its own right. Now, whether the GB cross that line into something altogether more reckless and potentially alienating, regularly, or on this occasion alone, is clearly now up for debate. But as someone who has trouble grasping the concept of a political vacuum in any walk of life, I am not one for the kneejerk assertion that politics and football don’t, or simply shouldn’t mix.
Yes, the force with which the message was conveyed, in particular the quote “Your deeds would shame all the devils in hell” and the use of the term “bloodstained” to describe the poppy can perhaps be seen as needlessly provocative, at the very least counter-productive. For my own part however, as a committed critic of UK foreign policy and someone who needs no convincing of the nefarious ends to which it has so often been directed, I have no problem with such an uncompromising choice of words, indeed, the shoe fits.
And given the unique dimension to our own history and support, and the suffering of many Celtiic-supporting, Northern Irish Roman Catholics with direct experience of playing the role of the ‘other’ at the sharp end of UK military muscle, I’ve real sympathy with the suggestion that by bending so readily to placing the poppy on the jersey they are guilty of a serious neglect of the feelings of many who help make Celtic what it is. Supporters to whom in an official capacity the club should always err toward a duty of care when it comes to such emotionally-charged issues.
Fergus McCann may have at times adopted a baby and bathwater approach to our Irish heritage for the sake of what he saw as the greater good of tackling bigotry on the ground in the west of Scotland, and in many respects that did do away with the very worst of the parochialism and small-mindedness that can attach itself to any form of self-identification, our own included. As a consequence he provided his successors with an excellent platform for a more meaningful and unapologetic appraisal of the club’s profound Irish connection, and that change has been manifest in recent years to anyone who cares to look. The current lot are only too happy to trade on that when it comes to DVDs – a degree of sensitivity toward the peculiarities of poppy symbolism across the Irish sea ought therefore to be uppermost in their minds when tackling this much more serious issue. If that stance fails to impress any third parties, so be it. Especially if those parties just happen to be on our own doorstep.
But that’s just my own opinion, and I’m under no illusions that it is shared by all. Certainly, the display went far enough to inflame passions on both sides of the debate even within the Celtic support, and, more importantly for the Green Brigade themselves, appears to have finally handed enough ammunition to their enemies both within the Celtic boardroom and the guttertrash media corps (and it’s a sad day when kindred spirits can be located within either) to mount a full-scale attack on a group who, in the main, have done wonderful things to return some much needed colour, atmosphere, and memorable hunskelping antics to home games in particular. In that respect, accusations that the group have scored an ‘own goal’ seem appropriate.
I’m less concerned, as hopefully are the GB also, about the apparent ‘backlash’ of anti-Celtic reporting which the episode has sparked, and which many are equally, if not a great deal more upset about than the implications when it comes to relations between the club and support. In short, the message appears to have pissed off all the right people. John Reid, Sky News, Folgen sie Folgen, the Record, Daily Mail – all queueing up in mockrage. Sure enough, even the DUP’s cretinous Gregory Campbell pitched in, though in a weird way it always provides a bit of light relief to hear this clown open his mouth. The last time I came across him was on BBC NI on the night of the Bloody Sunday announcement by David Cameron, embarrassing himself and his constituency (which I imagine takes some doing) with his prehistoric bitterness and venom, to which a panel of guests from across the full religious spectrum could only react with bewilderment and no little distress.
As for BBC Scotland – their reporting on it was pathetic, aping the very worst of some jingoistic, editorialising Faux News piece, lining up the relatives of dead soldiers from pointless and intractable conflicts, applying industrial helpings of sanctimony, all in a brazen attempt to emotionally blackmail the viewer into taking a stance critical of the protestors, and all whilst making no attempt whatsoever to even reference in passing the increasingly legitimate, mainstream unease with the intention of many individuals, organisations and media outlets to hijack remembrance in order to engender support for present, highly dubious to outright illegal resource-grabbing misadventures in which UK forces are playing their part piling up millions of bodies in the third world. For this, one need look no further than the comments of Channel Four News presenter Jon Snow, or those ex-sevicemen making the same, widely publicised point of late, to take but the most obvious examples.
Again, I do not mean to present that version of events as open and closed (though it will come as no surprise that I have no trouble going along with it myself) or suggest that there is not further room for meaningful debate on the subject. It is however intellectually dishonest to remove this backdrop of popular discontent from the equation and refuse outright to place the protest, or more specifically the underlying sentiments, in their full context. That much one can expect from the right-wing mudslingers of the Daily Mail and the Murdoch outlets, however from the publicly-funded BBC it is quite simply inexcusable and a disgraceful betrayal of the corporation’s oft-cited, lofty journalistic ideals. Although coming as it does hot on the heels of the decision to wheel out Jeff Winters in the guise of expert neutral observer during the McDonaldgate fallout, it’s hardly a bolt from the blue, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Given such previous, and the long-established hostility of a majority of Celtic fans toward the traditional media, I have to say I’ve been genuinely amazed at how many on the forums and elsewhere seem to suddenly to have underwent a Damascene conversion and come to value their approval now that all guns have been turned on the Green Brigade.
Let us return for a moment to the origins of this entire saga, and the emergence a couple of years past of a movement to badger football clubs – in line with almost every other facet of public life in the UK – into playing their own part in an increasingly strident form of ‘remembrance’. Such belligerence is not something many of us with memories of a time hardly that long ago when there was no such dimension to events would readily associate with a period which surely ought to be marked instead with genuine solemnity and no small degree of contrition. But alas an increasingly bullish right-wing media and discredited political class (both sides of the House) have their own good reasons for all that.
It is not as if Celtic were helpless in the face of this momentum – initially, all that was required was a diplomatic statement and subtle nod to prominent English clubs also opting to stay away from placing symbols on the jersey, whilst expressing broad support for veterans’ welfare, and underlining the many opportunities for individual Celtic fans to show their support by wearing one should they please, which many choose to do, for all the right reasons, in a spirit of regret, mournfulness and above all else, longing for peace. Indeed, a reminder of the individualistic nature of remembrance, and the freedom for each person to choose for themselves how, when and why to go about paying their respects either to an actual loved one, or merely the faceless, voiceless many, is to highlight precisely the values for which the ‘Greatest Generation’ sacrificed so much.
Yet even that much proved beyond our custodians, a group of men for whom in recent years, weighing the record against the rhetoric, it seems the term ‘own biggest fans’ was coined. That is evidenced on so many levels when it comes to the direction in which the club has headed in recent years. In the event, they ended up railroaded into a civil war by the opportunist, point-scoring, moral hypocrits at FC Dignity, and their slavering harem of apologists, all of whom would happily use remembrance as a platform for attacking Timmy whilst claiming the moral highground.
Yet our sorry lot were led down the garden path on a leash by these trawling arseholes. They were played. It’s a theme which you could apply to events on-field also, as der h un somehow continues its lurch toward a potential, once unimaginable third title on the bounce, the follow followers polluting Paradise along the way with every passing chorus of BJK and the Famine Song hurled forth from the away end, along with the stadium seats. Year upon year of that set against a single peaceful half-time protest, but not the slightest peep of official denunciation from our own boardroom, let alone headline-generating guarantees of life bans.
The haste with which the club rushed to release a statement in full condemnation of the GB, when they have been miles behind the curve on so many matters of import, on-field and off, lately, tells you everything you need to know about the apparent relish with which some in the boardroom – and although many may be speculating it is becoming increasingly easy to guess who – appear to have taken to the role of timskelper.
Pluke-ridden, politically illiterate weans, goes the anti-GB refrain, yet having now been furnished with the flimsiest of pretexts to act, our famous ‘rottweiler’ and ‘attack dog’ looks set to bear his teeth on the defenceless – something of a speciality for the man who arrived here with many willing to overlook a sordid political past and slavishly wheel out desperate assertions that he’d be sticking it to the club’s enemies, from Ibrox to the SFA, for fun. Yet with every passing marker on those fronts he has been slow to act or altogether absent, and that’s not even getting to the complete lack of communication with the support in the closing months of a disastrous, squad-decimating 2009-10 season, in which his Only Candidate For The Job was unceremoniously dumped.
There are no words to describe the contempt I feel for this charlatan, robber baron politico, carpetbagger and overall turd of a man. Or maybe there are. The whole episode makes it crystal clear, were it not already, that he must go.
The official response was cloying and deferent in the face of anti-Celtic posturing from those who need no excuse to indulge in it. There is talk across some of the online boards of wholesale stay-aways from the games until either the decision to impose life bans on GB members is reversed or Baron Reid of Cardowan effs off into semi-retirement elsewhere. You can make of that what you will – I am the first to admit that we internet types regularly, and no less drastically overstate our place in the greater scheme of things and visions of a 1993 re-run over this are utterly fanciful. Still, I can well understand the strength of feeling, and have more than a hint of admiration for anyone willing and able to stick it out. If the board, encouraged by a man who has done nothing for the club bar prove the source of bitterness and division from day one, carry through with their threat to ban it will be a shameful nadir in the historic relationship between club officialdom and support, up there with anything the junta could have blundered their way into.
Yes, it takes two to tango. The Green Brigade are anything but whiter than white. You could put together a missive on what they have to learn, and fast. For one, now that they are firmly on the radar, they absolutely must ditch the ‘ra love-in and even were they to have done so ahead of Saturday it would still have been long overdue. But I make no apologies for concentrating attention on the board and their own level of control over the entire affair, if tackled properly and maturely at source, without entertaining notions of cheap, populist measures that bear all the hallmarks of a political maneouvre in the realm of public relations. I have an easier time understanding and excusing somewhat the naivety of a posse of impassioned kids than I do the custodians of an organisation as massive as ours – the captains of industry, ministers of state. Yet they’ve effed up horribly. Again.
The only heartening aspect to have come out of the last week has been the undiluted solidarity on show from each major supporters organisation to have made comment – the Trust, AICSC, and CSA. Yes, Celtic supporters are a broad church. Being politically ‘on-message’ with a given position is not and never will be a condition of acceptance. Yet basic principles remain, and as one poster on KDS expertly commented, “the majority of the Celtic support, given the choice, would opt for keeping political gestures of whatever nature away from the their football team. If you agree with that then its really a matter of how often you are prepared to tip your cap to satisfy the man.”
Wise words, and an excellent general rule. As guardians of the business the Celtic board are absolutely right in their professed aim to demand politics be kept away from the ground. They are wrong to expect to go without challenge should they be found in breach of their own constitution by the guardians of the club’s soul – the support.