Yesterday, I posted an article here about the coming Remembrance Day match at Ross County, where our fans will be under typical scrutiny, and where a single mistimed fart will result in forum threads and headlines beyond count, all of them casting a bad light on the whole support and, indeed, the whole club.
Last night I posted an article over on the CelticBlog about how Kilmarnock has announced that it intends to implement the excellent “Twenty’s Plenty” policy for the fans of all clubs.
With one exception. Celtic fans.
It pisses me off.
A few days ago, I watched a video of Celtic fans being accosted by police at Hamilton, police who took away their banner despite them having broken no law.
What came across most in that video was the sneering, contemptuous attitude of the officers who stopped them.
They couldn’t tell these guys what crime they had committed.
One actually asked a guy his age and then, like a mother talking to a primary school kid, chided him with the words “you’re old enough to know better.”
“Know better than what?” I wanted to scream at the screen.
Know better, perhaps, to think Celtic fans can walk Scottish streets these days without official harassment and intimidation.
Know better, perhaps, than to think we can do that wearing the colours and the crest of our football club.
Our supporters are targets; it’s as simple as that.
Of unscrupulous club pricing policies. Of the police. Of hacks who twist everything our players, officials and even ex-players and officials, say to paint us in the worst possible light.
We’re also the targets of other fans, many of whom enjoy nothing more than when a small minority of our supporters can let them smear our whole club.
Am I gearing up for a chorus of “no-one likes us, we don’t care”?
Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why.
This kind of treatment is reserved for us only here at home.
For a long time we’ve fiercely guarded our reputation as the world’s best fans, but it’s not enough for some people and it never will be.
Here, at home, we have enemies.
Here, at home, there are people who will never wish us well.
That asks a hard question of us; how do we respond to that?
Do we change our behaviour?
Because that’s what some in our society say we should do.
Republican anthems, no matter how much they are part of the culture many of our fans come from – in the same way as the Orange Walk is part of the culture of those on the other side – these offend some people; therefore why do our fans sing them?
Our banners, likewise, are often sharply political and can cut close to the bone, as some political expression is supposed to.
But why do we bother flying them?
Because we want to offend people? No, no and thrice no.
That it does offend people ought to be neither here nor there to us. There is no law protecting people from being offended, and God forbid there ever will be. We do it because … it’s who we are. The banners and the songs are about where many of us are from, and the psychic and symbiotic connection between that place and our football club is strong, and deep, no matter who might wish otherwise.
We’re here, and we’re staying.
But in order to better “fit in”, do we become subservient?
Get in with the “accepted norm”?
What if the “accepted norm” is a lot of hypocritical bollocks?
When they are forcing poppies onto the jerseys of every club in the land they have some brass neck telling us they want politics out of the sport.
When our political class is pushing national identity – both at the UK level and here in Scotland – at the same time as denying some of our fans theirs, it makes you wonder if you can ever bring yourself to vote again.
And when the media is calling for more passion in the stands but wants to condemn us for the ways in which express it … then the whole idea of conforming is a bit of a joke, isn’t it?
Because you quickly realise that what they really object to is simply the fact of us.
They don’t like that we exist at all.
If, tomorrow, our fans stopped singing Republican songs, if we agreed to wear the poppies, if we stopped flying the tricolour the very likely result of that would be … no change at all. Nothing short of a winding up order would appease these people.
Knowing that, I wonder why we’d even bother to try to?
Outside of Scotland, none of this applies.
Few other clubs have such a circle of friends across the sport.
Away from here, we’re loved and respected and honoured.
Outside of Scotland we get awards and commendations from towns and cities.
Police forces usually greet us like old friends, with the notable exception being the one in Amsterdam which seemed to want to add us to the list of supporters they’ve terrorised from all across Europe.
Outside of Scotland people judge us on who and what we are, rather than as a social group who others want to hammer into a mould that suits their own prejudices.
UEFA might butt heads with us these days but we know they don’t regard our banners and songs as a major issue, and let’s face it, being moralised to by these guys at the moment is a wee bit like being given marital advice by the folk behind the Ashley Madison site.
If they’re so serious about removing politics from sport I look forward to them telling the Home Associations to get the poppies off the shirts pronto.
So yes, outside of Scotland we have few issues to deal with.
We are not loved here.
Some dislike us with an intensity that almost defies reason, and this isn’t confined only to Sevco fans either.
I read the same preachy, anti-Celtic bollocks on websites belonging to clubs all over Scotland.
These people have myriad reasons why they say they dislike us, but in truth I don’t think any of them stand up to scrutiny.
They hate us … just because.
A lot of it has to do with social conditioning I think.
I had a debate with someone I regard very highly recently, over Catholic school education, which he said encouraged social division, without even thinking that diversity is something to celebrate instead of condemn.
I reminded him that it’s those people who say Catholic kids grow up different who are doing most to cement that view, and many are simply mirroring their own bias, by thinking of those kids as if they are.
He amazed me with his almost unconscious prejudice.
He was, apparently, wholly unaware that these schools exist all over Europe; it’s only here in Scotland that they are the subject of such outrageous attitudes, even hate, and when I told him that he was stunned, and said he’d look into the issue.
I don’t know if he will or not.
I only know that growing up here in a country which is so narrow minded and prejudicial has impacted on his ability to rationally analyse these things, and that applies equally to expressions of Irishness and Irish identity, and perhaps even more so.
Celtic’s support is made up of many diverse groups, and a number of them are highly political in their awareness and outlook.
Our club enjoys that when it brings good publicity with it; the Green Brigade have been, deservedly, lauded for their outstanding contributions to Glasgow’s foodbanks, but when they show the same political awareness to highlight their opposition to poppies on our jerseys or choose to exercise their free speech to make a point about the Offensive Behaviour At Football act, one of the most backward pieces of legislation ever conceived, our club looks the other way and treats them like the bad-tempered step child.
I can sympathise with their position in a sense; it wasn’t the Celtic board that passed the OBAF bill; in fact, our club’s stated position is in clear opposition to that legislation.
Additionally, when UEFA hands down a mandate they’ve got no choice but to accept it.
So the apparent inconsistency of their position is, to a certain extent, something that’s been imposed on them.
They do realise how our fans feel about many of these issues, which is why there will be no poppies on the jersey for the second year in a row.
They also supported the fans who were arrested in Amsterdam last year, and the last I heard they were lobbying UEFA angrily, seeking a clear explanation for why we were fined for the fans flying a Palestinian flag.
I’ve heard nothing about how that particular enquiry went, so if anyone can update me on it I’d be pleased.
In the end, they too realise what we’re dealing with here, what we have to face day in day out.
They get it, when other clubs release inflammatory press statements about our supporters, as Hearts did some years ago, or when we’re accused of “rioting” in Dundee.
I am the very last guy in the world who’d do the rousing chorus of “no-one likes us, we don’t care.”
Neither part of that sentence is true.
But here, in Scotland, we’re constantly on our toes, and some who’ve worn the Celtic strip in the wrong places have paid a savage price for doing so.
Our younger fans continue to be the victims of harassment today, but nowadays it more often than not comes with official sanction and a police uniform.
It’s almost as if certain people are doing everything they can to stop fans going to games at all.
Over on the CelticBlog last night I asked if it’s time our fantastic away fans stopped doing just that, and I was amazed at the number of “yes” replies the article got on Facebook and elsewhere.
Our guys and girls are getting sick fed up with all this; with away fans who treat us with contempt, with their clubs leeching off of us, with the police constantly on our case and with governing bodies which can’t get their act together.
How long before it becomes a critical mass?
I love Scotland, and I voted for independence. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I know there are an awful lot of its citizens who strongly dislike, even hate, Celtic.
Many of them do it reflexively, not even fully aware of the reasons why.
I find that more than a little irritating because I genuinely believe our club has been a force for good in the game.
We were founded on a charitable basis. We continue that tradition today. Since the death of Rangers, we have been more than fair, more than generous, in helping to redistribute wealth down through the leagues.
We did as much as any club to bring forth the new cash settlement which the other sides now enjoy.
I would still like to think that we could yet offer a leading voice towards reform of the whole national sport.
But there are too many who will sneer at that.
We are the best placed and best equipped club for the task, but a lot of others would say we were on a power trip, resorting to the old cliché that it was simply arrogance that was spurring us on.
And so progress is halted, usually at the first step.
I am not asking other clubs and their supporters to bow the knee, because we’ve never been that kind of institution.
No-one will be asked to “render unto Caesar”.
Nor do I expect respect from those who despise us and can’t accept any positive flowing from our existence.
But nor do I think we should change – not one iota – in order to appease them.
That means we’ll always take a little flak.
It means we’ll always eat a little dirt.
It means that in some parts of this fair land we’ll always be thought of as the outsiders.
Fine. So be it.
Let the haters hate, because in the end it’s all they know how to do.
We are, and we’ve always been, so much more than that.
We’ve been here for 127 years, and you know what?
This club, and our traditions, will be here long after many of our enemies and critics have gone the way of the team that was once our greatest rival.
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