For the last few years, I’ve spent a great deal of time blogging on the unfolding shambles at Ibrox. I’ve been branded a bigot, I’ve been accused of being obsessed. I’ve had insults thrown at me from every section of the DeadCo support. That doesn’t bother me in the least.
I enjoy debate. I debate everything. One of the most venomous reactions I’ve ever had to an online post was a piece I put on Facebook regarding Jade Goody. You’d think I’d accused her of murder, when all I did was question a recent article that called her a “great British role model.”
A woman who had oral sex on live TV, who spewed out racist remarks and frequently demonstrated such ignorance Boris Johnston could have dedicated a party conference to her? I suggested the answer just might be no, and I thought the response I got for daring to do that was as bad as it could get.
Yet, it took criticising some elements of our own supporters to over-reach. For the first time since I started blogging, and I’m talking about years, I’ve finally had an email threatening me. And it was, of course, from a Celtic supporter. Talk about a turn up for the books.
I wasn’t going to write this article before that email. The press has had a field day since Friday night at Fir Park. The club had reacted. Even Neil Doncaster had found his voice and expressed an opinion. The Supporters Association had released a statement. There didn’t seem like a whole lot I could say to add to the arguments on both sides. It seemed un-necessary.
But here I am. Thanks to my “friend”, who will remain anonymous, and to a select few others on Facebook who have called me all manner of names in the past day or two, for not toeing the party line on this one, and for daring to speak my mind.
Odd that, isn’t it? It’s always the ones who go on about “free speech” who are the most intolerant of others when they express a dissenting view.
This is going to be a dissenting view. But not in the way some people might think. I am not going to criticise people who are expressing their own opinions, cause we all have the right to do that. What I will say is that there’s a time and place for it, that my arguments are more about strategy than real substance and that what we’re really talking about here is ways and means.
Celtic is in a perilous position. We are not yet “a house divided” but we will be if things continue as they are. We need to heal, and we need to do it quickly, or the divisions are going to set us back years.
Some of our supporters really do need to get a grip on their behaviour. There is an element amongst our fan-base, small in number for sure, that has ceased to recognise that they are ambassadors of a wider family, and not just for themselves.
They have left the club with no choice but to respond.
At the same time, they have left people like me, people with very serious issues to raise about some of the policies of our club – in other words, natural allies – in the uncomfortable position of having to voice my support for some of the people I want booted out the Celtic Park door.
I find myself, therefore, disagreeing with guys I’d ordinarily agree with, on the side of people I self-exile myself from Parkhead because of. It’s the strangest position I’ve ever found myself in as a Celtic supporter, and it’s one I am finding hard to reconcile.
I believe in freedom of speech, for all. Back in the days when I was a political activist, I had real issues with things like the “no platform policy” which saw members of “mainstream” parties refuse to engage in debate with extremists. I believed that it was both cowardly and politically damaging, and gave those people some kind of left-field legitimacy. Better, I always thought, to actually challenge their ignorant opinions and crush them.
Worse than that, the second the policy was established, ostensibly to deny a platform to the BNP, I knew it would be extended, sooner or later, to cover other organisations and it had the potential to become a weapon against any non-mainstream political view, and of course that’s just what did happen, and has been happening ever since.
UEFA’s blanket ban on “political expression” is the natural extension of the no platform policy in action. It was designed, in the beginning, to combat right wing extremists who wanted to use football grounds as recruiting centres. It was brought in to combat fascism and racism from taking a hold on the Beautiful Game.
As with all such regulations, however, there was a sting in the tail. You cannot ban extremism on one end of the scale without banning it on the other. And because racism and fascism can manifest themselves in ways which aren’t always readily apparent, UEFA sought to ban right-wing political expression as a whole. But how, in a democratic society, can you protect people from one type of political expression without, yourself, taking a political stance? Well there was an answer to that too. You ban political expression entirely.
I’ll be honest right now, I understand how this happened, and I understand the dangers inherent in allowing political expression in football stadiums. There you have groups of angry young men, predominantly working class young men, with all that entails. You add the tribalism which goes hand in hand with football, perhaps some alcohol, you scatter reactionary politics into the mix, and what you get is potentially combustible.
Now, I personally disagree with the banning of political expression inside football grounds, or anywhere else. At the same time, I don’t necessarily believe that football stadiums are appropriate places for that kind of thing, but that’s another debate entirely.
What I do respect is the reason why it was done, and the difficult position the governing bodies were, and are, in when it comes to enforcing it.
There is little doubt that the blanket ban is routinely enforced, and that clubs across the continent have paid the penalty, and continue to pay the penalty, for violating it. This is not, as some would have you believe, UEFA picking on Celtic.
Why would they want to? This is not the SFA, with its history of institutional bias, the organisation that has bent every rule to have a club calling itself Rangers playing football again, the one which would have had them in the top division if we had let them away with it.
UEFA were handing us awards not so long ago. They know what the Celtic support is all about. They understand that we’re not like other fans. These people bear us no grudges, or ill will, and the notion that UEFA is “the enemy” is ludicrous, and it’s why a scandalous banner provoking their ire last year was both un-necessary and stupid. Since when did the Celtic support go out actively looking for enemies? Do we not have enough, right here at home?
If you need reminding of who the real enemy is, read some of the gleeful articles from the MSM in the past few weeks, especially the disreputable garbage spilling forth from that washed out hack Keevins, who’s mocking, smug, sarcastic, mentally deranged piece in the aftermath of Wednesday’s Champions League hammering is one of the most loathsome pieces of work ever turned out by a man who has spent a lifetime writing arrant nonsense.
His assertion that a tier three NewCo, hovering on the edge of administration, mired in controversy, and where police investigations continue apace, is hot on our heels because of mismanagement at our club would be hilarious if I didn’t know he really believes this stuff.
Celtic’s fans have built their reputation over decades. It will take more than a clown like Keevins to declare that reputation ruined, but The Green Brigade’s fight with UEFA will have only one winner, and that will be the governing body. Their suicidal stance in front of the guns would look ridiculous even if it were not doing enormous damage to our club.
It also appears to have no purpose, because the notion that banners are going to shame UEFA into a change of stance are ridiculous, and it is infantile too because it suggests that this is a set of supporters which sees the rules as being for other people, and Scotland already has one set of fans who think this way and neither the game, nor Celtic, needs another.
The on-going debate over the Offensive Behaviour bill is another area where I am in agreement with them on the substance, but not in the manner in which they’ve chosen to fight it. I think banners are great for raising awareness, but they’re not designed to win hearts and minds. And the truth is, most of the people we’re trying to convince are already convinced.
The Offensive Behaviour bill has overwhelming public support, and that’s not going to change, especially when the people claiming to be victimised by it are now being accused of wrecking seats at a rival’s football ground. Even if this had been a winnable campaign, the one to have Parliament overturn its own law, that was the moment attitudes hardened and we lost the one weapon that might have made a difference here; the moral ground.
I was in politics. I know how it works. It doesn’t matter what the reality of this matter is, only what people perceive it to be.
Perception is reality in political debate.
With overwhelming public support, this bill will never be overturned by the politicians. There’s simply no cause for it, no political reason why they should, no downside to leaving it in place. Only two things ever changed a politician’s mind; an angry electorate or a financial downside, and I don’t mean necessarily to his or herself. You put money in the political equation and minds can be changed just as quickly as by bad polling numbers.
Money could still swing this. If the CPS squanders enough of it, the Parliamentary Accounts Committee can start screaming blue murder, the press might turn on the issue and then public opinion will follow it. I haven’t given up hope on that happening.
I’ll tell you, though, what I think our best bet is here, and I’ve thought this from the start, when the law was first passed.
The law itself is a joke. It’s an assault on basic freedoms, and it’s disgraceful that it was ever proposed, scandalous that it was ever debated and abhorrent that it was ever passed and turned into a reality. Shame on everyone involved in it.
I also think it goes too far, and edges into a violation of our rights under the ECHR. I think if this is challenged in the European Court they will rule it as a breach of human rights and dismantle it immediately. I can’t see that it’s anything else.
So, I say to the guys who’re fighting this to keep on doing it. But we don’t need to call the Scottish Government hypocrites, and especially now in comparing William Wallace to Bobby Sands, which only turns people off who might otherwise be on our side. Expose this law for the violation of our rights that it is, keep the parliamentary pressure on … but the real fight is through the courts, and that is where we stand the best chance of getting a win.
The Scottish Government, of course, are hypocrites on this issue. We know it.
I’ve heard tell that The Green Brigade’s stance is designed to oppose hypocrisy at UEFA too.
Someone suggested to me the other day that UEFA honouring Mandela is an act of political theatre, and I agree. Under UEFA regulations, a club would have been fined if it’s supporters held up a banner of the statesman whilst he was alive, and that does make UEFA’s decision of the other night look utterly at odds with policy. Yet the governing bodies would doubtless say that if they did allow fans to fly the Mandela flag it would only be a matter of time before the Arkan banners returned to the Stadio Olympico and elsewhere, and they’d have a point.
Simply stated, Mandela deserves the praise, and honour, of the entire world, and if there was going to be an exception made to the rule then this was the guy to make it for. Before he took power, South Africa was a house divided. He could have tipped it into civil war and an eternity of darkness and he chose not to. He was a healer, a man who made things whole.
That our support had such a voice right now, to make us whole again.
I’ve heard Celtic’s board labelled hypocrites for asking the fans to leave politics at the door when we have, and have had, major political figures on the board of directors. This is less easy to support when one considers that, first and foremost, those men were brought to the club to provide their expertise. I look at the chain of command at Celtic Park and I see serious men.
One only has to look across the city to see how different things are for those clubs which can’t attract such people of calibre.
Should we disqualify people with political backgrounds from working at Celtic Park? Our club does not, itself, have a political “ideology”, no matter what some of the more wild theories might suggest. We are, ostensibly, open to all, tolerant, respectful of race, creed and colour, as we’ve always been, and are mindful of any action which suggests otherwise.
Do I agree with everything the board does? Hell no, as numerous articles on this site and others have demonstrated quite clearly.
I think the failure to pay workers the living wage is highly offensive, and an insult to the founding principles of Celtic, and I believe the failure to give Neil Lennon the money we brought in from the sales of Wanyama, Hooper and Wilson was in no small measure responsible for the ignominy we suffered on the pitch during our disastrous Champions League campaign.
In those particular examples, there is a contempt for the wishes of the supporters and an attitude of casual disregard for our history and roots that is, frankly, breathtaking. I also think that as long as we have men like Iain Livingston on the board he should, at the very least, be doing his damned job better so that the PLC does not have to rely on cutting the football squad in order to balance the books. What we have at Celtic Park right now is the tail wagging the dog, and the results of it were all too obvious in Barcelona the other night.
So yes, I think something is far wrong in the Celtic Park boardroom but it’s not that it’s developed a political outlook.
I think Peter Lawwell and others have failed in their basic responsibilities, which are to run the business side of Celtic to support the football one, and that Lawwell, in particular, has instead been allowed to make the football team the cornerstone of funding the business. It’s a perversion of the job he was brought in to do, and I will not set foot in Celtic Park again until he and the “strategy” he presides over are gone.
The truth is, my indictments of that man and his strategy are based on facts, and the evidence of our own eyes when we watch the team dismantled in the manner of this European campaign. They are not based on rumours, supposition, innuendo and conspiracy theories. They are real, and as such they are all the reasons I need to want Lawwell and others removed before this club can begin to move in the right direction again.
This club is on the verge of a monumental division, and it is to the ultimate shame of our so-called leaders that it has come to this. The collapse, liquidation and then death of Rangers, and the way in which we all came together to oppose the NewCo masquerading as the defunct club being given a free ride to the top league granted the Celtic board an opportunity for unifying and growing this club like no other in our history could have dreamed.
They have squandered that sense of unity in under two years, and that is a disgrace and a failure so epic it will never be equalled. Our sense of purpose, of focus, is lost.
With the foot on the enemy’s throat we balked from finishing the job. Campbell Ogilvie remains atop the scandalised SFA, who’s chief executive, Stewart Regan, similarly remains in post following some of the most scandalous scaremongering imaginable.
Those one brave man, Turnbull Hutton, labelled “corrupt” still have their hands on the controls, and it has cost us the one honest to God chance to reform Scottish football we’ve had in front of us since Fergus McCann broke Jim Farry. We could have changed everything and made this game fundamentally clean again, and that chance is gone for the foreseeable future.
Those who are opposed to “the strategy” know that Lawwell has to go. Those who are opposed to the treatment of the fans blame him, and believe he has to go. Those who believe we didn’t do enough to bring down the people who have wrecked the game here know his spot in the SFA enhances the positions of men like Doncaster and Regan, and lends legitimacy to Ogilvie, the very men who propelled us to the edge of darkness.
And for that, he has to go.
It’s hard, at this point, to picture the reasons why someone would want him to stay. It is clear that it’s Peter Lawwell himself who is, easily, the most divisive figure at Celtic Park.
I’ve been asked a million times this week if I believe the bans handed out by the club to our fans, and the decision to disband the Green Brigade, was a proportional response. Almost all realise that the small number of supporters who shamed us with the breaking of the seats have to go. That’s not the question. The question is; was the response too heavy?
I say that we have people at Celtic Park who will want to divert blame onto the fans because our own fans are an easier target than a media comprised of lairs and cowards, and people who despise us. Targeting our own supporters is less difficult than taking on the vested interests who allowed, and perhaps even aided, a decade’s worth of cheating, and it is divides the people who, otherwise, might be focussing all their attention on, and asking serious questions of, a board of directors which has watched as our team has declined in quality at the same time as our balance sheet has never been so healthy.
But the club was right to take action in this case. They are right to defend the reputation of the rest of the support, to take their time to investigate what went on at Fir Park and then to do whatever they feel is necessary in the aftermath.
This does not make me a board supporter or an apologist. I am far from either of those things.
I am pragmatist, and a realist, and this week’s events have put me in a place where a little criticism ain’t no thing at all. When someone on your own side is threatening you because you have an opinion he doesn’t like you quickly come to realise that pleasing everyone is a non-starter and that upsetting people goes with the territory.
I am part of this family, just like you are, and I love it just like you do. And what I want, more than anything else, is to see this family brought together again, and pulling in the same direction again, and fighting not with each other but with the enemies we have right here at home. To focus on the bigger picture instead of on unwinnable battles which bring us no credit.
I love, and cherish, our roots like you do. I believe in the politics and I honour the history that you do. I want what is best for Celtic Football Club just like you do, and I want to see us restored to our rightful place at the pinnacle of European football, just like you do. You are my brothers and sisters, and we are all on the same side of the lines.
I want to see this family united once more, as it needs to be.
I will disagree with you when I think you are wrong, as you are welcome to use the comments section to disagree with me, but, brothers and sisters, don’t waste your time, or mine, questioning my credentials and my affection for this thing, this family, of ours, and do not question each other’s because everything we do is an act of love.
In the end, we have bigger fish to fry. Some inside our club, some outside it, and unlike the wars some of our number want to fight, these are ones we actually can win and must win, and they are the most important things some of us will ever do in our lives.
Our enemies would like nothing more. Are you going to give them exactly what they want?
A house divided will not stand. Think of your brothers and sisters.
You, by your conduct, can help to heal this family. Or you can help to pull it apart.
The choice is yours. God willing, you make the right one.
(James Forrest recently published his first article on Yahoo. You can help On Fields of Green by reading his work there, becoming a “fan” and subscribing to his updates.)
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