Flying The Flag

celtic-green-brigades-pal-flagThis article was originally intended to be about the transfer window, but I wasn’t looking forward to writing it as it left me decidedly underwhelmed, in spite of Celtic signing the strikers we’ve been crying out for. It feels like too little, too late.

(Especially as one of the deals is hanging in the balance. I don’t even want to go there.)

I am glad I found something else to write about, but I’ll tell you something; I’m sitting here, right now, and I am absolutely furious about what that something is.

UEFA has decided to warn two Scottish clubs over the conduct of their fans, the clubs being Celtic and St Johnstone, because their supporters had Palestinian flags at recent European games.

This, says UEFA, is a breach of their articles on political expression.

I am staggered by this notion, and I hope to God that neither club stands for it. Not only is it a nonsensical position for UEFA to take, but it is hypocritical and itself politically weighted. It defies belief that they would actually argue such a thing, and it will be an immoral disgrace if the clubs simply roll over and accept it.

Palestinian flags have long flown at Celtic Park. It is an expression of solidarity with an oppressed people, and an expression of support for the cause of establishing a fully-fledged Palestinian state, a cause supported right across the world. It is not anti-Israeli and it is not a flag of war. Indeed, in 2012 the United Nations granted Palestine the status of an observer state. This is one step away from giving them full recognition as an autonomous nation. It is the same status as is held by the Holy See and it was the legal position of Switzerland until 2002.

Is UEFA saying it would not recognise the Vatican City State flag as that of a nation state, but would consider it a “political statement”?

UEFA is based in Switzerland, where it presumably flies its national flag. Did it refuse to do that before 2002? Because surely that would have been a political statement too, right?

I’ll go even further. In 1999, the European Union itself recognised the right to a Palestinian state, in the Berlin Declaration. Palestine is a signatory to a number of international treaties, including the Convention on War, the Geneva Convention and the Vienna Conventions on Treaties and Diplomatic Relations. The nation state is recognised by 134 United Nations members.

The Celtic and St Johnstone fans were not holding up a political banner. The clubs have been prosecuted because their supporters held up a national flag, one that is recognised by almost every country on Earth, the European Union and the United Nations.

Furthermore, Palestine is a recognised nation in football too. They are member of the Asian Football Confederation and are recognised by FIFA.

There are no words for the contempt I feel for this decision.

According to reports, UEFA deem the flag a political symbol because of the on-going struggle in the Middle East, and it’s this notion I find most offensive.

Because how can they deem a national flag a political symbol, unless they themselves are viewing it through the prism of political ideology? There are only a few countries which do not recognise it as the flag of a nation state. The UK is one. America is another, and, of course, so is Israel. UEFA’s refusal to recognise the flag, even as the European Community does, is a blatantly political statement and a blatant taking of sides in the conflict.

No-one would ,or should, suggest that Israeli clubs do not fly their own national flag. Yet they are on the other side of this conflict. To label one side in a certain way and not the other is, itself, a profoundly political decision. It stinks to high heaven that they reckon they can do this kind of thing with impunity, as if the contradiction is not obvious to any right thinking person.

The Green Brigade were sanctioned last year for their Wallace and Bobby Sands banner shortly before UEFA ordered every club in every member nation to observe a minute of silence to remember the life of the great Nelson Mandela. People within the Celtic support were asking how one could be alright and not the other. They pointed to the similarities between these three men and this was further borne out when Sands’ contemporary Gerry Adams was chosen by the Mandela family as part of his funeral guard of honour.

UEFA ties itself in knots when it does this stuff and it doesn’t even appear to realise it.

The promotion of anti-racist organisations is a profoundly political statement. Their awareness campaigns on homophobia are political statements. I agree with them on these particular political issues, but that’s not the point.

They allow Scotland, England and Wales, as well as the north of Ireland, to compete in their competitions as separate states, although all are members of a single political, social and economic union. This is a political decision, and it could be argued that at the moment Scotland fans have less actual right to fly the Saltire at football than to fly the Palestinian flag, as the nation state of Scotland doesn’t presently exist on the world stage, at any level, far less that for which Palestine has recognition.

Where does UEFA get off here? Are the SFA really going to stand for this? Are the two clubs going to let this pass? This impacts especially heavily on Celtic, as we’ve had a pull for political expression before and with our fans propensity for flying the flag it may well not be our last warning in this regard. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be.

Peter Lawwell has a seat on the SFA board. This would be a good time to put it to use, to stand up for both of our clubs and their supporters. UEFA ought to be made explain this one, publicly, to argue the reasons why they deem a national flag as something else and this verdict, which I predict will become a notorious one, reversed.

We should be using social media to promote the hypocrisy of this to other clubs and their fans. We should get the idea of flying that flag out there, and get it to go viral. Widespread condemnation and public opinion should be brought to bear on this issue.

I hope to God we don’t remain silent here. This one has to be challenged. Peter Lawwell gets a hard time on this blog, but he will go up in my estimation enormously if he takes this one on, on behalf of the two clubs and their fans.

This can’t be allowed to stand.

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

24 thoughts on “Flying The Flag

  • 2 September, 2014 at 1:39 am

    Great article James. I agree 100% and hope to see Celtic and St Johnstone appealing this travesty.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I’ve amended this piece to remove reference to the fine as I’m not 100% sure there was one, until I read the actual UEFA decision.

    What’s clear is that ourselves and St Johnstone have been given an official warning by UEFA about the conduct of the fans and they’ve been put on disciplinary notice for violation of the rules on political expression.

    This is like aggressive blessing all over again. National flags are now political expressions? If Sevco ever makes it into Europe, I trust UEFA will ban the Union Jack from Ibrox, as the club is based in Scotland, and not Britain, and the flying of the Union Flag is clearly a political statement. It won’t be long until the follow suit with the Irish tricolour. No end to the madness here if you’re going down this road.

    What about national anthems? They are ALL political statements in one way or another.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Suppose the people flying the flag were Palestinian or of Palestinian descent, how would that work?
    Is a supporter at any club banned from flying the flag of his birth at game the team he supports is playing?

  • 2 September, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Perish the thought,but what if there was another 9/11 type attack on the US.

    Would any American flag flown by any group of fans to honour the dead be viewed the same way?I think not.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Dundalk FC were fined last week by UEFA as well for flying the Palestinian flag at their Europa League game recently. The UEFA observer said the game would be delayed or called off if the “offending” flag wasn’t removed. It was initially removed, but the Dundalk fans got it back into the ground later, so the fine was imposed. Simply lamentable, I love football but I hate the way it has become thanks to FIFA/UEFA and the Sky circus, obscene wages, cheating, “strategies”, “projects” and all that transfer deadline bullshit.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 9:02 am

    More or less every team that come to Celtic bring at least one union jack with them amongst their fans. Never seems to be mentioned. Be interesting to see if the numerous red hands in the Chelsea end get a mention this year seeing as UEFA seem to be clamping down? Probably not

  • 2 September, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Unbelievable, I never normally comment on these sites but I am absolutely disgusted by this stance from Uefa, how dare they dictate that we can’t fly the Palestine flag at a football ground, I mean how much more political can you get at an old firm game?
    This should go viral and all football fans should unite in support for the worlds largest open prison.
    Hail Hail

  • 2 September, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Good job no-one from UEFA saw that giant ‘Vote No’ tifo Sevco did the other day.

    I suspect no-one gives a fuck, and that’s fine, but it is about as overtly political as it gets.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve seen on numerous occassions, after a cup final or a winning last game of the season, foreign players suddenly draped in the country of their birth. From Big Victor and Izzy to Naka and beyond,they are given the flags from family, friends or fans, you’ll see them draped over their shoulder as they do their lap of honour, infact on occassion, Victor Wanyama and family over from Kenya springs to mind, players getting pics taken with the flag spread out with for all to see, including TV cameras.
    I’m sure you get where I’m going with this, are some players allowed this type of behaviour and others not?
    The obvious example here is Nir Biton.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Sorry, meant to add, Beram Kayal brings another twist to the senario.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Sorry, I meant to add, Beram Kayal brings a different slant to the senario.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    No problem if there’s a Palestinian CSC flag??? A massive one to be passed around the stadium?!! UTLR

  • 2 September, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Good write up regarding the flying of a national flag. Have UEFA forgotten about massive EU sanctions against Russias aggression towards Ukraine. They are very happy to receive millions from there main sponsor Gasprom from Russia. Feckin hypocrits

  • 2 September, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    What if it was a Palestinian Celtic Supporter, simply highlighting the fact that he / she is Palestinian by ‘flying the flag’ …….as the Irish do at several EPL grounds …!!??

  • 2 September, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    James i think anyone should be able to fly any flag they like but if you fly it inside paradise and celtic get fined you should take personal responsibility and pay the fine you know it makes sense

  • 2 September, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Yeah except that it doesn’t make sense in this case. This is not an IRA banner or Free Nelson Mandela, or Fuck Alex Salmond.

    This is clubs being prosecuted for their fans holding up the flag of a country recognised by 134 nations, the UN, the EU and FIFA. This is UEFA saying it is a political statement because of the war with Israel whilst they allow clubs and players to fly the Star of David. Tell me how that is, in itself, not a political statement?

    This decision is incoherent, biased nonsense.

  • 2 September, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    james if i do something that gets my brother a fine should he pay the fine or should i cmon mate

  • 2 September, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    james i think it would be really funny to see someone standing outside paradise rattling a can looking for donations towards the fine he is about to get for flying a flag that gets him a fine he would get short shrift imho

  • 2 September, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    what abut Barcelona’s open declaration of basque independence – why aren’t UEFA dig anything about that?

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