When it comes to keeping public order, Glasgow’s Gallowgate has a track record. The riots and revolutions of 17th and 18th century Europe inspired many in Glasgow and the rest of the British Isles. So much so that the governing authorities of the day were moved to place military barracks into major cities, to quell any similar action.
Events of ten days ago seem to show that some things never change. Just as the Glasgow barracks of the late-1700s were built off the Gallowgate (next to the modern day fire station), so the current authorities seek to stop contemporary protests in the same place.
The police actions of preventing a Green Brigade march before the recent Celtic versus Aberdeen game have been analysed to death, in message boards, online communities and of course the national media too. But are we really any closer to getting the most important answers?
The response to the containment strategy – ‘kettling’ to give it the accepted nickname – has been mixed. Those with a very firmly green-tinted view have described it as unacceptable, and the issue has even made it all the way to Holyrood. Those from a different perspective perhaps think that the Green Brigade got what was coming to it.
It is always easiest to focus on high-profile events, and all the video footage of the Gallowgate that particular day makes for compelling viewing. However these events may in fact be a distraction to more important questions; specifically regarding the police’s general approach to the Green Brigade (and the Union Bears, and anyone else affected by the Scottish Government’s football control legislation).
Depending on your reading of the story, it is possible to feel sympathy for the fans and the police. The police would argue that they sought to stop an illegal march which did not have permission to proceed; the fans would say that the amount of police resources used to control a relatively small group of football fans was utterly disproportionate.
Which brings us to question 1: was the policing used that day appropriate to the situation? Without a detailed insight in operational policing matters, it is hard to say for certain. Had another group – perhaps non-football related – planned an illegal march that day, how would the police have dealt with that situation?
In fact it shouldn’t be too difficult for the police to answer that question, because another such illegal march was planned for Glasgow that day. Nine years ago the brutal murder of schoolboy Kriss Donald shocked Scotland, not least because he was killed for no reason other than being white.
The same Saturday of Celtic v Aberdeen also marked the ninth anniversary of his death. Donald’s family have always shunned attempts by extreme right-wing groups to hijack his memory, but nevertheless the Scottish Defence League that day had planned a march in the Pollokshields area, home to a large Asian population.
Permission for this event was refused (although granted for St Enoch Square in the city centre), but the SDL declined this and threatened to go ahead with the southside event anyway, permission or not. This was an event which certainly could have sparked major riots, and involved a large opposing demo. What were the police contingencies to deal with that situation?
Whatever the answer, there is still the possibility that it really is a diversion next to the larger question; what specific problems are the police seeking to prevent in their policing of the Green Brigade, and other groups at other clubs? This not about defending or condemning the Green Brigade; rather instead asking pertinent questions before reaching some form of judgement.
The Green Brigade have undeniably enlivened the atmosphere at Celtic Park, although many would claim that some of the songs to be heard, not least at away games, have no place in a football ground. Again whatever an individual’s views it would be telling to know if this – and this alone – is what drives the police’s concerted attempts to monitor and control this group of Celtic fans.
If this is all that the police have concerns about then it would be helpful if this was made clear, thus allowing the wider community to judge the proportionality of their actions. However given the large amount of resources devoted to this group – and not simply on match days – then surely there must be more to it than this?
Stories abound of people being targeted by the police at their workplaces, of being visited at home in the early hours, akin to the type of raid more commonly associated with high-profile drug dealers. Furthermore a dedicated unit exists within the police (FoCUS) to target those involved in football-related disorder.
Were the police to make some form of statement which outlined their specific concerns concerning the Green Brigade, the Union Bears and anyone else then as a public we could decide how fair they are in fact being. If they highlighted specific concerns with violence or illegality then perhaps the police would gain majority support for the way public funds are being administered.
However thus far there is nothing except rumour and online hearsay. And of course the usual baiting between opposing fans. The irony in this case is that both Celtic and Rangers may have common cause in this issue. As much as it may pain fans on both sides, just now there is a shared interest about policing and fans.
Having attended both Celtic and Rangers away games this season (the latter being in the Queens Park end at Hampden at Christmas) the similar aspects of the different supports is striking. In both cases each sang songs the authorities would seek to ban and provided a n identical repertoire of songs criticising the police and SFA (the exact same songs, it should be emphasised). Flares have also been let off by both.
This apparent unknowing brotherhood leads to the final question; are some supporters, on both sides, so determined to remain apart that they would ignore obvious shared areas of concern? For instance, if both groups, through their clubs, were to promote a public dialogue with the police then we could better understand and judge if the police are being fair or overly heavy handed.
But, as with the other puzzles posed, the answers are simply not clear. Indeed in the midst of the sound and fury over last week’s Gallowgate march, these questions are simply not being asked, far less coming close to any answer being provided.
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