Friends All Over The World. None In This Country?

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Yesterday, Celtic fans were partying with the locals in Germany. It’s something that makes me very proud of my club and its fans. This is what we do. It’s one of our traits, one that is known and respected all around the world. Except here at home.

How can that be?

How can our fans be so beloved in other cities across the continent yet find ourselves with so few friends here at home? Oh I’m not about to suggest, as the Sevconites now tend to do, that we are hated by everyone; that’s paranoid garbage which is an insult to Scotland, but our friends abroad are certainly not matched by corresponding acceptance here.

Part of it is rivalry. Part of it is, I’m absolutely certain, that we’re misunderstood, as linked as we were by the hated Old Firm tag. Fans at other Scottish clubs still look upon us as one half of that corrupting rivalry based on naked hate. Others think we’re selfish and driven by nothing but our own best interests. I think some of the dislike we face is driven by pure ignorance – when Rangers went under no club gave more than Celtic to make sure Scottish football wasn’t adversely affected by that – and yes, some of it is drawn from bigotry. Ibrox isn’t the only ground where there’s an undercurrent of anti-Irish or anti-Catholic hate. Tynecastle’s atmosphere can be vicious. The one at Motherwell has, on occasion, been absolutely vile.

One of the issues at play here, and quite a serious one for some people, is that a lot of our fans have embraced political causes which are anathema to many on this island.

One of the reasons we’re beloved by so many abroad is that they recognise those causes for what they actually are, without any of the inherent bias that comes with living here and being socially conditioned by a media which is profoundly unionist and right wing, with all that entails.

One thing about our supporters; even those who were brought up here, and grew up surrounded by that stuff, haven’t let any of it affect their innate understanding that this is a world much more complicated than the version that appears in the Daily Mail.

The section of our support which so many of my countrymen have chosen to despise are more humane, internationalist and socially aware than their critics ever will be.

The causes they care about are honoured in countries all around the world, and in those faraway lands we will never have any shortage of friends as a consequence.

Oh UEFA takes a dim view of expressing support for political causes but there’s barely a single person anywhere who doesn’t think their stance is incoherent, contradictory nonsense which makes them look and sound utterly ridiculous. The decision to fine Celtic fans this year for the Palestinian flag protest was scandalous, but it created only a minor stir because of what our supporters did in response to it.

To say our fans won the PR war is an understatement.

Whilst some hysterical fools in this country tried to equate that with “support for terrorists” and even anti-Semitism it was seen across the world as something almost entirely positive.

FIFA has recently taken the decision to label the poppy as a political symbol, and this has opened a can of worms and a half, and I’ll be writing about that in a later article. But the distinction I want to make there is this; fans in the stands should be allowed to express themselves as they please.

Political expression ought to be perfectly valid in a free society. A football association pushing a nakedly political symbol onto the jerseys of every single footballer is a different matter entirely. We have no right in our society to not be offended, but we do have rights against being coerced. FIFA’s decision is the right one, much as their political expression rule is the wrong one.

Beyond that, a lot of people need to understand that their attitude towards our fans, and the political section of them in particular, comes over as intolerance or ignorance to those who have the wit to look at it properly. The guys in the Green Brigade take the proper attitude to this in that they don’t seem particularly inclined to try and explain themselves to people who are either closed-minded or simply too bigoted to even consider the things they do, the flags they fly or the songs they sing in the context of the wider world … these guys don’t want to waste their time, but more than that, they don’t feel the need to defend themselves for folk too ignorant to try.

Their actions are pretty self-explanatory to those who want to take a closer look.

There’s no need for them to explain or defend what they do; the people here at home might accept the one-sided, one dimensional view of the Irish war of independence or the plight of the Palestinians or the Basque’s quest for self-determination but those people aren’t who those signs, songs and banners are for in the first place; these guys are speaking over their heads to the wider world.

And all day yesterday in Germany, Celtic fans enjoyed the company of their hosts, and not just them; aside from mingling with the Gladbach fans they also met up with friends of old, like the fans of Dortmund and St Pauli and the many other clubs who sent delegations from across Europe to meet up with their many brothers and sisters in this Family of ours. Because these people get it.

They understand. They know what a large section of our support represents – the struggle, in its many forms, including the struggle against ignorance itself. They revere that, and the friendliness and the internationalism of a support whose club itself was founded to feed starving settlers, and holds true to that ideal in a time where even the word immigrant is spat like a curse.

Our fans are accepting, and outward looking, ever ready to make new friends and outside of Scotland we have been tremendously successful at it.

A few UEFA fines for songs and banners hasn’t changed that; in fact, it’s enhanced it. Pyrotechnics and that other silly stuff aside, we never lost admirers by being who we are.

As Tony Hancock is famously supposed to have said, “I have friends all over the world. None in this country, but friends all over the world …”

I used to be bothered by this.

Now I tell myself that they just don’t get it, that they don’t understand. And you know what? I have no inclination to explain it to them anymore.

The rest of the world knows who, and what, we are.

That’s enough. It’s always been enough.

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