With The Latest Poppycock The SFA Has Forfeited Its Right To Enforce Its Own Regulations

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Regular readers will know that I view this time of the year with a weary despair that comes with knowing three things; first that the hacks will be watching, waiting, pencils ready, to chronicle our club’s response to this poppy nonsense; second, that Sevconia will froth and foam and the mouth over it and add it to the litany of sins they believe makes us traitors to the land where we play and third, that a lot of Celtic fans will turn on each other over the issue.

My own feelings on this thing are broadly in line with the majority view amongst the support.

That the wearing of a poppy is a personal choice, something that deserves respect.

That’s how it was for years, before public figures were browbeat for not doing it, before politicians here realised there were easy headlines in displaying mock piety for the sacrifices of the soldiers whilst they sent young kids to war based on outright lies and before football was co-opted into the madness and first Rangers and then Sevco sussed that they could score cheap points playing the patriot card and tapping the glorification of war vein, all the while accusing of us of being somehow in league with the enemy.

As if it was our fans making Nazi salutes all these years.

Hey, listen, you can hear some of their fans hollering already; I couldn’t give a monkeys. Armed Forces Day? Aye, right. Talk about a gimmick for selling match-day tickets to a crowd that’s come to see itself as superior to the rest of us because of it. I mean what in God’s name does having a military band on the park and soldiers abseiling from the stand have to do with honouring the war dead? It’s skin-crawlingly jingoistic and over it all is the reek of naked opportunism. They are, after all, the club whose fans shamelessly appropriated the name of a soldier’s charity to sell their own replica tat. I couldn’t fart loud enough to express my contempt.

What makes it worse is that the poppy wasn’t always a symbol of militarism and the politicisation of remembrance; it was originally devised as a way of remembering the bloodied dead of a single conflict, to remind us all of those faraway places we know of from history books, and to keep us from forgetting what happened in them.

Young men died there, in their thousands, for ridiculously weak reasons, which in no way justified so much bloodshed. The poppy was a symbol of the futility of it all. It’s not for nothing that World War I was called, with a great of hope that it would prove accurate, The War To End All Wars.

It wasn’t, of course.

Another, even more terrible, one followed and those who use Remembrance Day to commemorate the sacrifice that generation made are not to be criticised for it. It was a different kind of sacrifice, and the reasons for it were far weightier. If there was ever a war I would have signed up to go off and fight, and even die, in then it was the one to remove the Nazi regime from the face of the Earth, one of the great just causes in the long timeline of mankind.

I don’t want to bore anyone with a history lesson, but this is where the poppy thing starts to get murky because before long it was being appropriated as a symbol of every single British military adventure, and there were a lot of them, many of them not those in which a civilised nation should have even an iota of pride, stretched across the globe and not just from 1945 to the present day.

My Irish brothers and sisters have longer memories than that; their own experience with soldiers wearing Union Jack patches on their uniforms goes back hundreds of years and those years drip with the blood of innocents and involved the persecution – and finally the revolt – of their entire island.

That’s a history many, including James McClean, honours today with their refusal to wear that symbol, and in a better nation than this it would engender respect every bit as much as that of those who wear the red flower for their great grandparents or parents or simply in recognition of the freedoms those men fought and died for.

One of those freedoms was the freedom to express our beliefs and ideas in whichever way we chose.

That freedom doesn’t exist for football fans in Scotland, because our government here has decided that only their version of political expression matters. They are perfectly happy to pay clubs to have their logo up on a stand, but want to charge people with a crime for displaying their own political leanings in those very same stands.

It reeks, and I speak as someone who took a “big picture” view of things, held my nose over that and actually voted for them.

Over the last couple of years Celtic’s critics in the media and at other clubs have been busily sneering at us for our stance on this issue.

I agree with those who said the poppy had no place on the Celtic shirt; it has no place on a football shirt, period.

The very act of asking for that is political.

The very nature of such a public display makes it a political act.

You only have to see the reaction towards any club or player who refuses to wear it to realise that this isn’t based on consensus. It’s based on coercion, the very antithesis of the very freedom the men it’s supposed to commemorate fought and died for.

It’s an insult to those men far greater than any individual’s conscious decision not to put one on could ever be.

The SNP has also got a lot of mileage out of its efforts to criminalise political expression.

In addition, the SFA has stood back whilst one of its member clubs was fined by UEFA for the songs that its supporters sang at matches. All of this has been covered here and elsewhere time and time again, but today we’ve got a new twist that throws it all up in the air.

The SFA and the English FA had decided to put the poppy on the player’s armbands for the coming qualifier at Wembley. Were the players consulted beforehand? Of course they weren’t, that would be inviting private expressions of misgiving, even dissent, after all. The associations simply forced this decision on them, knowing nobody in their right mind was going to publicly come out and say they weren’t going to do it. That, itself, stinks the place out.

But what’s happened since is even worse.

FIFA’s decision to ban this planned action sparked outrage, much of it absolutely phoney and all of it hysterical, first in England and then, amazingly, right here at home.

I understand Teresa May jumping on this passing bandwagon; she is a shameless opportunist who will do anything to shore up the wavering support on her own backbenches and in the country at large. Tom Watson too is an arch hypocrite; his comments today that wearing the poppy should be a matter of “personal choice” ignores the fact that not one of the players was asked before this ludicrous decision was taken.

It’s not a personal choice at all but one enforced by the inevitable public pressure, and one the respective FA’s decided on entirely off their own backs.

I expect this from these vote-chasing frauds.

What’s harder to stomach is the reaction of the Scottish government.

Suddenly the SNP has no issue with football being used for nakedly political ends; suddenly they’ve discovered a political symbol that does have a place in the football stadium, no matter who it might offend – and it’s worth bearing in mind that that’s the bar set by their reeking anti-free speech law; an action that might offend a “reasonable person”. Consistency be damned. The very nature of the public debate, and the way players are in the public eye, means that any choice footballers had in this has been narrowed to two; you either wear it or accept the opprobrium and negative attention that goes with such vile treason against the war dead.

James McClean might well be the bravest footballer on this whole island, and the most true to his values.

Where does the Holyrood government get off here?

It’s wrong for football fans to “inflict” their politics on others but it’s alright for players and fans alike to be coerced into public displays of patriotism whether they believe in it or not?

Could you get a ranker example of hypocrisy?

Well, actually, as it turns out you can, because the SFA’s position is worse.

Because it’s not enough that they were in favour of this action in the first place. It’s something else entirely for them to have decided, along with their counterparts in England, to ignore FIFA’s directive not to do it, and have the players wear them anyway.

So what example is that going to set?

That we should decide which FIFA directives we should obey and which ones we should ignore?

Our club has been fined because some of our fans think those directives belong in the bin; I agree with our fans. Neither FIFA nor UEFA has a right to infringe on free expression in the stands, or punish clubs because supporters choose to.

Those laws are ridiculous and contradictory, but one thing you can’t say about the major governing bodies is that those rules are not consistent.

Do they occasionally ignore them for their own ends? Of course they do.

But amongst the clubs and the countries under their aegis they don’t play favourites or mess around. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been fined for violating those rules, along with clubs like Celtic and St Johnstone. Those rules are applied across the board.

At no time has the SFA stood with Celtic on the matter, or tried to change those regulations.

At no time has the SFA put up a fight on our behalf; on the contrary, the SFA actually wants those rules to form part of the disciplinary structure of our game right here, under Strict Liability statues they’ve thus far failed to see brought in.

The word is that the SNP wants to enshrine those very same regulations in the SFA’s licensing charter, with the full support of Stewart Regan and others.

Can you imagine the response if our club had publicly supported the Palestinian flag protest?

Can you imagine the reaction had it taken a stand on behalf of the Green Brigade over the banner which exposed the SNP’s hypocritical anti-free speech law?

Tonight our governing body is putting two fingers up at the organisation that sets its own rules, on this very issue of political expression – and a far more egregious example of it, one where players are being publicly blackmailed in a very real sense – and the government which passed that law is agreeing with them.

And all of this is about PR and nothing more; it certainly has damn all to do with honouring the dead in two world wars which shaped our continent and set its path and shape, at least before the Brexiters decided to drive a wrecking ball through it.

The scandalous Offensive Behaviour At Football Act is headed for the bin.

Any effort to force football clubs to accept Strict Liability as part of their licensing requirements will be unenforceable.

The SNP’s posturing and interference in the running of the game has already gone further than it ought.

The issue for all football fans is the behaviour of the SFA.

Tonight they’ve said that rules are only to be followed when it suits them. We know they’ve allowed a single club here to run roughshod over their own for years, so perhaps we shouldn’t be terribly surprised at the news that they regard obeying regulations as something that’s strictly voluntary, but it does chill the blood a little just the same.

These people aren’t fit to govern anything, and this isn’t the last word I’ll have to say on the way in which they do so this week.

But this one is breath-taking even by their corrupted standards.

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