When I wrote my piece yesterday on The Daily Record’s coverage of the Manchester City game our club had not yet been told UEFA were opening an investigation into the conduct of our fans inside the game. The moment that news broke I knew there would be an avalanche of negative stories, many of them sensationalist rubbish.
There is an element of our support with whom many fans are deeply frustrated and angry, and it’s coming to a head where the club and that small number is concerned. Taking flares and smoke bombs into a game is a lamentably stupid act, and those who continue to do it are putting this club in a bad spot, and it can only end one way; with them banned, forever. Few of the rest of us will have the slightest sympathy for them.
But that small number must not be allowed to cast a shadow over the rest of the Celtic Family, and the media’s coverage of events in Manchester has veered into the hysterical. It’s nothing we’ve not seen before, and before, and before and before.
I remember being in a pub in Stirling before the Blackburn Rovers match on the road to Seville and hearing Chick Young on the radio describe “a riot” in the English city centre. He used that exact word, without a trace in his voice that suggested that everything he said was nonsense yet that’s precisely what it was.
Chick Young went on the air and lied, there’s no other way I can put it, and I heard him do it. I was so distressed by his breathless report that I phoned my old man – who was down there – to see if he was alright, and he reacted in absolute disbelief, being in the general area where Young was still saying, in the background, that all Hell was breaking loose.
We were on the end of similar nonsense over the “mid-air riot” on the way back from Vigo that same year, and we remember well the media coverage of Amsterdam where there was no way we were getting the benefit of the doubt, and facts be damned, until their narrative collapsed when even the Dutch police admitted their culpability for the scenes in the Square.
Every minor incident involving our supporters is blown up and amplified.
A certain other club’s actions, when they played in Europe – even an actual riot which lasted a full day – resulted in the same hacks making excuses; they blamed Manchester’s local authorities for screens which didn’t work, as if that excuses the scum who went on the rampage; they blamed the city’s bars for selling alcohol to the supporters, as though grown men need protecting from themselves and then they blamed the whole thing on English supporters. There was a similar attempt to deflect blame from the deplorable conduct of the Sevco fans at last year’s Scottish Cup Final, with one national newspaper actually running outright lies in its pages about “every player” being attacked even when some of the players had publicly contradicted it. These people simply cannot contain themselves, or even try to remain impartial.
I cannot say enough times how stupid some of our own supporters are, but as a club we certainly don’t have to, and won’t, take lessons from the kind of people crawling out of the woodwork in the media today. Mark Wilson, who’s reinvented himself as the latest in a long line of ex-Celt’s to take the media’s greasy coin and stick the boot into us, is the latest to offer his “opinion”, as if there’s anything in his statement we desperately needed to read.
He barely seems to understand what the UEFA charge relates to, which is not exactly his fault as it seems almost wilfully vague. For releasing a pyrotechnic or smoke bomb, yes we’ll probably have to cop for that, and most rational people won’t complain. But this assertion that our fans were involved in “crowd disturbances” – whatever that means – but that Manchester City bears no responsibility is bizarre at best and ridiculous when considered right.
I just watched on Sky Sports News as UEFA announced that Besiktas and Dynamo Kiev would be similarly charged, but in that case the accusations are specific and detailed. I’m just not sure what it is that UEFA’s saying our fans did; if the problem is that some of our fans were in the wrong end of the stadium every club in Europe could face that charge, every week. Quite how they can say it’s the fault of Celtic but not the home side I do not know.
Yet UEFA appears to have accepted Manchester City’s assertion that they did all they could to prevent away fans getting tickets, which is an outright falsehood as I can attest. I know of one supporter’s bus that was able to obtain more than 40 tickets in the City ends … bought direct from the Manchester club, and that’s a single case, and there are doubtless others.
Manchester City’s supporters online, including a number of their video bloggers, praised the atmosphere created by our fans.
A couple, who were in the vicinity of the “incidents” said that things got heated but that there was no physical violence. The police offered praise to Celtic’s directors after the game, and praised the behaviour of the “vast, vast majority” of the fans … this wasn’t a fixture that was going to provoke widespread trouble and it did not.
The media narrative that’s emerging here is scandalous. Celtic has a minor problem with a small handful of fans who can’t seem to grasp the rules as regards fireworks and smoke bombs; their behaviour is moronic to say the least, and identifying and removing them from the support is past due.
But this is not a reflection on the rest of the fans, no matter how much the media seeks to cast that light. These people have lied about our conduct abroad repeatedly, and loudly, whilst making excuses for other clubs when they weren’t ignoring the behaviour of their fans completely.
Do we have work to do inside our own ranks? Hell yes, but we aren’t going to be looking to these people for advice or support as we do, and we’re certainly not going to allow them to lecture us, with their own long history of dissembling and deceit. We remember well the past cases, and the notorious email sent by a certain Glasgow PR company suggesting that as well as boosting Rangers in the press they should be on the lookout for regular anti-Celtic stories.
But just because we don’t expect a fair shake from these people, it doesn’t mean we’re going to stay silent as they try to smear us.
It’s not going to happen. Those days are done.