The Relationship Between Celtic And The Green Brigade Risks Heading For A Point Of No Return

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Yesterday I published two articles on the Green Brigade and the banners from the other night.

I thought much of the media coverage was overblown nonsense; these were flags.

Nobody got hurt. Nothing was thrown at players. Nobody got onto the pitch.

Apart from some Sevco fans wailing and the perverse intervention of the Ulster Unionists nobody got too terribly rubbed up the wrong way, and I frankly don’t give a monkeys what they think.

A lot of Celtic fans voiced their displeasure but I understood that.

Many of our supporters are concerned that UEFA is finally going to say “enough is enough” and impose a sanction on Celtic that we can’t simply shrug off as if it was nothing.

And many feel an honest to God revulsion at all this political stuff, which they see as having nothing to do with Celtic and which many find offensive for their own reasons.

Listen, I sympathise with those people and I respect their views.

But it’s a big world out there, and those Green Brigade boyos are as entitled to have their say as any of us are.

My position on free expression is that I am in favour of it. All of it. Unrestricted.

But I’ve written on this site a few times about Sevco fans and their singing, and been asked how my view that some of them should be charged with what comes out of those stands squares with my being a free speech advocate.

It’s simple.

The law is the law is the law.

The law of the land makes monkey chants illegal. The law of the land says singing racist songs is a crime. I might or might not agree with the law in this case, and I thought the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was one of the worst laws ever passed … but I am not any more in favour of breaking the law because I find it disagreeable than I am in favour of football clubs or individuals who ignore it just because it inconveniences their quest for glory.

I also believe in that most fundamental law of courtesy, the House Rules.

If I went to someone’s home and they told me to take my shoes and socks off before I came in I would find it odd. I don’t normally ask people to do that at mine, and I don’t know anyone who does. But I wouldn’t object to it. I know people who don’t smoke in the houses of friends and family members because they’ve banned it. I respect those rules, because those people are entitled to the quality of life they want inside their own residences.

Rules are for everyone.

All the rules.

Not just the ones we approve of or like.

It doesn’t matter how daft we personally believe them to be; the second we start picking and choosing what rules we’ll follow and obey we’ve lost, entirely, the right to be critical of other people who do.

The hysteria in the media yesterday and in certain places online was ridiculous.

The fundamental point some of the critics made was not.

UEFA were always going to punish this.

And with that came Celtic’s statement, which took me by surprise for the ferocity of it and the anger that seeped out of the words. They’ve promised an investigation. The statement went much further than I had thought it would; I knew one would be forthcoming but I had not anticipated that it would be so clear-cut and furious.

It makes me wonder if perhaps a line hasn’t been crossed, in their eyes, here.

It makes me wonder if we’re not perhaps coming to a point where relations between the club and the Green Brigade are going to be tested to destruction.

I sincerely hope not.

There is wrong – and right – on both sides of some of this, but the fundamental principle the boys in the stands are going to have to learn to adapt themselves to is this; it is Celtic’s house and Celtic can decide what is and what isn’t acceptable in it.

On top of that, the club has a mandate from UEFA which it is compelled to follow … there’s no choice, no middle ground, no negotiating. The UK might have had a variety of EU opt-outs but we don’t. We either obey the house rules or we’re out in the street.

We’ve gotten ourselves quite the reputation at UEFA HQ now as a club whose fans are a routine pain in their backsides.

If this continues UEFA will not play along forever, imposing small fines and slaps on the wrist.

There is a sliding scale of punishment, and tolerance.

They will act, eventually, in a manner that costs us and costs us big time.

But before that happens, long before it I suspect, our club will reach the point where its own tolerance snaps.

We may be heading for that already.

It’s clear that one of the things that’s annoyed a lot of people is the portrayal of the manager in the banner. I said in yesterday’s piece that surely no-one actually believes the Green Brigade were suggesting that Brendan Rodgers sympathises with armed insurrection; it appears that many, and perhaps this includes people inside the club, have taken the view that the banner made precisely such a statement and they are beyond livid about it.

If Celtic thinks the manager has been disrespected here that’s probably not good.

That’s probably not going to have a happy ending.

Some serious “sorting out” is required here.

Some serious self-analysis is required on both sides of this debate.

I read the most astonishing responses to Celtic’s statement yesterday, the kind that defy belief. The board was blasted as traitors and sell outs. Seriously, what kind of language is that? What did people expect? As I said, the fury of the statement was surprising, but the fact of it wasn’t.

Anyone who can’t see that the club has a point here needs to think it through better.

Anyone who thinks the club “betrayed” the fans is an eejit.

And just for the moment I don’t care what the club may or may not have done on Resolution 12 and other issues to “stand up for the fans.” One thing has nothing, absolutely damn all, to do with the other. Celtic has asked fans to respect the rules of the house and in their opinion that hasn’t been done in this case. They’ve asked the fans not to provoke the ire of UEFA and that blatantly wasn’t paid the slightest bit of heed.

What’s our club supposed to do?

Some want them to fight this.

Fight exactly what? It’s pissing against the wind.

You have to be wilfully unplugged from common sense not to see that UEFA were certain to take issue with those flags.

This wasn’t the Palestine protest, for which a case could be made.

That’s a national flag and if flying that is an offence then something is wrong, wrong, wrong in Nyon.

This was a provocation; I realised that as soon as I saw it, and whilst I disagree that UEFA should be punishing this stuff I couldn’t honestly mount a legal defence based on that view because in the context of the current regulations their case is clear-cut.

So was the one against Griffiths for tying a scarf to the post.

Context is everything. It was Belfast, in July, at a high-risk fixture.

Today the Ulster bigot Gregory Campbell has jumped into this with both big fat ugly sectarian marching band feet, demanding (as if he has that right) that UEFA deal harshly with us and Celtic deal harshly with the fans responsible.

It’s not clear, but it appears he favours a ten year European ban and the whipping and scourging of our supporters in a market square.

He is a sectarian goon who wears a good suit.

His opinion means the sum total of nil to me and should mean less than that to the club.

But UEFA will not tiptoe around us for much longer and the club itself cannot indefinitely tolerate this kind of brazen flaunting of their own rules and those of the European governing body.

That means that there’s a major flare up coming between the club and the Green Brigade, and one where the support risks being split.

Some people appear almost keen for that to happen, and not all of them are followers of the basket case club across the city; there is an element of our own support which, for their own perverse reasons, seems to be just dying for a show down with our own board over this and other issues.

Everybody involved needs to get a grip and calm the Hell down.

Because that kind of fight has no winners, just a bloody battlefield where the dead on all sides would be a monument to utter stupidity at a time when we’re progressing like never before.

Some people honestly need to look at where this is headed and stop before we reach a point from which we can’t go back.

There is right and wrong on both sides.

Sorting this out will require some soul-searching and compromises from both.

It is past due.

The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

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