When two countries are at each other’s throats, it is common practice for the embassies to issue advisory warnings to their citizens about travelling to the other place. Americans travelling to Russia at the present time would not be assured of a friendly reception nor would Russians travelling there, although the two nations are not at war.
Right now, on The State Department website, you can read the following;
“Do not travel to Russia due to the unpredictable consequences of the unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment and the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, and the possibility of terrorism. U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart immediately. Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions.”
You would not think that you would get such a thing in Scottish football, but unfortunately we’re in that moment right now where Celtic has had to refuse tickets for fans wishing to visit Ibrox as their safety cannot be guaranteed. That’s the equivalent of the State Department dispensing with the advisory notice and simply refusing to issue visas for Russia at all.
It is an astonishing thing for our club to have had to do, but recent events in just the past week and a bit prove that the club has taken the correct path.
On Sunday, Hugh Keevins, in his latest column dripping with condescension but containing at least one core of truth when he talked about the disgrace of Ibrox not issuing a club apology to Fran Alonso, repeated Ibrox’s PR lie that both clubs were concerned about the safety of their fans and that this had let to a “joint decision”.
We know this isn’t true. Ibrox refused tickets for the coming weekend’s game because to have taken them when we refused ours on the grounds of safety would have painted their club in a staggering bad light, and posed the sort of questions they don’t want asked.
They refused their tickets not out of concern for their fans but because of the damage the contrast would have done to their reputation as a club.
They punished their fans to avoid bad press.
Yesterday, I wrote about how our women’s team and under 21 team have witnessed their loss of control as a club. It’s worrying considering that we have three matches against them in a matter of weeks, and I cannot remember the relationship being worse.
The Fran Alonso incident was an opportunity for their club to mend some fences with us. That they chose to say nothing instead is damning. There is a ghastly mentality at that club right now, and Celtic is pulling ever further away from anything to do with them.
They are a club out of control. Everyone in Scottish football knows it, and views them with the utmost disquiet, but we’re the club that has to play them in these massive games and every act of theirs lately has only served to pour more fuel on the fire.
And that won’t let up one bit as we move forward. Celtic knows it, because Celtic knows that their club is going to have to sell season tickets somehow and putting on the appearance of being perpetually at war with the rest of the game – us especially – will do more to sell them than any other thing will. They will not resist the pull of that.
I fear for what will happen on the streets of this city, especially after the Hampden game if Celtic win and we’ve already beaten them at Parkhead. If we go to Ibrox and win in those circumstances, the outrage in the stands against their own club might be so great that Celtic players and officials get sucked into it as collateral damage.
Their club has had chances to resolve this. They’ve had chances to take the temperature down a notch, and they have not done anything.
They could have given Celtic the assurances we needed to know our fans were safe. In the aftermath of the court case involving the bottling of our backroom team member they could have issued a stern warning to their fans and started to get real. They failed to. They did not issue any public rebuke or warning even after the conviction.
They could have disciplined their women’s assistant immediately following the Fran Alonso incident, and made it clear that they aren’t going to tolerate their staff behaving like that. I know their failure to make it clear how out of order that was has disturbed Celtic greatly, as has the reaction to the under 21 game at the weekend.
We are going into these three games with the worst atmosphere swirling around us that I can ever remember. Their fans have behaved with violence. Their players have behaved with violence and their coaches have behaved with violence. Our club turned down tickets at their ground because we are not in the least bit impressed by their response to the incidents which have happened there and I know none of our people is looking forward to making that trip.
All Hell could break loose that day, with our players and management team surrounded by wall-to-wall hatred, which if we keep on winning could spark mayhem. They had a responsibility to do everything they could to defuse that bomb and instead here we are, hurtling towards those games with no way of knowing how bad it might get.
And I don’t see any way that these two clubs are going to be able to go back to even the most basic business-like relationship, the one that is necessarily even for civility between the boards … we are so far from that right now that you can see the Americans and Russians mending their fences before we even come close to it.