Regular readers will know that I have long believed, and long stated, that our club fully intends to honour its commitments on away ticket allocations, even when it comes to the Ibrox club. But there’s a steady drum-beat now which can only be coming from Celtic itself which strongly suggests that inside our boardroom there has been a major change of heart.
It looks as if we might be about to ban Ibrox fans from our ground after all.
What would have seemed like a shocking development just 24 hours ago now seems., in light of new information, as if people inside Parkhead have been pushed to a course of action we’d have hitherto deemed unthinkable. To understand why this is a major development you have to remember who we are as a club, what we stand for as a club and the reputation we guard for acting with professionalism and integrity.
If this was the Scottish media, I’d dismiss it completely for those very reasons. But folks close to Celtic are telling me the same thing and so I have to recognise that clearly there’s something major in the wind and that our club is on the brink of unprecedented action.
I wrote a long piece last night on why I thought that this was unlikely. I’m still not convinced that this is a path Celtic will choose to go down. But mark this; whatever our club deems appropriate in this matter should have the full support of every single one of us.
Celtic, for years, for as long as I’ve been watching them, has done things by the book. We pride ourselves on it. We’ve done things quietly, behind the scenes, and in a rational fashion even when some of us have thought that wasn’t in our best interests.
There are still people amongst our support, myself included, who frequently urge Celtic to courses of action that the club refuses to take, such as the banning of journalists and outlets who lie about us. Our club maintains an attitude of cool detachment and professionalism. When we believe that a point needs to be made and a message sent, we do it in a low-key manner, and most of these things are resolved as quickly as they flare up in the first place.
When it comes to our dealings with other clubs, and with the league in general, Celtic is fair minded and dependable. There is consistency in our messaging and in our behaviour; people around the SPFL table know exactly what Celtic will do before we ever have to do it, because we behave in a practical and, yes, even a predictable fashion … rationality is, and has always been, far less sexy than lunatic ranting, incendiary statements and playing to the gallery of goons.
Above all else, and this is the critical one, we play it straight. We know the rulebook by heart, and our club behaves with the utmost respect for the regulations. The idea that Celtic would knowingly, willingly, violate the rules of the SPFL … it’s an absurd idea and one that until last night I would never have believed possible. Now, I’m starting to.
All through this crisis, we’ve had one thing on our side and it’s not mattered a damn although it’s the most important thing. We’ve been in the right. We didn’t start this. We have never escalated this situation, or “kept it going” or any of that other nonsense which the media has been steered towards by Ibrox. We have behaved according to one very simple precept; we will treat you the way you treat us. No better and no worse. That’s proportional. That’s fair.
We have not been banned from Ibrox. Celtic has been offered a ticket allocation. If we’re now on the brink of banning their fans from Celtic Park, that is major. It will be the first time in this situation that we will have willingly acted in an aggressive escalatory fashion, and not simply against Ibrox but in a way that drags the governing bodies into the fray.
To understand why that’s a massive move, you have to understand fully what it means. It means that we’re giving up any semblance of the high ground. The media now has license to paint us exactly in the way they have wanted to since this started, and they’ve got their guns loaded as I write this. They can now accuse us of being the petty, vindictive club. We will be in open violation of the SPFL rules, and defying them to do their worst … that’s such a fundamental shift in the firmament that it should you make you pause for breath when you consider it.
We are about to openly violate the rules, and don’t care what the consequences are. Think about that for a minute. Take a deep breath. Welcome to Year Zero.
It means too that our club’s silence on this is just about over. We can’t take such a major step, we can’t make such a major move, without going on the offensive and that means that we need to engage directly with the media and the fans. We’re about to shatter every long-standing convention we have had as a club, and a reputation for going by the book which took years to build and will very soon lie in ruins. There’s no going back once it starts.
I’ve been writing about the away match ticket situation on this site for months now.
Have Celtic taken punitive action against a single other club? No. Have we told those clubs that we consider their behaviour a violation of long-term understandings and practices which requires a reciprocal response? No. Have we threatened those clubs with the exclusion of their supporters from Celtic Park? No. And we won’t.
Once you grasp the gravity of this, you have to ask yourself why our club, which is so boring and straightforward at times that the Madness Of Ibrox is something we watch with jaw-dropping disbelief, is about to act in a way which is more akin to how they behave than how we do. What in God’s name would push us towards this?
What has happened behind the scenes that we’re not only considering walking away from the negotiating table, but upending it completely?
And as I said earlier, part of the answer was disclosed last night with the publication of Ibrox’s proposed security “upgrades.” They include netting our supporters. They are, in effect, freely admitting that their ground is not a safe environment. They accept that their changes, that their policies, have placed our fans in danger and even as they do they propose a “solution” so grotesque that it makes you gasp in disbelief.
It is not a new solution. They offered it five years ago, when this saga began. Celtic rejected the nets, took the tickets, and this site has a proper go at our club for placing our fans in harms way. We should have rejected them there and then. To the credit of people at our club, we’ve come to realise the folly of ever having indulged this in the first place.
Fans being bottled will do that to you. Not to mention a club official taking a blow on the back of the head with an object thrown from the stand.
I guess we’re lucky that it wasn’t something much worse that finally snapped people to attention and focussed them on how serious this was. But it wasn’t much less obvious back then, when Ibrox proposed putting our fans in a “net cage” … right from the start their club has acknowledged that it has created a dangerous situation.
Now they try to pass it off as though it were reasonable. They try to pass it off as though it was no big deal. They propose more police – more cost to the taxpayer – and all manner of other measures like this, when they could simply change course instead and create a safer space for people to watch the game. Hell, they could attempt to weed out the lunatics in their own stands who act in such an uncontrolled and degenerate manner. They won’t do either.
They will continue to play Russian Roulette with fan safety until they are made to get a grip. That much is obvious, and so is the unspoken truth that it’s not just Celtic fans they put at risk with these measures. Nobody wants to talk about that.
What’s equally plain is that Celtic can’t, and won’t, continue to tolerate this.
We’re in the place now where the responsibility to our own supporters is the only consideration that matters. It’s also pretty clear that the governing bodies have abrogated their own responsibilities here by allowing this situation to deteriorate, and indeed spread, because it suits them to leave the regulations wide open for abuse and clubs acting selfishly without considering the good of the game.
That we’ve needed clear rules and regulations, and a minimum away allocation which is written in stone and offers guarantees to clubs and fans has been obvious for years and their inaction on it is only one symptom of their incompetence and cowardice and unwillingness to govern.
And when those in charge of governing aren’t willing to do it, or aren’t up to doing it, then what are the rules actually worth? What are the rules worth anyway when they are framed in such a fashion that they can be exploited, and worked around?
Why not simply call them out as a sham, and drive a bulldozer over them? It would be rank hypocrisy for the SPFL to attempt to sanction Celtic when it has allowed a manifestly unsafe situation to develop, on its watch, under its aegis, where we feel as if we’ve no choice now but to take drastic action. How dare they even contemplate it.
The media is no better, and I have no doubt whatsoever that they will attack Celtic relentlessly if we go through with this, but that has even less teeth than any possible SPFL sanction and with an even bigger brass neck. Even though there is zero dubiety about this, even though there is a clear-cut right side and a wrong side here, they have sought to paint this as a situation where both clubs are equally at fault, with some even suggesting that it’s down to us to settle it by accepting what we’re given and giving Ibrox everything it wants.
The media’s role has been contemptible all the way throughout this, and I don’t expect them to change that now. We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t, so whatever other factors may weigh on our thinking here, the media’s response should be the least of them because they have created their own narrative right from the start and they will continue to. They have no positive role to play in this, which to me is a disgrace.
They can stand on the sidelines, and revel in the drama, ignoring – or perhaps not even realising – that it’s now become a crisis, which they’ve played a willing role in fermenting.
None of these people has any right to pass judgement on what Celtic does next, or how we go about protecting our interests. At every stage in this there was an opportunity for the media to do its job and the governing bodies to perform their function. Every one of those opportunities has been spurned or scorned or pissed away. Ibrox has been allowed to place our fans in a situation which started out dangerous and last year became intolerable, and at every stage on the journey towards that Celtic has attempted to resolve this matter amicably and with open negotiations and honest engagement. At every stage.
Still the media blamed us for causing this in the first place and officialdom refused to intercede, even after it became obvious that things had gotten badly out of hand, even when our fans were being treated for head wounds. That was almost a year ago, and in the interim, nobody has done a damn thing to put a stop to any of it.
Ibrox treats our concerns with contempt. They offer sticking plaster solutions and demand that we accept unacceptable compromises with the wellbeing of our supporters. Their new solution is that we accept the normalisation of an abnormal situation with grotesque measures offered in mitigation, and which freely acknowledge what it is they’ve created here.
And since this is going to drag on and on and on, it’s possible that we’ve simply reached a point where we’re not going to tolerate it any further.