So last night, the club finally moved to ban The Green Brigade from all home games “until further notice.”
I have my doubts that we’re ever going to see them in their current form again. That’s the move I’ve been predicting for a while, since the pyro debate erupted but particularly in the last few weeks as the rhetoric has been ramped up and up.
The club was never going to stand for some of what these guys have done.
Aside from not wanting to ignore blatant hooliganism, no organisation like Celtic can permit, within its walls, a small group which grows ever more extreme and which believes that it does not have to obey the rules of the house, especially when that extends to the breaking of the law.
Confrontation is unhealthy. Nobody sane enjoys it.
Institutions tolerate much more than they should at times from unruly elements and that sometimes has terrible consequences.
The Republican Party should have had a reckoning with the Trumpers long before those people acquired the strength they have now. The moderate wing of the Tory Party is learning the same lesson as their own lunatic fringe tightens its grip.
The Labour Party still has two factions permanently at odds with one another and one has been on top recently and now the other is … the left lacked the backbone (or had too much moral fibre, you decide) to rid itself of its enemies. The right has no such qualms. Ask Jeremy Corbyn.
In 64 BC, whilst running for the Roman Consulship, Marcus Tulius Cicero used a speech in the Senate to launch an astonishing attack on two of his electoral rivals, Gaius Antonius Hybrida and Lucius Sergius Catilina, in which he accused them of a variety of crimes and misdemeanours, and in which he made specific reference to Catilinia’s character and in particular to his recent trial and acquittal on charges of corruption for his time as a governor in Africa.
Catilina was one of the populares.
They espoused policies which appeared to favour the citizens and their rights over those of the optimates, the land-owning rulers, from which the Senate had drawn much of its strength. In fact, the leaders of the populares faction were financed by Marcus Lucinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, and many of the policies they wanted to enact, including their notorious agrarian land reform bill, which was supposed to grant land to poor and homeless families, were actually designed to concentrate power in ever fewer hands. Their own.
In supporting the candidacy of anyone the populares thought could command support amongst the electorate, they were willing to tolerate virtually anything, and thus they became associated with one of the greatest attempted crimes in history; the Catiline Conspiracy.
That day, in the Senate house, Cicero turned on his rivals.
Protesting his “innocence” as proclaimed by a court which everyone in Rome knew had been bought, Catilina provoked the masterful Cicero to some of his most scornful invective. Addressing the rest of the Senate first, he rejected utterly the very idea that his rival should wear the verdict as some badge of honour, or some shield against the facts as that trial laid them out.
“He disgraced himself by every sort of lewdness and profligacy; he dyed his hands in impious murder, he plundered the allies, he violated the laws and the courts of justice.”
Then, turning to Catilina himself, Cicero delivered one of the greatest passages of his long career as a public speaker.
“I imagine that Roman knights must have been liars; that the documentary evidence of a most honourable city was false; that Quintus Metellus Pius told lies; that Africa told lies. I suppose that those judges who decided that you were innocent saw something or other. O wretched man, not to see that you were not acquitted by that decision, but only reserved for some more severe tribunal, some more fearful punishment!”
I thought of that speech prior to the Atletico Madrid game, when Celtic released their statement announcing the Green Brigade’s away match ticket ban.
There were those who thought the slap on the wrist signified a victory for the fan group, and that the events of that night would signify a further and greater one, but Celtic faced a difficult decision in relation to that game and they wanted the focus on the football.
For a club eschewing politics, they played it beautifully. They allowed that game to go on as planned … and only when it was out of the way did they move.
Further breaches of the regulations that night – none of them to do with Palestine flags – and at Easter Road, simply made easier a decision that was in effect made already.
Celtic was always going to move.
That “more severe tribunal” was already in the offing. That the club didn’t enact it prior to the Madrid game was only because The Green Brigade would have used the situation in Palestine to claim that their voices had been silenced. Celtic wanted to deny them that.
No-one should have missed the significance of the away ticket ban.
Far too many did.
But I said this at the time;
“The relationship between The Green Brigade and the club is effectively at an end. There is no going back to the way things were. There’s no trust, there’s no respect, there’s not even the tiniest semblance of goodwill any longer. It’s open hostility. And that can only end one way. There’s no fixing what’s been broken here and if you believe the club’s version of events – and I know that 95% of it is true and assume the other 5% is as well based on that – then you must know how this has to go. And I suspect that the vast, vast majority of our fans will support that outcome.”
Cicero was right about Catilina.
There were already rumours that he had conspired to murder the sitting Consuls, and was weaving all sorts of mischief.
Punishment for the corruption in Africa would probably have resulted in his banishment from Rome and his retirement as a private citizen somewhere far from the city he sought to rule. But in buying that verdict and placing himself on a collision course with the state he had, as Cicero pointed out, saved himself for that “more fearful punishment” which he would later earn.
I warned The Green Brigade on the night the club announced the away ban that their presence at the Madrid game should not be taken as meaning that the club was in an egalitarian mood … rather, I said, they should consider that the club might be giving them the rope to hang themselves with.
I’ll cover that later on today; the issue of the PFLP flag in particular.
Cicero won his election for the Consulship.
The other elected Consul for that year was Hybrida, who Cicero would make his peace with in order to thwart Catilina’s far more serious attempt at taking power, the Catiline Conspiracy, which amongst other things would have involved the murder of Cicero himself and an attack on the city by Catilina’s armed insurrectionists.
The plot came to light when several other senators visited Cicero and handed him unsigned letters inviting them to join the plot.
At their head was Crassus; too late, he realised he had helped create a monster who threatened the stability of the whole system.
A week or so later, Cicero was informed of a meeting that had taken place at Catilina’s home, in which the deadly plans had been outlined to the other plotters, including plans to attack him at his residence.
Early the following morning, a mob attempted to storm Cicero’s house; his allies rallied and they were able to see the mob off.
That afternoon, the Senate called a meeting to discuss Catilina’s treason. To the astonishment of the entire gathering, Catilina took his place in his usual seat in spite of all of Rome being familiar with the details of what he had planned to do.
The historical record shows that Cicero turned to him in weary disgust.
“In the name of heaven, Catilina, how long do you propose to exploit our patience? Do you really suppose that your lunatic activities are going to escape our retaliation for evermore? Are there to be no limits to this audacious, uncontrollable swaggering? Look at the garrison of our Roman nation which guards the Palatine by night, look at the patrols ranging the city, the whole population gripped by terror, the entire body of loyal citizens massing at one single spot! Look at this meeting of our Senate behind strongly fortified defences, see the expressions on the countenances of every one of these men who are here! Have none of these sights made the smallest impact on your heart? You must be well aware that your plot has been detected. Now that every single person in this place knows all about your conspiracy, you cannot fail to realize it is doomed. Do you suppose there is a single individual here who has not got the very fullest information about what you were doing last night and the night before, where you went, the men you summoned, the plans you concocted?”
The translation of the next part varies; “O tempora, o mores!” It is widely regarded to mean “Oh what times and their morals!” But in his opening, in his exasperated fury, I hear the anger of a great many of our own fans.
“The Senate understands these things, the Consul sees them; yet this man still lives. Indeed, he even comes into the Senate, he takes part in public debate, he notes and marks out with his eyes each one of us for slaughter … Catilina, I bid you; pursue the course you have begun. Quit Rome at last and soon; the city gates are open; depart at once: your command has too long been awaiting with anxiety the arrival of its general. Take with you all your associates; or, at least, take as many as you can. Free the city from the infection of their presence … you cannot possibly remain in our society any longer. I will not bear it; I will not endure it; I will not allow it.”
Celtic faces an insurrection of its own, and that has been made clear.
These guys are open about wishing for a confrontation with Police Scotland, UEFA, the Celtic board and whomever else is up for the fight. Celtic has told them, “Enough is enough, take your show on the road and if you want to mount your challenge then the public space outside the stadium is yours to use as you wish … but we will not permit any more of this from inside our house.”
Up until now we have tolerated flares and smoke bombs.
These things are illegal.
These things present a safety risk to our fans and the working people inside the stadiums where they have let them off.
Up until now Celtic has tolerated threats and intimidation against our own supporters, our own staff and the staff at other grounds.
It has tolerated Pig Watch.
It has tolerated unacceptable songs.
It has tolerated UEFA fines.
And through all of it, although much of this is known, these people turn up at Celtic Park every week, and like Catilina protest their innocence and even point to the good they do as though one justified the other.
Food bank campaigns and agrarian land reforms …
I mean, “look how public spirited we are!”
Yes, they create a spectacle. Noise. Drama.
But we tolerate, for those things, far too much. They are no longer worth the immense grief and they never were.
The Green Brigade act only as the organisers of those charitable drives.
Those drives need not vanish without them; the need for them certainly won’t. The donations still come from the ordinary Celtic fans, who give tremendously to those less fortunate and we always have and we always will and so others will step forward to fill that gap, just as 12,000 fans on the waiting list will hope for a letter through the door offering them a seat in the stadium.
One singing section will be retired. Others will appear.
Celtic is forever evolving. Celtic is not one thing.
The letters Celtic released yesterday are depressing.
None of us wants to think that our club has fans like this amongst their number, fans who attack stewards and threaten people and behave like the most degenerate neds.
It is shameful.
Our support had a magnificent reputation, and this does not represent our best selves.
So, so far from it.
There is so much detail as to the many offences of The Green Brigade that the club very obviously has the right to do as it has done … and the responsibility to do it as well.
Because otherwise we’re only waiting for the next outrage, and it will come, as surely as the next scandalous confrontation between Ibrox and the rest of the game will be provoked by that club because it’s in their DNA to behave wantonly.
And because so much has been tolerated up until now that these guys think they’re bigger than the club itself is.
Cicero’s speech to the Senate in front of Catilina that day, in which he flayed his one-time opponent, had the desired effect up to a point.
Catilina did leave the city that afternoon, and as Cicero had urged, he joined up with his rebel band and continued to plot whilst the Senate fought and bickered over other matters, and eventually the crisis came.
By then, Cicero had proof that several sitting senators were involved in the plot; Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, one of the elected praetors, had attempted to engage a Gallic tribe to attack the city and cause mayhem which Catilina would take advantage of.
He and his co-conspirators were arrested and when Cicero demanded that the Senate finally bring matters to a head, with their executions for treason, the final attempt to thwart him was made by Julius Caesar who suggested that the death penalty be disregarded in favour of life imprisonment.
He further suggested that a trial be held where the people would decide the fates of the plotters … a dangerous move as Cicero was aware.
Caeser’s proposal met with great support in the Senate house, much as suggestions that the club sit down with The Green Brigade and attempt to resolve this short of the ultimate sanction would win the support of a lot of our fans.
Cicero was unable to turn the tide in spite of his brilliant oratory; it was Cato the Younger, soon to be the scourge of Caeser in the Senate in all that was to follow, who made the searing, startling, speech which assured the outcome.
Scorning the idea that because the crimes were “unproven” without a trial, he reminded the Senate that the only reason many of its members still lived is that the greater crime had been prevented and that further proof might have meant their deaths; so too might delay.
“Other crimes you may punish after they have been committed; but as to this, unless you prevent its commission, you will, when it has once taken effect, have nought but a vain appeal to justice. When the city is taken, no power is left to the vanquished.”
Turning to Caesar, he brutally dismantled his argument in favour of clemency, and some of what he said rings out in the suggestion that The Green Brigade are young men in need of a good talking to and setting on the right path.
“Certain citizens, of the highest rank, have conspired to ruin their country; they are engaging the Gauls, the bitterest foes of the Roman name, to join in a war against us; the leader of the enemy is ready to make a descent upon us; and you hesitate, even in such circumstances, with how to treat armed incendiaries arrested within your walls?”
Mockingly, he threw Caesar’s suggestion back at him.
“I advise you to have mercy upon them; they are young men who have been led astray by ambition; send them away, even with arms in their hands …”
He turned to his Senate brethren again.
“But such mercy, and such clemency, if they turn those arms against you, will end in misery to yourselves. The case is, assuredly, dangerous, but (Ceasar) says do not fear it; yes, you fear it greatly, but you hesitate how to act, through weakness and want of spirit, waiting one for another, and trusting to the immortal gods, who have so often preserved your country in the greatest dangers. But the protection of the gods is not obtained by vows and effeminate supplications; it is by vigilance, activity, and prudent measures, that general welfare is secured.”
His peroration ended with a reminder that although they had not committed capital offences it was only because their worst acts had been prevented and the Senate should not hold back from imposing the ultimate punishment. It sealed the vote.
“Whereas by the criminal designs of wicked citizens the republic has been subjected to serious danger; and whereas, by testimony and confession, the accused stand convicted of planning massacre, arson and other foul atrocities against their fellow citizens: that, having admitted their criminal intention … they should be put to death as if they had been caught in the actual commission of capital offences, in accordance with ancient custom.”
The Green Brigade charge sheet is long enough, and detailed enough, that the club needs no further justification to act as it has already endeavoured to do and so what good would further talks do now, except to forgive the sort of behaviour any of us would be banned from Celtic indefinitely for.
Those who want to join them in their martyrdom, the club will sell their tickets just as readily as the 200 which have just become available.
To fight Celtic when Celtic is so obviously in the right would be a pointless exercise when all most folk want to do is follow their club and will only end in their own bans and restrictions, and for what?
To defend the rights of fans to behave like thugs.
It would be senseless to go down that road; nevertheless, I fully expect some people to choose that path. Their own fate is as certain as Catilina’s was on that day during the election campaign when Cicero warned him that the road he was on led to only one place, and it wasn’t the Consul’s chair.
Lentulus, Cethegus, Statilius, Gabinius, and Caeparius, the senators who were charged of aiding Catilina, were executed without formal trial, on the orders of Cicero and the Senate. Catilina himself continued to grow his army until legions commanded by Marcus Petreius met his forces in battle and he was killed, fulfilling Cicero’s prophecy.
In the end, it’s not going to matter what side of this people are on; the deed is done, as Caesar himself was famously to say as his own rebel army crossed the Rubicon and into civil war, “alia iacta est” – the die is cast.
The Green Brigade can only return if they accept Celtic’s dominion over them and recognise the club’s right to impose its rules as it sees fit … and even then, I think most inside Celtic accept we’d only be developing the next crisis.
This is an ugly episode in our club’s recent history, and the best thing the rest of us can do is to accept that the club has the prerogative to act as it has, and to recognise that it has exhausted every avenue prior to making this call.
Celtic has not done this recklessly or out of spite, but only after long, painstaking deliberation and with much regret.
On the night he ordered the executions of the Catiline conspirators, Cicero faced a gathered throng of Roman citizens who were scared by the rumours of revolution and wanted to know the fates of the men who had been arrested.
Cicero, like many Romans, was a superstitious man and he believed that it was bad luck to use the words “dead” or “died” … and so instead he addressed the crowd thus; “They have lived.” Everyone got the message.
I trust that everyone got Celtic’s yesterday.
It was exactly what I thought they would do. As the Senate learned, almost to its cost, there’s no choice like having all your other options stripped away one by one by one.