Saturday 27 May 2017, 4.45pm. Celtic 2-Aberdeen 1.
Treble, invincible. Probably the best day I’ll ever experience as a Celtic supporter. We all know the story, the success and the overwhelming feel good factor charging through the club in the anniversary season of the single greatest Scottish sporting triumph ever. The stands, the players and the coaching staff united as one; “the holy trinity” to quote the manager. A seemingly unbreakable momentum ready and waiting for a fresh assault on the Champions League qualifiers. Step up Linfield.
It would have been hard to imagine this situation those few months ago at Hampden. The day of the unfurling of the invincible league flag now mired in the controversy of a discriminatory blanket ban of the 900 fans in the lower section of the standing section. It’s an issue that seems to have split the support down the middle, as evidenced with the immediate reaction on social media and the subsequent mishandling of the situation by the club.
For the record, I reckon the banners were completely unnecessary given the tie was always likely to gather undesirable attention, with much of the mainstream media both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland waiting for any opportunity to attack our club and our supporters, especially as the domination on the park merited little discussion.
The subsequent show of force by the club and their apparent unwillingness to consider individual situations and the wishes of the Green Brigade themselves (who were happy to admit and take responsibility) can be seen both as a negligence of duty and a deliberate and shameful attempt to divide the supporters in that section with the aim of rooting out the Green Brigade and more pertinently, the political element to their support of the team.
Without defending the content and timing of the banners per say, I have no hesitation in saying I suspect the club’s main intention was to do the latter. With their heavy handed and arrogant actions and statements, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion from this farce that they have willingly created.
The charge sheet facing the board is a long one; The refusal to take and sell tickets to the away game vs. Linfield, their failure to even attempt to ensure the safety of those whom they knew were travelling, the subsequent reversal of existing guidance to set up a Celtic supporters section that night, unilaterally banning 900 people for the actions of a select few, refusing to look into and offer guidance to those either on holiday or nowhere the stadium on the night of the match and undermining the credibility of their SLO, to name but just a few.
The fact that twelve of our supporters are now facing criminal proceedings for the banners are a symptom of wider societal and political issues, which I hope to cover in even more detail in later editions. For now it is enough to say that the club’s silence on the Offensive Behaviour Act is shameful. It’s fine to disagree on the content of the banners but I would hope any Celtic fan reading this can agree that no criminal actions were committed that night and the hypocrisy in the police approach is staggering. although unsurprising. Thankfully, by the time the cases against these twelve Celtic supporters reach court (if they ever do) the act should be no more than a footnote in history.
Celtic is and always will be a club deeply steeped in politics. The board may not like that fact but it will and can never change. The politics of the terracing and of Celtic are fundamental to the identity of both the club and those of us who follow it week after week, season after season. While the Green Brigade and the wider fan base regularly raise funds and collect food for local food banks, until this summer the board included a Tory Lord, who’s party is responsible for the poverty we are trying to eradicate, and only two years ago voted in favour of a cut in tax credits that would make life even tougher for the poorest of families. While the Green Brigade raised £188,000 for Palestinian causes and gain international praise for doing so, the board waited in the wings ready to enact the exact same punishment as they have now thrown down on our fellow supporters.
A board who refused to properly implement the living wage, who appointed one of the key architects of the immoral war in Iraq to its chairmanship, and take financial advantage of our devotion at every possible opportunity.
A group of fans who back the team in the most colourful and noisy way they can, holding true to the values of our founding ethos of charity and community. Up and down the country, across Europe and beyond. When faced with a choice between the two? I know who’s side I fall on.