THE BIGGER PICTURE
The first TAL Blog of the New Year certainly proved to be controversial due to its questions surrounding the political ‘bona fides’ of the rebel fantasist. There were some near-the-knuckle swipes taken at MacGiollabhain which might be viewed as gratuitous by some and for that reason we amended the blog accordingly. The quips about Phil’s mental health are digs he can take, he gives enough out, he should expect to get a few back. In the meantime, we will park questions about Phil’s political past and personal eccentricities to one side for now, as a reply from him appears unlikely.
We can perhaps shed some light as to why we believe that his and, more importantly, the PLC’s vision of Celtic’s future, despite its allusions to our Irish heritage, will move us farther away from the ideals of Brother Walfrid and the club’s founding fathers than we have ever been at any point in our history.
GLOBAL CAPITAL V LOCAL AUTONOMY
Phil MacGiollabhain often waxes lyrical about how his grandfather’s people ran with the IRA flying columns and were founders of Fianna Fail in Mayo. Maybe it’s the Fianna Fail’er in him – that preparedness to forego principle in favour of political expediency – that brings him along the well-trodden path of other ‘rebels-turned-rascals’ attempting to politically sanitise and socially cleanse the Celtic support? In his thinly veiled attacks on the Green Brigade, patronising them with false praise in one sentence and then in another implying that the group were associated with drunken anti-social behaviour and fighting at Dundee. This became a rallying point for MacGiollabhain and his merry band of middle-class, holier-than-thou ‘rebels’ and foaming-at-the-mouth anti-republicans and anti-politicos.
There is a method to the madness. Phil has realised that his personal vision of the club’s commercial future is not mutually exclusive to that envisaged by the club itself. Maybe Phil fancies his chances as journalistic cheerleader and PR consultant in the club’s drive to open up new markets in terms of sponsorship and advertising and developing the Celtic name as a ‘global brand’ to rival that of the Manchester United’s and Barcelona’s. That is Phil’s (and the PLC’s) ‘bigger picture’, the global capitalist position, if you like. Any which way you look at it, it’s about the accumulation of wealth. It’s certainly not about widening the club’s fan base, because that is more likely to come as a by-product of wider ‘brand recognition’ as a bigger growing concern getting more media coverage. Our fanbase in the USA and Canada is pretty much rooted in Irish America anyway, maybe its full potential has not yet been reached, but this is about big bucks not loose change.
As Phil so carelessly let slip in one of his less guarded moments (a slip of the keyboard that even managed to draw some sharp intakes of breath from his most fervent supporters) this is about the ‘monetizing’ of An Gorta Mor – the common link that bonds the Irish worldwide – the suffering of millions as the cultural backdrop to a football club’s (and in particular, its board and major shareholder’s) insatiable appetite for cash. Phil MacGiollabhain has embraced the global commercial ambitions of Celtic PLC and the price of this ‘rebel’s’ support is permission to add his own little bit of ‘Irish cultural’ branding to it. Is this really the club that Brother Walfrid built?
The hullabaloo over a bit of Boxing Day drunkenness at Dens Park was overreaction in extremis. Some Celtic fan blogs shamefully aped the tabloid press in their condemnation of the fans. Whilst we are in no way condoning any anti-social behaviour that did take place, a sense of proportion needs to be applied. It should be remembered that there was a total of 4 Celtic fans arrested as a result of these incidents. One Dundee fan was arrested in an unrelated matter. A total of 5 arrests from incidents that the press described as a ‘mass brawl’ and which the Tayside Police called a ‘riot’. At a third division match involving another Glasgow club, there were 8 arrests in what police described as ‘trouble’. At the most recent Dundee derby match, there was a total of 18 arrests. The same Tayside Police – who claimed that a ‘riot’ was going on when they arrested 4 Celtic fans – congratulated both sets of fans for their ‘good behaviour’.
A POLICY OF CRIMINALISATION
There is a concerted effort being made to criminalise members of the Green Brigade and other young supporters of the club by the police, who appear to be getting every assistance and encouragement from Celtic’s Security Chief and the PLC board. The recent statement by a GB member with regard to Dundee gave only a brief glimpse of the police harassment of Green Brigade members. The campaign against the group appears now to include the club feeding misinformation about them to ‘onside’ reporters and bloggers. The deliberate whispering campaigns against the group included the lie that they are responsible for repeated acts of criminal damage in their section at Celtic Park. That one even got as far as the players, groundstaff and some former-players.
There maybe Celtic fans who will dismiss the GB’s claims of harassment and their claim that they have proof of a wider conspiracy against them that runs from the club board all the way down to the rebel journalist. We haven’t seen the GB’s evidence, but from past experience all we can say is that it rings true to us at TAL. We experienced much of the same treatment by the club and security staff under the stewardship of ‘the bunnet’. For example, during the era of Fergus McCann’s ownership of the club, fan-based anti-racist campaigns were deliberately countered by club-controlled mirror groups. When we set up Celtic Fans Against Fascism, the club responded by setting up Bhoys Against Bigotry, a group that was privately encouraged to target TAL as an example of ‘bigotry’. When we reacted to the murder of two young Celtic supporters and the maiming of another at the hands of assailants with rangers and loyalist connections, by establishing the Campaign Against Sectarian Attacks, the club responded by head-hunting a claimed associate of one of the victims as a front person and funding her in setting up the ineffective but media-savvy Nil By Mouth campaign.
This is the culmination of the ‘if we cant control you, we’ll destroy you’ strategy. TAL was a tiny organisation in comparison to the Green Brigade, which enjoys a popularity among the wider Celtic support that TAL and CFAF could only dream of. The Green Brigade has strength in numbers, but just as importantly, its also has strength in its political autonomy. It is independent of the club and is self-governing, as well as being self-financed. It is this independence and autonomy that it needs to hold onto. The alternative is to be part of a club that denies freedom of expression and freedom of movement to its fans.
LET THE PEOPLE SING
That one of the Celtic fans arrested at Dundee’s charge sheet included a reference to ‘pro-IRA chanting’ was enough to send the Celtic bloggosphere into a round of furious tweets and articles, falling over each other to issue their messages of condemnation. Notwithstanding that a person is innocent until proven guilty, their haste to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation was less than dignified. And from those little acorns grew the giant tree of the ‘songs debate’ – AGAIN. Celtic fans lecturing Celtic fans about ‘the IRA’ and what they should or should not sing. What appears to have been almost completely missed in the rants for and against, is that the songs issue has been a never-ending one at this club. If Jock Stein, our greatest ever manager, couldn’t convince the ‘rebels’ to stop, what makes Phil MacGiollabhain and the PLC board think that they will succeed where better men have failed?
“As a founding member of Fans Against Criminalisation I have evidence of numerous examples of the disgraceful behaviour of the police in terms of trying to criminalise young Celtic fans for singing (or not as the case may be) songs which you may not like, may not agree with and/or may wish not to be sung at football matches, but which would not be criminal in any normal society. I would like to see someone with your journalistic skills investigating the abuse of their powers by the police which is a far more dangerous development than the declining incidence of songs about an organisation which has not fired a shot for 17 years and has not existed for almost a decade. In fact, most of the songs in question are not even about the most recent armed struggle against British rule but about the prison struggle or about the War of Independence which led to the establishment of a member EU state, whose participants have been honoured recently by the British Queen. If you bother to follow this story up I would be prepared to bet that there will be no conviction of the person you mentioned unless he was a young boy who has plead guilty through fear or ignorance. You will note that, at no time, have I called on anyone to sing any song or, indeed, not to sing any song. The key issue facing us is not an internal, friendly debate about what we should or shouldn’t sing but the devastating impact on young people of the operation of one of the most illiberal acts this country has seen in a long time. That is what any journalist worthy of the name should be examining.”
There is no need for a ‘songs debate’ because there is no issue about songs among the core base of the club’s support, which is the 60,000 at every home game and the travelling away support. There are no ‘gung ho’ war songs extolling the daring exploits of the IRA being sung at Celtic any more, and if there are, they are very few and far between. The songs sung these days are more commemorative, about the H-Block Martyrs or victims of injustice like Aiden McAnespie. Even that popular sea shanty by the WolfeTones that contains the old “Ooh Aah…” chant, so despised by the Uncle Tims, is gradually giving way to a new lyric of “Up The Celts” to replace the old chant. These songs are certainly not hateful or sectarian, nor do they contain discriminatory language.
It’s an evolutionary process. The ‘rebel songs’ that were sung on the terraces in my father’s time had been replaced by others by the time I was a teenager. The ‘rebel songs’ that I sang as a teenager were dying out 20 years ago and you’ll hear very few, if any, of the ‘rebel songs’ of 20 years ago being sung today, give or take a couple of classics that have survived the generations. Songs evolve and move on with the times, so do the fans. The Green Brigade are proof of the progress of Celtic’s fans. They are a fantastic development within the Celtic support. The club hierarchy and a section of the fans, particularly those with blogband access, don’t know how to deal with them. Yet, broadly speaking, the group’s activities are carried out in the spirit of everything that is good about the club and its supporters.
ULTRAS NOT HOOLIGANS
Opposition to the GB comes mainly from the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’, who apparently also have computers, and who are, like Phil, ‘culturally radical’ and politically liberal only in the general sense. They don’t mind being for the working class, just so long as they don’t have to live among them. It is this element who don’t like radical change among the Celtic supporters.
‘What they do not understand they will attack, what they do not control they will destroy.’
A section of our supporters can’t quite get their heads around the “ultras” phenomenon at the club and they wrongly (but in some cases knowingly and deliberately) equate it with the casuals/hooligan scene. This falsehood is promoted, along with their constructed outrage at ‘incidents’ like Dundee, as the ‘last straw’ on hooliganism, or the rebel songs issue, or the Green Brigade, or whichever other issue or group fits the role of scapegoat.
It’s fair to say that the original ultra scene in Italy and Spain pre-dated, but also mirrored the rise of the football ‘casuals’ in Britain. There is a greater affinity between old skool casuals and the original ‘ultra’ than there are links between the modern Ultras phenomenon and present-day football hooligans. Many of these new progressive Ultras groups identify with the politics of the anti-fascist left and other autonomous left political movements. Theirs is not a culture of aggression, however, they are in favour of defensive action against fascist aggression. The progressive Ultras groups are in general terms peaceful and co-operative by instinct. They make banners, organise tifo displays and involve themselves in a range of community and social activities, inside and outside of the normal group activities. Participation is encouraged, it is an open and organically democratic structure. There are of course exceptions and the same cannot be said of every group of modern ultras, particularly those from the political right, whose groups are often run on a strict ‘boss/capo’ system with decisions made and implemented from the top-down. The Green Brigade is, however, one of the new breed of Ultras groups that takes a progressive left stance and is active against fascism, racism and all forms of discrimination in football.
THE SOCIAL PHENOMENON
In addition to adding colour and noise to the stadium on a regular basis, the group’s members are also pro-active in a number of other areas of the club’s support; from fanzines and local supporters clubs to the CSA, Celtic Trust, Celtic Graves Society and Fans Against Criminalisation. The group runs an annual ‘anti-discrimination’ football tournament that has included international visitors and teams from all communities. They maintain friendships with politically and socially progressive football supporters groups from all over the world, as well as being one of the founding member groups of Alerta! – The Network of Anti-Fascist Football Fans in Europe. Outside of group activities many of the Green Brigades’ members are active in political, cultural and community organisations.
It is a phenomenon on a par with St Pauli, Livorno, Bilbao and other progressive clubs that include within the ranks of its supporters, autonomous groups of politically progressive fans. The only thing that the GB lacks is the bricks and mortar of its own pub, clubhouse, squat or social centre that the fans of other clubs in Europe have acquired as a base for their activities, social gatherings and fundraising. In every other respect they are a fully fledged part of the progressive ‘Ultras’ movement, in practice and in spirit.
If examining the Green Brigade from a traditional, academic, sociological perspective, the group must surely be viewed as a positive social phenomenon that provides a range of progressive, positive activities for young people, mainly, but not exclusively, centring around their support for and identification with The Celtic Football Club. Viewed from that perspective – and in spite of the club’s desperate attempts to control the group – shouldn’t the club (and even the police) be welcoming the positive work of a youth organisation like the Green Brigade?
The alternative to an organically-democratic, bottom-up organisation like the Green Brigade is a fanbase that is controlled from top-to-bottom by fear; with grassroots fan organisations replaced by arselicking ‘bosses unions’; and ‘official’ club campaigns specifically designed to involve as few people as possible other than the ‘professionals’ employed to run them and hand-picked ‘fans’ to front them.
These are the wider implications of Phil’s and the PLC’s ‘Brave New Celtic’, it is a commercially driven vision for Celtic that puts the accumulation of wealth and power in football before the interests of its supporters. It fears any alternative to the prescribed way forward, which is why the political autonomy of ‘Plebs’ like the Green Brigade is to be undermined and disrupted by both the club and the police, whose approach is based on outdated profiling methods to identify potential troublemakers at football and a public order act that gives them free reign to criminalise a whole section of youth who follow football in Scotland.
WE ARE ALL THE GREEN BRIGADE
Celtic is the 60,000 in that stadium at every home game, Celtic is the travelling away support who will be there in rain, snow or hail to support the bhoys. Celtic is the Green Brigade who enthuse the whole stadium with their banners, tifo choreographies, songs and chants. And it doesn’t matter if you’re watching in Dublin, Belfast, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Sydney, Oslo, Hamburg, Toronto, San Francisco, New York or Boston, the Celtic support is a worldwide family and the GB represent all of us who would love to be there to share in the noise and atmosphere that they create. The many Celts around the world gathered around big screens joining in with their chants and their songs. The ones who can’t be there. The Green Brigade should not be excluded by the club, rather they should be embraced by it, we should all as Celtic supporters be proud of them. They are after all what this club is all about.
“Football,” said the great Jock Stein, “is nothing without the fans.”
Those self-appointed ‘keyboard guardians’ who spend all day long on their computers looking after Celtic’s ‘good name’ and the ‘well-earned reputation’ of our fans would do well to remember that it is the work of groups like the Green Brigade which greatly contribute to that good reputation.
As football legend Bill Shankly once said of the Celtic Football Club, “It’s a form of socialism, without the politics of course.”