As many people are increasingly beginning to realise (Stuart Waiton’s recent article being a well-written example), to the authorities, football fans in general are viewed more as a potential disorder incident and as ‘pests’ to be dealt with than as the people upon whom the very existence of football depends. The political class view football fans, especially those from traditional working class supports and backgrounds, not as people to be welcomed into towns and stadiums to enjoy the spectacle, but as people to be policed, herded, harassed, and increasingly criminalised. Working class football fans are viewed more and more, as some might already have realised, as the new ‘enemy within’. A modern day moral panic, the new hordes to be policed, not kept safe; to be corralled, not directed; to be dealt with, not helped; to be harassed, not welcomed.
The introduction of the SNP’s much-criticised ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Communications Act 2012’, the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a tiny peanut, in the wake of the over-hyped and theatrically entitled and publically, privately and frankly ludicrously overhyped ‘Shame Game’, gives more than ample evidence of that. That football fans are viewed in such a way is probably not a surprise to many longstanding terrace/seat sufferers both here and beyond however. Currently, the talk of the steamie amongst many fans in and of Scottish football is the Green Brigade, a now fairly well-known Ultra group at Celtic. The recent police actions and harassment of both alleged members of the group and other spectators in section 111 of Celtic Park indicates the attitude of the police and legal authorities. Amidst numerous cries of appalling behaviour, alleged criminality and other such blood curdling claims, it is worth noting that every single Celtic fan (whether Green Brigade or not, or simply a season ticket/matchgoer in section 111) who has pled not guilty to the charges under this piece of legislation has left court an innocent man. Whether the case was thrown out, a not guilty verdict or a not proven verdict has ensued; not one single guilty verdict has followed a not guilty plea. So, If the legal system has established a lack of criminality in every single case so far, why the continuing harassment such as the fans witnessed prior to the recent game vs. Dundee United?! Why the continuing attacks and criticisms of a group of football fans who simply want to support their team in their way? One might ask that question of our current political ‘leaders’? Surely they are not saying that yes, we like your colourful support, your songs, your displays and your humour. We like the fact that we made money out of your songs, your chants, your banners and your card displays, but we tell you what you can sing, we tell you what you can think, we will tell you what you can do and most importantly and most staggeringly hypocritical we will tell you what politics we want you to have… Now pay your money, take your seat, sit down and buy your top, juice and deliciously inedible horsemeat pie and you’ll like it…
A look at the reaction to some of the recent displays at Celtic Park will indicate how many fans worldwide view the whole idea of Ultra culture. Whether it was the full stadium card-display to celebrate the club’s 125th birthday before the Champions League game vs. Barcelona (the sight of the stadium bathed in a card display planned by the group and set up by the group went worldwide, the plaudits also went worldwide. Friends of mine in Italy remarked, ‘this is football’), or latterly the Clash-inspired ‘London Calling’ banner prior to the Juventus game which also caught the imagination of various Italian fans. Like the Celtic fans they were enjoying the ‘Rubentus’ (Rubenti is Italian slang for thieves) on the badge, cruelly and superbly mocking the rather murky practices of Juventus which were recently exposed in a criminal trial. Italians on various social media remarked how the banner had caught their imagination and how they enjoyed it, Juve fans excepting of course. That the banner was so well received in Italy is no accident, the game being against Juve notwithstanding. For many, myself included, Italy is where ‘Ultra culture’ is at its most ‘beautiful’. The colourful, often rude, often abusive, sadly often racist/homophobic and far-right displays make football, as Alf Garnett once said, a genuine working class ballet. The choreographed displays, moving and impassioned, make the game that bit more exciting. The colours and ‘dance’ of the tifo displays make for a wonderful spectacle. As someone who has made numerous trips to watch Italian football I would defy anyone to disagree. However there is another link between football fans in Scotland, most notably the Green Brigade, and fans in Italy in general, and that is the repressive legislation and state apparatus brought to bear on fans.
The repression and legislation brought to bear on Italian football/terrace culture is remarkable. One group, BAL 99 (Brigate Autonome Livornesi), were effectively criminalised under anti-terrorist legislation. Safe to say that the group were not terrorist. That they were openly Left-wing, avowedly anti-fascist/anti-racist is not in dispute, indeed it was/is a badge of pride for those members. However the fact that anti-terrorist legislation was used to crush a football supporters’ group, an ultra group, shows how determined the police and criminal authorities were to deal with them. Political legislation to deal with the political edge and banners of ultra culture was also brought to bear. Now, I share with other readers a political loathing and fundamental opposition to the racist/fascist politics both in and out of football stadiums, but for me it’s the job of progressive working class political movements/fan groups to deal with that reactionary element and allow the space for pro-working class politics in the curvas. The most recent attack on Italian ultra/football culture is the ‘Tessera del Tifoso’ which is a membership card. Without it you couldn’t buy a season ticket, you couldn’t travel to away games. A restriction on your ability, quite literally, to merely travel to an away game. To begin with the authorities accepted away fans without the Tessera in a ‘neutral’ area of the ground. But nearly all the time the non-tesserati outnumbered those who had the card. Pretty soon the authorities clamped down on the neutral area too. The membership card has been a disaster; obsessed with potential disorder policing, the authorities ignored the obvious- smaller clubs who played the bigger teams could no longer rely on that income, crowds dwindled, the atmosphere got flatter and flatter, football wasn’t winning. Modern football and repressive policing was damaging the very game they so sneeringly claimed they were trying to save…. Now it seems numerous clubs in both Serie A & B want to end the Tessera, in fact it became a small issue in the recent Italian elections. The attempt to make life difficult for fans to simply attend away games has resulted in financial troubles for the smaller clubs, a far bigger threat to football than anything Ultra culture has ever been guilty of.
Sadly the Tessera has started to have a few echoes over here in Scotland. The recent penchant for putting names on tickets, a procedure not required by any legislation, is yet another slippery slope. The insistence for the away game vs. Juve that people will have to have their passports or a photo ID to corroborate they are the ticket owner, again not required by UEFA legislation and an Italian regulation about as enforced as the car horn laws in Paris, points to an ever-increasing clampdown on football fans in Scotland. The continuing clampdown on fans, the jockeying of FoCUS for more money in the current run-up to the annual police budgets, the complete refusal of politicians to see what’s in front of their faces is just another desperate attempt to totally sanitise football, strip it of any fan involvement let alone fan ‘control’, all part of the drive for ‘Modern Football’… As someone once so prophetically said, ‘First they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew…’
As if to emphasise the drive to sanitise football I’m watching Everton beat Oldham in the FA Cup replay. Over the tannoy the stadium announcer makes clear that people who keep standing will be ejected from the stadium… Modern football is genuinely rubbish…’