Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Green Brigade Will Not Be Silenced

Michael Lavalette, Celtic season-ticket holder and editor of the new book Capitalism and Sport, returns to Inside Left to review the latest attacks on the Green Brigade.

On the 5 August Celtic Football Club announced that they were closing section 111 of Celtic Park. This is the section that houses the Green Brigade and this is the latest attack on the group from the club.

Conflict between the club and the GB has been intensifying over the last year – at a time when many GB members have been under immense pressure from Police Scotland (see my earlier post).

The stated reason for the closure is ‘safety fears’. Now clearly no-one wants to be ‘unsafe’ at football or anywhere else, but the safety issue has been trotted out for a couple of years now and there have been no injuries or ‘unsafe’ events at Celtic Park.

The safety issue relates to three things.

Lateral movements during the game. For those not in the know this refers to the movement in the section when they sing ‘We love you ...’

Alternative rows move in opposite directions as they sing the chorus. You can see what this looks like on the GB’s review of season 2012/2013 at 4 mins 16 seconds here.

Just to note, during games almost the entire crowd will turn their backs on the pitch and do the ‘huddle’ (or the Poznan as its known in England). This is far less safe than the lateral movements, but the club and the safety authorities think this is okay apparently.

The second issue is the use of firecrackers and pyro. Neither pyro nor firecrackers are regularly used at Celtic park. But at the ‘carnival’ that was the Cliftonville Champions League qualifier crackers went off. The referee asked that a warning be addressed to the crowd and Celtic were reported to UEFA as a result. In the aftermath Celtic warned the GB about future infringements. The GB responded by claiming that they were not responsible (thought they admitted it occurred in their section). The GB also put out a statement stating that they would remove people from the section if it happened again.

Finally, the club have complained (again on safety grounds) about moshing, crowd surfing and mock fighting in the section.

Now people will have their own views on each of these issues. But it is clear that after the Cliftonville game the GB met with club officials.

At the meeting the GB made it clear that overcrowding has been made worse this season because Celtic have refused to let the GB know who has tickets for the area. They have not been able to police themselves as before – a result of the club’s actions.

They asked that the same security team be allocated to their section each week so they could build up a good working relationship. Not an unreasonable request.

They made it clear that they would act to stop firecrackers in their section. But pointed out the Club had made this more difficult for them by refusing to tell them who has tickets for the section. They also said they would try to control moshing , crowd surfing and mock fighting.

So after the Cliftonville game the GB made significant concessions. Yet after the first home league game of the season (that opened with a magnificent GB display) the club have moved to close the section.

Behind this is the continuing pressure from the PLC to ‘sanitise’ the club.

The PLC are desperate to get out of the SPL for commercial reasons and they clearly think the more boisterous aspects of the GB support could jeopardise this.

It is also the case that the media portrayal of the GB – in itself a gross caricature of their activities – has ramped the pressure on the PLC to ‘control’ their fans. 

There is also a feeling the UEFA are going to hit a club with a big fine for fan behaviour. The suspicion is that they won’t tackle any of the big Italian clubs but might go for a mid-range club like Celtic.

In this atmosphere, the GB have been targeted as a threat to future potential revenues for the club. The firecrackers at the Cliftonville game are being used as the excuse to disperse the GB on tersm that the PLC think will be acceptable to other Celtic fans.

But all is not lost. The GB are considering their position (see their statement here) They have made it clear that, no matter what, they will continue.

There has also been support from other parts of the Celtic crowd – including a petition to re-open section 111 which I’d urge everyone to sign. (available here)

Celtic do not have another home league game until 24 August. So there is time to bring pressure on the club in the hope of getting them to change direction.

But centrally this is part of the continuing battle for the heart of football. On the one side stand the men in suits, the business orientated PLC’s whose focus is on the bottom line dollar. On the other side are fans groups and their right to express their support for their team in whatever way they see fit.

This is battle that will affect all fan groups in football and with that in mind we should all stand in solidarity with the Green Brigade.