Published on 13 May 2013
The grumbles about the lack of passion in the Celtic support have been gaining prominence since Celtic’s European campaign ended this season. The team isn’t turning up, the fans aren’t turning up, the passion’s gone, it’s not the same – stop me if you’ve heard it.
Let’s take stock for a minute; when Celtic took to the field against Barcelona at Celtic Park and the outstanding 125th anniversary celebration display organised by the Green Brigade was unveiled, any talk of the passion being gone would have been laughably dismissed. The noise, the pride, the joy and the unflinching support warmed the breadth of Europe on that cold winter night.
But some important things have happened since then.
Firstly, there was Lord Nimmo Smith’s judgement on whether Rangers were guilty of rule breaches and fielding ineligible players during the EBT years under Sir David Murray. In short, the investigation ruled that yes, Rangers had broken the rules. However, failing to register player paperwork required by the SFA’s rules, which were observed by all the other clubs, resulted in no sporting advantage (no, really), therefore punishment would handed down by way of a fine to a club that doesn’t exist anymore – and would subsequently never be paid.
Lord Nimmo Smith’s judgement would also have had Scottish football fans believe – had they been stupid – that the new club at Ibrox, which began life in what has emerged in recent months as extremely questionable circumstances, could be considered the same club as the Rangers that went bust owing millions of pounds to over 250 creditors. And guess what? They get to keep the trophies!
It was nasty OldCo Rangers that broke the rules, but all was well because Charles Green ‘bought’ the trophies and all the history carried over to a brand new Third Division club, we were expected to believe.
It was a slap in the face to Celtic fans, to all Scottish football fans. Over at Third Division Ibrox, fans of the new club were having a splendid time discovering rule-breaking wasn’t such a big deal and enjoying a new found love for the old songbook. We’re debt free, boasted Charles Green, and you’re all just a bunch of bigots was the cry heard for months after Charlie became the big chief – only just, you had to strain to hear it over the Billy Boys.
A good friend told me last month that he hadn’t renewed his season ticket this year. This is a man with absolute dedication to Celtic but beyond angry at the increasingly shambolic handling of a football scandal by the domestic authorities. Until he could be sure that there would be some justice, he wouldn’t renew his season ticket, he would break his own heart and stay at home on match days. Others approached the situation differently, but I respect and understand his decision and why he felt it was the only one he could make in the circumstances.
What didn’t feature in that decision was any notion of missing Rangers. Rather, the lack of the Ibrox club had been an improvement on the season for him, and I do believe he spoke genuinely.
This season’s passion for a great number of fans lay in the European campaign, which not only catapulted Celtic back onto the European radar with some fantastic results for the club, but it didn’t involve Scottish football.
Scottish football is the set-up that sees Neil Lennon punished by the SFA for using a word that Irn-Bru think is suitable for broadcast in its TV adverts. Scottish football is the set-up that has stumbled spectacularly from one Rangers crisis to another and bent over backwards to accommodate a club that has shown less and less regard for the rules. Scottish football is the set-up that has Campbell Ogilvie, former secretary and director at Rangers during the rule-breaking years, as the president of the Scottish Football Association.
And as if everything fans have had to observe in disbelief over the last few years as the Rangers implosion unfolded wasn’t enough, they’re now faced with criminalisation from their own Scottish government for supporting a football team.
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was introduced by the SNP government in a knee-jerk reaction to a bad tempered tie between Celtic and Rangers. The policy of the government to throw the book at troublesome football fans – often the kind that express political views – led to the shameful kettling of 200 football fans who committed the crime of, ironically, attempting to stage a protest march against criminalisation and police brutality.
Celtic fans ended last season on a high because their rivals were going bust. It was over; the city rivals whose fans had spent decades dreaming of wading up to their knees in Fenian blood and the football club with the anti-Catholic, anti-Irish signing policy was no more.
If Celtic fans had known at this time last season that the disastrous financial policies and blatant breaking of rules would be so easily dismissed in less than 12 months, a fair few more of them may have opted for my friend’s route and given up their season tickets.
The truth is that Scottish football has been sold down the river and the latest revelations on the chaos that is Sevco leaves the impression that goings on at Ibrox are given something of a pass by the footballing authorities.
Celtic fans have not suddenly lost the passion for the 125-year-old club that has been a central part of their lives because a rival football club – which had been a safe-house for bigotry, discrimination and racism for decades – went out of business.
While Scottish football scrambled to find some credibility, Celtic fans turned their attention to Europe. Without Europe, all that is left is a playing field that no longer requires speculation on how even it is. Scottish football needs drastic change and league construction isn’t the simple answer. The whole truth must be laid bare before the game can move forward. An era has just ended and the transition to a brand new period in Scotland is underway.