Praying for the soul of Celtic

Published 23 March 2013

I’ve often imagined how I would feel the first time I visited St Mary’s in Abercromby Street, that very place Celtic Football Club was created. I always thought it would be a quiet moment on a quiet day, but a special one, reflecting on the part Celtic has played not only in my life, but throughout the generations of my family. I could never have imagined my first experience of that historic spot would be, 125 years after the club was founded to help, support and look after the poor and vulnerable, to bear witness about the events I witnessed at a Celtic supporters’ march and the behaviour of Strathclyde police.

And to punctuate the moment further, the jolt in the stomach came when another witness in the room remarked that, in these darkening days at Celtic, the club was missing someone.

Tommy Burns.

The weight of that statement was heavy indeed. As the club and the fans appear to be heading towards a standoff after allegations over Celtic’s relationship with Strathclyde police and sharing information about fans, the lack of a figure like Tommy, who ‘got it’, further compounds the loss of a great man.

Tommy Burns breathed Celtic. The blood of the club did not run through his veins, but the other way around; the blood, sweat and tears of men like Tommy Burns ran through the veins of the club, and that’s what made, and still makes, Celtic. The fans made the club, the heritage made the club, the last 125 years of battling against the odds made the club, and none of that existed without the unquestioning dedication from the fans to everything Celtic stood for – charity, generosity, compassion, inclusion and justice.

Just a week ago, around 200 fans were met with a police presence in equal number. Police vans, a helicopter, horses and officers on foot were deployed to deal with a march organised by the Green Brigade to, ironically, draw attention to what they claim is police harassment and fan criminalisation under new Scottish government legislation.

The Green Brigade and Celtic may have issues to iron out – the much heard of broken seats in section 111 we hear so much of these days, for example – but what happened last week did not just concern the Green Brigade and some over zealousness during games, it concerned the whole support. Those people were men, women and children. Photographs have emerged showing teenage boys being arrested and a young girl in tears, utterly distraught at the events unfolding around her.

Those everyday citizens were held against their will for an hour just for showing their support to their football club and to fellow fans. All pleas of ‘illegal procession’ were put into serious question when it emerged that the same Strathclyde police officers attended a demonstration just an hour before – which had been banned by acting chief constable Campbell Corrigan himself in a letter delivered to organisers three days before it took place – without making a single arrest. Their behaviour was described as “commendable”. Yet, 13 people were arrested at the Green Brigade march. Strathclyde police confirmed to Al Jazeera journalist Andrew McFadyen that no officers were injured. This was hardly a violent, rowdy rampage through the streets of Glasgow and questions have got to be asked.

A couple of days after the march, Celtic Football Club released at statement in which it said any suggestion of collusion between the club and Strathclyde police was “quite frankly, ludicrous”. You could have been forgiven for expecting the next sentence to say something about being “paranoid”. That old chestnut.

Fascinatingly, this excellent piece published by Al Jazeera highlighted that Rangers fan group, the Union Bears, have experienced much of the same treatment from the police as the Green Brigade, yet have made substantially less noise about it.

It would appear that had it not been for the Green Brigade’s stubborn and absolute refusal to accept a shift in the policing of football games, the Scottish government’s attempt to create a new category of ‘trouble’ to encompass football fans would have largely gone unquestioned.

The fighting spirit of the Celtic support remains strong, but it is at odds with those in charge of running the club. Respected members of Celtic supporters’ groups have begun speaking out about concerning discussions during meetings with Peter Lawwell and if any of the allegations regarding the passing of information to the police about fans the club views as troublesome are cemented, the club will be in crisis. Trust is everything. Only months after the big name mass at St Mary’s to celebrate Celtic’s 125th anniversary, Celtic fans gathered in the church hall to give witness statements about harassment, and the opportunity was not organised by the club.

It’s at times like this that Celtic needs a man with the heart and integrity of Tommy Burns to help carve a way forward. The fact that this generation can’t pinpoint their Tommy Burns may well be the point that the core fans are trying to make. Celtic PLC is losing the Celtic way.

Your move, Mr Lawwell.

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5 thoughts on “Praying for the soul of Celtic

  1. gerry31 March 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm Reply

    From everything I’ve read & the footage I’ve seen its clear police were looking for a reaction from the Celtic support they kettled.

    It’s to the immense credit of those fans that they did not retaliate in any way & maintained their cool. I’m sure police PR already had their stories written and were ready to press the send button telling of violent thugs and how their brave officers protected the public from marauding hoards.

    I can’t help feeling that there is considerable heat on the police at the minute though they won’t admit it. I hope everyone who was detained last Saturday complains. ‘Kettling’ is by no means settled as a lawful method of dealing with the public whether they wear hats and gloves to protect themselves from the elements or not!

    For my own part I’m tired of these ‘collusion’ allegations.

    Everything I’ve read indicated that Celtic wanted to detain someone who either allegedly broke a seat or was in the vicinity of a seat being broken. Nothing wrong with that. Similarly if police have ongoing investigations celtic are duty bound to provide information so long as police can provide sufficient details that information is required for bona fide reasons.

    As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing ‘collusional’ about that! Collusion to my mind is a wholesale unwarranted sharing of information and I don’t see any evidence of this.

    However this personal vendetta strathclyde police have against the green brigade in particular is a disgrace. We often hear that young people should be more interested in politics yet when they become so they’re jumped on.

    Maybe the green brigade’s crime is to have leanings opposed to those in authority, but they of course like everyone else have rights to freedom of speech & expression, or do they?

    The poppy protest was the topping point and made this personal for strathclyde police. I completely agree with the banner albeit would have preferred better spelling. Police were happy to brief of their desire to ‘smash the green brigade’ so long as it remained off the record.

    Unlike some I don’t believe ‘all cops are bastards’! I have respect for police but I expect then to show respect in return. Police, like other occupations behave reasonably when approached reasonably but there’s always exceptions. In any case the heads of police were responsible not the ordinary cop.

    In a democracy its important to separate police from politics but Chief Inspector House is deep in political doodoo.

    Salmond needed his assistance for the ‘shame game’ publicity stunt summit which Celtic should have politely declined.

    I hope as many Celtic fans as possible attend George Square on the 6th. This is an important issue and its important we stand together.

    I’ve a feeling police will be charming on the day and I’ve no doubt Celtic fans will do the club proud.

  2. cokeymac March 24, 2013 at 12:58 am Reply

    Great wee read, would love to show my support with GB on 6th April, Hibs at home but wife & kids going, so will stay back… God Bless the Green Brigade

  3. TheGoose March 24, 2013 at 8:49 am Reply

    The GreenBrigade are a bunch of pissed up Neds whom think they are Celtic Football Club.
    They’re not.
    Stop trying to glorify/sanctify this scum by linking Tommy Burns name to this group of idiots. They are a minority whom bring shame to Scottish Football & Celtic.

  4. Gavin Mac Cana March 24, 2013 at 11:01 am Reply

    TheGoose can you substantiate your claims? Scum? In what way are they scum; prey tell.

    I’m taking it you support another club outwith Celtic?

  5. Jeanette Findlay March 24, 2013 at 11:49 am Reply

    Interesting piece Angela and clearly written from the heart but can I just make a couple of points. If you read the minutes of the last meeting of the Celtic Trust (published on their site) with Peter Lawwell then you will see that Celtic plc have openly admitted to passing the names/phone numbers of fans to the police; when asked why, they said ‘because that is what we do’. Gerry31 and I have already had this out, but I can confirm that they are not under any obligation to pass information unless they have a court order and when they do, it has to be on a case by case basis, not just because it is ‘what they do’. You would expect them (and us) to co-operate with the police in the case of a serious or violent crime but not in relation to banners and songs. So the ‘allegations’ don’t need to be ‘cemented’ they have been openly admitted.

    The other point I would make is that the session yesterday, and most of the activities around the Offensive Behaviour Act have been organised by Fans Against Criminalisation of which the GB is a founding member together with another four organisations; also, by no means the majority of those attacked by the police on Saturday 16th are GB members, so it is wrong to continue to say, for negative as well as for positive reasons, that this is all about the Green Brigade. It is not, it is about an attack on the civil liberties of Celtic fans (in fact, all fans) and about how we organise, as Celtic fans, to resist these attacks. It does the GB no service, and it is inaccurate, to continue to fixate on them as either the villains of the piece or the only goodies.

    Having said all of that, I liked the piece, and keep fighting the good fight.

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