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.
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.