Thursday, 28 February 2013

James Stokes VC: Celtic Fan and Hero

The Gorbals district on the south side of the river Clyde has been home to successive waves of immigrants over the years. The Jewish community settled there or used it as a stopping point on the way to America. Highlanders poured in as Glasgow industrialised and the hills of the north were cleared for sheep. The post famine Irish arrived in huge numbers in the second half of the nineteenth century and all these groups left their mark on the area. Conditions were often grim and the area produced a few tough characters. Jimmy Stokes was born to Irish parents in a tenement on Commercial Road in February 1915. When he lost both parents at an early age and the family of four was split up, Stokes spent some time in a Catholic children’s home before becoming a labourer on his uncle’s farm at the age of 14. He later travelled into England and worked for a time as a waiter in London before returning to Glasgow to work in the building trade. Life was hard and Jimmy was a tough young man who could look after himself in the Glasgow made infamous by the book ‘No Mean City.’ Stokes, like most of the Glasgow Irish, was also a great Celtic man and would have known the greats of Willie Maley’s Celtic teams well. Matt Lynch, John Thompson, McGrory, McStay, Scarf and Nappier would have been among his heroes. In 1939, he married a local girl, Janet Kennedy, and they set up home in a single-room apartment at 20, Clyde Street. He joined the Artillery as his brother George had already done when war broke out. 

Jimmy had his scrapes with the law and was no stranger to the court system. In 1944  he found himself before a judge again. Home on leave from the Royal Artillery, Stokes took offence at an insult to his wife and the ensuing fight left another man seriously injured. The judge noted that Stokes was a character who seemed to like a scrap and as there was a war on decided that he would let him choose between prison or joining the infantry which was short of men for the fighting in Europe.  Stokes, the judge commented, would be better taking his aggression out on the Nazis. Stokes was transferred from the Artillery to the infantry and soon found himself involved in heavy fighting with the Wehrmacht in Holland.  By early 1945 the allies had smashed their way into Germany proper and the war seemed set to end soon. Despite imminent defeat some Germans fought on with a ferocity born of desperation. Jimmy found himself with his comrades in the small town of Kervernheim on the Dutch German border. Without warning withering machine gun and rifle fire poured from a fortified farmhouse and raked the Platoon. What happened next is the stuff of legend. The British Victoria Cross Society recorded Stokes actions as follows…

In Germany, on 1st March, 1945, during an attack on Kervenheim, Private Stokes was a member of the leading section of a platoon pinned down by heavy fire from a farm building. Without waiting for orders Private Stokes dashed through the enemy fire, to disappear inside this building. The fire stopped, and he reappeared, wounded in the neck. This valiant action enabled the platoon to advance to the next objective. Private Stokes was ordered back to a Regimental Aid Post, but refused to go. The platoon then encountered heavy fire from a house on the left. Again without waiting for orders, Private Stokes rushed the house by himself and all firing from it ceased. His gallantry enabled his platoon, which he subsequently rejoined bringing five prisoners, to continue the advance. In the final assault Private Stokes, now severely wounded, once more dashed to the objective through intense fire. He finally fell, firing his rifle to the last. It was found that he had been wounded eight times in the upper part of the body. Private Stokes's one object throughout this action was to kill the enemy, at whatever personal risk. His magnificent courage, devotion to duty, and splendid example inspired all around him, and ensured the success of the attack at a critical moment; moreover, his self-sacrifice saved his Platoon and Company heavy casualties.’

It was noted that his courage and willingness to make the supreme sacrifice saved the lives of many of his friends. He knew he was dying and in his last moments said his farewells to his comrades. He was awarded the country’s highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross. Jimmy is remembered today in a variety of ways. The Celtic Supporters bus which runs from the Brazen Head Bar in the Gorbals is named in his honour. Glasgow City council erected the ‘Gorbals Rose War Memorial’ in his honour. The children of St Bridget’s Primary School made a video to celebrate the courage of Jimmy Stokes, their local hero. The Victor War Comic featured his story three times calling him, ‘The Soldier Who Would Not Give Up!’

Jimmy Stokes, Gorbals boy, Celtic fan and hero died on 1st March 1945.

We remember with pride.


Much Law and Little Justice

You may not have heard of Keith McLeod but he is somewhat symbolic in the light of what happened today. Keith played for Spartans FC against non-league Culter FC in an early round of the Scottish Cup. It transpired that an administrative error in his registration papers meant that he was improperly registered and ineligible to play in the tie. The SFA convened a three man panel and threw Spartans out of the Cup. Harsh you might say but the rules are the rules and should be applied to all without fear or favour. Did we see that today?

Lord Nimmo Smith ruled that Oldco Rangers had fielded numerous players throughout the period 2001-11 who were in receipt of money via EBTs which should have been declared to the SFA.  The rule in this respect is quite clear:

All payments made to players relating to his playing activities must be clearly recorded upon the relevant contract and/or agreement. No payments for his playing activities should be made to a player via a third party.’  (Section 4 SFA Registration Procedures)

BBC Scotland’s investigation into EBT use at Oldco Rangers found that side letters existed showing that 45 players received payments out-with the amounts admitted to in the contracts sent to the SFA.  These amounted to tens of millions of pounds with players such as Peter Lovenkrands (£902,000) Barry Ferguson, (£2.5m) Nacho Novo, (£1.2m) and Lorenzo Amoruso (£639,000) among the beneficiaries. Lord Nimmo Smith appears to have had a very strong case for finding the Oldco guilty as charged and he duly did.  However what has caused surprise and some anger in Scottish football is Lord Nimmo Smith’s assertion that Rangers FC (IL) did not accrue any unfair competitive advantage on the field of play from these payments. He stated in today’s report…

"Rangers FC did not gain any unfair competitive advantage from the contraventions of the SPL rules in failing to make proper disclosure of the side-letter arrangements, nor did the non-disclosure have the effect that any of the registered players were ineligible to play, and for this and other reasons no sporting sanction or penalty should be imposed upon Rangers FC."

I would beg to differ on this absolutely crucial point. Paying players with undisclosed (and tax free) EBTs was a huge incentive to attract talented players to Ibrox and did lead to an unfair advantage. Would all of those players still have come to play in the SPL just for the money stated in their contracts which were lodged with the SFA?  For instance, if Ferguson’s £2.5m went through the books in the normal manner as part of his declared footballing earnings he may have lost up to 40% of it in tax. The EBT method saved him hundreds of thousands of pounds and thus made it more likely he would continue playing for Rangers. This was repeated with Mendes, Lovenkrands, Amoruso, Novo and many others and clearly gave Rangers an unfair advantage when it came to signing and retaining players. If that isn’t an ‘unfair competitive advantage’ what is?

So what was Lord Nimmo Smith up to today in terms of the sanctions he imposed on the Oldco? Fining Oldco Rangers £250,000 for breaching section 4 of the SFA Registration procedures is a little like fining Napoleon for the damage done at Waterloo. The Oldco is dead and the corpse is merely waiting for the funeral rites. Other Scottish clubs who lost league titles and cups to these improperly registered players, sometimes by the slenderest of margins, must be shaking their heads. How can Spartans be thrown out of the cup for improperly registering a player and yet the Oldco breaks the rules on literally dozens of occasions and are merely fined? The fine in itself is of course a mere gesture as it is money which Lord Nimmo Smith and the SFA knows will likely never be paid. The liquidators of the Oldco, a club whose assets were sold off so cheaply to Green’s Sevco, are  unlikely to offer the SFA a penny.  The Commission further states that the Newco is not responsible for the actions of the Oldco and not liable for the fine. So the bottom line is that Rangers FC (1872) broke the rules of association on numerous occasions and will escape any meaningful sanctions. Lord Nimmo Smith may feel he has had to tread a fine line here but this stinks to high heaven. The football authorities will no doubt smile thinking the whole sorry saga of Rangers and their shameful collapse will now be over and we can face a future free from more civil war in Scottish Football. Charles Green will smile that the titles the oldco won, fairly or not, remain in the record books.  It is interesting that he wants the oldco’s history but not their debt?  If it seems we have much law and little justice in this case then those of us astonished at the leniency of today’s judgement can at least console themselves with the fact that the old Rangers is dead, gone forever. Their liquidation ended their list of ‘honours’ and Celtic will, however long it takes, overhaul all their achievements and become what we already know they are, Scotland’s greatest football club.

43-0 We welcome the chase.


Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Dark Sludge of Sectarianism

The sectarian chants spat out by the knuckle dragging element of the Newco fan base were picked up on the ESPN microphones and broadcast all over the world.  They were an utter embarrassment to Scotland and demonstrate clearly that Charles Green has his first real challenge on his hands. So far he has pandered to the Newco’s persecution complex and the utter fantasy that the rest of Scottish football, in a fit of jealousy and rage, ganged up to kill the Oldco. Does this bluff little Yorkshireman know what the songs his new club’s fans sing are all about?  Can there be any confusion over lyrics such as…

‘Oh no Pope of Rome,  no chapels to sadden my eye
no nuns and no Priests,  no Rosary beads
every day is the 12th of July’

If you’re still a little mystified at such a medieval outlook on life from some of your fans Charles and feel it may be light hearted football banter, then I suggest you try a little experiment.  Take the line from a song heard today and substitute the word ‘Fenian’ with the word Jew, Paki or Muslim…..

‘We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood, surrender or you’ll die…’

Any decent society would expect the owner of a club who have supporters expressing such xenophobic intolerance to speak out vociferously against the poison of sectarianism. This is Mr Green’s first opportunity to prove he is a more than a pandering salesman. Sadly instead of an outright condemnation from the Newco what we got was a Rangers spokesman who said:

"The club is disappointed by certain outbursts of inappropriate singing by a section of the support at Berwick."

Disappointed? Vile sectarian chanting is a cause for disgust among decent people not ‘disappointment.’ If these sentiments were expressed about Jews or Black people there would be outrage. Why is it only a cause for ‘Disappointment’ when the Irish community or Catholics are reviled in this manner? Therin lies the problem in Scotland, we are so used to hearing this bile that it fails to have the shock value it would to a foreigner hearing it afresh. Ally McCoist then spoke of his club’s fans being ‘Sensational home and away’ this season conveniently forgetting other instances of sectarian chanting and ‘Paedo Free in Division Three’ type banners. What is going on in Scottish society when such vile behaviour leads to a couple of arrests only when it is pointed out to the Police by the ESPN presenter Ray Stubbs? The harassment and constant surveillance of the Green Brigade is an astonishing over reaction to the 5% of their songbook which, while being Republican in nature, is certainly not racist or sectarian. Police resources wasted at Celtic Park would be better spent trailing the bigots in blue around Scotland and knocking on their doors at 6am.

As I listened to the expected avalanche of calls in the football phone-in on the Berwick shame, I counted the minutes until Celtic were dragged into this tale of woe. It took precisely 4 minutes for the Super Score Board team to start the ‘Old Firm have a minority of fans who do this sort of thing’ party line.  This tiresome knee jerk reaction is entirely predictable. We even had another ‘John’ call in and say with a sort of twisted honesty that it’s to be expected as ‘Rangers are a Protestant Club.’  This twisted notion that the Reformed branch of Christianity must by definition be anti-Catholic belongs in the seventeenth century. Similarly the notion of Rangers being a ‘Protestant Club’ is as outdated as flared trousers and tank tops. The ‘John’s’ of the world form part of what Graham Spiers once called the ‘White Underclass who cling to Rangers.’ Old certainties of employment, identity and a meagre amount of privilege have evaporated leaving the ‘John’s’ of the world with nothing but their hatred. Spiers’ also said that there was a ‘Social Poison’ at the heart of Rangers. Until the authorities act and the club has the balls to lambast, find and ban these racists and bigots then that poison will fester. Today’s events weren’t a minor ‘disappointment’, they were an echo of unacceptable bigotry and the decent people of Scotland want this rooted out and dealt with. Our Grandparents put up with this nonsense with barely a complaint, our parents protested and rest assured we’ll roar it out so that our children don’t have to hear the same moronic nonsense in the future.

I don’t have much in common with David Trimble. His politics and his actions during the Drumcree stand off in 1995 mean that we would not be very likely to be found sharing a beer in the Emerald Isle Bar in the Gallowgate. However he did say something interesting about bigotry of the sort we saw and heard at Berwick today….

The dark shadow we see in the distance is not really a mountain ahead, but the shadow of the mountain behind - a shadow from the past thrown forward into our future. It is a dark sludge of historical sectarianism. We can leave it behind us if we wish.’’

It is to be hoped that the ‘dark sludge of sectarianism’ can be left in Scotland’s past too. It may not have the violent intensity associated with the conflict in the north of Ireland but it is an unacceptable social evil and we should all condemn it utterly and in unmistakable language, even Charles Green and Ally McCoist.  


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

From Darkness to Light

Stein spotted it right away. ‘Look at that cheeky bastard Herrera taking the bench we were assigned.’ The burly ex Miner walked purposefully over to the bench on which the wily Argentinian manager of Inter Milan had sat with his coaching staff and substitutes. He looked up as Stein approached, gauging the big Scot’s reaction to his piece of gamesmanship. ‘Fucking move,’ Stein spat in a tone unmistakable in any language. The little Argentinian shrugged his shoulders as if to say ‘I don’t understand.’ Stein stepped menacingly forward and Herrera stood and nodded his coaching staff in the direction of the other bench. Stein sat with an air of satisfaction, ‘Fuckin chancer.’ If he dominated Herrera then his players would dominate Inter. He gazed around the oddly designed stadium, noticed the preponderance of green everywhere, ‘Jesus Sean, thousands of them have travelled here. We better not let them down.’ Fallon, his vice-Captain in their playing days and still his right hand man drawled in his distinctive Sligo accent, ‘We’ve done all we can Jock, it’s in the hands of the boys now, whatever happens I’ll be proud of what we’ve done this season and so should you.’ Stein nodded, ‘I know Sean, but it’s so close, I can almost touch it. We might never get this chance again.’  The hot Portuguese sun burned down on his date with destiny. Stein’s team had come so far. So had he. As McNeil shook hands and exchanged pennants with Inter Captain Fachetti, Stein’s mind wandered to a time long ago….

Young John, stripped to the waist, covered in coal dust and already a man at 19 followed the old hands towards the seam they were working today. ‘Watch yer step John, that fuckin hutch has come aff the track again!’ said old timer Archie Fraser. Archie was the senior man in Burnbank colliery and knew well the penny pinching that went on. It might save a few bob for the owners but it endangered the miners.  A few of the older men used their shovels and sheer brute force to push the coal laden trolley back onto the rails. Hold ups cost money. ‘Right John, follow the ganger down and he’ll show you where he wants you to dig today,’ Archie went on in his fatherly tones. Archie liked to look out for the young lads. Their inexperience led to them being hurt or worse at times and he liked John, knew his family. Good people. The heat in the mine was oppressive. It may have been December above ground but here a mile below Lanarkshire the men sweated in the near darkness. It was a black dirty sweat which soaked them as they swung the picks and shovels in staccato rhythm. One of them began to sing in the darkness…

‘Twenty one years of age, full of youth and good looking,
To work down the mines of High Blantyre he came.
The wedding was fixed, all the guests were invited,
That calm summer’s evening young Johnny was slain.

The explosion was heard, all the women and children
With pale anxious face made haste to the mine.
The news was made known, the hills rang with their mourning.
Two hundred and ten young miners were slain…’

The men all knew the song about the Blantyre mine disaster from the 1870s. The price of coal was high then and it was high now.  Young John Stein worked hard. He’d earn his crust in this man’s world. He’d hold his head high with the rest. He swung his pick strongly and steadily, aiming for the very centre of the arc of light his helmet lamp produced on the ancient black wall. These long hours of labour were his time to think, although he learned quickly to concentrate, to look for the signs of danger. The rumble of shifting rocks, the hiss of gas or water and God forbid, the smell of smoke. Fire was a real killer in the mines. Everyone knew that. Today though was a sweat filled, bruised knuckle kind of day, nothing out of the ordinary. Just unrelenting work.

After 4 hours of cutting at the seam and loading the coal on the hutches, John sat with him comrades for a break. Sandwiches were produced and dirty, coal stained hands fed them into mouths made hungry by gruelling labour. ‘You still playing fitbaw John?’ one of the men asked ‘Aye, Albion Rovers, a quid a week for getting kicked all over Scotland,’ he replied with a smile. The old fella smiled back, ‘Stick at it son, anything is better than a life down these dark holes. You never know where yer fitbaw might take ye.’  Stein, young as he was, admired the stoicism and comradeship he found in the mines. There men sweated and suffered together beneath the ground. Here all the petty differences of rank, class or religion melted away. They needed to be a team down here, needed to trust and depend on each other implicitly. Their lives depended on it.  He often thought about football when he was working in the mine. If a team could be welded together into a unit like these miners, they would take some stopping. ‘Right Boys, back to work, rent to pay and beer to earn,’ the Gaffer said. Stein stood and picked up his pick again. ‘Imagine it,’ he thought to himself and he trudged back along the passage, ‘A team with the spirit and trust in each other these men had, they could achieve anything.’  As the picks began to swing again he thought over the old miner’s words…’ Stick at it son, anything is better than a life down these dark holes. You never know where yer fitbaw might take ye.’   

‘You never know right enough,’ Stein thought to himself. It had taken him out of the mines to Llanelli, Celtic Dunfermline, Hibs, back to Celtic and now all over Europe. They had played some wonderful attacking football and swept all aside in Scotland and in Europe. The English press had thought these upstarts with their brash young track suited manager were getting ideas above their station.  The first British club to win the European Cup would be English surely?  Stein had guided his team through the competition like a conductor guiding an orchestra through a great symphony. Always the team was greater than the sum of its parts. If there were great virtuoso performers like Jimmy Johnstone then they too worked for the good of the team. They trusted each other, depended on each other like the men in the Colliery. Now his team faced the toughest challenge of all beneath the unforgiving Lisbon sun. It was so bright in contrast to the darkness of the mine.

There was a roar as the game started and Stein refocused on the play. ‘Right Sean,’ he said, ‘Let’s see if Herrera has ever faced anything like these hungry young lions.’ Fallon nodded, ‘Lions,’ he said quietly to himself in his west of Ireland brogue. ‘I like that, Lions... Lisbon Lions.’


Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Sound of Silence

The 18th Century French Philosopher and thinker Voltaire is often quoted as saying… ‘I hate what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’ Freedom of expression is a pillar of any society which calls itself democratic and Voltaire recognised the need for open debate and discourse in any healthy society. Of course freedom of speech isn’t unlimited. You are not free to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded cinema for instance but each of us has the right to hold and express opinions, even those opinions others find distasteful. It is the function of Government, as the elected representatives of the people, to formulate laws which define what is acceptable and what is beyond the pale. Following the ridiculous moral panic over the so called ‘Shame Game’  in March 2011  when Celtic knocked Oldco Rangers out of the Scottish Cup, we were treated to a truly pathetic bout of hand wringing from politicians and the media. Yes, it was a tousy game with 3 Oldco players Red carded. Yes songs were sung that were distasteful, mostly from the away fans but it was no re-run of the Boyne as some would have us believe. The Politicians, sensing some easy popularity among the chattering classes, waded in with clueless insensitivity.

This last year has seen the advent of the Scottish Government’s attempts to legislate against bigotry, racism and other hate crimes in the specific context of Scottish Football and related internet sites and forums... ‘The Offensive Behaviour at Football and malicious Communications Act (Scotland) 2012’ became law on 19th January 2012. On the face of it this Bill seems to cover territory easily covered by already existing laws. Only the section dealing with internet hate speech could be said to be truly required. However, it seemed the Police now had more than enough power to deal with the sort of ‘Famine Song’ bile we have lived with for so long in Scotland. After all the Act specifically states that it is an offence to… 

'Express hatred of, or stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on their membership or presumed membership of a religious group, a social cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation.'

It goes on to further outline the sorts of behaviour which it wishes to see vanish from Scottish Football stadia. Few would contest the rightness of challenging racism, homophobia, bigotry and other hate crimes but as always it is the interpretation of the law which forms the bone of contention. The Act states in a more ambiguous sentence that it is illegal to engage in any behaviour which ‘a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive.’ In terms of Scottish Football this is clearly a double edged sword. What people find offensive varies from person to person and it is a difficult area to find consensus. What was clear was that the Act was taking aim not just at the foul songs which poured from the Ibrox Legions for decades but at the perceived ‘offensive’ Irish Republican chants sung by a minority among the Celtic support. Whether you find these songs offensive or not isn’t the point. Their place at a Scottish football game is.

Those of you who have been kind enough to read my ramblings in the past will know that I oppose the singing of Republican songs at Celtic Park or any other Scottish football stadium. I accept the right of others to hold whatever opinions they wish and make no value judgement on them at all. I am happy to admit to enjoying Irish songs of all hues in my own life but I also feel it is not appropriate to sing them at Celtic games. We need to be more intelligent and not give those who hate Celtic a stick to beat us with. The Green Brigade have brought much needed colour and noise to Celtic Park as the all seated Stadia of the modern era struggle to match the atmosphere of past decades. I have praised them fully for their wonderful support and the spectacle they bring to Celtic games. I have also been clear in my opposition to the Rebel songs which make up part of their repertoire. We simply don’t need them. We have many great Celtic songs. In terms of the ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football Act’’ it may be that the Police consider  these songs to be  ‘offensive’ to a reasonable person and thus constitute a breach of the law.

It is claimed that the Police are involved in a concerted effort to undermine the Green Brigade. The group released a statement last year which accused the Police of disproportionate and heavy handed policing. In the end the group decided to boycott two Celtic games in protest at the perceived harassment.  It was stated in November 2011 that the Green Brigade had reached a point where they were no longer prepared to put up with the sort of treatment they were experiencing. As we basked in the glow of defeating Barcelona, they were stating that…

‘It has come to the stage where we have to act and fight back. We can’t continue to let the Police have free reign to arrest and charge whoever they please. It is having an astronomical effect on people’s livelihoods. Those members who are left without a charge can’t even enjoy the football anymore in case it leads to a chap at the door that could change their lives forever. The grim reality is that if we don’t act now, there may not be a group left come the end of the season.

Most fans in the Stadium on match days are well aware of the surveillance of the Green Brigade by the Police. A camera is usually pointed at them and they respond with their chants about where the Police can stick the said camera. So why are the Police doing this? Are these fans really a threat to law and order? There may be a case for stopping the pyrotechnics on safety grounds and Celtic FC have expressed concern about ‘Lateral movements of fans and overcrowding in Block 111’ but the Green Brigade have no history of serious disorder on any real scale. The events at Dundee on Boxing day, disputed as they are, have wrongly been attributed to Green Brigade members by some. The group cannot be said to pose a threat to life or limb in the stadia of Scotland. So why the heavy handed Police actions? Are they seeking to eradicate Rebel songs from the stadium?  What is the role of Celtic FC in all of this as these are their fans who are claiming they are being harassed at Celtic Park?

Today at Celtic Park we saw a good performance and a solid victory for Celtic. 500 or so of our fellow Season Ticket Holders were not there. These fans pay their £500 like the rest of us and felt so strongly about the actions of the Police at Celtic Park that they didn’t enter the stadium. We await official confirmation from the Green Brigade and Police about what occurred today but one fan stated on The Huddleboard today that…

''We turned up today like everyone else, only we were met with a welcoming committee at the turnstiles. We had one banner confiscated by the police & lads threatened to hand over their details or face arrest. The police had sheets with names & mug-shots on them, & as these lads entered, they were immediately removed and told they were banned. This is despite have no prior warning from the club about being banned & having no banning order. Even in spite of this most still went into the ground wanting to support their team, however after seeing bodies pulled out as soon as they entered the turnstiles, then why even bother? The club/police look to be winning anyways, I'd be surprised if the GB are their next season.''

The fan went on to add, ‘Honestly, scunnered. £500 a year for this?’ The silence from Celtic FC is deafening. There are those who feel the Club may be colluding behind the scenes in the actions of the Police. John Bennet on a Socialist Website states that….

‘A statement from the Govan Emerald Celtic Supporters Club sheds light on police harassment beyond the Green Brigade to Celtic fans in general. More worryingly it suggests active complicity from Celtic FC in targeting their own fans as strategy to curb the singing of Irish Republican songs by Celtic fans. Furthermore, it is suggested that this is part of a strategy to avoid publicly challenging the tradition of singing Republican songs which goes back the best part of a century. If these claims are true then a huge scandal is emerging as it amounts to the boardroom of Celtic PLC using the police (i.e. a publicly-funded apparatus of the State)  in an underhand and bullying manner against the real heart of the club, it’s working-class fan base.

Such an assertion is of course unsubstantiated as yet. Celtic have been quiet to the point of dereliction of duty on this issue. Indeed the Govan Emerald stated later that they had discussions with the Club which cleared the matter up but such misunderstandings thrive in the vacuum left by Celtic FC not discussing the issues openly with the whole support. These are Celtic fans, paying customers who claim they are being harassed at our home stadium. The club should speak up.  So what are we to make of all of this? It’s my opinion that there is a struggle being waged by the Police against the Green Brigade. The justification for this struggle remains unclear. It seems excessive to regularly film and monitor one section of the Celtic support in this manner. There is little or no history of violence by the Green Brigade so it seems the songbook issue may be the reason for this situation? Or are the Police more concerned about this new found ability of working class folk to organise, mobilise and politicise?  Whatever is going on has the potential to cause a rift in the Celtic family and the Club would be well advised to reconsider its vow of silence on the matter.

As for the continued struggle between the Police and the Green Brigade, it seems that the forces of Law and order have committed resources on a scale which seems out of proportion to the perceived problem. This story has not yet reached the end and it is to be hoped that all members of the Celtic family are treated with the due respect when they attend games at Celtic Park and elsewhere. The law is there to serve and protect the people, it should not be used to enforce conformity. Voltaire reminds us of another important facet of a democratic state which values individual freedom when he stated…

‘It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.’

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Fairytale of Ibrox (A kind of Justice)

It was Christmas Eve Babe, in the Tax Office
Old Hector said to me, they won’t see another one
They really cooked the books, the Blue Room’s full of crooks
A penny to a pound that Hector shuts them down,
‘They put a fiver down, I’ll go ten’ said the clown
He had a feeling that the big cup could be won
He really splashed the cash on chancers who were gash
He promised better times but all their dreams were screwed

They had Flo and Sebo, they had Gazza there too
They had fans who’d fit right in at Edinburgh Zoo
They had high hopes of winning the Champions Cup
But they stumbled and fumbled and fecked it right up
There was Kaunas and Malmoe and Maribor too
And into the shame’s net the goals simply flew
And when Minty was Skinty and his bubble had burst
He told Uncle Walter that he’d lost his purse

The Bhoys at Celtic Park were singing ‘The Reaper’s on his way’
And the bells were ringing out on Judgement day

They were bust, they were done and the rebels had won
When Whyte increased their debt by a ton
Then they offered old Hector a crap CVA
We knew it was soon going to be judgment day
The Bhoys at Celtic Park were singing ‘The Reaper’s on his way’
And the bells were ringing out on Judgement day

They fell into their tomb, the shame had met their doom
The Zombies fantasise their club is still alive
But they’re now a tribute act trying to deny the fact
They’re Sevco now you see, stuck in Division three…
The Bhoys at Celtic Park were singing ‘The Reaper’s on his way’
And the bells were ringing out on Judgement day.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

You never walk alone in this Paradise

There is an old Italian proverb: Anche in paradiso non è bello essere soli. Which translates into English as: ‘There is no greater torment than to be alone in Paradise. Efe Ambrose must have felt very lonely last night as he trudged off Celtic Park knowing that his mistakes cost Celtic two goals. Football, however is a team game and we win and lose together. This young Celtic team is serving its apprenticeship in Europe and will learn and mature from facing sides like Juventus. The Italians know every trick in the book and their Machiavellian approach to football means they’ll never hesitate to use them. There is no doubting their footballing ability or class though but it is encouraging to report that Celtic matched them for most of the game. Better finishing and a Referee who actually applied the rules might have changed things but you have to admit the sheer ruthlessness of Juventus was at once admirable and disconcerting. They dive, time waste, play act, hold players at corners and generally stretch the rules to gain any advantage however slight. But when chances come along they strike like a cobra and the ball usually ends up in the net. Celtic, with double the shot tally, didn’t really threaten much in front of Buffon. Celtic’s young team are novices at the dark arts one sees in the higher echelons of European football. They will learn in time to cope with the tactics used by teams like Juventus. Hopefully they will learn without imitating the unsporting elements of their game. That is not the Celtic way.

Fans who feel a little let down after last night’s events should remember the journey this team has gone on in the last 2 years. Not so long ago we were 0-3 down to Kilmarnock at half time and 12 points behind in the league. Who would have guessed then that we’d get into the Champions League, qualify from an incredibly tough Group, win away in Moscow, beat Barcelona and reach the last 16? When we played Helsinki and Helsingborg our hope was simply to reach the Champions League group stages. We did and we excelled there. So temper any anger or disappointment with a little pride. Celtic is an emerging side and the majority of their players are still under 23. Last night the street wise, fly men of Turin mugged us. They deserved their win as you simply can’t gift goals and miss sitters  at this level of football as Celtic did. Juve have vast experience and know how when it comes to setting out a game plan. In financial terms Celtic v Juve was a lightweight fighting a heavyweight but still our team drove them back and dominated for long spells. There is much to be hopeful about and proud of.

Next season Celtic will face 3 qualifying rounds to reach the Champions League. We may well be without one or two heroes who will move on. The club is financially sound and no doubt new heroes will emerge. Get behind the team, be hopeful but realistic. The new era of European Football means that the mega rich clubs will have the best talent money can buy at their disposal. There was a more level playing field when Celtic won in Lisbon back in 1967. Now we see teams of mercenaries following the big bucks and this makes a repeat of Lisbon all but impossible. That being said, we can still shock the big boys from time to time with that Parkhead roar which spurs our Bhoys on to a higher plane. I’m hopeful that Celtic and our great support will have more great nights of European drama in the years ahead. These are great days to be a Celtic fan, enjoy every minute of it and remember that we are once again mixing it with the big boys at European football’s top table. Many clubs can only dream of what we’ve achieved this season. Be proud, be supportive, be Celtic men and women. That is a special calling as it must be for this special club.

The Italian’s have another saying;  ‘Non si può aver il miele senza la pecchie.’ It translates as ‘Honey is sweet but the bees sting.’ Celtic were stung last night but that is the price of tasting the sweetness of the Champions League. It is the best club tournament on earth and I’m proud to say that my team reached the last 16 and did not disgrace themselves in such exalted company. On the contrary, they did us proud and played with that old Celtic fire. What more can one ask?

Monday, 11 February 2013

A Tribute to a great Celtic Fan: Frankie Miller take a bow

Frankie Miller was an east end Bhoy who made a name for himself singing with that instantly recognisable voice of his. Among his best known hits was the excellent 'Darlin' and of course his cover of the much loved Scottish song 'Caledonia.' What few people know about this son of the Sacred Heart Primary School is that his Grandfather Archie Kyle was one of the few Catholics to play for oldco Rangers before their policy of banning Catholics solidified in the Struth years. Frankie wrote some great songs and collaborated with some real stars in his career but he never forgot his roots or his love for Celtic. He suffered a major brain haemorrhage in 1994 but fought back with tremendous courage to regain his fitness. He still retains his love for the Bhoys and the reworking of his hit 'Caledonia' below is my small tribute to a great Celtic man. If you don't know the song, you'll find it on youtube. This one's for you Frankie Bhoy...

Glasgow Celtic (The greatest team we’ve ever had)

I don’t know if you have seen
Those famous Hoops coloured white and green
In these last few years since I’ve been away
I think of them each day
So I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
Feeling something inside me so strong
That’s the reason I’m coming home
To see the Bhoys today….

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Glasgow Celtic you’re calling me
And now I’m coming home
And if we won the war with Rangers
Tell them liquidation’s ain’t that bad
Glasgow Celtic the greatest team
We’ve ever had

It was in Walfrid’s day when we started dreaming
Soon the trophies and cups were gleaming
Soon the fans to Parkhead were streaming
To see his famous team,
We had Johnny Thompson and James McGrory
The coronation cup, what a story
Then big Jock led us to higher Glory
Beneath the Lisbon sun

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Glasgow Celtic you’re calling me
And now I’m coming home
And if we won the war with Rangers
Tell them liquidation’s ain’t that bad
Glasgow Celtic the greatest team
We’ve ever had

We had Dalglish and Dixie who wore the green
And Jimmy Johnstone the best we’ve seen
McGrain and Larsson and Tommy Burns
To all the Bhoys we love today…

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Glasgow Celtic you’re calling me
And now I’m coming home
And if we won the war with Rangers
Tell them liquidation’s ain’t that bad
Glasgow Celtic the greatest team
We’ve ever had

And if we won the war with Rangers
Tell them liquidation’s ain’t that bad
Glasgow Celtic the greatest team
We’ve ever had

Saturday, 9 February 2013

To see ourselves as others see us

With the Juventus game only a few days away, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the Italian sporting press and see what they are saying about the tie between Celtic and Juventus. Not being an Italian speaker, I relied on a translation service and my neighbour and fellow Celt, Franco who originally hails from Naples and would love to see Celtic knock the ‘Old Lady’ out of the Champions League.  

When the draw was made in Zurich, Juve Director and former player Pavel Nedved said…

"It could have been much worse but Celtic is a respectable opponent. They were the only ones to beat Barcelona in the group stage and have qualified with great merit. We will find it hard and if we are not up for it on day we could be in for very difficult times. This Juve team has yet to mature, many have never faced a year in the Champions League in the second round and it will take a great experience." However we have a good chance to go through, if we look at Celtic with great concentration especially away from home we can do it. We have to play with their same intensity, then technically maybe we have something more than them. "

The feeling that Juventus are technically and perhaps tactically superior is balanced in Italian papers by the feeling that Celtic Park offers something special which can affect the outcome of games. Gazzeta Della Sport Writer Guissepi Catonio warns Juventus that …

‘’It will definitely be a tough first game, the one that will be played in Scotland in the cauldron of Celtic Park. If the Juventus Stadium is the 12th man for the Bianconeri, Celtic Park is also equivalent to perhaps a 12th and 13th man for pushing Celtic to greater efforts. In recent months, FC Barcelona fell there: one more reason to keep vigilant. Celtic Park is a Bear Pit. Be warned! ‘’

Juve Captain, Andrea Pirlo, is adamant that Juventus can rise to the occasion and stated on the official Juve website that his team will not be cowed by the atmosphere created in Glasgow.

‘I know that  Celtic Park is an arena for gladiators, but we are ready. We have players who have won the World Cup and the Champions League, we are used to this kind of atmosphere. I'm sure the Celtic fans will cheer like crazy, but this will only make us more determined.’

Steffano Benzi writes for the Italian language section of the Eurosport website and he was clear about the  influence Celtic Park and the Celtic fans can have on events on the Park

Camp Nou and Celtic Park: two very different realities perhaps similar in some respects but completely different, antithetical in others. Anyone who has been often to Barcelona’s stadium will  never forget it but not for the same reasons that you remember a game at Celtic Park, any game, even an anonymous Scottish Cup game.  I think it's Juventus, in this respect, who risk more. True, the Celtic is certainly not the strongest team that Juventus could draw and the draw was benign: Perhaps even lucky for Juve. The Bhoys are certainly not the same team which Juventus lost 4-3 to a few years ago when they had  Larsson, Sutton, Mjallby ... They were on a par with the Rangers then and made a  good impression in Europe against anyone, without necessarily having to dream grandiose dreams of winning things. The Scots would celebrate anyway.

Celtic of today, however is a team with a few gems, like Watt, and a strategy of betting everything on physicality and dead-ball situations. Someone has done a technical and tactical analysis of the game already and it’s a distinct advantage to Juventus coach  Antonio Conte. But instead they should do an analysis of the environment: Celtic  Park is something absolutely extraordinary that goes beyond what you can write, read, tell about. And I can guarantee that what you see on television is not even the smallest part of what you may suffer in the flesh in a stadium where you have 60 thousand people, never wanting to offend you but still make you feel like a real enemy in the camp.

Celtic Park, in many ways, is one of the most influential and dangerous stages of the world. It has everything to challenge you, to help you experience the classic bad day, if you enter the field with a weak stomach then you’ll want to get out as soon as possible. The fact that the Celtic managed to beat Barcelona, and I interpret this fact as certainly not random. Celtic cannot beat Barcelona  says common sense. But football says rather that Celtic did beat Barcelona and they did it with merit at the end of a match and played beyond their means. This was interpreted by Barcelona as victory with a little 'luck.’ It is on these aspects that Juventus will have to think and I'm sure Antonio Conte know exactly the difficulty in dealing with a team that will be poorer yes, certainly less experienced than Juventus and probably less able to play the tactical game. But Conte, who knows well the pitfalls of a challenge like this and will the hammer into the heads of his players a unique concept: Do not underestimate this opponent, who, for once, it may not be the team but the stadium which you have to  face.

Forget the folkloric images, avoid the easy stereotype of a Celtic fan coming out of the Scottish pub and entering the stadium finishing a beer then ordering another. Do not let the charming chorus of "You'll never walk alone" that the whole stadium sings before the start of each game fool you. To hear these songs on your TV is not the same as having it weigh on your  shoulders for 90 minutes, start to finish, even if you're winning by three-goal margin. Celtic Park is undoubtedly one more challenge for Juve.  Celtic is, of course, different other clubs.  I think also for the fans of Juventus, if they behave as they should and if they live this adventure in the right way, it will be a great experience. The Juventus Stadium can be a bit like Celtic Park: but we Italians have lost the Celtic culture, their history, their being able to accept any defeat and still celebrate every possible outcome accepting any opponent in a fair manner. But, for heaven's sake, if Juve play the game as it should be played we should win. But Celtic Park and their fans can change history.’’

The recurring theme in the Italian media is that Juve are better than Celtic but that the atmosphere created by Celtic fans can cancel out any technical superiority. Our old sparring partner Lorenzo Amorusso was surprisingly kind to Celtic in the Italian press. The man described by the Italian media as ‘The first Catholic captain in the history of Glasgow Rangers, the Protestant side of the city, the enemy of Celtic.’ Warned Juventus that…

‘Celtic Park is a true hell, 60 thousand people singing and support Celtic from 'beginning to end, win or lose, always close to the team. They are truly the 'twelfth man' in the field and it is not a cliché. The support of those fans eventually multiply the forces of Celtic up to cancel any difference, any technical gap. I repeat, this is a team fighting for every ball, that does not give anything, driven by a deep pride and an extraordinary support. Juventus certainly on paper is stronger and has more individual talent and technical merit. But these differences, as if by magic, will eventually be cancelled out by the overwhelming atmosphere of Celtic Park.’

Lorenzo Amorusso experienced many Old Firm games and of course playing in Scotland allowed him to see O’Neil’s team in European action. He knows the power of the Celtic support and the way it can drive the team on. It’s my feeling that this excellent Juventus team will present Celtic with a formidable challenge. They will be prepared for the atmosphere and tactically aware of how Celtic might play. We will need patience and the ability to understand that this is a two legged tie and Celtic cannot go flying into attack and leave the back door open.  

Our stadium has been defined as a Bear Pit, an Arena for Gladiators and a Hell. It is none of these things. It is our field of dreams where we express our love of our club by offering them our unconditional support and passion. Steffano Benzi hit the nail on the head when he said…

‘’Celtic Park and their fans can change history.’’

If the Celtic support demands 100% of the players then the least we can give them is 100% in return. Win lose or draw, Juventus will leave Celtic Park knowing they have seen and heard the best fans in Europe. We can’t score the goals or make the tackles but we can fill our players with pride in those shirts and passion to match the best. So on Tuesday night, roll up to Celtic Park with Pride! You are the vital component in the Celtic story. You are the twelfth man, the heart and soul of Celtic… and God bless every one of you.