Sunday, 17 March 2013

Semper Vigilo

Glasgow can be a rough town at times. Today I watched a video on YouTube which showed two burly men grab a teenager, who was doing nothing which could be construed as offensive, and wrestle him to the ground. If I had carried out such an unprovoked act, I would expect to be charged with common assault. The two burly men won’t be charged though with anything because they were dressed in the uniforms of Strathclyde Police. Watching this behaviour took me back to darker, less enlightened days when such occurrences were the norm…

Those of you of a certain vintage will well remember the days when football fans were treated like cattle. Policing of games in the era before all seated stadia was robust and occasionally brutal. I recall well the infamous ‘Janefield Street Riot’ of the 1980s when the crowd leaving a midweek Celtic v Rangers game was charged without any provocation I could see by mounted units of Strathclyde Police. Janefield Street had houses on both sides in those days and was a narrow funnel for Celtic fans leaving the old Celtic end. The sight of four huge horses charging through the densely packed crowd caused near panic and people were trampled by fellow fans as they scrambled to escape. Walls on one side of the street collapsed under the sheer weight of humanity trying to escape the horses. I saw one fan lying helpless on the ground as his wheelchair was overturned in the crush. Only timely and brave action by a few fans who dragged him to safety prevented him being seriously injured. By the time the Police reached the Stadium end of the street, the fear and panic had turned to anger. As the horses turned and began to charge again some of the younger element among the Celtic support prepared to meet them with bricks from the collapsed wall. A virtual riot ensued although in truth it was hard to decide who were the forces of law and order that night and who were the rioters, as the mounted Police, joined by colleagues on foot lashed out with their batons, feet and fists at anyone who crossed their path. On that evening some fought back, some watched in horror and some chanted ‘SS RUC’ at the Police. It was a shameful episode in the history of Policing in Scotland and despite protests from the Club and hundreds of letters to MPs and newspapers nothing was done.

These events occurred in an era when Judges, Magistrates and the press automatically believed Police versions of events without question. Football fans were thought of as unintelligent, drunken louts for the most part. One only has to read accounts from those days of the framing of the Guilford four, Birmingham six or Giuseppe Conlon to realize that some elements of the Police thought themselves above the law. It was an era when few working class communities assisted the police as they saw them as negative influences on their lives, enemies even. Policing has moved on since then and is more intelligent than it was. It is more rooted in communities and tries hard to engage with the people it serves, the people who pay their wages via their taxes. Strathclyde Police work under the motto ‘Keeping People Safe.’ Did they live up to that motto on the Gallowgate on Saturday?  Around 100 members of the Green Brigade were ‘Kettled’ and roughed up for nothing more than walking the Streets of their home city. Those who were not trapped in the ‘kettle’ (especially those filming events) were forced away from the incident by ‘Public Servants’ wielding batons and behaving in an aggressive manner. Enough video footage of these events appeared on YouTube to build up a clear picture of what occurred. Why are the police harassing the Green Brigade in this manner? They allowed 7000 fans of the now defunct Rangers FC to march unimpeded to Hampden last year with barely a Police officer in sight. They allow Fascist groups, Orange Parades, spontaneous ‘Union Fleg’ Demos at the City Chambers and yet feel obliged to call in 200 Officers, a helicopter, Police dogs and horses for 100 non-violent Celtic fans? It’s not as if Celtic fans marching along the Gallowgate to a home game is something unusual?
We live in a supposedly democratic country where the right to assemble, free speech and even the right to demonstrate are protected and viewed as pillars of a free society. Something more sinister is going on here as the treatment of the Green Brigade is not proportionate to the threat they pose. They have not been involved in any major disorder at football or on our streets yet a pattern of harassment is emerging which is at once worrying and puzzling.  The Green Brigade warned fans in advance about likely Police tactics and advised them not to react to provocation. Those of you who have read my blogs in the past know that I have not always agreed with the Green Brigade’s song book but I do admire the thunder they bring to games. As fellow Celtic fans we should all be asking what the hell our Police Force is doing. These are people paid and employed by the tax payer to uphold the law not to over react and treat football fans as potential rioters.  Our club should be pro-active too in protecting the interests of their fans.

It is to the Green Brigade’s credit that they didn’t take the bait and respond to this Police aggression with violence. That would be playing right into their hands and the Green Brigade need to be intelligent enough to see that. During the ‘Battle of Janefield Street’ in the 1980s, some fought back with bricks and fists. One has to worry that if this harassment and intimidation goes on some of this generation of Celtic fans will choose to fight back in such a manner. I would urge then not to use bricks or fists, but video cameras, lawyers and above all their brains. The forces of law and order cannot be above the law they claim to uphold. We have reached a stage where we need answers from the Police, the politicians and Celtic Football Club about what exactly is going on here.

The old motto on the cap badges of Strathclyde Police reads ‘Semper Vigilo.’ This translates from Latin as ‘Always  Vigilant.’ Perhaps the time has come for all Celtic fans to be vigilant and note the treatment of our fellow supporters by the Police Force we pay for.

Postscript: Statement by Celtic FC Monday 18th March:  

‘’The safety and well-being of Celtic supporters  is of paramount importance to the club. The club is very concerned to see imagery of Saturday’s march by members of the Green Brigade from Gallowgate to Celtic Park., and subsequent claims by supporters of police harassment and heavy-handed policing. This is an issue the club takes very seriously. Once again we would urge any supporter who feels they have been a victim of such harassment to contact the club with details by using the following email address:  in order that we can formally raise such matters with Strathclyde Police.

We should remind supporters that the club has set up a working group, which is independently chaired, to establish a complaints review panel to oversee the complaints process and improve transparency.

Any suggestion of collusion between the club and Strathclyde Police is frankly, ludicrous. The Celtic support has a long and well established reputation for good behaviour and everyone is very proud of that and keen that it continues. In the meantime we will be writing to the Chief Constable to ask for a full report on Saturday’s Events.’’ 

Celtic's statement is welcome if overdue. It's about time they stood up for their fans. They must never forget that it is the fans who make Celtic the club they are by giving so much of their time, money and affection to Celtic. The very least the Club can do is to ensure they are treated in the right manner and to be first in line asking why when they aren't.

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