The Camera Doesn't Lie...
Those of you who know those two god-awful tower blocks which stand near the Gallowgate like an ugly two fingered insult to the decent working folk of Glasgow will be able to picture the following scene. It was a hot August day back when I was a skinny young lad. Celtic had just finished playing Rangers and two second half goals from Paul Wilson had turned a 2 goal deficit into a draw. As school kids, we were high as kites after the adrenalin rush of the big game and Wilson’s late heroics. Three of us decided to cut between the aforementioned tower blocks on the way home. The buzz of the crowd on the main road gave way to an eerie silence as we rounded the tower block and headed for home. Sometimes in your life you take the wrong turn, we did that day. A group of about 20 Rangers fans were waiting, bottles and bricks in hand. They were much older than us and they meant us harm. I don’t mind saying that I quietly prayed for a brief moment. As they growled their tired old clichés and advanced on us, my prayers were answered. From behind us a group of 15 or 20 Celtic fans appeared and a barrage of bricks from them was the prelude to a brutal fight which thankfully ended with no obviously serious casualties. I can still recall standing dumbstruck as the brutality of it all unfolded before my young eyes. Once the Rangers fans had broken and ran for it an older guy in a Celtic shirt came up to me, ‘Gotta watch them fuckin snakes, wee man. Stick wi the crowd in future.’ In his own rough way he was protecting his own people and I for one was thankful for it on that warm August day long ago.
It may be that the scenes from Amsterdam got me thinking about some of the violent incidents I’ve witnessed at Celtic fixtures over the years. I have to say they have diminished greatly since the 1970s and 80s. I can recall serious violence at Easter Road in that horrendous 1977-78 season. We kids ended up on the pitch as rival gangs battled behind the goal. A friend was hit with a golf ball and lay by the goal line as Celtic officials came out to clear the pitch. The fact the team were so poor had some bearing on the trouble. They were 4-1 down at the time and there was an ugly mood among some.
The Hampden riot in 1980 also sticks in the mind. My recollections are of Celtic celebrating winning the cup and a few fans joining the players on the pitch. Soon however, a mob from the other end appeared and headed for the smaller number of Celtic fans on the field. A guy near me shouted, ‘Are we gonny let these bastards bully us again? We’ll no live this doon for years if we don’t get stuck in!’ With that he and his mates quickly sourced some bottles from the terracing and jumped the fence before headed off to meet the attacking horde. Hundreds of others did the same and the ensuing riot was televised all over the world. The Police were nowhere to be seen as the battle commenced. In the Glasgow of 1980, those young men lived by a code which told them to meet such challenges or be thought of as cowards. Who can blame them for saving their honour that day? For a few years after the riot they would chant ‘All over Hampden, we chased you all over Hampden.’ Truth be told it was probably best described as a score draw as the mounted Police eventually arrived and clubbed the rival fans apart but it was important to many that the support stood up for itself.
On another occasion I recall Hearts fans ambushing Celtic fans after a game at Tynecastle. It was the kind of cowardly thing we’ve come to expect from some of their support. They threw things from an overhead bridge at groups containing pensioners and children. They did so thinking they were safe from reprisal but some hardier Celts raced up the embankment under fire as it were and got stuck into them. As that particular scrap developed more Celtic fans raced up to join in and the Hearts fans melted away like the cowards they were. Again there was a feeling of protecting the group from an unwarranted and vicious attack.
The so called ‘Battle of Janefield Street’ which followed an Old Firm game in the 80s came to mind too. On that night Mounted Police officers charged into a packed Janefield street knocking dozens of people over and leading to such pressure to get out of the way that walls and railings collapsed. By the time they turned the horses around to charge again the young team had armed themselves with bricks and defended themselves in the only way they could. The ensuing battle was a disgrace to Strathclyde Police as their officers lashed out at anyone who crossed their path. Hundreds of complaints went unheeded and no officer was ever charged for those disgraceful scenes. Football fans, it seemed, were fair game for such treatment.
I’m not for a second claiming that Celtic didn’t have some violent people following them down the years. They no doubt have their share today as all big clubs do and on occasion they were far from angels. However, the yobbish culture of fighting at football for recreational reasons never really caught on at Celtic. Groups such as the so called ‘Celtic Soccer Crew’ were always exceptions rather than the rule and much bigger hooligan groups attached themselves to Aberdeen, Hibs, Motherwell and Rangers. It’s fair to say that Celtic’s support was generally hostile to organised hooligans within the fan base. The advent of all-seater stadia and the evolution of Police tactics also impacted on match day violence. Throw in the alcohol ban and arrests for disorder in Scottish stadia are at an all-time low. There does however, remain within a majority of Celtic fans an abhorrence of liberty taking or police brutality of the kind we saw in Amsterdam. This fact can lead to confrontations of the sort we saw there as some followed their instincts to protect their own. If the Ajax hooligans and those hooligans with warrant cards had left Celtic’s support alone I doubt very much if there’d have been any serious disorder. The scenes we witnessed of Police officers brutally assaulting Celtic fans who were not resisting them in any way were a disgrace. If that was my son or my friend being treated like that what would I have done? I wouldn’t have stood idly by that’s for sure.
Amsterdam gave the Laptop Loyal of the Scottish gutter press a chance to lay into Celtic’s support and boy did some of those cretins take it. One sided reporting of the sort any free country should be ashamed of was the order of the day but thankfully the technological revolution means we can judge what occurred for ourselves. They days of football fans being treated as scum with impunity are long gone. The camera phone doesn’t lie and I hope some of those so called Policemen are brought to book for their thuggish behaviour. Indeed I would caution any Celtic fan visiting Amsterdam in the future with the words I heard so long ago under those ugly tower blocks at the Gallowgate. Back then they were aimed at other fans, today they are aimed at thugs who claim to be upholders of the law…’ ‘Gotta watch them fuckin snakes, wee man. Stick wi the crowd in future.’