Monday, 31 August 2015

A Force for Good

A Force for Good
The minor spat the Green Brigade banners caused among the Celtic faithful this weekend pales into insignificance as we look around our troubled world. It can be easy to get disheartened in the face of the appalling images of war, death and destruction which seem to flow around social media these days. But among the many sad images we glimpse the best of human nature too. We saw football fans all over Germany hoist banners stating ‘Refugees Welcome’ at matches this weekend. Dortmund fans even invited 200 new arrivals to the match and they all had a great time. In one town there was even a crowd waiting with placards and flowers to welcome a coach full of exhausted Syrian refugees to Germany. Germany has a long history of taking in refugees in the years since World War 2 and as the voices of far right extremists are heard again in the land, it is at football matches they are resisted most strongly. In the 1990s, following reunification of Germany there were some fatal xenophobic attacks in the country most notably the fire-bombing in Solingen. Every Bundesliga side then appeared wearing shirts emblazoned with the logo ‘Meine freund ist ausl√§nder,’ which translates as ‘my friend is a foreigner.’ It’s important that fans all over Europe continue to resist the hate mongers and remember the people risking their lives in the Mediterranean are human beings not a ‘swarm’ of migrants.  

Celtic fans know their history and have a natural sympathy for the refugee. Many of them are themselves the offspring of impoverished Irish refugees forced across the sea by hunger and oppression. Earlier in the summer I watched the Green Brigade’s anti-discrimination football tournament held in the Garngad district of Glasgow. The rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the young people  gathered there to celebrate diversity and demonstrate in a positive way that football can indeed be a force for good.

We also saw the famous Celtic wit and humour this weekend after a few misguided Fenerbahce fans posted images of themselves brandishing knives on social media. The Celts response was to post images of them-selves brandishing among other things, a spoon, a dog, a hoover, a small child, a kebab, a carpet and what looked like a sex toy. These jolly japes were soon going viral under the hashtag ‘#thatsnotatnife’ and were receiving admiring comments from all over the world. Many decent Fenerbahce fans joined in and seemed to enjoy the fun. Isn’t that what football should be about?

I can think of so many occasions when Celtic fans made friends abroad by use of their humour and friendly nature. I can give many examples of acts of kindness done by individuals and groups wearing the green. I recall being on a cross channel ferry heading for the continent with several hundred other drinking, singing Celtic fans. A party of English School children, most of who were in wheelchairs entered the big lounge area and their teachers looked around anxiously at the noisy, beer swilling Scots. Within 10 minutes the children were joining in the songs and clapping along. One chap passed his Celtic tammy around and collected almost 200 Euros for the children. He gave it to one of the teachers’ with the immortal words, ‘There ye go big man, get the weans a sweetie in France.’ Later as the children headed off to the quiet seating area to rest, it was noticeable that most were sporting Celtic hats, Celtic scarves and big smiles. Perhaps one or two grew up to be Celtic fans.

Such incidents remind us of the basic decency of most people. I’ve watched Celtic fans hand over tickets to others and refuse payment. I’ve seen touts charging over the odds being told in no uncertain terms that it’s ‘Face value or you’ll be getting nothing for them.’  I’ve seen lifts given to strangers stuck in faraway places but most of all I’ve seen fans laugh through the good times and the bad. Humour has always been a feature of the Celtic support and some of the remarks shouted at the match will live long in the memory. In troubled times a gallows humour can take over and I recall during Tony Mowbray’s ill-fated reign a Celtic fan being interviewed on TV say, ‘Before Tony came we were depressed and anxious but he’s turned all that around, Now we’re anxious and depressed.’

This autumn will see Celtic return to Amsterdam for the first time since the troubled Champions League match there a couple of years back. No doubt that moronic minority who follow Ajax will be looking for trouble. Such is the way of it with over grown children who think violence makes them men. No doubt the ‘Fenian Lampost’ which so memorably meted out justice to a thug with a Police badge will have a few stickers added to it and a few pictures snapped. Above all I really hope Celtic’s supporters react with their usual humour to any provocation and avoid being drawn into any trouble.

One of the things I love about Celtic is the club’s openness to all in both the team and the fan base. There is also a strong social conscience among many fans who don’t just whinge about things but actually try to do something about it. From food bank collections to supporting the Celtic charity fund, from CSC dances raising funds for a huge variety of causes to individual fans quietly doing good work, Celtic fans maintain a fine tradition. We have our fall outs and disagreements as all families do but when we need to be united we are.

Saturday’s disagreements over the Green Brigade banners are insignificant in the big scheme of things. What the cross words prove above all else is that we all care about Celtic, too much at times but that’s the way it gets you when you wear the green.


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