Saturday, 3 October 2015

Celtic to the core

Celtic to the core

Yet another European night at Celtic Park and yet another fairly good display undone by woeful defending. Watching Celtic work so hard to build a 2-0 lead was gratifying but it’s fair to say our Turkish visitors must have thought we were giving out gifts for Eid as we handed them two goals gift wrapped by a generous defence. I have defended Efe Ambrose in the past from some of the crueller jibes thrown at him but there is no doubt he has a propensity for losing concentration in important matches and at European level that is usually punished. All good teams are built on a solid defence and ours currently loses 2 goals to every decent team we meet. Fenerbahçe had barely threatened Celtic’s goal in the first 44 minutes before they were handed an undeserved lifeline back into a game which looked to be slipping away from them. If we are to prosper in Europe that really has to stop and players who are consistently making these gaffe’s should be replaced by more dependable types. We might also look at our appalling record on defending set pieces. Three goals in the Malmo tie were lost to corners and Aberdeen’s late winner at Pittodrie recently was also the result of failing to defend a set play. Our zonal system against Fenerbahçe left 6 feet 4 Fenandao free to run past static defenders to head home. Zonal systems do concede less goals statistically but only if you have players good enough to do it properly. The evidence suggests Celtic currently don’t.

That being said there were many positives in the game. James Forrest, Kieran Tierney and Scott Brown had impressive games and the supporters once again gave the team tremendous backing. Ronny Deila commented after the game about the excellent atmosphere the support generated and noted how important it is to the team. With my normal seat sold before I got to the ticket office I found myself in section 110 which is just below the Green Brigade section. As a veteran of the old days in the Jungle, it was great to see such fervor and passion from the supporters alive and well. The drums pounded, the songs echoed and the noise spread around the stadium. The Green Brigade were simple excellent in their support of the team and it is to their credit that they have survived appalling and grossly disproportionate policing, an ambiguous attitude from the club and often a degree of intolerance from some among the Celtic support. A few of us naively thought the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was designed to finally deal with the sectarian luddites who attach themselves to certain Scottish football clubs. Instead it was turned on people guilty of nothing more than holding progressive political views others disagreed with. There is surely scope in a democratic society for allowing the flowering of political dissention and discussion without the sort of policing some of our fellow Celtic supporters have to contend with. Eoin O’Ceallaigh in his interesting article‚ ‘Brigadistas in Paradise‘  described Police harrassment of the Green Brigade in the following terms...

‘Examples of police attempts to disrupt the group’s activities have included: constant and overt surveillance of the group at, and travelling to and from football matches; stop and searches; dawn raids on members‘ homes for controversial banners; police blocking of taxi applications; attempts by Special Branch to recruit informers; covert surveillance of members, in Scotland and abroad, down to detailing specific meals eaten; use of Anti-Terrorism legislation to detain and question members travelling between Scotland and the north of Ireland; dozens of arrests; imprisonment on remand; the completely ironic deployment of police horses, riot vans and baton charges on members protesting police harassment; and a dedicated unit tasked with monitoring the group.‘

Whether you agree with their brand of left wing politics or not there is no way such policing has been proportionate to the perceived threat the group cause. These are non-violent football ultras, not some plotting terrorist cell. It is to be hoped that various embarrassing reverses in the courts will make the police think again about how they interact with these loud, passionate, opinionated but essentially peaceful football supporters.  There is no denying they add to the atmosphere at Celtic Park.  Nor can there be any denial of their direct social action which has ranged from tons of food being collected for food banks to their now regular anti-discrimination football tournament which has featured teams from various ethnic and minority communities in the wider Glasgow area. Such positives are usually ignored by a media culture in Scotland which seems unduly willing to splash any perceived misdemeanors all over the front page.

As I watched the Green Brigade section in action from close quarters at the Europa League match with Fenerbahçe it was clear to see the infectious love for Celtic which is at the core of their being. As football has been transformed in recent decades by the construction of all seated stadia and the demands of TV companies who don’t give a damn for fans, it was refreshing to see the ordinary working class football culture alive and well.

As a teenager in the old Jungle, I’d go home from big games utterly exhausted after 2 hours of singing, jumping, roaring and generally being totally engrossed with the struggle on the field. That unity with the team which the old terraces engendered so well was challenged by the building of the new stadium which changed forever the rituals of match going. We may not have reached the levels of the ‘Prawn sandwich brigade’ as Roy Keane once famously called the new breed of well-heeled Manchester United fans, but Celtic Park does need groups like the Green Brigade to spark the atmosphere.

Many among our own support, myself included, have been critical of the odd ill- conceived banner display from the group but in truth they have made us ponder the hypocrisy in our society and that can only be good. It is healthy to have debates within our support but without ever losing sight of the one thing that unites us all and that is of course our love for Celtic.

As I jumped around like a teenager again the other night, I knew the old Jungle spirit was alive and well among the support. Our society is quick to condemn football fans but let me be just as quick to praise them. Well done to all those passionate ‘Brigadistas’ of section 111, we don’t always agree on everything but the wider support knows well that you’re Celtic to the core.  Hail Hail.