Over the past two plus years running this site I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the clubs that make up Scotland’s “Old Firm”- Rangers F.C. and Celtic F.C.. I don’t like that, for the better part of a half-century they dominated the game to the point of making the Scottish top flight a yearly race to see what club would finish third or the sense of entitlement that came along with all of that success. I don’t like that these clubs have served both as willing surrogates and as active participants in both creating and perpetuating a division between groups of otherwise decent Scottish people- Catholics v. Protestants, Irish Republican v. British Unionist, Working Class v. Middle Class.
I had hoped that with Rangers’ demotion, dissolution, and reformation as a fourth division side (they have since moved up to the third division) and the prospect of these two clubs not meeting on a regular basis for anywhere from the next three to five years that things would calm down on both sides of the divide- if, after all, familiarity breeds contempt, then certainly the opposite must be true? I was wrong. Supporters of both clubs have routinely demonstrated over the past two years that they do not need the catalyst of the “other side” in order to embarrass themselves, Scottish football, and, indeed, Scotland itself.
Let me be clear about that: supporters of both clubs have done this. We’re concentrating on Celtic because Celtic and their supporters have been on a bigger stage for the past two years, and thus have garnered more publicity for problems surrounding their matches. Put another way, ill-advised banners and chanting at a Champions League match are going to garner more attention than rowdiness and damaging the pitch with flares at a recent Scottish Cup tie, but both happened.
We’re also concentrating on Celtic because I’ve been in a running Twitter/comment section dialog with a Celtic supporter for the past two years, a supporter who, in the wake of the destruction wrought by traveling Celtic supporters at Motherwell’s Fir Park last week, decided he has had enough. This was merely the capstone, however, as it followed six UEFA fines in seven years (and another looming on the horizon as well as SPFL sanctions for the two domestic incidents below) as well as two incidents in recent weeks involving political banners- one in Milan and one in Aberdeen- both of which came after the Green Brigade specifically assured the club they would only raise banner specific to the club, rather than any containing political messages. Here then, the thoughts of Greg Gaffney (@zantetsuken76).
I’ll never forget when Bear Bryant died. In the state of Alabama, from which I hail, it was a dark, dark day in state history. Football isn’t just life in Alabama, it transcends and almost becomes a religion. Alabama vs Auburn, the Iron Bowl, might as well be a state holiday. There are families divided, one fan of each school in the house – maybe more, and yes, families have split over the rivalry. In this year’s edition, Alabama’s kicker missed critical field goals and got death threats. Wonder what this has to do with futbol? I am probably one of the most singularly prepared people, on these shores, to be an Old Firm fan. I fall, or maybe fell is more proper, on the Celtic side.
When I was a child and we got cable, I saw a team on ESPN once. They wore green and white hooped jerseys and I was hooked – green is my favorite color. I knew their name was Celtic, but beyond? Nothing. This was a decade before the internet was to come to Alabama. Flash forward that decade, cable expands to digital cable and yours truly lands Fox Sports World and Sky Sports News. With this plus the internet, we learn Celtic are Scottish, play in the Scots League, and we soak up the history of the storied club. Being not an idiot, I also am tuned into the nature of Celtic vs Rangers, Catholic vs Protestant, Republican vs Unionist, and so on.
I am not Scottish or Catholic, obviously – in fact, I’m as religious as a brick. I did not go to Auburn University, either. Some might say, I even lack the proper criteria to support some of my clubs. Does one have to be an alumni or from a place to support a team? No. We are drawn to these clubs by various forces and reasons. I support AFC Wimbledon, as I was a Wimbledon supporter whose heart was ripped out in the move to Milton Keynes. We can also be repelled from these clubs – as I was with MK Dons, or a sport, for various reasons.
When Neil Lennon was a player, he retired from the Northern Ireland national side due to death threats. He was my favorite Celtic player, aside Henrik Larsson, and I felt dearly for the man. No one should EVER be threatened with their life due to sport. When Neil became manager, it continued anew – assaulted on sideline at a match and bullets mailed to him in post. Examine this all deeper, it goes back to the same sectarian bullshit that ruins the Celtic vs Rangers rivalry. A club, or football, becomes a thin cover for ugly scenes and actions.
Every club has ultras. One Italian club, who shall not be named, have a branch that would make Mussolini proud. Celtic’s group are the Green Brigade and the club has been attempting to crack down on them. As with every group, you have good people and then you have rotten apples who spoil the bunch. This weekend, past, the rotten ones came out (again) and did damage at Fir Park. Seats ripped up, flares, etc. This is not in dispute as there is anecdotal and video evidence of these events. For someone like me, a fan of the club with no political or religious ideology, this is unacceptable. The Green Brigade have taken some responsibility, SPFL are looking at discipline, Celtic are investigating…but so what? To change deeds, you have to change minds and hearts. If 2000 years of Sectarian fun in the Middle East hasn’t mellowed with time, will the much younger Scots version change? No.
Life will always end in death, taxes will always be collected by government, Alabama will always wait with baited breath for the Iron Bowl, Celtic/Rangers will always court controversy, and football will always court hooligans. There are some things in this life that one will always be able to count on. At a certain point though, enough is enough – some clubs just seem to draw this stuff like a lightning rod does bolts from the sky. I love Celtic, on pitch, and I always will. I have come to an end with Celtic the entity – the shield for the Ultras, the cloak for violence and destruction, the ideological justification for a continued split and derision over sectarian ignorance.
Since Greg wrote this Celtic have responded to the incident at Fir Park by suspending the season tickets of 128 Celtic supporters and by dispersing the seats of some 250 Green Brigade members in Section 111 to other sections around Celtic Park as well as issuing “strong statements” against the actions of the Green Brigade. Forgive my skepticism, but like Greg, I’ve seen this all before and it hasn’t changed anything.
Celtic are in Champions League action against this afternoon.