Green Brigade: The innocent party or do they bring it on themselves?
On Saturday, as I reported on Scotzine, around 200 police officers descended on the Gallowgate as the Green Brigade began to gather to march to Celtic Park in protest against what they claimed was intimidation and harassment at the hands of the police.
I have seen the videos, seen the photos and talked to some who gave eye-witness accounts of 'Thatcherite-era' style of policing as Strathclyde's finest used tactics more associated with handling large scale disturbances and rioters. The Celtic fans in attendance have stated that the police were heavy handed in their dealing with the situation and several politicians claimed that the tactics were over the top.
Before I go into the background and the incident in question, I have to state that I am no fan of the Green Brigade, their political ideology or their actions, which bring disrepute and negative headlines upon Celtic Football Club. I applaud them, however, for the atmosphere they bring to Celtic Park in song and in displays. But that is where it ends.
Born through division and conflict
The founding members of the Green Brigade were initially part of the now-defunct Jungle Bhoys fan group - whose head honcho was one of the prominent members of the 'Celts for Change' group back in the early 1990s. However, division soon arose between members following arguments over an anti-sectarianism banner, which led to a number of the Jungle Bhoys creating their own splinter group: the Green Brigade.
Since their formation, the Green Brigade have been highly political, basing themselves on the European ultras groups, which brings them directly into conflict with the authorities and the club's board [or does it? I will get to this later].
In an interview with the Celtic fanzine More than 90 Minutes, two of the founding members, recalled how the group were formed, their aims and objectives.
They said: "Everyone is aware of how poor the atmosphere had become at Celtic Park, and when the Jungle Bhoys started a few of us joined and tried to get involved with that. I got involved just a few months before we broke away and formed the Green Brigade, we were concerned with the direction they were taking and the hierarchy within the Jungle Bhoys.
"Our style of support is to an extent a wee bit more extreme [than the Jungle Bhoys], the members who started the group didn't just look on YouTube and think 'oh, we want to be Ultras'. Some of our guys had been to Argentina and watched Boca Juniors and River Plate, some had been to Italy at Livorno or Roma games, some of us had been to Croatia."
On the reason why they elected to follow, or should I say copy the ultras' style, they added: "When we formed the Green Brigade we looked at the European ultra style of support. We wanted to be doing stuff off the terraces as well as on; for us that meant starting an Ultra group - a lot of people think that politics are synonymous with Ultra groups across the world but that isn't necessarily the case."
Interestingly they admit that they came into conflict with senior members of the Jungle Bhoys, over 'toeing the party line and complying with restrictions imposed by those in charge at Celtic Park'. As for the way the club was formed - what politician formed it? What political party formed it?
They added that they 'don't have that much of a relationship with the board or the powers that be at Celtic Park, people probably think that because we have our own section now we're in there all the time having tea and biscuits with them. From the start we always said there wasn't a real need to talk to the club and that wasn't a case of burying our heads in the sand, it was just a case of we're doing what we we're doing there's no real need'.
The relationship between board and the group
It is interesting to note the rhetoric peddled out by the group on numerous occasions, that they have no relationship with the board and that they do not co-operate with the board. It is also interesting to note that they are failing to tell the full story.
Let the Green Brigade answer these simple questions: Who organised the singing section for the group? Who organised tickets at Hampden Park for numerous cup games for the group to sit together? And here is a biggy, remember that 125-year anniversary display before the Barcelona game? The Green Brigade took great pleasure in claiming that they were behind it and its organisation, but why did they contact the club to pay for more than 50% of the cost of the display?
So much for a 'non-collusion relationship' between the group and the board. It's also interesting to note that during their protest over Dr. John Reid being on the board - with the group's banner hung upside down - they were actively talking with the club, talks which saw them secure the singing section.
So why hide the working relationship? Maybe because it is not compatible with the traditional ultras' ideology from Europe.
A chequered history
The group have had a chequered past, even away from their flouting of stadium regulations and reasons for formation of the group, they have brought significant negative publicity on the club. From their support of the Irish republican movement and the singing of pro-IRA songs, to chants and banners which are deemed as offensive and in breach of new legislation - whether you agree with it or not.
There have been numerous incidents of the group reacting aggressively to those responsible for public safety in the stadiums and carrying out the duties imposed upon them. In a match against Dundee United in November 2010, members of the Green Brigade charged at stewards who were trying to throw out a supporter, with one of the stewards hit by a coin in the incident.
During the 2011 Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen, a game which should have been all about supporting the club and the players on the field, police were attempting to throw out a fan who had set off a flare inside the stadium - read back on the stadium regulations which states that is illegal. Police were prevented from removing said perpetrator, because members of the group held onto him. More than 100 members of the group chose to turn their back on the club and the players, and walked out of the stadium in protest over four of their members being arrested. Again look back at the rights of the Police under the stadium regulations.
The most infamous incident took place back in November 2010, against Aberdeen, when the group unfurled two banners with the words - "Your deeds would shame all the devils in hell. Ireland Iraq Afghanistan. No bloodstained poppy on our hoops."
This protest was over the club's decision to have the Celtic shirt with a remembrance poppy on it during a match against St.Mirren on November 11. No matter the reasoning behind the protest, as we all know of their political opposition to Britain and the British military, in the lead up to Remembrance Day the group increased their singing of songs in support of the IRA, a group that murdered innocent men, women and children - a terrorist organisation.
Since that infamous and shameful day, the group has also been behind the club being fined after they unfurled an offensive banner attacking UEFA. So much for loving the club when all they do is harm it.
Boycott & allegations of club collusion
At the end of 2012, the group boycotted two Celtic home matches for what they deemed 'continued police harassment of members'.
In a statement they said: "Towards the end of 2012, the Green Brigade announced a two-match boycott of Celtic Park due to the continued police harassment of our members. We hoped to highlight the extent of our ill-treatment and perhaps force the police into a re-think regarding their bully boy tactics. Sadly the harassment has actually worsened since then, leading up to the events of yesterday which left the group with little choice but to leave the stadium before kick-off. It has reached the stage where our very existence is under serious threat as fans will not continue to pay £500+ to be treated like criminals.
"After the disappointment of Tuesday night, we had made it our intention to thank the team for their efforts and once again back them to the hilt. However, it was clear that the police, and indeed club officials, were not going to allow this to happen."
You can read the entire statement here.
But the most damning issue is the group's allegations that the club are colluding with the authorities to rid Celtic games of the Green Brigade. Again if the club are colluding with said authorities to get rid of the group, why do the club co-operate with them?
The group continues to publish claims that chief executive Peter Lawwell has stated behind closed doors that he intends to see the end of the group sooner rather than later. They publish said allegations with no evidence and they also bring in other fans groups and claim they were party to the club's intentions to oust them.
If they have the evidence, then they should publish it - otherwise these will be unfounded allegations and the usual paranoid rhetoric from a group trying to secure a badge of honour as an ultras group. In fact some fans who had backed the group over so-called harassment and intimidation from the authorities are now turning on the Green Brigade and criticising them over their claims that the club are involved in it all.
As one fan said to me recently, "they would do well to have some humility but it is all everyone else's fault" - the group paint themselves as the victims in all of this. As the old phrase goes - there is no smoke without fire.
Strathclyde Police 'kettling' the Green Brigade
On Saturday, as I mentioned at the start of this article, around 200 -police officers descended on the Gallowgate as the Green Brigade began to gather to march to Celtic Park in protest against what they claimed was intimidation and harassment at the hands of the very same police force. The march was illegal as the group failed to obtain permission from the Police and Glasgow City Council to march on the Glasgow streets. Check out the Scottish Government guidance on public processions.
Whether bystanders believed that the tactics used were overkill or disproportionate, kettling - a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests - has been deemed as legal by the European Court of Human Rights. The police have the right to prevent marches or restrict said marches for a number of reasons, including public safety, public order, damage to property and disruption to the life of the community.
I spoke to a police spokesperson on the day of the incident, who said: "At around 1pm, police were called to reports of a large number of people gathering outside the Chrystal Bell pub at Gallowgate, Glasgow. The crowd, many of whom were wearing similar hooded tops and using scarfs to hide their identities, appeared to be attempting to stage an illegal street procession and officers were deployed to prevent this.
"The crowd were instructed that any procession on the road was illegal but that officers would facilitate a safe and orderly procession on the pavements toward their intended destination at Celtic Park. However, this was ignored and more officers were deployed as the crowd became increasingly confrontational and aggressive. The situation was contained a short time later."
"Thirteen people have been arrested so far today in connection with alleged public order offences, and they are currently being processed. Police enquiries are continuing into the incident and officers will be studying CCTV and helicopter footage to gather further information."
So are we to believe the police? Or a group that has previously stated they have no working partnership with the club and its board?
Many fans have already started contacting a law firm to report heavy handed policing among other instances. At the end of the day, everyone has the right to march - this is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights - but these protestors and marchers must adhere to the council and the government's guidance on public processions. The Green Brigade know this, they publicly announced where they would be meeting before marching to Celtic Park - so why are the group so outspoken on being victimised when they knew they were in breach of council regulations on public processions?
Were they looking for trouble to use as propaganda for their own agenda? Or is it just mere coincidence?
Many are asking why police had around 200 officers in attendance. There were reports that the fascists and thugs of the Scottish Defence League were to protest in the city, but at the last minute they pulled out leaving police in limbo until the Green Brigade gathered to march illegally with numbers that would have disrupted travel around the Gallowgate and London Road areas of the city.
So while investigations, condemnations and criticisms will continue being aimed at the authorities and the club, many need to take a step back and look in the direction of the Green Brigade, for they are no innocent party. When they breach stadium regulations and laws of the land, the authorities have every right to use powers at their disposal to deal with them and anyone else who breaks them.
But at the end of the day if you are not with the Green Brigade, then you are against them. They don't like criticism and those that do are targeted with abuse in a number of forms, and this coming from a group who peddle the notion that they are an anti-fascist organisation.
Whether the Green Brigade are at Parkhead or not, Celtic will continue to play football, the fans will continue to turn out in their tens of thousands. The atmosphere at big games will still be special, it will still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up - the Green Brigade are not Celtic Football Club and Celtic Football Club are not in operation to adhere to the beck and call of a supporters' group that bring constant negative focus on them.
When the Green Brigade and their members are long gone, dead and buried, Celtic will continue to thrive and prosper.