To gather a full understanding of the Green Brigade’s current situation you would need to go back some time although I will try and simplify it as best I can. Since our formation we have always faced a certain level of repression both from the police and our own club. This was mainly because what we were doing and what we were attempting to introduce to Scottish football was new and different and on top of this we have a sometimes unwelcome political edge. As time progressed our popularity grew along with our influence. As our group grew so did the attention and scrutiny we were receiving from the police and media whilst our club either ignored the situation, or worse, worked against us.
Almost two years ago now the Scottish Government, under influence from the Police, introduced the ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football Act’. In short this new law has made it an offence to simply offend someone at a football match, be it an offending chant, statement or flag/banner on show. All that is required is for one person to feel offended and that one person can be a police officer. So in essence the police have pretty much been justified to make arrests whenever they want to by simply claiming that a fan’s behaviour has offended them. The law affects all football fans in Scotland but was introduced to specifically target Celtic fans as admitted by Government officials at the time. Given the Green Brigade are often viewed as the ‘hardcored’ face of the Celtic support we have come under more scrutiny than most.
We, along with other Celtic fans, have been campaigning against the law with little success since before its introduction. On 26th November 2013 Celtic faced AC Milan at home in the Champions League. This was a fixture we had pinpointed to display banners in protest against the legislation and to show up the hypocrisy of it. We unfurled banners which compared a Scottish (William Wallace) and an Irish (Bobby Sands) freedom fighter and challenged the fact that in Scotland it is legal to celebrate one but illegal to celebrate the other. We knew that the banners would create a lot of controversy but we believed that it was necessary in order to expose the law for the sham that it is.
As expected there was a media frenzy over the banners and the Green Brigade were castigated from pretty much all quarters, including many Celtic fans although just as many supported our action. The club expressed their anger however, notably, since this match we have had no formal communication with anyone from the club – which is strange as regardless of how poor our relationship has been with them through the years it never got to this stage. As a result of their silence towards us on the issue I think we knew that it was the beginning of the end of our section at Celtic Park.
Despite the club’s anger at the tifo against Milan they would have struggled to gain support from that to close down our section as many fans did support the sentiment of the banners. However, a short time after this game Celtic were away to Motherwell – a fixture which had all the ingredients of a fiery affair. The Green Brigade organised a section for this game which is unusual for away games. Various pyrotechnics were used within our section and there was quite a lot of damage to seats too. In the immediate aftermath of the game there was another orchestrated campaign by the media to target our group. Whilst some of the damage to seats was unnecessary and we accepted some of the responsibility – the mock outrage and public witch-hunt was pathetic though not surprising.
The extent of the media coverage for events at Motherwell were so severe that it would be fair to say sections of the Celtic support began to question if not lose some faith in our group. This then presented the club with its ideal opportunity to make a move against us which they never hesitated in doing. 128 members of our section (111) at Celtic Park who had been proven to also be within our section at Motherwell were banned. All remaining members of our section at Celtic Park who were not present at Motherwell were dispersed to other parts of the ground i.e. our section at Celtic Park was shut down. As the dust settled on events at Motherwell and the furore fizzled out, people began to look back at it with a sense of reality and perspective – realising that the reaction was totally over the top and perhaps even deliberately sinister from some.
All of those banned by the club were then unbanned shortly after as they realised they had little justification for their action in the end. In spite of this our section at Celtic Park was to remain closed so were either offered a seat elsewhere in the stadium (on our own) or a refund. The majority from our section took the refund and have been absent from Celtic Park since.
Currently we’re prohibited from supporting the team at Celtic Park however this is certainly not the end of our group. Every home game we still meet up in the
Celtic Social Club (just along from the stadium) where we will watch the game and also sell our merchandise to fans. While some of our members are attending away games, we have no formal presence as a group (no banner on show). Since our exile from the stadium we pulled off arguably one of our biggest and best actions when we organised a food collection for the poor in the community surrounding Celtic Park. This received a great response from the Celtic support and the collection exceeded all expectations.
We are obviously not content with our current arrangement and will be planning on returning to Celtic Park soon. However it will be difficult to organise tickets and even more so to slip under the radar of security who are already vigilant towards us. Challenging times lie ahead for us and things certainly won’t be returning to how they were any time soon.