Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Green Brigade Statement

Green Brigade Statement

On the 29th of October, 2000 Celtic fans came together in Glasgow’s George Square to hold a very successful and peaceful rally against the SNP’s anti-Football Bill. They listened to speakers from the Fans Against Criminalisation campaign detail how the Bill criminalises football fans and the Celtic support, and how dangerous it would be to extend the law to give even more powers to the police.

After the rally, fans then proceeded on to Celtic Park. Along the way they picked up a heavily-manned police escort, complete with helicopter. Inside the stadium there was a further show of opposition against the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill, with over 100 supporters clubs displaying banners against the Bill and in support of Fans Against Criminalisation.

While the campaign could call on the overwhelming support of Celtic fans, Strathclyde Police clearly were not on message. Fans arriving at the stadium after the protest were greeted with a warning from a senior police officer: ‘you aren’t above the law, we are the law’. During the following 90 minutes and the fortnight since, the police have tried to prove their point. Although we are used to petty harassment from police and constantly being under video surveillance at matches, we were surprised to see a far larger than usual police presence in 111 – there were reportedly 20 officers in and around the stairwell in front of our section.

The match was pretty uneventful – goalless on the park and nothing out of the ordinary off it until the last 7 or 8 minutes of the game. Then, Strathclyde Police made their move. Hand-held cameras in place, they attempted to arrest someone within the section but many fans did not take kindly to their attempts to charge into a crowd and held off police who were pushing and shoving them. The police retreated empty-handed but after the match they again tried to apprehend someone as fans were walking out of the stadium. This time their (again, unsuccessful) attempts saw a young girl barged over and a crush was only narrowly avoided. The operation was clearly pre-planned: it was the first time in two seasons that the police have entered the rows of our section, it happened on the same day as Celtic fans held a successful demonstration against the criminalisation of our support and as we later found out, preceded a police complaint to the SPL delegate about ‘offensive chanting’. It seems that Strathclyde Police are Alex Salmond’s boot boys.

A few days after the Hibs match, reps from the Celtic Supporters Association and Celtic Trust met with Ronnie Hawthorn, Celtic’s Operations Manager, to discuss their concerns about the behaviour of the police. They requested a meeting with Eddie Smith, the match commander who had directed the police’s operation. At previous meetings with Smith (ironically enough, about safety issues), Smith told both the CSA and Trust that he welcomed dialogue with fans. Not this time, however, as Smith refused to meet the fan representatives. The CSA and Trust then wrote to his boss, Chief Superintendent Wayne Mawson, asking for a meeting. Unlike Smith, Mawson said he would be happy to meet but that he would not be willing to discuss the events of the 29th. Unsurprisingly, his offer was turned down.

Since then, Eddie Smith has made official complaints to SPL and UEFA match delegates about ‘offensive chanting’ by the Celtic support at the Hibs game and the subsequent match at home to Rennes. Smith is also the Crown’s main witness in a case against two of our members, both charged with a sectarian breach of the peace for unfurling a banner containing the word ‘huns’ (the only other witness is a member of Celtic’s security staff, himself a former police officer). The SPL and UEFA investigations prompted by his complaints will be conducted while the Scottish Parliament debates and votes on the anti-Football Bill, and will no doubt be covered at length by the media. We doubt this is a coincidence. Already, the propaganda war has begun – today the back page of Glasgow’s local rag carries, under a lurid headline, comments from a publicity-hungry QC close to the Celtic board who calls on us to be banned. It seems he has joined the ranks of the legal establishment who are determined to take a boot at our group and the wider Celtic support.

At 7 am on Friday morning, a 17 year-old fan was arrested on suspicion of a sectarian breach of the peace, and for evading arrest at the Hibs match. He spent the weekend in police cells and yesterday appeared at the Sheriff Court. After the Procurator Fiscal appealed the judge’s decision to grant bail, the young fan was remanded in custody in Polmont Young Offenders Institute until December 23rd. You haven’t misread that – that’s a 17-year-old Celtic fan locked up for allegedly singing a song that Eddie Smith finds offensive.

Celtic fans, and ourselves in particular, are under attack from the government and the police, who are determined to criminalise us for their own ends. We really appreciate the support we have had already, and we will be considering our next actions carefully over the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, we call on all Celtic fans to oppose the criminalisation of our support and to unite behind the Fans Against Criminalisation campaign.

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