Good afternoon and welcome along to an absolutely jam-packed George Square. George Square has long been a rallying point for protest movements in Scotland. From the rent and shipyard strikes, to the Poll Tax it has been the historic centre for popular revolt against injustice. Well today, with thousands of people stretching as far as the eye can see, I think we can say that the campaign against criminalisation has the backing of the entire Celtic support, and we can also safely say that Alex Salmond and Stephen House will be sitting up and they'll be taking note.
For those of you here today that don’t know our background, Fans Against Criminalisation is an umbrella group made up of the 5 main Celtic fan organisations – the Green Brigade, Celtic Trust, Celtic Supporters Association, Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs and the Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs. We formed in October 2011 in response to the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation that was then making its way through the Scottish Parliament.
At the time, we said that not only was the legislation unnecessary but also that it was wrong. It was so broad that even the Justice Minister admitted that people could be arrested for making the sign of the cross or singing a national anthem. And it was so narrowly focused on football fans that it treated us as second-class citizens and criminalised us just for supporting our teams.
Later in October 2011, we rallied in this very Square. That day, I stood not far from here and I said that Fans Against Criminalisation would provide Celtic fans with a voice to tell politicians, prosecutors and police that we wouldn’t let them give us a kicking. I said that if they wanted to criminalise us, we would fight them every step of the way.
For a time, we did just that. We rallied two thousand people in George Square in protest. On the day they forced through their anti-football law, we went to the Scottish Parliament and with nothing more than a just cause and a bag of t-shirts we embarrassed Alex Salmond and the SNP.
Regrettably since then, we’ve not done enough. Sure, we’ve been helping individual fans out and diligently collecting data we can use to show just how wrong the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is when it comes up for review. And like everyone else here, we’ve moaned about the constant filming of Celtic fans before, during and after matches. We’ve complained amongst ourselves about disproportionate policing and the mistreatment of fans.
But for too long we, as a campaign and as collective of fans, have let the government and police set the agenda and push their propaganda - we’ve let them claim that football fans are some sort of evil within Scottish society, that we’re termites to be fumigated, pests to be controlled. We’ve been too quiet as fans have been arrested and harassed. We’ve allowed a situation to develop where the police can brazenly attack a group of Celtic fans just for standing up against them.
Three weeks ago, only a matter of minutes from here on the Gallowgate, the Green Brigade held a protest march against police harassment. It was kettled and attacked by a mob of 200 baton-wielding police officers. 13 Celtic fans were arrested, and have been banned from attending matches.
This incident sparked a flame within many of us, a determination that no longer would we let our people be victimised and harassed, a determination that we won’t continue to let our people be arrested and attacked, a determination that this time we really are going to fight back, a determination that this time, we’re going to win.
Immediately after the events on the Gallowgate on the 16th of March, Fans Against Criminalisation reconvened and the response we’ve had since then has been overwhelming. Well wishes and expressions of support have flooded in from across the world. Football fans throughout Scotland, Britain and beyond have contacted us to offer their support and many of them will be displaying messages of solidarity with us at matches over the weekend.
Fans of other teams are also in attendance today, recognising that the criminalisation of football fans extends beyond club colours and affects everyone who watches Scotland’s national game. On behalf of Fans Against Criminalisation I’d like to welcome them here and thank them for putting their rivalries aside this lunchtime.
We also welcome each and every single one of you who’ve made the effort to come out on a cold day to stand shoulder to shoulder with your fellow fan. We know people have come from miles around to be here today.There are fans here who’ve travelled from Cyprus, Germany, Norway and Sweden, from Australia, Canada and Singapore.
There’s also tens of supporters clubs in attendance. From all across Glasgow and the West, right through the central belt and up and down the east coast, up to Wick in the north of Scotland and London in the south of England, and from the length and breadth of Ireland the response has been fantastic. Looking out from my vantage point here I can see thousands of fans united behind each other, and I can tell you, it’s truly an incredible sight.
I’d like to give a special welcome to a number of Celtic fans who unfortunately will not be joining us at Celtic Park later today. Some of them are friends of mine, and they’re among a growing number of Celtic fans who have been targeted by FoCUS and their colleagues within the Police Service of Scotland. They’ve been arrested on bogus charges and subsequently banned from football matches as part of their bail conditions.
Court dates are set for the end of the football season and trials are delayed before charges are eventually dropped or laughed out of court. The police hope that this will scunner them from the football. The police hope that they’ll hassle and harass these fans away from supporting the team they love.
But we’ve got a message for them today, and that message is that we won’t let the police scunner us. We won’t be hassled and harassed away from supporting the team we love and, here in George Square today, I’m delighted to say that the banned bhoys stand with us.
I’d also like to extend another special welcome. This time to a young fan who will be joining us at Celtic Park today. Like many charged over the past couple of years, he’s had to repeatedly travel to the north of Scotland to defend himself. Until yesterday that was, because yesterday he won a significant courtroom victory as a sheriff court judge dismissed the charges against him and branded the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act as a nonsense.
This young fan joined a growing band of supporters who’ve stood up against those that seek to criminalise us and who’ve won. And if we build on the fantastic start we’ve made today, if we continue to pull together as one, then our campaign can do the same.