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Fans Against Criminalisation: Celtic Fans protest over what they claim is a repressive bill

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238 years later and those immortal words emblazoned a banner held aloft at Celtic Park as the Green Brigade and its offshoot Fans Against Criminalisation protested against the Offensive Behaviour Bill.

Hours earlier an estimated 500 fans gathered at George Square, scenes of many protests over the years none more so than Red Clydeside, when 60,000 demonstrators gathered in 1919 to support the 40-hours strike.

The police then mounted a vicious and unprovoked attack on those demonstrators. The Battle of George Square, as it was known, led to Winston Churchill sending 10,000 English troops to Glasgow along with tanks and artillery fearing a repeat of what happened in Dublin in 1916.

Saturday’s protest was peaceful following calls from the organisers for the protestors to conduct themselves in a serious and well-behaved manner. Previous protests organised against the bill descended into a party-style sing-song affair, this latest effort started off with a 30 minute silent protest as the fans gathered in the square opposite the historic seat of civic government in Glasgow.

 

To say that all those attending the demonstration were protesting against the bill could be a bit far-fetched, as some of those on the periphery were more interested in tucking into their steak bakes or cheese & onion pasties picked up at the local Greggs. The protest did attract a wide cross-section of fans from teenagers to fifty-year-old veterans.

However there was a hardcore element of protestors at the heart of things, the khaki-clad Green Brigade. Many of their members were not born when the troubles in Northern Ireland were in full flow, however that has never stopped them from singing songs glorifying the campaign waged by the IRA – an act that the Offensive Behaviour Bill looks set to criminalise if or when it is implemented.

Take a Liberty, who have been campaigning against the bill also, were in attendance handing out flyers, but it was a case of preaching to the converted as those in receipt of the flyers were already backers of the campaign.

After the half hour silent protest, the speakers took to the plinth – megaphone in tow – as they fired political rhetoric to their followers, at times drowned out by the jack hammering taking place in a nearby construction site.

Chris from Fans Against Criminalisation opened up proceedings as he announced that Celtic fans will not be ‘criminalised or be blamed for the failure of politicians, the Police and the judiciary in this country to tackle sectarianism and racism. Neither will we be blamed for public disorder and wife beating’.

 

Jeanette Findlay of the Celtic Trust was next to speak to the protestors as she stated the ‘underhanded approach taken by MSPs who wish to criminalise the Celtic Support to even the balance’.

She had earlier told Sky News that: “We are extremely concerned about the legislation, as are supporters of other clubs and other organisations such as human rights groups. It’s unnecessary because we already have legislation which will deal with bigoted behaviour.

“It’s unworkable because it’s so badly written that it’s unclear, even yet, exactly what will be criminalised. It’s attacking football fans. You could be criminalised as a football fan for singing a song, or wearing a T-shirt, that you could not be criminalised for if you sing the same song or wear the T-shirt to the cinema or opera.”

The fan reps continued to be rolled out as Joe O’Rourke, general secretary of the Celtic Supporters Association took to the stage who launched into an attack on the Crown Office who he said ‘had destroyed data that proved the vast majority of sectarian attacks were against Roman Catholics especially around Orange Order parades’. He also announced that the CSA ‘would back any Celtic fan who was wrongfully charged, prosecuted or jailed’.

O’Rourke repeated the phrase made famous by Celtic manager Neil Lennon, on the final day of last season when he said: “This is not the end, it is just the beginning.”

Announcing to the protestors, that this was just the beginning of the protests against the bill. Comments made by the FAC spokesperson after the rally paints a picture of protestors attending MSP surgeries to confront the politicians over the bill.

After the speeches ended, the protestors began to disband, however the majority of them took to the streets and marched towards Celtic Park singing and chanting Celtic songs, escorted by Strathclyde Police both on foot, horseback and with a helicopter high above keeping a close eye on proceedings.

Once inside the stadium and with the game set to kick off, banners were unfurled across the stadium by supporters clubs showing solidarity with FAC against the Offensive Behaviour Bill.

 

However the day’s festivities did not remain trouble-free as trouble flared within the section housing the Green Brigade shortly before the end of the game.

One fan said: “The police started to lift people. Some of the fans started running along the stands, and there was something going on underneath the stands too.”

It had also been reported that ‘as the Green Brigade tried to leave the ground, they were held within the stadium while police made arrests’.

Fans on various messageboards were claiming that the Police were heavy-handed as they waded into the section.

There were unconfirmed reports that a boy aged 12 was barged to the ground by the Police, breaking a number of fingers.

A Strathclyde Police spokesperson said ‘that two people have been arrested in connection with a disturbance in the ground’.

Scotzine shall be producing a special episode of The Final Whistle Scottish Football show dedicated solely to the Offensive Behaviour Bill. Keep tabs on Scotzine and The Final Whistle in the coming weeks for updates.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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