Celtic will face another UEFA disciplinary hearing following the unfurling of an ‘illicit’ banner display by the Celtic supporters group, the Green Brigade, during Tuesday night’s Champions League clash with AC Milan at Parkhead.
The ultras group displayed banners of Scotland’s William Wallace and IRA terrorist/hunger striker Bobby Sands along with text stating: “The terrorist or the dreamer, the savage or the brave, depends whose vote you’re trying to catch or whose face you’re trying to save.”
In response to the banner UEFA released a statement today, which read: “Disciplinary proceedings have been opened against Celtic FC for an incident of a non-sporting nature (illicit banner: Art. 16.2 of the disciplinary regulations) at (Tuesday) night’s UEFA Champions League match against AC Milan in Glasgow. The case will be dealt with by the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body meeting on December 11.”
The rule UEFA referred to states that clubs are liable for “inappropriate behaviour on the part of their supporters, even if they can prove the absence of any negligence in relation to the organisation of the match”.
The “inappropriate behaviour” includes the “use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature”.
Earlier this year, Celtic were fined £4,221 by UEFA after fireworks were set off by fans in the Green Brigade section during their Champions League qualifier against Northern Irish side Cliftonville. They were also punished on two occasions during their 2011/12 season Europa League campaign after supporters displayed an offensive banner and set off flares during an away game with Udinese.
The Parkhead side were also handed £13,000 fine for “illicit chanting” in the same competition during their game with French side Rennes.
In response to the UEFA statement, Celtic released a statement which claimed the Green Brigade had ignored the club’s direct orders.
It read: “With regard to last night’s display, the Club made it abundantly clear in advance to the group in question that only football-related displays would be permitted and that any political display would lead to a UEFA charge.
“We, in turn, received an assurance that all displays would be 100 per cent relevant to Celtic. Therefore, the actions of this group are clearly very disappointing. We have been inundated with complaints from Celtic supporters regarding the display.
“Celtic does more now than it ever has to liaise with and support the numerous fans’ groups which exist. We have encouraged and facilitated all groups and their support for the Club through various initiatives. It is clear, however, that by some at least this courtesy has not been reciprocated.”
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell launched a broadside at the Green Brigade, adding: “Last night was nothing more than clear disrespect for the Club and our supporters who now face another UEFA charge. There have now been a number of UEFA charges made against the Club during the last three years, relating to behaviour, displays and pyrotechnics – it cannot go on any further.
“Let’s be very clear. Following the actions of a small minority, these charges are made against the club. It is the reputation of Celtic, our great Club and our great fans which is damaged, while others carry on indulging in such behaviour.
“Our supporters do not want this any more. We are a non-political organisation, a top football club in fantastic shape, aiming to play its part as a major football club on the European stage.
“The Club don’t want it, our manager and our team don’t want it, our supporters don’t want it and the football authorities don’t want it – it has to stop.
“Celtic is a world-class football club and rightly proud of its wonderful reputation in the game. This is a reputation hard-earned by our supporters over many years. We cannot and will not allow this reputation to be tarnished any further.”
The Green Brigade issued their own statement tonight on their official forum, it read: “As a member of Fans Against Criminalisation the Green Brigade are fully committed to highlighting, challenging and tackling the systemised campaign of criminalisation and harassment – orchestrated by the Scottish Government and implemented by Police Scotland – against the Celtic support.
“At the risk of covering old ground, the Scottish Government are responsible for drafting and implementing a ridiculous piece of legislation which, through their own admission, aims to make the arrest figures between both sides of the Glasgow divide even – regardless of the act or crime in question. In practice, for the Celtic support this has resulted in expressions of Irish identity, culture and politics being deemed illegal.
“One prominent example is the criminalisation of the song ‘Roll of Honour’ which is a lament commemorating ten Irish martyrs who died on hunger strike in Long Kesh in 1981. These men died primarily fighting the criminalisation of themselves and their struggle in a bid to be recognised as political prisoners. Now, in Scotland, it is deemed illegal to remember and honour their sacrifice. The number of fans being charged for doing so continually rises as Police Scotland continues to film and harass our support at every turn.
“On Saturday 23rd November we highlighted the sheer hypocrisy of the legislation with a simple banner display. On the 10th minute and 81st minute a banner of the letter H was unveiled while ‘Roll of Honour’ was sung. Alongside this banner appeared two further banners containing the following lyric from the Scottish national anthem: ‘they fought and died for; their wee bit hill and glen’.
“Similarly, on Tuesday 26th November we unveiled another banner display to further our point and emphasise the Scottish Government’s hypocrisy. At this match two banners depicting a Scottish and an Irish freedom fighter were shown along with the slogan: ‘the terrorist or the dreamer; the savage of the brave? Depends whose vote you’re trying to catch or whose face you’re trying to save’. The statement being made was that it is both hypocritical and discriminatory to celebrate the Scottish nationalist struggle while criminalising the Irish nationalist struggle. Ultimately, due to the subjective nature of what anyone may deem ‘offensive’, it is both dangerous and absurd to create a law based upon offensiveness.
“The Green Brigade are disappointed by the statement made by Celtic Football Club in regards to this incident. The Club’s statement claims that we assured them that our display would be purely football related but that in fact it had nothing to do with football. In reality however what was assured to them was that our plans were completely relative to Celtic and indeed football. Given that it is Celtic fans who are filling up prison cells and court rooms because of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, and the manner in which it criminalises legitimate expression of political opinion, this display could not have been more relevant in the current context. The fans are the lifeblood of any football club and to deem fan issues as irrelevant is frankly disgraceful.
“While we understand and sympathise fully with fans who may disagree with the timing of last night’s display we are honest enough to admit that the timing was of no coincidence. This act has been in place for over 18 months yet the club have offered next to no support to the fans on this matter. As a group we were told that Celtic Football Club would publicly support the fans on this issue. Regrettably, this has not transpired in spite of the fact that public pressure could have had a telling impact on the Justice Committee as they discussed the possibility of an early review of the act.
“It is our opinion that the level of apathy from Celtic PLC towards the criminalisation of their supporters is unforgivable. We find their accusation of the Green Brigade disrespecting the club to be completely ironic and totally laughable when we consider the level of disrespect they have repeatedly shown to their supporters for far too long – never mind the desecrating of our Club’s proud history and values with the firm objection to implementing the ‘living wage’.
“Whilst the Club may wish to wash their hands of pressing fan issues we will not falter in our attempts to challenge the injustice of this legislation nor how Police Scotland implements it. As the number of Celtic fans banned from games continues to grow and the court cases and all additional baggage piles up we will stand by them, we will stand with the Celtic support and as always we will defend our right to cultural and political expression.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Professional Football League are investigating another banner displayed by Celtic fans during their Scottish Premiership win over Aberdeen at the weekend.
The banner which was displayed by the Green Brigade, saw a giant H and a message which read: “They fought and died for their wee bit hill and glen.”
The lyrics were taken from the unofficial Scottish national anthem O Flower of Scotland, while the H denotes the Hunger strikers in the Maze prison.
Following reports after Celtic’s 3-1 win over Aberdeen at Parkhead, the SPFL are investigating the Parkhead side and looking to see if the club have breached rules on unacceptable conduct.
An SPFL spokesperson said: “We have received complaints regarding a certain banner at the Celtic vs Aberdeen match on Saturday 23 November. We are currently investigating the matter to determine if any action is required.”
SPFL regulations state disciplinary action can occur if a fan/individual present at a match uses: “words or conduct or displaying any writing or other thing which indicates support for, or affiliation to, or celebration of, or opposition to an organisation or group proscribed in terms of the Terrorism Act 2000.”
Given Lawwell’s tough talking is this the end of the Green Brigade or will his tough words failed to materialise into tough action? Should Celtic – if found guilty and fined by the governing bodies – hand the fine to the group responsible to pay? Should the Green Brigade be kicked out of Celtic Park for good? And what of the governing bodies – are they right to take action? We want your views.