The voice of the unheard
Harold Wilson the former UK Prime Minister is credited with using the term; ‘a week is a long time in Politics.’ It’s also true that much can happen in the football world in 7 days. Last weekend we saw Celtic defeat St Johnstone in a display which was in parts exciting and encouraging for the future. On Tuesday the side faced up to Hapoel Beer Sheba in the heat of the Negev desert to book a place in the Group stages of the Champions League. Not since that torturous night in Oporto when Henrik Larsson booked Celtic’s place in Seville have I been so stressed watching a game of football. Celtic simply failed to find any fluency and found themselves 2-0 down with over 30 minutes left to play. It may be churlish to suggest that the Celtic of a year back would perhaps have lost that tie but Celtic this season are made of sterner stuff. The manager once again intervened and brought on Sviatchenko to stiffen his defence and in truth Hapoel seemed to run out of ideas in the final 20 minutes.
So it was that Celtic qualified for the lucrative Group stages of the Champions League. Our home performance, two silly goals apart, was accomplished and allowed us some leeway in the return leg. Of course the gossip in the media was all about the likely sanctions UEFA would impose for the displaying of scores of Palestinian flags in the stadium. The display was not limited to the Green Brigade section although it was more pronounced there. It seemed as if the supporters who wanted to make a point had done so in a peaceful if very public manner and cost the club another few quid. Then something remarkable happened. The Green Brigade decided to raise money for two Palestinian charities with an initial target of £15,000. They stated on the crowd funding page…
‘We, the Green Brigade, are the passionate Ultra fans of Celtic Football Club, Scotland’s most famous and successful football team. At the Champions League match with Hapoel Beer Sheva on 17 August 2016, the Green Brigade and fans throughout Celtic Park flew the flag for Palestine. This act of solidarity has earned our club respect and acclaim throughout the world. It has also attracted a disciplinary charge from UEFA, which deems the Palestinian flag to be an ‘illicit banner’ In response to this petty and politically partisan act by European football’s governing body, we are determined to make a positive contribution to the game and today launch a campaign to ‘match the fine for Palestine.’ We aim to raise £15,000 which will be split equally between Medical Aid Palestine (MAP) and the Lajee Centre, a Palestinian cultural centre in Aida Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. From our members’ experiences as volunteers in Palestine we know the huge importance of both organisations’ work and have developed close contacts with them. MAP is a UK-based charity which delivers health and medical care to Palestinians worst affected by conflict, occupation and displacement. Working in partnership with local health care providers and hospitals, MAP provides vital public health and emergency response services. This includes training and funding a team of Palestinian surgeons and medics to treat and operate on those affected by the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip.’
Celtic charitable roots are reflected in such laudable intentions and some also argue with no little justification that the Green Brigade also pulled of a supreme piece of political manoeuvring. Showing up UEFA and their contradictory and selective ideas on what actually constitutes ‘political’ displays at football. It did not go un-noticed that the draw for the Champions’ League group stages kept certain teams apart for political reasons. Celtic themselves have said virtually nothing on the display of Palestinian flags beyond a statement telling us they have been notified by UEFA that disciplinary proceeding are going ahead.
Few however could have predicted the world wide response to the Green Brigade’s ‘match the fine for Palestine’ appeal. The initial target of £15,000 has been superseded tenfold and at the time of writing £152,298 has been pledged. This astonishing amount of money has been raised from around the world with the Celtic support leading the way. The comments on the page reflect an admiration for the Celtic support doing something positive for those in need and highlighting the double standards adopted by UEFA. Of course some elements of the mediocre media we have here in Scotland tried to find an angle which attempts to take the shine off of what is an incredible example of ordinary fans taking positive and direct action. The Scottish Sun, never noted for quality journalism, printed an obnoxious and frankly pathetic headline which stated: ‘'Celtic fans should make sure they're not raising money for terrorists.' Despite the Green Brigade’s Just Giving page being very clear on where the money raised was going this comic still found a way to throw mud but they are in the minority and football supporters (and many who don’t follow the game) from around the globe have congratulated the Celtic supporters for their humanity.
The fundraising has been highlighted in newspapers and news reports around the world and to my mind demonstrates the power of the internet when it is used positively. The ability to spread information and images around the world at the flick of a button or the click of a mouse has revolutionised communication. It also made it possible for people from scores of countries to become aware of the appeal and donate. The days of rags like the Sun virtually controlling the news agenda are long gone and we should all rejoice in that.
The words you will read in the comments section of the just giving page come from people from Australia to Aberdeen, from Lebanon to London, from Parkhead to Pakistan and from Liverpool to Lisbon. . The comments come from people with names like Anwar and Andy, Padraig and Pietro, Sean and Shafiq, Lynn and Latifah. Here is a sample of what people are saying….
‘Thank you so much for your support. You are now my team.'
‘You have our support. One day apartheid in Palestine will end. From Benfica supporters.
‘The Scottish enlightenment continues! Well done’
‘Blue nose but happy to join fellow supporters to support the dispossessed. Well done everyone.’
‘Football can be the voice of the unheard; it’s the only moral left in the game. Be strong!’
‘I don’t even like soccer but colour me green because you’ve got a new fan.’
‘Thank you Celtic Fc and Green Brigade! You have a new fan for life.’
‘This is not about football. It’s about people like you and I. They say don’t hold a flag during an event the world is watching. I wonder why?’
‘This is solidarity, It’s integrity. It’s what you ask from your fans. Well done Celtic.’
I could go on and on with such comments but you’ll have gathered by now that the actions of the Green Brigade have touched a chord among many people. Modern football so often driven by greed and avarice has alienated many traditional working class supporters. But in this instance ordinary people have demonstrated that many followers of the game still use it as a vehicle for positive action. The raising of over £150,000 for charity by the Green Brigade is an astonishing and positive achievement. It is far more effective than any empty gesture politics at sending out a signal to people less fortunate that many do see their plight and do care.
I was a little sceptical about displaying Palestine flags at the Hapoel game thinking it might harm the club I hold dear but some things are more important than sanctions of fines. This wonderful act of charitable giving has demonstrated yet again that Celtic fans can be a force for good in the game.
I’ve never been prouder of my fellow Celtic fans. Hail Hail to you all.