Saturday, 22 July 2017

Sort it out

Sort it out
I wasn’t particularly perturbed when Celtic drew Linfield in the Champions League qualifiers as Celtic are vastly superior to the Belfast side and were never likely to be in any danger. Brendan Rodgers does his job diligently and professionally and I knew he’d ensure the set up and mind set were right to get the job done. The off field politics around the Linfield tie were another matter altogether. I watched the news in the morning after the game in Belfast in a hotel in Spain and saw the hail of missiles aimed at Leigh Griffiths. It was all predictably moronic as was the visiting fans behaviour at Celtic Park a week or so later. With wearisome predictability they trotted out the morally debased ‘paedo’ tosh and the usual songbook they share with their Scottish cousins.

The Celtic support, which snapped up every available seat in the stadium watched the team dismantle the part timers from Belfast with little trouble. It was however a bit of a canter as in truth, Linfield are a nonentity in European football and it says much about how far Scottish football’s stature has fallen that Celtic are forced to scrap it out with teams like this every summer. Hopefully Celtic and Aberdeen can add some much needed co-efficient points this season by having extended runs in Europe.

The Scottish media however seemed less concerned with Celtic’s perfunctory whipping of a poor Linfield side than they were about banners which appeared in the safe standing area. It goes without saying that UEFA will take a stern view of this and no pointing out of their hypocrisy in not enforcing ‘non-political’ banners in other contexts will alter their course. There is a school of thought which suggests they were far from amused by the ‘Match the fine for Palestine’ campaign last season which saw over £170,000 raised by Celtic supporters (and many others) for charities in the occupied territories. As Celtic’s charge sheet gets longer the sanctions will increase. You play in their competitions you abide by their rules and at the end of the day there is no escaping that fact.

Celtic supporters indiscretions are small beer compared to the behaviour of some supporters around Europe. Last season’s Lyon v Besiktas Europa League tie was held up for 50 minutes after fighting, field invasions and fireworks being thrown in the stadium. Both clubs were hammered by UEFA.  Legia Warsaw’s hooligans caused a long awaited tie with Real Madrid to be played behind closed doors after appalling violence in a previous match. The vast majority of decent fans were denied a chance to see Ronaldo et al because of the idiot minority. That minority then fought the Police in Madrid in the return tie. So keep Celtic’s relatively minor offences in context. That being said the punishments will increase incrementally as Celtic is brought before the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body more frequently.

My thoughts on the two flags were initially that those who brought them to Celtic Park must surely have known that it’d cause a fuss and probably cause the club some disciplinary problems given it was a UEFA sanctioned match. What then were the reasons for the two banners? To get up the noses of Linfield fans or perhaps those closer to home who watch our support like hawks and hold back their phoney rage for just such incidents?  Either way, the banners were not clever, not witty and in my opinion a little self-indulgent and immature given recent history. They also goad the Celtic Board in a manner which can only have one outcome. Just as when Celtic play in UEFA’s tournaments they must abide by UEFA’s rules so too supporters who enter Celtic Park accept that certain standards of behaviour are expected there.

I have no idea who sanctioned or created the banners and in that context Celtic’s two match ban on 900 supporters in Section 111 seems a little harsh. You don’t punish the many to catch the few. There may be a feeling that after the pyrotechnics against Hearts last season and this week’s display that Celtic needed to be seen to be proactive in policing the standing area more firmly. It’s such a pity that we begin a season in fine health on and off the pitch and then descend into acrimonious rowing over such a palpably avoidable situation. With the club dominant in Scotland and looking to build a side capable of competing in Europe we shouldn’t be shooting ourselves in the foot like this.

My return to social media after a week’s holiday wasn’t entirely pleasant as there seemed to be a real division among supporters about the incidents at the Linfield game. Some of the vitriol and name calling was over the top given we all back the same side. Some seem unable to handle the fact that others have opinions which differ from theirs. Celtic is a broad church, a club for all and there can surely be disagreements without people falling back on absolutist opinions which lead them describe fellow Celts as ‘soup takers’ or ‘Tories’ on one hand or fans with a ‘WATP mentality’ or who ‘think they are above the rules’ on the other. There will always be fans interested in politics given Celtic’s historical and cultural roots just as there will always be fans who go to support the team and take little interest in that side of things. That’s normal and healthy but it becomes problematic when the actions of some affect the club and other supporters.

I’m sure many of the 900 supporters denied entry to the next two home games will feel rightly aggrieved that they can’t watch their team.  Celtic’s action in closing the safe standing area does look harsh but from their perspective they need to be seen to be doing something if they genuinely feel safety is an issue or the behaviour of some supporters is endangering the club’s reputation and catching the eye of UEFA again. Clubs around the UK are interested in Celtic’s safe standing area as it has been a huge success. The atmosphere and noise it generates and spreads around the stadium is excellent but if fans based there don’t exercise some form of self-policing then the club inevitably will.

It’s all manna from heaven to those who with no love for Celtic who like to see and foster such discord. The club is streets ahead of our main rivals in Scotland and has just sold out season tickets for the coming campaign. We are building a fine side and have an excellent manager who is bringing out the best in the players. We are set for another tilt at the Champions League and are set to build on a historic invincible season. The last thing we need is unnecessary discord among the fans. Those involved should sit around the table and thrash out what is acceptable at Celtic Park and what is not and then get on with the business of giving us a team to be proud of and a support which is envied across Europe.

When Celtic and the supporters are united in common purpose then nothing our enemies can do will touch us. Sort it out and let’s get back to backing the team with the fervour and passion we are famous for.

Individually we are a drop in the ocean, united we are an unstoppable wave.

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