The Green Brigade are not the only ‘ultras’ in European football. In a former life I attended a Roma v Barcelona CL tie at The Olympico Stadium in which my seat had been commandeered by ‘ultras.’ I had no intention of asking for its return in broken Italian. For amusement, some in their group had smuggled in a Lambretta scooter and threw it over the barb wired fence separating the Roma fans from the Barcelona contingent. They lit flares with impunity. I did not feel threatened but I cannot speak for the Barcelona fans and how they felt about the ‘incoming.’ Even though the term ‘ultras’ may have been coined in Italy, it’s not a uniquely Italian construct as can be seen in the following photograph:
Ultras are largely tolerated in Italy. In the home of Catenaccio (door-bolt) where defensive interplay is applauded, they add colour and passion to the most lukewarm of encounters
There is nothing unusual about The Green Brigade. You will find their ilk in most major European clubs. However UEFA take a dim view of the use of flares and the display of political banners. The Euro ‘beaks’ have sanctioned Celtic on ten occasions in the past six seasons for the misdemeanours of their hard-line support.
When the Linfield fans rather ludicrously chose to chant the supremacist mantra – We are the People – The Green Brigade led the raucous laughter of 55,000 who pointed at ‘the Huns without the ferry fare’ in ridicule. Linfield’s part-time team were being taken apart at Celtic Park. If the Linfield chant was intended to provoke the Celtic support, it backfired. However the ‘illicit banner’ of a terrorist hit the mark and did not escape the attention of the UEFA match delegate. Celtic, who as I asserted earlier have previous, will be lucky to escape with a punitive fine.
The Green Brigade were banned from the friendly against Lyons but returned nine hundred strong for the game against Linfield. CFC issued the following statement:
‘The safe standing area of the stadium had been working very well until the final game of last season against Hearts, when large numbers of flares were smuggled into and set off under banners within the Green Brigade section. It was an incredibly irresponsible and co-ordinated action which could have had tragic consequences. Safety of all supporters at Celtic Park is of paramount importance to the club. The safe operation of the safe standing area at Celtic Park requires effective communication and engagement with the supporters in that area. Unfortunately, due to the events at the Hearts and Linfield matches, the club is not satisfied that the Green Brigade section can be operated safely at this time.”
Celtic have bent over backwards to accommodate The Green Brigade. They even went to the expense of providing them with their own safe standing area. They store their drums for them and have shared the techniques required to create huge banners. However the terrorist banner and the effigies at a game against Rangers Lite were beyond the pale.
The Green Brigade can be a force for good. I was quick to endorse their support of the Palestinians. They raised the quantum of the fine imposed on the club by UEFA. They have also contributed to many charities. They add colour and spectacle, yet some in their milieu are from an unhinged minority whom seem to believe that they should celebrate Ireland’s paramilitary past. This banner was an affront to the victims and relatives of those who have been murdered and maimed in Guildford, Birmingham and Brighton; to name but a few of the outrages. It was an affront to the majority of Celtic supporters who are growing tired of The Green Brigade’s antics.
In the final analysis if they cannot behave this section of Celtic Park will be closed down and their nine hundred season ticket holders will be banned from Celtic Park. Missing out on next Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier against Rosenborg and against Hearts on the opening day of the Premiership season on 5 August will be a heavy price to pay for the Celtic Ultras. The price to be paid for more misdemeanours could be of a terminal nature.