When Neil Lennon promised to bring back the thunder, he meant, by producing a team playing the kind of traditional Celtic attacking football that would rouse the faithful to spontaneously thunderous vocal backing. He has been only partially successful on that front, with his squad (and it is, now, very much his squad) blowing hot and cold, varying between sporadic outbreaks of breathtaking brilliance and that infuriating ineptitude, particularly in defence, that cost us the title last season and is already putting enormous strain on this season’s campaign.
Very much a work-in-progress on that front, then, Lenny.
Still, the thunder has returned to Celtic Park, largely courtesy of the in-your-face efforts of the remarkable Green Brigade, which has attracted awe and admiration on the one hand for its ardour and inventiveness, while, on the other, polarising opinion, even within the Celtic support, as to the appropriateness, or otherwise, of its more political tendencies – and there’s the great paradox: how an inspirational faction can simultaneously generate such approval and dissent, even amongst its own kind.
The Celtic support is a very broad church, reflective of the club’s philosophical inclusiveness from day one. That is its great moral strength, distancing it from the sectarianism and bigotry that blights football, not only in this country but across the planet, in many different guises. We are rightly proud of that and must do everything in our power to protect and nurture it, particularly in the face of the persistently malevolent lobby that seeks to tar us with the same brush as habitual, blatant offenders.
In that respect, the Green Brigade are doing a fantastic job in flagging up the way in which the Scottish establishment is shamelessly seeking to re-draft the forthcoming “offensive behaviour” bill, apparently with a view to framing it in a manner more calculated to criminalise Celtic supporters and bolster the specious “two-sides-of-the-same-coin” argument. That argument is a poisonous fallacy and must be exposed as such.
Enormous respect to the Green Brigade on that front and strength to their elbow. I have absolutely no problem with the responsible, opportunistic exploitation of mass media coverage.
However, especially on the road, we have a highly vulnerable Achilles Heel in relation to the constant struggle against misrepresentation as one half of the long-since discredited, so-called “Old Firm”, a term that most Celtic fans now detest and disown. A high proportion of Celtic supporters, at least in Scotland, tend to have common cultural and ethnic origins, typically with Irish Catholic lineage stretching back generations. This has predisposed them by birth towards both Celtic, the club born of their ancestors’ fight for survival and recognition in a hostile host country; and the kind of anti-colonial republican politics that has spawned insurrection against repressive and punitive regimes in all corners of the world.
Clearly, in our case, this means the struggle of our Irish forebears against centuries of British occupation and repression – and intuitive support for the ultimate re-unification of Ireland.
For some, that instinctive support extends even to embracing force, if necessary; and celebrating it in song. Which is where things get a bit delicate, courtesy of the great truism that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist – and vice-versa.
No-one has a monopoly on truth and righteousness; and you should always be mindful that the other guy, however misguidedly from your standpoint, feels as passionately about his side of the argument as you do. The convoluted question of absolute right is, of course, another matter entirely; a very thorny issue, indeed … and highly subjective. When views are polarised, everybody thinks they are right and – to coin a phrase – that “God is on their side” (a very dangerous concept).
Even in the savage battleground heat of war, they say opposing soldiers (the cannon fodder of conflicting ideologies) share a common bond of mutual respect. Well, maybe in conventional theatres; but civil war is different and the bitterness of the Irish “troubles” has challenged that theory to the limit. Yet, no war is ever settled outright militarily. The bloodshed is always underpinned by some kind of political compromise.
Look around you – Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East … the litany of apparently futile conflict goes on, often in arenas where the enmities are every bit as intractable as in Ireland, arguably even moreso.
With specific reference to the Irish question, though, as it’s at the root of our peculiarly “Scottish problem”, should we not take our lead from the rolling peace process in that troubled land, so dear to many Scottish hearts, not all of a Celtic persuasion? Former bitter foes are now locked in an admittedly uneasy but prevailing exercise in mutual accommodation. Former terrorists/freedom fighters have set the weapons aside, stepping into the mainstream political arena in an attempt to resolve ancient historical differences and find common ground through negotiation. Neither side has renounced its fundamental principles or aspirations; but they are trying to resolve them peacefully – jaw, jaw instead of war, war.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” somebody with allegedly dedicated adherents on both sides of this divide once said. Should we not be emulating them – the peacemakers, that is.
So, what am I trying to say, here?
Simple – as Celtic supporters with diverse views and opinions on the rights and wrongs of Irish political activism, let’s rally round the common ground of solid backing for our team on match days (the team, mind … not necessarily the wider policies and posturing of Celtic PLC).
I am not asking anyone to ditch their principles; but out of mutual respect and for the greater good, let’s leave contentious matters at the turnstiles and concentrate on the serious business of promoting Celtic’s football cause. Let’s respect the universal right of personal opinion and not alienate, decry, intimidate or ostracise those who may not share our own agenda. No-one is any less a Celtic supporter by dint of his/her slant on the turbulent, ongoing history of Ireland, one way or the other.
In saying this, no disrespect to, or criticism of the Green Brigade and its many supporters is implied. Quite the reverse. What they have achieved is phenomenal. They have brought a breath of fresh air to match days. Not only are they a welcome influence within Celtic Park; they and their highly inventive and motivational activities are essential and fundamental to the ongoing battle for Celtic supremacy on the field of play – our common goal, surely.
We just don’t need the potentially divisive internal politicking. We have enemies enough, without squabbling amongst ourselves over issues not directly related to Celtic.
Regarding match day singing … as a support, we are blessed with a vast array of rousing, inspirational Celtic song and chant (including some that openly and proudly celebrate Irish heritage). So, let’s box clever, starting tonight against Udinese. Let’s use that rich Celtic songbook to the max and leave the debatable stuff at the door, to be pursued by those so inclined at the appropriate time and place.
Thus will we advance the Celtic cause without exposing ourselves to criticism, derision and whatever devious ulterior motives may lie within the potentially mischievous and entirely unnecessary new legislation currently being cobbled together down Holyrood way.
I think we are smart enough to understand and do that. I do not, however, subscribe to the view that there is no place at all for politics in football. Over the years, Celtic FC has more than once taken a principled political stance. The fans have a perfect right to do likewise, within the bounds of good taste and common sense.
To that extent, I look forward eagerly to whatever legitimate, innovative campaigning activity the Green Brigade or anyone else may have to offer.