Scottish sports comment: No matter what one thinks about Celtic’s Green Brigade, they have an uncanny knack of getting their message across — from eye-catching Champions League banners to controversial anti-poppy protests.
This group of self-styled left-wing “ultras” have found themselves back in the headlines over the latest in a series of spats with Strathclyde Police over perceived harassment going back several months.
Around 80 of their number came into confrontation with officers before last weekend’s match with Aberdeen at Parkhead and it was pretty ugly stuff, judging from pictorial and video footage.
More than 200 police “kettled” fans who were attempting to march to the stadium — metal batons were drawn, horses and dogs were in attendance and 13 arrests were made for alleged public order offences.
Let’s cut to the chase — the Strathclyde force stand by their actions and were within their rights in treating this as an illegal demonstration. But were the tactics used proportionate or provocative?
Certainly any notion of a light-touch approach seems to have been eschewed, leading one QC to describe the events as akin to a “police state.” Celtic themselves have demanded a full report from no less a figure than the Chief Constable.
What worries supporters — and a good number in the legal profession — is how much the recent behaviour of officers is linked to the provisions of the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation which was enacted just over a year ago.
The lack of clarity in the Act affords great scope for fans — those who have committed no offence — to be put under surveillance, stopped in the street, searched and questioned, seemingly because they are nothing more than football supporters.
The Strathclyde force says it is “concentrating on ... influencing fan behaviour and ... tackling any form of hate crime.” Yet for many on Saturday they came close to repeating the mistakes of the distant past in which a mutual loathing existed between themselves and the Celtic following at large.
The unavoidable truth is the Green Brigade tends to be both praised and vilified in almost equal measure. On the one hand they have brought back atmosphere to a stadium which had become all too muted since the turn of the century.
Yet they also pose a problem to Celtic who have dismissed as “ludicrous” suggestions of collusion with police.
The club is unable to change the leopard’s spots. They cannot have the great swells of noise and colour from the Brigade without their accompanying radicalism which is broadly Irish Republican, socialist and anti-Fascist in tone.
Should politics play any part in football? Well not in the execution of the game certainly but for supporters at certain clubs, such as Barcelona and Celtic, it is impossible to ignore such a dimension, one which speaks to the histories of their respective countries.
Recent events may well mark a watershed. This is an almighty mess which in truth affects not only Celtic and Rangers but supporters at every club in the land.
Ministers are already spending significant sums re-evaluating legislation which many feel has done more harm than good.
With suggestions that human rights are being undermined a rethink is urgently required before the game across the board suffers very badly.
It's interesting to ponder what may be in the mind of Gordon Strachan ahead of his first competitive match in charge of Scotland.
Not the kind of predictable press conference spoutings that will fill many sports pages up until the match against Wales on Friday, but rather his own private musings and aspirations.
I’d imagine they would be along these lines — is this side truly capable of being hauled off the bottom of World Cup qualifying Group A? Yes, without doubt they have the ability to do better.
Is World Cup qualification still possible? Only a supreme optimist, or madman, would think the Tartan Army will be officially required in Brazil next summer.
The bigger picture — and the manager knows this — centres on what might represent progress a year from now. A series of respectable results which show some verve and fighting spirit is key to lifting the mood of the nation.
That can start with victory at Hampden two days from now. From there the rest will surely follow. If so it will leave the former Celtic and Southampton boss in a good place for the real work of qualification for the European Championships in 2016.
In Paisley you have to wait 27 years for a bus, but boy is it worth it when it comes along.
The open-top victory parade which accompanied St Mirren’s thrilling 3-2 League Cup final victory over Hearts brought thousands onto the streets, something which underscores just how much the fans value their team.
The feeling was reciprocated with striker Steven Thompson, a local lad, saying he had “never been happier in his life,” having brought the first major piece of silverware to the town in more than a quarter of a century.
Despite being close to the foot of the SPL, St Mirren have shown the capacity to play good football this season as their cup win testifies.
Yes, they need to do this with far greater consistency, but they certainly will not now lack for self-belief.
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