PAUL JOHN DYKES:
All over Scotland, police intelligence officers are scrolling and trolling social media and football fan forums to identify associations and to capture images. The Police National Computer is being checked to identify ‘risk supporters’ before further agencies are tapped into in order to confirm all manner of details from vehicles owned, to properties mortgaged, to benefits claimed – a full intelligence picture. Restricted documents are devised and disseminated to other force areas to combat this reoccurring phenomenon: The football casual / hooligan / weekend offender / ultra.
The authorities do not differentiate between these groups – one Napipijri cap fits all as far as they are concerned. They see all of these collectives as a potential risk of creating disorder at football grounds up and down the country. Or are they just passionate football fans in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Football intelligence has cross-pollinated Serious and Organised Crime since the now defunct, always controversial, sometimes despotic, regularly chaotic, Offensive Behaviour Act was introduced in 2012.
If ‘The Act’ was the result of a highly-charged and passionate 2011 liaison between Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist (which was simply used as a smokescreen) then their bastard child was a juvenile delinquent.
Several supporters, clubs and politicians opposed the bill, which many believed was used to criminalise honest, civilised football fans. Others argued that it was necessary in order to prevent and combat such disgraceful scenes as the aftermath of the 2016 Scottish Cup final…
But how many of these detractors and supporters actually knew the true motivation behind the police and authorities’ quest to maintain control in this Scottish football Babylon?
With Rangers gazing down the barrel of a gun, and with the lucrative prospect of policing a game at Ibrox every fortnight looking to be going the same way as the club, the Act was approved a month before Rangers’ administration.
The justification for policing football games in Scotland was secured (even without a team playing out of Ibrox, which was a distinct possibility until the Scottish football authorities decided otherwise) and the Act continued to persecute football fans until it was eventually repealed in April 2018, by which time the policing cash cow was no longer under threat.
Having seen off the OBA, Celtic’s very own Green Brigade continue to come to the adverse attention of the authorities, with another UEFA charge being levied on the club following the stunning Europa League pre-match display last week.
On the day that Celtic were moved to make a hard-hitting statement on the subject, ACSOM’s contributors had this to say…Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
The statement issued from Celtic Park today should not be taken merely as a box-ticking exercise to show UEFA that the club are looking to root out the problem of fireworks in the stadium.
The continued use of pyrotechnics deemed ‘safe’ or otherwise will at some point cause harm – physically to a supporter or financially to the club. I support much of what the fans in the standing section do in terms of backing the team, charitable ventures and voicing of social injustice, but the continued exposure to disciplinary committees will not end well for the club or its fans.
The supporters who contribute most to the atmosphere in that section of the ground must look to build on the relationship they have with the club and supporters liaison, however, with more charges from UEFA, any trust is likely to be diminished.
The North Curve – the area of Celtic Park which houses the Green Brigade and the standing section – has been called into question over the use of pyrotechnics in our Europa League match versus CFR Cluj.
This leads to the debate on the use of pyrotechnics within football grounds in Scotland. Many within the Celtic support would claim they are dangerous and harmful to the club, indeed a quick search on social media will bring up the video of the unfortunate Athletico Paranaense fan who lost his hand after his pyrotechnic exploded.
However, pyrotechnics are not a new thing and have been a staple of European football for many a year. Countless incredible scenes have been captured over the years from the Netherlands to Greece, Italy to Sweden and now Serbia to Scotland… iconic images from within stadiums are simply just a Google search away. Fans claim this adds atmosphere to the stadium and makes it daunting for players and fans of the opposition side and I can understand that, however, UEFA has taken, at least in recent months, a very hard stance on this and for this reason I would look to see the use of pyrotechnics stopped.
However, that does not mean that if, by any means, ways were found to make pyrotechnics safe within the stadium environment, I wouldn’t be for the use of them, infact the opposite. I think they do have a role to play within creating the atmosphere if there is a safe way for them to be used. In Denmark, a trial is under way with the use of Cold Flares, which emit no heat. If given the go-ahead, these could be a great addition.
Unfortunately, we are in the situation where, for as long as UEFA is against the use of pyrotechnics, we should stop using them. It is now having a detrimental effect on the club whose supporters, who do so incredibly well with their banners and organised displays, will sadly be the first ones to lose out and they don’t deserve that.
We don’t want to lose the enthusiasm of that group of supporters. To add some perspective, they are just like me and you – normal supporters of Celtic. Regardless of anyone’s views on the Green Brigade, what cannot be denied is they positively add to the atmosphere within the stadium, creating chants, starting songs and showcasing incredible displays. This is why there needs to be a closer communication between the North Curve and Celtic to ensure that they quite literally sing from the same songsheet and work on a way to embrace the ultra culture and use of pyrotechnics but in a safe environment when technology (like the use of Cold Flares) allows that to be possible.
Celtic had to release a statement. They have to be seen to be doing something before the real possibility of partial stadium closure becomes reality. For me, all this proves is that, after numerous fines, UEFA’s strict liability is a bigger joke than the fines they dish out for racism.
Clubs need to make the individual responsible for their actions. Football fans are the most filmed group of spectators in world sport. Social media also makes it easier to identify those who break the rules.
That football enforces, and in Scotland hankers for, collective blame means that individuals who want to cause trouble can as the club’s collectively apologise for their behaviour and they walk away.
One part of the statement irks me – the bit about reputational damage. The only part of the club that is damaged is the bank balance when they pay the fine and also the possibility to make more money if part of the stadium is closed.
The fantastic display was shared and admired worldwide by football fans. Clubs, TV companies and governing bodies are quick to use supporters to promote and sell the game for capitalist gains.
Something needs to give.Watch the creator and cast of Bend it like Brattbakk with A Celtic State of Mind