It is not often that the Celtic ultras group the Green Brigade give interviews or talk publicly about the work they do.
This is a fascinating Q&A session which was published in an online Athletic Bilbao fansite opposed to modern football and all its inadequacies. The interview is far-reaching and touches on relations with other clubs in Europe. Fortunately alabinbonban have made it available in English also.
Visit the alabinbonban site here: https://alabinbonban.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/interview-to-the-green-brigade-celtic-f-c/
Your group follow a look, style and name identified with the concept of ‘ultra’. Are you the only ones displaying this style in Scotland or is it something that is starting to expand throughout the country?
At present there are three established groups in Scotland following the ‘ultra’ style of support. These are Green Brigade (Celtic), Union Bears (Rangers) and Bois (Motherwell). Rangers also have another fan Group to create some atmosphere called The Blue Order. In addition to these groups, there seems to have been some development at Hibs this season with a group called Hibs 1975. Aberdeen no longer has any organised Group within the stadium following the demise of the Red Ultras. Out with these examples, and although there are isolated instances of some organisation in the stands, I would not say any other fan Group tries to promote ‘ultra’ type support.
Despite being ultras, in our eyes you maintain some specific features unique to your country and more particularly to Celtic. Is it compatible the local or national features with the ultra style that is invading the grounds?
I think we maintain a very good balance. The Celtic support, in culture and song, has always been slightly different to the rest in Britain. For example, the casual culture never really took off here in the way it did everywhere else. I think we have did a good job of implementing good aspects of ultra support while also utilising the good features of our traditional support such as colour and political/rebel songs. There is a good balance and it seems to have worked for us.
Outside Glasgow it’s surprising to see in a Scottish city a club which fan base display so many Irish flags and reclaim that culture with such fervour. How can you balance the Irish culture with the Scottish sentiment in your stands? In this way, how was the Scottish referendum experienced at Celtic Park? Do you follow the national team?
This can be a divisive topic and impossible to give a black and white answer to. Celtic supporters of an older generation, in my opinion, would have considered themselves more Irish tan Scottish. This is due to a long history of sectarianism in Scottish society in addition to out and out anti-Irish racism. In the past couple of years however since the Scottish Independence campaign really took off, there has been a sense of pride in skittishness throughout the country. This is no different to our support whereby it is no longer a bad thing to be proud to be Scottish. It is as if people are finally waking up to the fact that Scotland is ours as much as anybody else’s. Regarding the referendum at Celtic Park, the Green Brigade helped facilitate a voter registration drive and also leafleted outside the stadium in support of a Yes vote. Going by the response on that day I would argue that the majority of supporters we spoke to were intending to vote Yes.
I do not personally go out my way to support the national team. I have grown up with Celtic being number one and although I like to see the national team do well, it does not bother me in the slightest if they get beat.
Football in Glasgow has always been linked to religious, political and identity sectarianism with a rivalry that goes beyond the mere sport. Is it still like this? How is this rivalry experienced in Glaswegian districts in the everyday life? Are there problems?
With Celtic and Rangers it will always be about more than just football. Each support, although we live side by side in everyday life, are so culturally and politically different. Rangers are the self proclaimed ‘quintessential’ British club whose supporters emphasis their Protestantism whereas Celtic will always be regarded as the unwelcome outsiders.
I believe that the derby, up until the death of Rangers, had mellowed in comparison to previous years whereby there would be constant trouble all over the city as a result of the derby and also alcohol. That said, we will play the new Rangers for the first ever time in February and I feel the hatred is as on a scale that I cannot ever remember experiencing growing up.
For some analysts, ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland has ‘poisoned’ even more the already bitter relation between Celtic and Rangers. Do you agree with this theory? If so, to what extent?
My time in the stands has come at a time when the situation in Ireland is no longer as volatile as it used to be. However, ‘The Troubles’ definetly had a major impact on the relationship between Celtic and Rangers fans because it was essentially a war situation affecting large chunks of each either club’s support support. During ‘The Troubles’ there would have been collections for Irish Republican organisations at Celtic Park such as prisoner welfare groups and similar things would have taken place at Ibrox for the other side. With the travelling supporters of each team every week who came over from Ireland along with the family connections of those who lived in Scotland, the war was a very real, tangible part of life. This was thrown onto an already intense rivalry that was about more than football.
In your club’s roots we find Brother Walfrid, Willie Maley and many others who brought some special ethics. Is it still like that? Is Celtic committed with its social base?
No. Celtic is a PLC so the main aim is profit. There are charitable aspects such as the Celtic Charity Foundation that does a lot of good work but the Celtic of today is light-years away from the Celtic that Brother Walfrid envisioned. There are a number of supporter groups however that are committed to promoting the values of Brother Walfrid. For example, for the past two seasons, and unfortunately in this day and age, the Green Brigade have organised food bank collections which were extremely successful for the local food bank. In addition, benefit nights are held throughout the year with some local welfare and anti racist charities projects benefiting. There are also other groups such as the Kano Foundation that take different youth groups to matches every week.
How did you experience Rangers’ relegation? For the videos on the Internet, you dedicated them chants, tifos and all kind of mockery.
I should say here that Rangers were not relegated. Rangers, as we knew them, died. They no longer exist. Instead, a new club was formed and was allowed to bypass the due process that all other new clubs have to follow to apply for membership of the Scottish league. This was shamefully facilitated by those that run Scottish football.
We did, however, have a great time mocking Rangers up until their death. To us, they were an institution shrouded in bigotry, discrimination and cheating.
In this way, the relation between Hearts and Hibs in Edinburgh looks similar. Is that true or is there any feature inherent to Glasgow that can’t be extrapolated?
I would not be able to tell you much about that derby but, as an outsider looking in, there are definitely some similarities between it and Glasgow albeit on a tiny scale. This is evident in the fact that you will see many Irish tricolours in the Hibs end and British Union Jacks in the Hearts end. I dislike Hibs however and it was Hibs who tried to force Celtic to remove the Irish tricolour from the stadium during the 1950’s. Ironically, Rangers supported our right to fly it!
Focussing on the game, how do you see the level of the SPFL? Isn’t it a bit small for you? What happened to that project to integrate the main two Scottish clubs into the English Premier League? Would you agree if that happened?
Being honest, the level of the SPL is poor but I think there is room to have a competitive and exciting league in Scotland. We still have one of the highest attendances in Europe when compared to the population of the country so all is not bad. I would love to have more competitiveness but I would never want to move to England. The English Premier League is the bastard child of modern football with draconian policing, shockingly high ticket prices and inflated player wages. I do not want any of these. Instead we, as a nation, have to find our own path that suits us.
Celtic has always been a club taking young local players, being the best example the lineup of the Lisbon Lions that won the European Cup in 1967 where the 11 players were born within an area of 30 miles around Celtic Park. Does the club still operate the same way? How does Celtic fan base deal with the fact of playing with foreign players? Is there any movement to return to the roots?
Time has moved on from the Lisbon Lions but I think we definitely have to place more trust and confidence in our own youth system. Modern football now dictates that a club like Celtic can be easily outbid for players by provincial English clubs such as Southampton so the alternatives are either continue to get loan signings and players from abroad with the view to selling them on for profit or else be ambitious and attempt to build our team primarily out of players we have created and developed ourselves. We have an exciting new manager who seems to have a lot of good ideas and the confidence to implement them so I hope in the next few years we will see a big improvement in this sense.
Celtic Park, The Paradise, is all a symbol and a reference regarding football atmosphere. Is all gold that glitters or isn’t it that much?
Definitely not. For certain big matches, the atmosphere can be absolutely electric e.g. Barcelona match in the year of our 125th anniversary, but for your average league match the only people singing will be the Green Brigade and others in and around area 111. Possibly similar to the situation in Bilbao?
How’s your current location at Celtic Park? Your location at a corner might not be the best one, and besides, you’ve had problems for some banners of political nature. Do you suffer the State’s repression or have bad relations with the club’s board? And how’s your relation with the rest of fans?
Yes, we have definitely suffered repression from the state. New legislation came into being in 2012 called the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012. This basically made it illegal to offend anybody. The big problem however is a police officer can decide what was offensive. We hope this act will be repealed and have campaigned for this. The review period is coming up soon.
We have had several members go through court cases and there a number of cases still ongoing at the minute for the singing of Roll of Honour (a song in remembrance of the 10 Irish hungerstrikers of 1981).
Just now, we have a good working relationship with the club again but this has still to be really tested. Overall, we have a great relationship with the rest of the support. There are always some people, particularly online, who hate us but these people are definitely in the minority.
Our position in Celtic Park just now is in the corner at Section 111. It has always worked well for both in terms of tifos and in being able to influence the atmosphere but who knows what the future holds?
Celtic fans have always stood out for being one of the most faithful and fond of travelling in Europe. Does this remain the same? Which are the places the best you’ve been treated? And the worst?
Yes its true that we’ve traditionally had one of the largest travelling supports around for European matches. With respect to Scottish football, I think part of the reason for that is because European matches are more interesting and seen as bigger games to a lot of our fans. Our domestic league is quite small so playing the same opposition fairly regularly (sometimes 4 times a season) is naturally not as interesting as matches against different opposition in European competition. In the 80’s and 90’s many fans tended to make their way on supporters buses, but in this day and age with budget airlines its become much easier to fly and in the last 10-15 years we’ve taken some crazy supports abroad. On occasions, our supports in places like Amsterdam, Lisbon and Stuttgart has been in the region of 10,000 and a few times in Barcelona and Milan it was over the 15,000 mark!
Right now though, the last few years I have to say numbers travelling have come down a good bit. We simply play far too many games in European competition these days. Because of Scottish footballs ranking we have to play 3 qualifying rounds just to make the group stages and so its now common for us to play 6/7 European ties in a season. That’s a lot of games and its had an affect on our support, but in the main we still take very healthy numbers that can be compared to most.
Abroad, the worst treatment down the years has mainly be from local police forces. Many of them in places like Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Holland and of course Spain see our large and boisterous support and don’t react well. There has been incidents in places like Oporto, Vigo, Turin, Amsterdam, Zagreb with over the top policing thats resulted in some serious clashes. When it comes to opposition fans, I would have to say in the last 10-15 years, the one that stands out are Ajax. Ajax seem to clash with almost anyone and a large travelling support to their city was always likely to see trouble and that’s the way it went. There was a fair amount of trouble between opposition fans, and our fans and police and in the city over the few days around the match. Many of our old fans still talk of a visit to Turin in the 80’s to play Juventus. Our fans were ambushed, and a few were stabbed, one quite severely. A lot of the supporters buses also had to travel through the alps from Turin to Glasgow with no windows and by all accounts it was pretty rough reception in Italy.
When it comes to good receptions, the ones that stand out for me are Bordeaux in France and the fans of Celta Vigo. At both matches there were some troubles with the local police forces but both sets of fans gave our travelling fans a very warm welcome, offering us beers, welcoming us with banners and in general being very friendly towards us. It was nice to see as even though some fans at those clubs and Celtic maybe have a similar outlook on things like politics, there were no real links or friendships with those clubs yet they couldn’t have been friendlier.
“The Rebels’ Choice”. Your relation with Sankt Pauli is well known. What can you tell us on this? Is it something exclusive between the Green Brigade and Sankt Pauli ultras or does this go beyond being a clubs’ thing? What similarities are there between a city like Hamburg and Glasgow?
The relationship between Celtic and St Pauli is more a general friendship between both set of supports. It originated in the early 90s when contact was made between fanzines of both clubs and developed through a shared culture of anti fascism, being the underdog and of course alcohol! Regarding ultra friendships, there are some contacts between the GB and USP but not on a very big scale. Definitely not on the scale you would expect when you consider the good relationship between the general supports through the years. There is however a good relationship between younger GB/Celtic ultras and New Kids Sankt Pauli (NKSP).
One can’t forget the touching friendly match at Parkhead between Celtic and Liverpool back in 1989, the first match played by the reds after the Hillsborough Disaster, which ticketing collect was set aside for the victims’ families. Not to mention the amazing solidarity and supportive atmosphere during the whole day. Where does that close relation with Liverpool come from? Is it still this way today?
There is no close relationship with Liverpool or any other team in Britain for that matter. As you say, the match was played out of solidarity and support and was a proud moment in for our support but is definitely no relationship of note between us and Liverpool.
It’s usual to see many Basque flags (‘ikurrinas’) in your area. How’s the Basque situation perceived in your stands? Do you have any particular relation with the Basque Country? What common issues do you think there are between our lands?
Well the basque flag (ikurrina) is flown at every Celtic home and away match by at least 1 individual. Some of the Celtic support, feel a bond with themselves and the Basque Country due to the political stance they hold and the similarities between irish and basque conflicts.
As said some politically aware Celtic supporters will always show what politics they hold and support those who are suffering the same way they are. This is obviously one strong like between both the Celtic support and the Basque Country.
In Bilbao many people support of feel admiration for Celtic, one can see lots of shirts here and it was something noticed in that friendly played at San Mamés. Is it the same in Glasgow with Athletic? Is the team any kind of reference for Celtic fans?
I believe the friendly match between the 2 clubs back in 2010 opened a lot of eyes to athletic and showed a wider audience who may have never experience the club see why they are held in such high regard in the way the fans,club and even city is with their team and how everyone holds the same views on how the team should be, be that from the club president to the players to the programme sellers they all have the same ideology which makes atheltic the club it is. Exposing this to a club like Celtic with a large following has then made those at the match go back and tell their friends and family of the club and the city. This is why atheltic is now shown such respect by the Celtic support as they believe this is one of the truly original football clubs left.
With the question on shirts it is not the same as Bilbao, atheltic shirts are very hard to get a hold of in Britain. Even from the athletic club shop on line the delivery to uk is very expensive so the only way to get one is if someone is going to Bilbao or you know someone who can post you one over cheaper than club shop.