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Loud, controversial and fond of pyro, Celtic’s Green Brigade have played an unlikely part in changing UK fan culture…
Words By: Calum Gordon
Images by: Alexander James
“It’s been a busy week,” sighs John Paul Taylor, Celtic’s fan liaison officer, over the phone. “Sunday was over the top.”
Four days earlier, Celtic had travelled to second-tier Stranraer for a Fourth Round Scottish Cup tie, seeing them off with a comfortable three-nil win. The headlines the following day, however, were dominated by what happened in the stands behind the goal prior to kick-off, as Celtic’s self-styled ultra group, the Green Brigade, let off a few smoke bombs – a green mist descended for a full three minutes, by my reckoning, as the pungent smell of sulphur hung in the air. Thankfully, nobody died.
Being the enfants terribles of Scottish football, the Green Brigade have long enjoyed a fractious relationship with the press, the police and Peter Lawwell, Celtic’s C.E.O. They stand instead of sitting, sing songs that some may find distasteful, and have a penchant for pyrotechnics at European away games – much to the displeasure of the three aforementioned parties. Despite this and a slew of club-enforced bans in recent years, the Green Brigade has continued to grow, spearheading a new wave of youthful supporters, more akin to Celtic Park’s famous ‘Jungle’ fans – renowned for their boisterous and vociferous support – than those who prefer a nice family day out, complete with £5 hot dog and complimentary stadium WiFi.
So for many onlookers, last June’s announcement that Celtic would be opening a safe-standing section within the stadium dubbed as Paradise for the 2016/17 season and would be headed up by the Green Brigade came as a total shock (or a moral outrage, depending on your persuasion). For the past five years, the group – which ranges in age from fresh faced teenagers to bus-pass veterans – has had an official section within Celtic Park, which has unofficially stood for every single minute of each home game, bouncing and chanting through turgid one-nil wins against Kilmarnock and St. Mirren with the same gusto that the rest of the stadium would typically reserve for Barcelona.
The section will be the first of its kind within the UK since the introduction of all-seater stadia by the Thatcher Government in light of the Hillsborough disaster – a tragedy which many would say was exploited as a way of demonising and controlling working class football fans. Any discussion since about standing at football has typically been met with knee-jerk dismissals on the grounds of health and safety. The very grounds, according to Taylor, that are the primary motive for Celtic’s pioneering introduction of the new, fenced-off area which will accommodate 3,000 supporters. And despite saying that the club’s confidence was “shaken” in light of the antics of four days earlier, plans are still very much on course to go ahead. The same week, Celtic’s Peter Lawwell declined to comment.
Sat in a dimly lit Glasgow pub the following day, I meet Kevin, a member of the Green Brigade and the person tasked with heading up discussions with the club about the new section. He’s in his mid-20s, affable, intelligent, and a far cry from the media stereotype. “We’re looking at it from an atmosphere perspective, taking things to the next level,” adding that they want to, “ push the idea of how we support the team, vocally and visually for the 90 minutes. Hopefully, I don’t know, 5 years down the line, ten years down the line, you could have 3,000 Green Brigade members in there (currently they have 3-400 within the proposed section), and could even extend the section to a full goal end. And by that time we’ve hopefully pushed our mentality within the support enough that we can see scenes like you see in Munich, Milan, places like that.”
Such scenes, commonplace throughout Europe, are viewed with suspicion by football and policing authorities within the UK – there is an inherent fear of anything that is beyond their control. But for Kevin there’s a commercial incentive for British clubs to create a genuine “match-day experience.” “There’s obviously demand there, you just look at the likes of the Stretford End and The Kop,” he says. “Ultimately, from Celtic’s point of view it’s safer, because they get a lot of gip off the Council’s Safety Advisory Group for having 400 guys standing”, adding, “but I think there’s a commercial aspect to it for Celtic too, in that it will be attractive. They’ve sold out the 3,000 straight away and there’s a waiting list of about 1,400. If it’s a success, it will obviously be rewarding for them. Look at the likes of Dortmund, Schalke, Hamburg – they’ve got goal ends of 15-20,000 all standing.
“In my opinion – and I hate using the word – but from a business point of view, it’s attractive to them, because it takes away from just going to the football and just watching the shite that’s on the park,” he laughs. “The football isn’t really attractive just now, and you can’t make someone go watch us drawing at home to Inverness Cally Thistle. But from our point of view, it’s not all about the football – it’s about going, backing the team regardless. And I think if that mentality grows, then you’ll always have people going, no matter what’s happening on the park.”
This year, the Green Brigade will celebrate its 10th birthday. It started with a group of mates numbering fewer than 10, huddled at the back of section 111 and singing songs. 10 became 20, then 60, then enough to organise foodbank drives, regularly filling 9 vans with essentials for Glasgow’s most needy, and orchestrating a full stadium to turn their backs, link arms, and bounce in harmony.
At the first home game of next season, directly in front of section 111, they will command a 3,000 strong crowd of fanatics which, over time, will probably grow. Even if they were to disappear tomorrow, their legacy will no doubt be that they changed fan culture within the UK for the better.
This is taken from issue 005 of MUNDIAL. Issue 006 is now available to buy here www.mundialmag.com/shop