it's time to get above ourselves

The Green Brigade: Football Hooligans or Gateway Politicos?


Celtic’s Ultras division, The Green Brigade, have been criticised by the mainstream press for some of their activities. But they’ve also been praised by many for their staged political actions and food bank drives. Jonathan Rimmer investigates which narrative is more accurate…


Football in Scotland remains massively popular, even in spite of rising ticket prices and a “genetically” incapable national team. While the picture is less rosy at a grassroots level, crowds at Premiership games almost doubled last year. Nowhere was this rise more pronounced than at Celtic – the Glasgow club saw a 49% rise in attendances. In a deindustrialised city where trade union power has been greatly diminished, football is one of the few unifying forces left for the working class.

This is ironic when you consider that modern football is regularly cited as an example of hypercapitalism in action, but also because of Glasgow’s great divides. These are best illustrated through the Old Firm: Republicanism v Loyalism, Catholicism v Protestantism and even Socialism v Conservatism. Although these conflicts are second nature to many city residents, the political dimension is easily the most underexplored.

Bill Shankly, the great Scottish Liverpool manager of the 1960s and 1970s, famously said:

“The socialism I believe in, is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.”

Similar sentiments have been expressed over the years by the likes of Alex Ferguson, Jock Stein and Brian Clough.

And yet, the vicious rivalry between Celtic and Rangers is often used as evidence that football and politics shouldn’t mix. Nowhere are the two sets of fans’ professed political ideologies more pronounced than in their Ultras groups.

Ultras have long been regarded as a continental phenomenon – unlike hooligan firms, the groups are generally intended to be non-violent in nature (although there are examples where the two groups overlap) and are renowned for “creating atmosphere” at stadiums through song, the use of flares and the display of elaborate banners.

The Union Bears are generally recognised as Rangers’ Ultras group, but, despite having producing banners against Scottish independence, have described themselves as “usually non-political”. Celtic’s Green Brigade group are far more resolute in their political leanings, calling themselves as a “broad front of anti-fascist, anti-racist and anti-sectarian Celtic supporters”.

Over the years, they’ve supported local foodbanks, raised money for Palestinian charities and campaigned against the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (many fans argue the legislation was put in place to target them specifically). However, the group have also come under fire for setting off flares and allegedly causing damage on away trips.

Unsurprisingly, authorities have taken a dim view of their actions. In March 2013, members of the group claimed they were harassed by around 200 police officers at a peaceful march along the Gallowgate in Glasgow’s east end. Despite the heated confrontation, only two marchers were convicted, one for minor drug possession and one for abusive behaviour.

This perceived hostility, compounded by scathing media reaction, perhaps explains the group’s reticence to identify themselves or speak to journalists. The Green Brigade were contacted through official channels for this article, but did not respond by the time of publication.

Members and supporters of the group are similarly hesitant. One young member, who did not wish to be identified, said: “My politics are real, and I think the Green Brigade do great work on stuff like Palestine, but we receive a lot of unfair press and things, so I don’t want to say more than that.”

Despite the divisive reaction the group receives, what’s abundantly clear is their genuine commitment to political causes. Celtic’s left wing history is hardly disputed – the club was founded in 1887 with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the Irish immigrant population of Glasgow’s east end.

This is central to the Green Brigade ethos. In a 2010 interview, Tony and Berti, two of the founders of the group, said:

“For us at Celtic we believed there had to be some sort of political edge because of the way we were formed and the history of our club.”

In the 11 years the group have existed, they have held political education classes, marched with anti-fascist groups and organised football tournaments for refugee groups in Glasgow.

Some socialists may balk at the concept of young activists receiving their political education from Ultras, but supporters of the group say it’s a positive platform for working class Celtic supporters. One long-term supporter, who also didn’t wish to be named, said: “The foundations of this club were born out of Calton in the east end, which is still one of the most deprived areas of the UK.

“On the point about young people getting their ‘political education’ from the group and learning about foodbanks and things, I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think they come from communities where use of foodbanks is widespread. These are very real scenarios. They’ve been doing food collections for years, but it doesn’t suit the wider storyline.

“For me, sport and arts and things are about uniting people, and that’s not emphasised enough in this country. I come from a family of Irish republicans who faced a lot of persecution. For someone to pontificate that we shouldn’t celebrate our heritage is ridiculous. I can’t speak for the rest of the group, but I do agree with a lot of their politics.”

It’s hard to dispute that deep-seated political anger is a significant motivation for the group, but their exclusivity (founders say that joining isn’t an open door process) raises questions over how effective it is as a form of political campaigning. Members of the group have also pointed out they “have a laugh” and “don’t take themselves too seriously”.

Lecturer and journalist James McEnaney is a life-long Celtic fan who identifies with the group’s political views, but he believes such motivations are overshadowed by the group’s “often juvenile behaviour”.

He said: “They deserve credit for their OBFA protests and the foodbank collections and so on. But I do think a decent chunk of their activity is driven by a juvenile kind of mindset. I’m not sure if that’s bad, but it’s really not my kind of thing.

“My main issue is the setting off flares in a crowded area. If you do that, the best place for you is a prison cell because you can’t be trusted around other human beings. The response is always that ‘it creates atmosphere’ or that removing them is ‘an attack on working class culture’. It’s not, it’s just immature.

“Does the group get working class people into politics? I’m sure there are members for which that is the case. But it’s an argument I usually tend to hear from deeply political people, which makes me think it’s a constructed argument that’s used as a defence for indefensible stuff.”

Are the Green Brigade’s actions indefensible?

Members might argue that the even their most controversial acts, such as their anti-poppy protests, are motivated by genuine beliefs. Their arguments are also increasingly represented (albeit indirectly) in a parliamentary context: last week, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee considered a private member’s bill from Labour MSP James Kelly that proposed repealing the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Whether the bill is repealed or not, it’s likely that the Green Brigade’s actions will continue to divide even their own supporters. The aforementioned long-term supporter of the group argues that coming down on “political protests” will do nothing to tackle sectarianism in Scottish football or society.

“They say ‘keep politics out of football”, he said. “But those that espouse that really mean ‘keep your politics out of football’. We’ll wear ‘say no to racism’ badges and have minutes’ silence for Nelson Mandela, but we get fined for protesting about Palestine.

“You can either say there’s no politics in football – and there are clearly efforts from some authorities to make that the case – or embrace that we all have disagreements. Sectarianism exists in churches, golf clubs and bowling clubs, but it’s working class football fans who are treated as a bogeyman. Of course, we have our idiots, like anybody else, but our problems aren’t as severe as they’re portrayed.”

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  • Charles Kelly 3 months ago

    I have followed Celtic for 62 yes and my beliefs and politics run very closely with the green brigade.i was brought up to treat everyone with the same respect i don’t hate rangers but dislike why as a RC i was not in there eyes good enough to play for them.i believe most Celtic fans think the same and is not true about catholic v protestant as a club Celtic will play any man irospective of colour or creed. also I’m from a Irish republican family and was born in dublin.and very proud of that and what Celtic achieved throughout there history helping all people now the GB have never received any praise or credit for all the many good deeds done by them and have received very bad press reports from SMSM,even our own club has been very critical of them and allegedly passed names of members to police,but hopefully GB will remain strong and honest to there beliefs and continue to have the support of the majority of Celtic fans keep up the good work on all fronts GB and you will never Walk Alone.

    • Oni Hayes 3 months ago

      I stopped reading after the catholic v protestant crap Typical Scottish/lazy journalism FACTS

  • Oliver 3 months ago

    Me thinks Celtic has adopted the wrong moniker. For years now, ultra fascism combined with fanatical support has been clearly evident amongst many ‘ultra’ football groups in Europe. Even those that fight them i.e. ACAB have often been described as ‘rent a mobs’ motivated as much by promises of a violent mix up as by politics.

    An example of what – and who – real ‘Ultras’ are: They are the neo-Nazi football thugs hired by local fascist Svoboda party (supported by US and EU during the coup aka ‘The Maidan Revolution’ and championed by the likes of Senator John McCain) to help murder ‘at least 48’ innocent people at the House of Trade Unions in Odessa on 2 May 2014. Many ‘ultras’ joined the neo-Nazi Azov battalion of the Ukraine Army; ‘punishers’ who have been trained and armed by the USA and Nato to murder, rape and pillage in Donbass.

    Whilst over on the Celtic Ultra FB page, supporters are asked to look out for homeless people in need of help – not a head kicking as might be the case in the new improved Ukraine.

    The New Propaganda is Liberal – John Pilger

  • Nobby 3 months ago

    As a north belfast nationalist. I suppose the Green brigade. Tiocfaidh ar la.

  • Martin Chambers 3 months ago

    Long live the Green Brigade And all the good Work they do and support.

  • Juan P 3 months ago

    Supporting the homeless and food banks is admirable and I’m sure brother Walfrid would be proud. The problem is the sectarian element and supporting the IRA.

    • Pat L 3 months ago

      Supporting the Irish republican movement is political and is not sectarian.

    • Mick L 3 months ago

      What sectarian element?

    • Duncan McNee 3 months ago

      Indeed, you may be delivering food parcels to a food bank on Friday and then chanting sectarian songs on Saturday aimed at some of the people who needed to use that food bank.

      Sectarianism is a curse we should seek eliminate in Scotland, the Green Brigade appear to be nothing other than chancers feeding off prejudice whislt trying to mitigate bad press with good deeds.

      Celtic fans had an enviable reputation in Europe, this has been trashed in recent years.

      Unless Celtic deal with this, it will drag them backwards!

      Do you wish to take your child to a match to sit next to group chanting sectarian bile?

      • Jo 3 months ago

        Well said!

        These people are simply a tribal mob and nothing else. Furthermore quotes from them like, “We at Celtic…..” are misleading to say the least. The GB, quite simply, are NOT Celtic and the pity is that the Club hasn’t scattered the lot of them. They are bigots. They follow a football club based and registered in SCOTLAND yet their entire lives are steeped in Ireland and Irish politics. Celtic was indeed founded by and Irishman. It is not an Irish club! I’m sure Brother Walfrid would want nothing to do with this shower. I also know a significant number of Celtic supporters who find their view of themselves as superior to ordinary supporters insulting.

        And a note to the article writer – no-one can organise a march in Glasgow without permission which is why the unauthorised GB march was stopped. It’s called maintaining public order so that normal folk not looking to get caught up in a stooshie can go about their business.

        These people are not folk heroes nor are they interested in football. Like their bigoted brothers amongst the Ibrox support their raison d’être is to ensure that football in Scotland continues to exist in a cesspool of sectarianism. They are an embarrassment.

      • Patrick Flannery 3 months ago

        Wrong wrong wrong,you are getting your stadiums mixed up,if its real sectarian bile your looking for then look no further than ibrox.

        • Jo 3 months ago

          No Patrick, YOU are wrong. There are bigots in both places and there’s no difference between them. They are a stain on Scottish football and on Scotland, all of them. Their issues aren’t even about religion! They wouldn’t recognise a God if he walked up and shook hands with them. They’re just tribal morons determined to play out their hatred within a football setting along with their paramilitary banners and associated rubbish – all nothing to do with football or any sort of faith.

          • Stella 2 months ago

            What ‘sectarian’ songs do they sing?

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