The Green Brigade is a Celtic FC ultras group which formed during the summer of 2006. Despite the Celtic support and their home, Celtic Park, having had a laudable reputation for some time; it was the period following the renovation of Celtic Park that saw the support – especially at home – become somewhat complacent and perhaps no longer deserving of its proud status.
As a result, and in a bid to rectify the increasingly deteriorating match-day atmosphere, a group by the name of the Jungle Bhoys was formed in 2005. With honourable intentions – and despite some memorable displays and banners - the Jungle Bhoys ultimately failed to make any significant mark. However there were some within the Jungle Bhoys whose mentality and mind set were clearly distinctive from the rest when it came to supporting the team, the role of fans, and fan relationships with clubs and authorities. With what you might call the ‘Ultra’ outlook and approach these people split from the Jungle Bhoys and with similarly like-minded fans formed the Green Brigade.
With a few early meetings in Glasgow pubs discussing the dire state of the Celtic support, Ultra culture and influence, the role of politics within football and how all are or could be linked with supporting Celtic the Green Brigade was founded. With the proud and unique history of Celtic with the special values and ethos ingrained within then the Celtic support had always maintained a left-leaning reputation: racism and discrimination would not be tolerated and you’d often see shows of solidarity with causes from Ireland to Palestine. As such, the Green Brigade being an anti-fascist group was fairly natural.
Given the depressingly draconian way in which football in Britain is policed and stewarded, plus the fact that most fans simply accepted their overzealous nature, then it would take some time before the Green Brigade began to make its mark. Having set out its stall as not only an Ultras group – where the concept and style was not only alien in practice in Britain but totally misunderstood – but as an openly political one then most people, including many Celtic fans, not only criticised but mocked and predicted a very short future. Such attitudes would soon change though.
The Green Brigade made a humble start in the face of doubt, suspicion and repressive actions from stewards, police and even their own Club. Its early focus was to build on its small membership with the right people whilst demonstrating the positive attributes they would bring to the Celtic support. This was mainly achieved by witty and humorous banners often aimed at the opposition and by congregating in areas of the ground where they could stand, sing and positively affect the atmosphere. In time the small banners grew to larger banners, to more frequent banners, to small tifos, to more frequent tifos, to larger tifos. Similarly, the Group found its home early within Section 111 of Celtic Park and gradually built on its presence here year on year.
Throughout the early years the Green Brigade had no relationship with the Club. All banners and displays would be taken in as the stadium gates opened for everyone, there was neither prior communication nor access for set-ups and should the materials be refused entry for whatever reason – which happened often – then they would be smuggled in by alternative means. The Group’s clearly stubborn and somewhat militant nature, coupled with its unashamedly political aspect would cause conflict with the Club and other authorities. Such problems still exist to this day.
In spite of this, the Green Brigade continued to grow in number and influence. Squeezed up the very back rows of Section 111 they soon made the area their own by encouraging other fans wanting to join in with the singing to come over and join them. The Club and authorities took issue with this on grounds of health and safety (overcrowding/crowd control) and after a few incidents and clashes the first formal contact from the Club was made to the Green Brigade. A meeting was arranged between both parties where the Club offered to provide the Green Brigade a block of 300 seats within Section 111 which the Green Brigade would be responsible for.
At the start of the 2010/11 season the Green Brigade’s presence at Celtic Park was cemented with their official section. It was the first time that any ultras section of note was seen in the UK and it immediately not only made a massive improvement to Celtic Park but was noticed much further afield. From here the Green Brigade were really able to maximise their potential and went on to create some iconic and memorable tifos and atmospheres whilst making the smaller, run-of-the-mill games a bit more bearable by providing a constant, vibrant atmosphere.
Although having been arguably validated by the Club the Green Brigade’s nature or practices generally remained the same resulting in a constant ‘love-hate’ relationship between both parties. It became clear that whilst the Club obviously welcomed the vastly improved atmosphere the Green Brigade were creating - which made games more enjoyable for fans, a vocal backing which the team appreciated and the iconic banners and tifos which the Club would then profiteer from - that there was still an element the Club couldn’t and wouldn’t condone nor accept. This would stem from both the Group’s political side and its stubbornness in supporting the team in its own style regardless of parameters attempted to be put on them.
One of the Green Brigade’s most notorious actions to date was their banner protest against the Poppy being emblazoned on the Celtic shirt, in November 2010. The Poppy (originally a symbol of remembrance) is a divisive symbol to many, not least to a support of which many hails from Ireland and many more has a strong affiliation with the country. Given the Club’s history and make-up of the support then it was a naïve and insulting decision by the club. The Green Brigade showed their disapproval by unveiling banners which read ‘YOUR DEEDS WOULD SHAME ALL THE DEVILS IN HELL - IRELAND, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAIN – NO BLOODSTANED POPPY ON OUR HOOPS’. Despite enjoying support for the action from large sections of the support the Club vowed to ban for life all of those responsible for the banners. This reaction came following what could only be described as a national outcry with the banners making headline news and front pages the length of the UK and even making global news. The Green Brigade stood by their actions though and no punishment was ever followed through. From here on the Group would harbour a notorious and controversial reputation throughout Britain and beyond.
When politics wasn’t the issue conflict with the Club remained in other areas. Standing, lateral movement, overcrowding, migrating, offensive chanting, offensive banners and pyrotechnics all resulted in loggerheads between the Group, the Club and authorities - all meriting media exposure and pressure to varying degrees. What was becoming clear was that as the Green Brigade grew in number and stature so would their problems as both Celtic and the authorities attempted to curtail their growth and influence. Such issues would remain as a constant under current, occasionally coming to the fore, whilst the Group would continue with its efforts in supporting the team. Irrespective of these conflicts the Group’s efforts and influence was still respected. This was ultimately proven when at the end of the 2011/12 season then Celtic manager Neil Lennon placed the League Trophy in front of the Green Brigade section, stepped back and saluted the section.
Things changed dramatically for the Green Brigade with the introduction of the ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football’ legislation. Although the Group was no strangers to police attention and harassment this new law would provide the Police with even further powers. In short, the law meant that the Police could arrest and charge you for offending one person (which could be the officer in question). Whilst the law was effectively ‘catch all’ it was being used to specifically target Republican songs from the Celtic support. The legislation was a deliberate attack on the Celtic support with the Green Brigade facing the brunt of it. As a result, an umbrella organisation comprising the major Celtic fan groups was formed to oppose the legislation and help anyone affected by it. The legislation took its toll on the Green Brigade with many of its members being arrested and banned under it. Further to this, most of their actions within the ground would consist of protest banners for some time.
The Green Brigade’s protests against the legislation culminated with a display which caused similar uproar to that of the ‘poppy banners’ a few years previously. This time the Green Brigade depicted famous Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace alongside iconic Irish Republican hunger-striker Bobby Sands with the quote: ‘The terrorist or the dreamer? The savage or the brave? Depends whose vote you’re trying to catch and whose face you’re trying to save’. The display took place in November 2013 v AC Milan in the Champions League. Subsequently Celtic received a hefty fine from UEFA, their fourth in two years. The reaction to the banners from most quarters was predictable and illustrated perfectly the hypocrisy of the Offensive Behaviour legislation (and the hypocrisy of many people’s own opinions) as intended. It did steep further pressure on to Celtic and suggested to many that the Green Brigade’s time in Celtic Park could be numbered. Given the Green Brigade’s popularity within the Celtic support and the potential can of worms of punishing legitimate political expression then it was difficult for the Club to do much.
Not long after the above incident the Green Brigade found themselves at the centre of another controversy. At an away fixture to Motherwell at the start of December 2013 the Club were handed the perfect excuse to finally take action against the Green Brigade. With an alleged £10k worth of damage caused to Motherwell’s stadium along with the use of pyrotechnics in the area occupied by the Green Brigade this sparked yet another media frenzy surrounding the Group. With the Club knowing they could count on many Celtic fans’ support, or at least understanding, they made moves to punish the Green Brigade. Every member of the Green Brigade section of Celtic Park who was also present at the Motherwell game (128) received an immediate ban from all Celtic games. Another 250 who were not present at the Motherwell game were then either relocated away from the Green Brigade section in Celtic Park or offered a refund for the remainder of their season ticket money. In effect, the full Green Brigade section at Celtic Park was disbanded.
What followed was the most testing period the Green Brigade faced to date as they began a nine month exodus from Celtic Park. Unable to attend matches and having had their reputation and status take a bit of a hit then spirits were understandably low. However the Group and others affiliated (essentially Ultras Celtic) stuck by each other and met weekly just down the road from Celtic Park where they would watch each match on the TV. Despite not being active within the ground, there was still work to be done. The Green Brigade organised and co-ordinated a food collection for Christmas that year and it was an incredible success. Such was the success of the food collection it has now become an annual feature for the Green Brigade. Further from this, the Group’s annual Anti-Discrimination Football Tournament was in the pipeline and kept them occupied.
The Green Brigade’s absence from Celtic Park was certainly noticeable from the start and as weeks passed it only strengthened the Group’s attributes and the willingness from many to see them return. After some shows of support from other fans within the ground, and when the Green Brigade thought that the time was right, they planned a brief return. As the 2013/14 season drew to a close the Green Brigade organised sections for three matches occupying Section 118 and not their home of 111. The return of much needed noise and passion to Celtic Park was certainly welcomed with the surprise appearance at that first return match receiving an overwhelming reception. Importantly, the players and even manager – who had been very critical previously – also welcomed the return, acknowledging the difference made.
The following summer of 2014 saw the Green Brigade and Club discuss various grievances in a view to arranging a permanent return to Celtic Park. Although it took some time and actually missed the start of the 2014/15 season, eventually the Green Brigade’s return to Celtic Park and to Section 111 was confirmed. Back to doing what they do best, the Green Brigade aim to expand their section now and continue to improve the atmosphere at Celtic Park.