All it took was one man, Eddie Smith, who joined the referees strike a year ago as their body became embroiled in allegations of lying, bullying and sectarianism, to make it his business to report Celtic fans to Uefa and the SPL, and the support are besieged on two fronts.
After decades of the police turning a deaf ear to illegal and offensive chanting elsewhere this might appear opportunistic, but Smith’s motivations are irrelevant. We have endured ‘the songs debate’ here for years, the only thing universally agreed upon is that as long as a single Celtic fan sings political songs at a game, this day would come.
I sincerely doubt that Celtic fans sing anything illegal, which perhaps explains why the police encourage observers to ‘police’ the stands, but no one denies many people, including a number of Celtic fans, find such singing offensive. There is, therefore, scope to mount an attempt to discipline the club, and an easy route to inflict reputational damage on each and every Celtic supporter.
The Debating societies will be exercised on the freedom of some to sing racially-hostile God Save the Queen, or the militaristic, Flower of Scotland, and wait for the reaction to what is euphemistically known as ‘the marching season’. In this vein I would encourage the Celtic delegation who meet Uefa next month read aloud a transcript of La Marseillaise, which becomes a logical target if Uefa prosecute our club.
I predict Uefa and the SPL will reprimand Celtic with a cease and desist-type warning which will include specific instructions to remove and ban ‘offenders’. Efforts will be made to prosecute ‘offenders’, which I expect will fail, but not before a few individuals are brought before the court.
Neil Lennon, Jock Stein and since Fergus McCann, the club, have asked fans not to sing political songs. Many agreed but some will not waver, so it would be an act of vanity for lesser mortals to suggest restraint. The slow train-wreck will happen.
Don’t take the notion that attempts to prosecute are likely to fail as legal advice. In my experience, lawyers become a lot less certain once proceedings are underway.
On a separate note, I was pleased to read Iain Blair of the SPL differentiate pro-IRA chanting from sectarian chanting. Lazy jounos everywhere take note.