By Ryan Fleming
It has long been established that soccer is not merely a game. It is indeed much more. Beyond the ball, the formations and tactics, there is something infinitely important that plays out over 90 minutes on the field. To some people, countries, soccer is a way to express oneself, to show to everyone that even through a sport, they can succeed.
For a little over an hour and a half, a battle – not just a game is being played. To many people, a club can represent a lifestyle – a place where hope can be instilled, where religious beliefs lie and where political allegiances can be seen throughout stadiums.
This weekend through the UK and other commonwealth countries, is known as Remembrance Day; a day to reflect on veterans of all wars, particularly since World War I.
For many they are giving their thanks for their countrymen that fought against other countries for an array of reasons. If you have watched any matches as of late, you will notice that managers have worn a poppy on the outside of their clothing, a symbol of remembrance. For those in politically charged areas, it is acts like this that can cause controversy.
In Glasgow, Scotland – certainly one of those areas – this temporary branding is coming under protest and having a visual effect at Celtic Park.
Last week’s 9-0 over Aberdeen was certainly an achievement, even after the club was defeated just one week early at their hands of their fierce rivals, Glasgow Rangers. Inside the stadium a group called the Green Brigade proudly held a banner during halftime reading, “Your deeds would shame all the devils in Hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No bloodstained poppy on our Hoops.”
Such a statement was sure to cause controversy, and it has. The club has promised to ban those responsible and Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, has backed the club’s stance on the issue. By doing so, the club is yet again trying to make a statement. For years now Celtic have said that they have no political affiliation and won’t tolerate racism or bigotry of any sort.
That is all fine, but a banner, with no violence or any signs of violence to be followed, is not something that should take the glory away from the team’s overwhelming win that day. Fans have the right to voice their opinion as long as they do it peacefully, which was what occurred at Celtic Park last Saturday.
The Green Brigade issued a statement that read, “to see the jersey being used as a medium for such a divisive symbol and the message it communicates is deplorable.”
There are many people that still maintain that Celtic have for years been affiliated with the Irish Republican Army or other Irish Republican dissident groups since the club’s inception back in 1888. It is true that an Irish Catholic priest founded the club and from that moment on maintained its strong Irish lineage. From no point in time did the club commit itself to any religion or any political faction. The club has accepted all races and all religions. Jock Stein, arguably one of the clubs most prestigious figures was himself a Protestant.
The issue is indeed “sensitive” as Lennon, a Northern Irishman, pointed out to the media. Is the group’s actions ruining lives, families? Is it toiling with the hearts of many whose relatives were lost in war? The line for tolerance is thin, but it needs to be drawn. The events last weekend in Glasgow just emphasize how far we still need to come and how even still a simple game can be used to present a much bigger issue.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.