So who rules the roost in the British ultra scene? Well, most would point to the Green Brigade at Celtic. Aberdeen and (would you believe) even some Rangers fans have accepted that they’ve been No.1 in the last two years. The Green Brigade are both active and radical, they differ from almost every group in Britain by adopting a political stance. We live in a democracy though and as such, EFW dialled them up to hear what they had to say about themselves, other groups, politics, ticketing and of course – winding up Rangers:
How long have Green Brigade been established? We were formed in 2006. The majority of our founding members had been involved with a tifo group called the Jungle Bhoys but had split from them after realising there was a difference in mentality and felt that the Jungle Bhoys were not as independent from the club as they should have been. Since then we’ve grown and picked up plenty of new members and become an established, respected part of the support at Celtic.
How many members do GB have and what is the criterion for becoming a new member? We have approximately 60 members. There’s a lot of interest in the group and we could probably triple our membership overnight but we are quite selective. Members have to be at least interested in the three core areas of the group – Celtic, the Ultras scene, and our politics. They’ve also got to regularly attend matches and be prepared to do some graft (i.e. painting banners, making flags) and have an Ultras mentality.
How has the group developed over the past few years? We’ve slowly but surely grown from a group with 7-8 members, and only a few in section 111 where we stand, to having 60 members and on a good night we can lead 3-400 fans into going ‘tonto‘ at league matches. At cup games, when a lot of the ordinary season book holders aren’t at matches, there can be over 1000 lads flocking to the section to get involved.
What do Celtic FC (the club) think about GB? Are they supportive or do they keep a distance? We don’t have any relationship with Celtic, or at least not a positive one. They are happy to use the chants we start over the tannoy and our tifo pictures on their adverts for ticketing but beyond that there is no relationship to speak of, and we regularly have problems with them in terms of getting access with materials, with aggro from club stewards and officials etc. Recently our members taking the group banner into matches have been pointed out by Celtic stewards to the police who have demanded details and searches, using spurious legislation against us.
Do tifos and other displays have to be permitted by the club(s) or do you bring the material into stadium(s) and test the attitudes of the stewards on the day? (At home matches) in our first season or two we had to sneak our materials in but the club seemed to finally accept that we weren’t going away and for a while we got used to turning up for the gates opening and getting access with materials. They have, however, refused access twice – both for derby matches, including the most recent one (January 3rd) – so we’re back to where we were before, sneaking materials in. They had previously demanded to know what we were doing but we would rather do nothing than tell the club the content of our tifos so it looks like we’ll be back to the old guerrilla tactics of before for the foreseeable future, especially after we had a go at the board’s transfer policy and have used pyro in the matches since. At away matches, we’ve only asked for permission at two places – we took a pragmatic decision to ask for access to Aberdeen after they had previously knocked back our materials at the turnstiles (and because we needed early access). On one occasion they refused so we sneaked some flags in and used pyro – we got access the next time, funnily enough! The other time was at Fir Park for a tribute to the late Phil O’Donnell (we needed access to set up a card display).
Do GB have any influences inside/outside of Scotland and if so why? There are obviously groups that individual members admire but we wouldn’t say there’s anyone that has particularly influenced us.
What are the future plans for the group? We plan to continue steadily growing in terms of numbers, influence on the Celtic support and continuing to do what we do. We’re getting ourselves a section by stealth just now, with lads on the fringes relocating towards the group and those who aren’t interested moving away from where we stand so hopefully in the next couple of years we could have a really good section at Celtic Park and increase our influence among the support.
What is Celtic’s away support like and how many of those would be made up of the GB? Our away support is the best in Scotland and on its day can be up there with anything you’d see in Britain, or indeed elsewhere. Off our day we can still be pretty decent. Generally we’d have at least 30 members at every away match, with more attending some matches – for example, we often take full coaches ourselves to Aberdeen. Some of our lads are unemployed and others come from Ireland which makes it difficult for them to make every game.
Surely with such a huge support it must be a nightmare trying to arrange away tickets? Not particularly – for some games at smaller stadiums it can be tight (some of the teams in the SPL have only got 6000-seaters, with only maybe 2000 seats for us) but we’ll generally find a ticket somehow, especially as away tickets are distributed according to your record of how many games you go to. For young lads starting out it may be difficult to build their record up and ensure they get tickets to the bigger games though. One problem we now have is that Celtic refuse to allocate away tickets to our fans for league matches unless the home club gives them 5% commission, and some clubs don’t (e.g. Hearts, Hibs), which can sometimes make it a lottery to pick up tickets as they don’t care about your previous record. But through contacts we wouldn’t normally go short.
I don’t think we need to ask who your main foes are, Do you have any rivals with other teams or ultra groups? In terms of football rivalries, Celtic v Hearts is probably the only other fixture worth writing home about, and the atmosphere is always electric at Tynecastle when we play there. In terms of Ultras groups, the Red Ultras were the only other group in Scotland but they’ve recently disbanded. There’ll likely be a new group at Aberdeen in the next while though so they’ll undoubtedly be someone we’re competing with on the terraces.
Celtic are famous for having a few friendships with other clubs (St Pauli being the most obvious, to me anyway) do you subscribe to those? Some of our members had pre-existing links to St Pauli before they joined the group and 4/5 of our lads travel over regularly. As a group though we don’t really subscribe to friendships with other clubs – we’re Celtic first, Celtic last, Celtic overall. Our members do have some personal friendships with lads at other Ultras groups and we are a member of the international anti-fascist Alerta network, with the likes of Ultras Sankt Pauli, Schikeria Munchen, Gate 9, Ultras Inferno 96 etc. but do not have any official friendships. Additionally, we have a good relationships with Freak Brothers and SP07 from Ternana, and Irreductibles 93 from Toulon and regularly have them over in Glasgow for matches.
What is the GB attitude to violence and do you think there is a link between ultras and violence? Like any set of football fans we will defend ourselves if attacked but we’re neither pro or anti-football violence, and see that as a personal thing. The scene is different country-to-country and we’re probably more like Germany, where the hools and Ultras are separate, but the Ultras may get into the odd confrontation with rival groups – we just don’t have any rival groups here!
What do other (non GB) Celtic fans think of the group? Other fans are generally pretty positive about the group and we get a lot of support – be that in the stadium when stewards/police are trying to harass lads, on online forums or through buying merchandise which helps fund the group, and we regularly get 6-700 ‘unique’ users on our forum each day, so there’s plenty of enthusiasm. We’re aware that many fans might not like us or think some of what we do is a bit alien (e.g. our banner being upside down in protest at the appointment of John Reid is often raised against us on forums, and very occasionally at matches) but on the whole the support has been (somewhat surprisingly) behind us, especially the ‘hardcore’ away support. We’re pretty good at winding up rangers fans so that definitely gets the support on our side – we’re probably best known for unveiling a big arrow banner with ‘Scotland’s Shame’ painted on it’, pointed at the rangers fans. ‘Scotland’s Shame’ was a term given by politicians to sectarianism, which is primarily only a problem at rangers but politicians and media claim ‘both sides are as bad as each other’.
What’s been the group’s biggest achievement to date? Probably just being here, growing to what we now are and the influence we now have. From an original 7-8 lads to a group that could quadruple its membership over night if we opened our doors. From having 3 lads in section 111 to leading hundreds. From being thought of as a wee novelty by many in our support to being probably the most recognisable and talked-about supporters organisation in Scotland. From a group of inexperienced lads to running a pretty successful group with some really decent, original tifos and other activities – e.g. a football league for asylum seekers/refugees, anti-discrimination football tournament, political discussion classes etc. – we think we’ve done alright but we’ll always be striving to do more and get better.
What chance do ultra groups have in the UK given the high ticket prices and the cost of travelling to see away matches? Ticket prices are rightly a cause for concern and we have protested about these in the past. We’re fortunate in Scotland that travelling costs aren’t that expensive and our longest away trip is the 3 hours to Aberdeen but it shouldn’t really be a barrier to other groups who want to set up – (probably) most of the tifos we do are at home, much like many European groups (some of whom travel in only very small numbers).
The main problem is the mentality of fans in Britain, most of whom are happy to ‘sit down, shut up’ and glibly accept whatever line they are fed by their club. If there were more lads willing to do what we do, back the team for 90 mins and do a wee bit of work to bring some colour and actions to the games then the ultras scene in Britain might actually kick-off, rather than having so few proper groups as it does now (only really ourselves, Jorvik Reds, Holmesdale Fanatics and perhaps Ultras Barrovia who are very small).
Ultra groups vary from country to country. How would define ‘ultras’ in the UK? Do you think they differ from their European counterparts? Groups in the ‘UK’ vary, really. Most who claim to be Ultras aren’t, though, as we’ve seen with the many groups who’ve fell away almost as soon as they’ve started. As above, there are probably now only three or four proper Ultras groups in the ‘UK’, though that may be harsh on some of the groups in England in the lower/non-leagues but they don’t seem too active or have the Ultra mentality. For us, the basic ultra mentality of ‘beyond’ should be the same for group, regardless of where you come from. The main distinction you might see from there is whether groups are into football violence, and that varies country-to-country. Where we in the ‘UK’ differ from (most of) our European counterparts in that the Ultras scene is an established sub-culture, as opposed to something fairly novel here. Very few lads here ‘live it’, in contrast to elsewhere where the Ultras (and fan) scenes are far more developed.
Do ultra groups in the UK have political tendencies? Only ourselves, as far as we’re aware. We are an unashamedly anti-fascist group and are supportive of a united Ireland and independent Scotland. We do the occasional political action (from campaigning against anti-Irish racism to showing solidarity with Basque political prisoners) but a lot of our political stuff is off the terraces – e.g. our work with asylum seekers, political education etc. As above, we protested (and protest) at the appointment of John Reid as chairman of our club, and we’ve probably got most publicity from protesting at the politically-motivated imposition of the red poppy on the Celtic jersey (see website for statement), when in 2008 we walked out of Celtic Park and in 2009 we boycotted our match away at Falkirk.
What are the aims of ultra groups in the UK in general? Do you fight against high ticket prices, terracing, changing the kick off times, banning orders or do you just go for bigger and better displays and try to increase the atmosphere at games? It’s a slow process and as we’ve established ourselves as a group our voice has grown louder. We’ve protested against the appointment of our chairman (by demos at the time, subsequent tifos, chants and our banner being permanently upside down), against high ticket prices, against the club’s ticket touting arrangement with Thomas Cook for European away matches etc. We’ve also campaigned on fan issues – our action against Hibs is about a fan being censored and other issues like safe standing etc. is definitely on our radar. We’re the most active group in the ‘UK’ and we’re definitely the most radical, though the Holmesdale Fanatics have also held protest marches etc. We are also obviously looking at doing good, original tifos and trying to increase and improve the atmosphere at games but this is combined with a fairly radical, independent streak too.
What are the relationships like between opposing UK ultra groups? As above, there’s really no relationships worth speaking about, bar our previous rivalry with the Red Ultras about who outdid who on the terraces. There’s a couple of tifo groups at rangers but they’re nothing really. The only contact we have with other groups is some of our lads just checking out what’s happening at their places over an internet forum.
Is there an age structure for UK ultras? Is it mainly young lads or can anyone join in? It seems at a lot of the groups that start then fall away the majority of lads are very young, but contrary to what some would have you believe we’ve a wide age range and our average age is probably late 20s. We’ve only maybe 6-7 lads in their teens with the bulk of the group in their 20s, and a considerable number of lads in their 30s and 40s. For us, anyone can join – if you’re good enough you’re young/old enough. In practice, maybe because of the difficult relationship we have with the club and the fact the lads who started the group were a wee bit older and wiser, we’ve always been pretty conscious that we need older, ‘sound’ heads and we’re quite selective about who we let take up membership. We’re also run as a collective – one member, one vote, but trying to do things by consensus – so we only tend to let in the more clued-up lads.