Celtic football fans defy the threat of sanctions from UEFA and ‘courageously fly the Palestinian Flag’
In a stunning show of support for the beleaguered and besieged Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories, following two weeks of Israeli bombardment and the deaths of now 7,000 plus Palestinians, Celtic supporters at Wednesday’s Champions League match against Atletico Madrid, defied threats from the club's management and UEFA and waved Palestine supporting banners and Palestinian flags on the terraces at Tynecastle during Wednesday’s international match.
A spectacle of red, green, white and black dominates the terraces at Tynecastle
The spectacle of the sea of red, green, white and black, which ran the full length of the terraces at Tynecastle – Scotland’s sixth largest stadium, with a seating capacity of just short of 20,000, defied the threats of repercussions which had been hinted at by the governing body UEFA and the Celtic clubs management. The Celtic club has had to deal with similar issues in the past and was concerned that sanctions could be more severe if breaches were repeated. They did not hesitate to issue an early statement within hours of the initial incursion by Hamas and the beginnings of the Israeli bombardment. Their statement at that time read:
‘Celtic is a football club and not a political organisation. One of our core values from inception is to be open to all regardless of race, colour, politics or creed. That is why the club has always made clear that political messages and banners are not welcome at Celtic Park, or any match involving Celtic’
Club suggests team players will be allowed to wear 'neutral 'black arm bands
As the date of the major international fixture approached and in anticipation of a possible confrontation with the UEFA governing body, just hours before the match was due to begin, the Celtic club management issued a more direct appeal to its supporters – in particular directed at the long established ‘Green Brigade Fans’ group, which has a long history of support for the cause of the Palestinians. The statement urged them to refrain from making visual presentations, which may be deemed political and ‘against the club’s values’. In a desperate bid to stave off a major stand-off, possible fines and sanctions, which in the past had been imposed by UEFA after fans had been waving Palestinian flags at matches, the statement attempted to show some empathy and understanding in respect of the strength of feelings held by supporters, while urging a degree of neutrality by promoting non-affiliated gestures, such as the teams wearing black arm bands.
The statement read:
'We have witnessed death, violence and destruction in the Holy Land in recent weeks, with thousands of people - men, women and children – killed, injured and displaced. Many of our colleagues, supporters, friends and families have been affected by these events. Against this backdrop of conflict and pain, sport can promote peace and demonstrate humanity and empathy for all who continue to suffer. For the club’s UEFA Champions League match, Celtic and Atletico Madrid players and coaching staff will wear black armbands, as a show of respect and support for all those affected by the conflict'
Celtic club management pulls out stops to appease supporters in the hope they will heed the warnings
The club management went further to state that they had provided financial support to help in the acquisition of humanitarian relief in the region. It said:
‘The club is also making a contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross to support people affected by the humanitarian crisis in the region. The club recognises that our supporters hold personal views to which everyone is entitled. As a club open to all, we all belong at Celtic Park. Celtic Park is where we come to support our football club. Recognising this, respecting the gravity of the tragedy unfolding and its impact on communities in Scotland and across the world, and in line with other clubs, leagues and associations, we ask that banners, flags and symbols relating to the conflict and those countries involved in it are not displayed at Celtic Park at this time. As we approach this crucial fixture, as ever, we sincerely thank our fans for their positive support of the players and the team’
Fans ignore appeal from management and 'courageously fly the flag for Palestine'
For the ‘Green Brigade Fans’, these were simply empty gestures, and the organisers urged their supporters to not hold back in showing their recognition of the devastation caused by the conflict on the lives of thousands of Palestinians. Their message to fans was simple – they urged them:
‘to courageously fly the flag for Palestine ‘
The response was overwhelming, as the 20,000, seater stadium was awash with Palestinian flags and banners swaying from left to right in absolute defiance and in solidarity with the Palestinians.