In autumn last year, a group of friends decided to give something back to a local community. They decided to organise a food drive for the Glasgow North East Foodbank. They hadn’t done anything quite like this before, so they weren’t sure how it would be received, but went ahead with it on the grounds that any donations they could gather would help the many people who have become reliant on foodbanks in these times of low wages and benefit cuts. They spread the word that the food drive would be happening amongst their other friends and contacts, on facebook, twitter and internet forums, asking for whatever people felt able to give, with a list of items the foodbank had suggested were most useful. On the 21st of December thirty or forty of these friends and a number of other supporters who wanted to help out stood in the rain at the advertised location, wondering whether they’d been optimistic arranging two transit vans to move the donations. For two hours, they took an ever-increasing number of carrier bags from a queue of generous people who wanted to help the poor and hungry of the East End have a less miserable winter.
By the end of the two hours they had gathered nearly £500 in cash donations for the foodbank and an astonishing 5.74 tonnes of food.
It took them 9 transit van journeys and several carloads to move it all to the church where the foodbank is based. There was barely a pew of the church that didn’t have bags of food on it by the end of the afternoon.
To put this in context, it is by far the biggest single food donation the Glasgow North-East Foodbank has received. A separate drive was held at two major supermarkets over three days recently and gathered a total of 2.4 tonnes over that whole 3-day period. This was a tremendous coming-together of working-class people, organised solely by word of mouth amongst themselves, who wanted to do something to help others less fortunate.
So who were these public-spirited folk who organised, agitated for and transported this huge donation? A church group perhaps? A Rotary Club? Or was it a bunch of mindless thugs? Because this group was the Green Brigade, a collection of football fans who you may be more familiar with featuring in newspaper headlines of flares, vandalism and sectarianism. Many of them have been arrested and hauled into court accused of sectarian behaviour, because of their fondness for singing the song ‘Roll of Honour’ at football games, which commemorates Bobby Sands and the other Hunger Strikers but appears on the list of songs proscribed under the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act. Recently they have drawn further attention to the police and government reaction to this with a number of banners at Celtic Park.
A group of men and women proud of their Irish Republican background, yes. A group of Scottish Irish Republicans so violent and anti-protestant that they spontaneously organised a massive charity drive for a foodbank based in a Church of Scotland church. A group which has also run a successful anti-discrimination football tournament every summer since 2009, overtly welcomes asylum seekers to their city…
…flew a rainbow flag in their section at Celtic Park on the weekend of Glasgow Pride…
…and protested about the frankly shameful decision taken by the board not to pay all staff at Celtic at least the living wage.
Yet every story that appears in the press concerning them is negative. Because they are vocal, noisy and unpredictable, they attract a lot of attention and any behaviour by Celtic fans which is deemed undesirable gets laid at their door, whether truthful or not. See for example the reporting of and reaction to the broken seats and flares at the Motherwell-Celtic game in December:
Not a single member of the Green Brigade has been charged or even arrested by Police Scotland for this damage, in fact the only people who have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal are some kids from the Motherwell area
…yet the Green Brigade have been painted in the press as responsible and while nearly all of the 128 have had their bans lifted they are still being punished for it by being dispersed from their section at their home stadium.
This is a group of mostly young men and women, some still in their teens, that the establishment doesn’t quite know what to do with. Normal people daring to do politics, but not how the politicians do it. They’re not altogether used to people voicing political opinions outwith their cosy little private-school arena, but they know they don’t like it. The police and the newspapers and indeed the money men at their own club are desperate to hammer these square peg fans into a predetermined ‘football hooligan’ hole but the Green Brigade continue to refuse to fit.
Politically aware, organised and keen to use their profile to draw attention to causes near to their hearts, they are not going to ‘behave themselves’, as a certain Celtic blogger put recently, because you know what? Behaving yourself, sitting down and shutting up has never advanced the cause of the working class one little bit.