Minutes of Open Meeting of 5th February 2014

Published on Tuesday 11th February, 2014 by Celtic Trust

Report of Second Open Meeting of Celtic Supporters

The meeting was again very well attended by more than 200 Celtic supporters who were members of all recognised supporter organisations and none.

The meeting was chaired by Jeanette Findlay and Tommy Brannigan and speakers were asked to abide by the same rules of attention and respect for all points of view expressed.

In accordance with the decisions taken at the meeting of 22nd January a list of questions had been drawn up and sent with a covering letter explaining the format of the meeting to Celtic’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Lawwell, on 26th January. A reply had been received from the Club’s Supporter Liaison Officer, John Paul Taylor, late on the evening of 4th February and copies of this were distributed throughout the Hall. A copy of this response accompanies this report downloadable here

The Chairperson referred to the fact that the reply had been addressed to the Celtic Trust despite the Trust secretary making clear in her covering letter that the questions came from a meeting open to and attended by all Celtic supporters. This had been pointed out to the SLO immediately after receipt of the response and an acknowledgement of the error and an apology had been forthcoming.

The chairman announced that she intended to take each question, or if appropriate, cluster of related questions, in turn read the reply and would then invite discussion of these replies. She also invited suggestions as to any action which should be taken following this discussion. However before this process could begin several speakers wished to make comment on the preamble which preceded the answers and was more than a page long. The content of this preamble was variously described as “insulting”, “patronising,” “condescending” and “typical of the dismissive attitude” with which the Club presently treats supporters.

There was particular concern over the reference to the origins of Celtic and its charitable aspirations given that only recently the Club had rejected the proposal to pay employees a Living Wage and that in fact it is the supporters not the Club who raise funds for charitable causes.

The meeting then moved on to discuss the response to questions concerning the Offensive Behaviour at Football/Threatening Communication Act.  The response reiterated that Celtic had opposed the introduction of the Act and listed the various meetings that the CEO had had with Government ministers concerning it.

Celtic stated that they had written asking for an early review of the Act and although this had not been forthcoming they had been assured that they would be involved in the review process when it took place. Several speakers highlighted while all of this may have taken place the Club had made no public statements opposing the Act since its initial submission to the Justice Committee in August 2011. It is also very concerning and appears contradictory to the content of the response that the published minutes of government committees records officials from Celtic helping to draft the Bill which became the Act and that Celtic and the then Rangers FC had indeed requested the establishment of a dedicated police unit which is now in existence and is known as FoCUS. It is officers of this unit who initiate much of the harassment which Celtic fans are currently undergoing.

The discussion then moved on to the concerns regarding this police harassment of supporters including arrests in the early morning for singing songs. Celtic stated in its reply that that it does not tolerate harassment or maltreatment of supporters and claimed that there is process in place for reporting this either through FAC or to the Club directly through a dedicated email address. Although there had been no consultation prior to this being announced FAC isvery willing to be involved in anything which helps supporters.

There followed a lengthy discussion about the view that complaints from Celtic were passed to the police routinely, and that had this been the intention of the complainer, they could have done that themselves.  There was a discussion around the fact that Celtic have passed the contact details of supporters to the police in the past, and that this is a breach of the Data Protection Act.  It was acknowledged that if a serious crime was being investigated then it would be reasonable for Celtic to co-operate with the police but that any request from the police regarding a possible prosecution under the OB Act should be refused.  It was noted that Celtic (or any company/organisation) are not obliged to provide this information unless there is a court order. Information on how individuals can make Subject Access Requests to Celtic (at a cost of £10) to ask what information they hold on them and who it has been shared with was discussed.

It was readily acknowledged that Celtic had been helpful following the recent events in Amsterdam and that this was appreciated by those caught up in that disgraceful event. Several speakers raised the issue of lack of trust which presently exists between the Club and its supporters and felt that some supporters would be reluctant to contact the Club because it seems to operate a policy of presumption of guilt in all cases and they would be doubtful of receiving fair treatment.

The response also mentions the Independent Complaints Panel which the Club had set up without prior consultation and had invited certain supporter groups to join. The CSA and the Trust had both declined this invitation and are not a part of this process.  In response to a query as to why that was, the Chair indicated that the Trust had understood taking part in the Panel would involve sitting in judgement on fellow fans which its officers were not prepared to do.

The response went on to report that the club’s SLO had met with officers of the Police Scotland and had been given an assurance that early morning arrests would cease. It then goes on to erroneously state that “the law dictates that some songs are deemed offensive”. In fact the law does not name any song. Deeming a song offensive has been delegated to the police and this is an aspect which the meeting felt Celtic should be joining with supporters in highlighting and opposing publically.

The response also mentions that Celtic had raised the issue of the legislation with other SPFL Clubs but does not report any outcome of this.

Action points

  • A statement will be drawn up once again publically opposing the OBF/Act and the Club will be asked to issue this jointly with the FAC.
  • Another approach should be made to the other SPFL Clubs asking for their support in opposing the legislation
  • Proposed that a letter should be sent to the Lord Advocate asking what  is offensive in the words of song  Roll of Honour
  • It was agreed that the issue of the Data Protection Act would be raised with the Club and that Celtic would be asked for an assurance that requests from the police in relation to the OBF Act would be refused.

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Although several speakers had highlighted that stewarding in recent months had been much more confrontational and robust the Club stated that there had been no change in the instructions given although “clearly match specific briefings are given”. The response also stated that there is no ban on Green Brigade merchandise being worn within Celtic Park. There was some discussion on what was meant by “match specific briefings” and whether or not this meant more obtrusive stewarding. The question re Green Brigade merchandise had been posed because at the last meeting there were reports of people being refused admission the stadium for wearing such merchandise.

Later in the response Celtic accepted that it would seek to make identifying individual stewards easier by ensuring that numbers are clearly displayed on the their high-viz jackets and this was very welcome. However all stewards do wear numbered jackets and those who are SIA licensed display photo identification badges.

Action point

It is accepted that complaints regarding stewarding or policing must be specific and identify the steward or police officer against whom the complaint is being made. Those who are treated in a way which gives rise to a complaint should ensure that they note the identification number or name of the steward/police officer concerned and report it with the full circumstances of the incident.

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In response to the question re political banners the Club had responded by quoting extensively from both UEFA and SPFL rules. In particular it reported that the SPFL had deemed the display of a letter of the alphabet as evidence of supporting terrorism!

 It was also noted that Celtic appears to have amended the Stadium regulations to include “political behaviour” and to equate this with “threatening, racial, sectarian homophobic, discriminatory” behaviour and with the use of “foul and abusive language”.

Several speakers made their points in humorous way highlighting the ridiculous nature of the situation and bringing much appreciated laughter to the proceedings.  Does this mean, someone asked, if the long line of politicians who are wined and dined at Celtic Park on match days would now be banned from the stadium and would this include Tory and other sundry Lords?

On a more serious note why was this blanket “ban” deemed acceptable by a Club which continually refers to its origins. If these are not political then what is? One speaker quoted a piece he had read which stated,

 “The act of supporting Celtic is political in itself as the act of founding Celtic was a political act”.

 This statement was warmly received by the meeting.

Another speaker, referred to the fact that Celtic Park was the one place where a marginalised immigrant people could safely celebrate their origin and culture and that their descendants had every right to carry on that tradition. If as claimed by the Club, “Celtic supporters are an extremely broad church” then there should surely be room in this church for expressing the culture of those who founded the Club in the first place! Instead there was a feeling that the Club would prefer if all expression of Irish identity was, as one speaker put it ‘cleansed’, from the support.

There were several mentions of the sheer hypocrisy of both UEFA and the SPFL which Celtic meekly accepts. Examples of this were the banners in support of the SNP on display at St Mirren Park recently, and how displays of Catalonian identity are frequently seen at the Camp Nou. It appears that only displays which celebrate Irish identity are deemed unacceptable by Celtic, and this in turn is something which many members of the “Celtic Family” find unacceptable

 

Action Points

  • Enquire re the stadium regulations. Have they been recently updated to include the proscription of political behaviour; did Celtic take this decision; and to convey to Celtic that we believe this to be an excessive restriction on freedom of expression.
  • Do these regulations apply to all SPFL Clubs?
  • Why has Celtic never challenged the lack of consistency which permits displays seeking Scottish and Catalonian independence but bans those seeking the same for Ireland?
  • FAC to consider seeking advice from a Human Rights lawyer on the legality of such a ban.

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At the last meeting a speaker had raised her concerns regarding the checks made to ensure the suitability of stewards especially in relation to the safety of children. In responding the Club has stated that while they require details of previous employment and references they only use the disclosure procedures for those stewards who work “directly with children”. They also laid out their policy with regards to the searching of children. This gave rise to some discussion on disclosure and concerns were expressed on how it was possible to ensure that only those who had been subject to disclosure would deal with children. It was also noted that Disclosure Scotland was now being converted to Protection of Vulnerable Groups and included vulnerable adults as well as children.

Action points

Further clarification will be sought on this whole area. Two officers of the Trust have a scheduled meeting with relevant Celtic officials on another matter but they will raise this and report back to the next meeting.

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Statements issued by the Club which have been hasty and unfairly condemnatory in tone were raised at the last meeting and a question had been posed regarding this. Many of these statements emanate from the CEO and therefore are significant.

In response the Club claimed it always “carefully considers” any statement stated that it acts “in the best interests of the Club and ALL our fans” and that it does praise the Celtic support.

One speaker stated that Celtic seem to always highlight the negative and only reluctantly admit the positive and contrasted this with the statement released by Aberdeen FC following the events at Tynecastle and the abuse of Neil Lennon by Aberdeen fans. Aberdeen had begun the statement on positive note thanking and commending fans and only then mentioned the negative events, while in their statement re the events in Amsterdam despite video and other evidence which showed clearly where the blame lay, Celtic opened their statement by  condemning violent behaviour by fans before admitting the attacks and abuse which had actually occurred and of which Celtic fans had been victims.

Other speakers endorsed this and mentioned that more and more the Club is distancing and alienating itself from supporters and is active in pointing the finger, often without any investigation or evidence at supporters. The claim that the Club ensures full knowledge and considers what it says prior to making statements was greeted with great scepticism given that the timescale between event and statement was often so brief. There was also scepticism expressed at the claim that the Club consults supporters’ groups prior to releasing statements with only the CSA being able confirm that it had happened ‘on occasion’.

Action point

The Club will be asked to genuinely consult and investigate and not resort to knee-jerk reactions to situations which arise. A process for ensuring that statements condemning Celtic fans are properly considered before release should be put in place.

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The discussion then moved on to the closure of Section 111 which followed the events at the match at Motherwell. It would be helpful if anyone reading this now reads the Club’s full statement as what follows will summarise the discussion in light of that statement.

As everyone knows, although not actually named, this action was taken against the Green Brigade. (GB). Several members of this group were present at the meeting and were willing to explain what occurred from their viewpoint. They highlighted the part of the statement which referred to the “breakdown in communication, trust and control” and felt that this attempt to control was at the root of what had happened. They also took great exception to the claim that the “cessation of dialogue” was “without any prior indication” and that “the Club remains open to dialogue”

They stated that it had been the Club which had ceased to communicate and had ignored any attempt they had made to establish contact. Much of this communication had been concerning the Food Bank which the GB had been working to organise. From 26th November to 21st December, the day of the food collection, they had tried on many occasions and by a variety of means, emails, texts, phone calls, tweets to contact various people within the Club and the Celtic Foundation but all these attempts had been ignored.

They were very clear and certain that in its response the Club is quite simply not being truthful regarding the breaking off of communication and dialogue and say that they have evidence which will prove this.  It was alleged that there was even an attempt by a Celtic official to sabotage the whole Food Bank venture by giving false information to the people receiving the food. The issue of the non-co-operation over the Food Bank concerned many at the meeting given the claim by the Club to honour the reason for its foundation which was in effect to be the Food Bank of its time.

Celtic had stated initially the reason given for closing the section was the events at the game at Motherwell but the GB are of the view that the banners were the real cause. They accepted that many supporters felt that the banner display at the AC Milan game had been wrong but it was to highlight the harassment and intimidation to which their members were being subjected. Had Celtic fulfilled the promise made to the group through the SLO, to make a public statement condemning this treatment, they would not have resorted to this action, but as this support had not been forthcoming, despite several assurances that it would be, they felt they had no other option. They felt that the banner was 100% relevant to Celtic as they were Celtic supporters suffering this harassment and that should be a matter of 100% concern to Celtic.

There was a feeling amongst some at the meeting that the group had been wrong to take the action they did and this was clearly expressed. The members of the group were asked if they regretted their actions given the 50,000 Euro fine levied on the Club. They stated that they do not regret their action as they really feel given the lack of action by the Club there had been no alternative. Some speakers did point out that the Club had earned much more than 50,000 Euro selling merchandise arising from the GB’s Banner displays. Other speakers were of the opinion that it was not possible to put a price on principle and it had been principle which had led to the situation.

It was then proposed that we had to accept that all of this had occurred and that disagreements regarding it will stand but we do need to leave it in the past and move on. We now need healing and a coming together of the support and of the Club too. We are much stronger together and despite indications to the contrary it cannot be in Celtic’s interests to have a support divided against itself. Celtic has expressed the same sentiment at the end of its preamble. The challenge will now be to test if there is real commitment to that sentiment.

Action point

In the light of the Club’s statement that they remain open to dialogue the GB were urged to once again attempt to make contact with the Club as a first step in this process.  Other organisations, including the Trust, remain willing to assist in that process if requested to do so.

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The events at the games at Motherwell on 6th December was yet another example of how Celtic had rushed to judge and issue a statement announcing suspension of season tickets which had later been rescinded. Statements made by Celtic eg “the vast majority of our support” were challenged as merely assertions, as in fact Celtic cannot possibly know what the vast majority of our support think, having never consulted them.

Information regarding any incident before, during and after this game is still being sought. Anyone who has any information should contact Alan Cochrane at alan.cochrane2@ntlworld.comwith as full an account as possible

Action Point

 One supporter has complained to the Club about the treatment she and her party were subjected to in Barcelona and as the Club claim this is linked to what happened at Motherwell she will pursue this and report any developments later.

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As the time was now advanced the meeting ended with a couple of announcements and the decision to meet again on Tuesday 4th March at 7pm at the same venue

 
 

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