Politics and football: The people who built the sport are now being driven out of it

By Daniel Morrow

Traditionally, football is a sport that acts as a release for the working class, who come together to socialise with one another before, during and after matches. Many students can relate to stories from their parents speaking of their younger years discussing how they were lifted over turnstiles in order to escape paying the admission fee to get in. But football has evolved since then, and there is the notion that the people who consume football at the weekends have evolved with it. But many suggest that the game is becoming too sanitised when comparing the game to days gone by – the crunching tackles which were so common that they merited just a stern talking to off the referee, now merit a harsh colour of a card. The unsafe standing areas have now become plastic seats, making it a more organised environment. But one thing that has been lost in the midst of all this is the working class’ freedom of expression when expressing their political views during matches.

‘Politics doesn’t belong in football’ is a notion that is brandished around the game far too often. Recently, St Johnstone – a club that is often very quiet, from it’s attendances to it’s political voice – were recently fined £15,000 from governing body UEFA after a fan was seen waving a Palestine flag during their Europa League fixture against Spartak Trnava. Politics lecturer, Dr Neil McGarvey believes this is something that has been ‘taken too far’.

UEFA have a history of supporting many different political causes such as tackling racism, which suggests contradictions in their stance against political views from fans at football grounds. “I don’t see the justification of hammering down on these clubs, because this is a freedom of expression”, adds McGarvery.

Radical fans tend to be from working class communities who want to express particular political agendas, and the Green Brigade is no different. They have been notorious for their political slogans and banners during football matches, which in turn have landed Celtic in hot bother with their respective governing bodies in the past. An infamous moment from the group was their opposition against wearing the poppy in 2010, when they unveiled a banner that read ‘your deeds would shame all the devils in hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No blood stained poppy on our hoops.’ Members of Celtic’s board were forced to come out in apology for the actions of the Green Brigade, calling their stance ‘regrettable’.

Tony Kenny is one of those who oppose Celtic wearing the poppy. He views the governing bodies stance on political slogans and messages during games as having ‘gone beyond parody’.

Kenny MacAskill MSP introduced the Offensive Behaviour Act in 2011. The Scottish Government’s website states the act as being one that ‘prevents communication of certain threatening material’. Celtic fans and supporters of various clubs have staged many protests since it’s introduction. “The act stops people from doing things that others would consider to be ‘impolite’”, said Kenny.

‘Celts for Independence’ is a Facebook page that Tony Kenny created over a year ago to advocate independence from a socialist and republican view. The page has been instrumental in warming Celtic fans to the idea of an independent Scotland by holding various events outside the ground before matches. But despite the Celtic fans anger at the SNP’s decision to allow this bill to go ahead, a thousand fans displayed yes signs, provided by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), to show their support for independence – something heavily supported by the same government.

There’s newfound hunger for politics in Scotland and that has been shown by the 97% of the adult population who registered to vote in the independence referendum. The massive show of support for both campaigns has been extremely overwhelming with people turning out in thousands to support their political views. With a country that is so infamous for it’s low voter turnout in the past, this show of political engagement has been something of an oddity in Scotland. If this enthusiasm for politics continues after the referendum, then supporters of both the yes campaign and the no campaign can be hopeful for the future of their country.

It’s difficult to know if this political engagement will spill onto the terraces in the future. But with the governing bodies dislike for fans expressing political opinions from the stands along with the prices of tickets in the Scottish Premiership reaching as high as £29, the working class who built the game up to what it is today, are being driven further and further away from the terraces.
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