Celtic’s Welcome “Illicit Banners”

by | Oct 31, 2019

Another week, another ‘curious’ opinion from Scotland’s football media. Not about football itself this time. But the apparently fraught issue of condemning fascism directly to fascism’s face. Fraught because such condemnation of violent thugs might ‘provoke’ violent thugs into the sort of violent thuggery in which violent thugs would otherwise indulge anyway, because, you know, violent thugs.

At least, that’s the logical extension of the arguments in Monday’s Daily Record ‘newspaper’ opinion column by ‘star’ columnist, Keith Jackson. Headlined Celtic fans’ banners and insults have put a target on every supporter heading to Rome, the column is a masterclass in false equivalence between fascism and anti-fascism, which is normally the preserve of apologists for…well…fascism..

The issue inevitably arose last Thursday night, as Celtic beat Italian club Lazio 2-1 in a Europa League Group E match at Glasgow’s Celtic Park. Elements of Lazio’s fanbase are publicly, proudly aligned to fascism. Elements of Celtic’s fanbase are publicly, proudly, aligned to anti-fascism. And, for simplistic fruit loops such as Jackson (and, most infamously, US president Donald “fine people on both sides” Trump), these elements are equally condemnable.

Last Thursday afternoon, a group of black-clad Lazio fans, ahem, strode purposefully along Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, many “raising their right hand.” Video evidence, which went viral by teatime, confirmed these “raised” right hands were less a collective ‘please can I go to the toilet?’ than the “Roman salute” which Italy’s fascist movement adopted in the 1920s. And the ‘Independent’ newspaper’s Lawrence Ostlere reported that the fans were “chanting fascist songs” as they went.

Reportedly among the Lazio fans’ banners at Celtic Park itself was one referencing “honour to Benito Mussolini,” the 20th-century Italian dictator and fascism’s founding father. Or, as BBC Scotland sports news correspondent Chris McLaughlin mystifyingly kindly described him this week, “former Italian wartime leader.” And, given the likelihood of Lazio’s ‘ultras’ living down to their club’s ‘Nazio’ nickname, Celtic’s ‘Green Brigade’ fans group had banner responses ready.

However you view Green Brigade politics, their banners are usually imaginative. Last week there were plenty “directing” Lazio “towards the Foreign Office,” as ‘National’ newspaper diarist ’The Jouker’ noted. But Thursday’s eye-catching banner was brutally stark. “Follow Your Leader,” it suggested, alongside an artist’s impression of the infamous image of Mussolini’s corpse, hanging upside-down in a Milan square. Lurid. Gross, even. But, you know, Mussolini.

Dismally, European football’s governing body Uefa have charged Celtic for their fans’ display of “illicit banners.” And both clubs have been charged with fans’ “illicit chanting,” Lazio adding to the partial ground closure for the return Celtic game next Thursday, as a sanction for previous racist behaviour. More fascism and anti-fascism equation, making Uefa apologists for fascism if Celtic are sanctioned.

Meanwhile, last Friday, Mussolini’s grand-daughter and veteran ‘right-wing’ Italian politician, Alessandra, told Italian news agency AdnKronos: “Whoever exposes a photo or drawing of my grandfather hanging upside-down commits an act of violence.” Understandable emotions, in and of themselves. But, you know, Mussolini.

Alessandra helpfully suggested that such actions “should be pursued” under her proposal of “a new law of the crime of Ducephobia.” Mussolini senior was known as “Il Duce” (the leader). But the idea that hatred of fascist dictatorship is somehow ‘irrational’ (the key word in definitions of ‘phobia’) is…well…irrational. You know…Mussolini. The ‘tat’ to this ‘tit’ came on Sunday, from Celtic fans at Aberdeen. “Alessandro vaffanculo,” read one banner, another direction ‘towards the Foreign Office’ (which STV’s website, perhaps un-necessarily, printed as “v********o”).

And the ‘tit’ responded to this by likening her grandad to Scottish nationalist legend Mel Gibson William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace, who also met a grisly end through capture and hanging. This parallel was drawn by ex-Lazio and Celtic player, and Mussolini ‘admirer,’ Paolo di Canio in an early autobiography. But it was harder for Celtic to breach Aberdeen’s defence than for anyone with cursory historical knowledge to note that Wallace was fighting, not advocating, the authoritarian crushing of freedom.

When Jackson entered the non-debate, the Record had already accused Celtic fans, via headline to an anonymous on-line piece, of “fanning the flames” of Lazio rivalry with the “vaffanculo” banner. And, as early as possible in his own Celtic fan hit-piece, Jackson dismissed the banners as “attention-seeking” from people “hellbent on making all manner of trouble by expressing their own beliefs, even if it means distracting the focus away from the standard of performances which have just blown Lazio and Aberdeen away.”

No “focus” on Celtic’s performances was “distracted” until Jackson’s own article. Meanwhile, the curious notion that Lazio were “blown away” (ask Celtic keeper Fraser Forster about that) was not Jackson’s most curious. He called Thursday’s banners “a narcissistic sideshow” (on which he can at least offer personal expertise) from “the hard-of-thinking part of the stadium, designed to cause maximum offence” to Lazio’s fascist fans. Which he wrote as if offending them was a bad thing, despite calling them “some of the most objectionable visiting fans.”

And he wasted paragraphs linking the symbol of 1970s Italian terrorist group the “Brigate Rosse” (Red Brigades) to Thursday’s large “Brigate Verde” banner, which he labelled “perhaps the most sinister and troubling of all.” Brigate Verde is, of course, Italian for “Green Brigade.” But Jackson was trying to portray this banner as some sort of Red Brigade tribute, hence his trawl through the Red Brigade’s history. And he can “vaffanculo” with that.

His headline issue was that “as a direct result of these banners and insults…a target has now been painted on the back of” the estimated 8/9,000 Celtic fans going to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico next Thursday. Yet, he noted correctly, Lazio fans “seldom require any extra provocation.” Which rather undermined his assertion, ONE sentence earlier, that “the risk factor” for Celtic fans was “now through the roof” because of the banners.

More damningly, you would search Jackson’s article in vain for any acknowledgement that public opposition to fascism was at all proper. Instead, he saw irony in what he called Celtic fans’ “own attempt to act in an obnoxious and outrageous manner.” But this is only irony if you equate fascism with anti-fascism. And “perhaps the most sinister and troubling” feature of Jackson’s piece was his assertion that these fans were merely “expressing their own beliefs.” As if anti-fascism was some narrow far-left perspective rather than the fundamental stance of all decent humanity.

Jackson later drew equivalence between Thursday’s protest and one Celtic fans’ banner at their home Champions League tie with Northern Ireland’s Linfield in 2017. This depicted then Celtic boss, the Antrim-born Brendan Rodgers, in paramilitary uniform, which Jackson called  “another terror-related banner, designed to inflame Linfield’s travelling fans.” Another? Terror-related? So, anti-fascism is “terror-related” now??
Maybe Jackson is just playing the controversialist. But the ‘best’ controversialists usually say something worth hearing. Jackson usually doesn’t. And even when there is legitimate concern among his concerns, he is too ready to favour controversialism over logic.

Here, that has led him to advocate something which I don’t believe reflects his world view, although the article often shakes that conviction. And however innocent his motivation, his advocacy of complicit silence in the face of open fascism is still the preserve of apologists for fascism. So, he can “vaffanculo” with that too.