The Scottish mainstream media (SMSM) has taken a comprehensive booting in recent years for misreading the Rangers story, old and new. However, new lows were reached with coverage of a visit by fans of Dutch club Feyenoord to Glasgow from February 27th to March 1st. In February 2014, Celtic and Feyenoord fans combined under the banner “Together in Friendship 2014” (TIF) to raise funds for the Glasgow-based Kano Foundation, which takes children to Celtic matches for free, and the Rotterdam-based Daniel Den Hoed Stichting Foundation, which supports cancer research.

The initiative was a success, raising over £5,000 for the charities. The Feyenoord fans who attended the Celtic/Aberdeen Scottish Cup tie on February 8th were thanked on Celtic Park’s big screens and presented a €4,000 cheque to the Daniel Den Hoed Stichting at Feyenoord’s De Kuip stadium in June. “TIF 2015” quite naturally followed. And there was a third charity beneficiary, The Invisibles, which does an amount of work for registered homeless charities across Glasgow. A fundraising “music night” was arranged, the Feyenoord fans were again invited to Celtic Park for a match, and merchandise went on sale at the end of last year. All of the above was widely publicised on social media. On February 27th the Glasgow Evening Times newspaper (ET) offered a, ahem, ‘different’ perspective on TIF:

Police on alert as Dutch fans plan to travel to Glasgow for Celtic clash with Aberdeen, Rebecca Gray, crime reporter:

POLICE will deploy “hooligan spotters” in Glasgow today over fears Dutch fans are planning to fly in for Celtic’s match against Aberdeen. Feyenoord supporters are understood to be planning a trip to the city at the weekend to attend the match.
Officers said they have “intelligence” from social media discussions between sections of the Celtic support and Dutch fans.

The Evening Times understands around 120 Feyenoord supporters plan to arrive in the city. A police insider said: “We know about them and we’re ready.” Police will have a specialist policing plan in place throughout the weekend. A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We are aware of discussion on the internet in relation to a section of travelling supporters.” It comes days after some Feyenoord supporters became embroiled in a racism row during their side’s Europa League match against Roma. The referee was forced to stop the match twice over the incidents during Thursday’s game. Officers arrested more than a dozen Dutch nationals and five Italians before the match.

STV’s Matt Coyle also ran with this story, noting that Glasgow’s Victoria Night Club had cancelled the booking for the music night (a second venue, Keller’s Bar, would follow suit) but studiously avoiding any mention of the charity fundraising until forced into a radical rewrite by furious complaints, notably from the Celtic Research twitter account.

The ET has, at the time of typing, made no such amendments and I find it a challenge to convey the crass stupidity of their story and the lazy, shoddy journalism involved.

Police Scotland (PS) were “on alert” because of “fears.” Yet the story failed to specify who was “fearful” – and of what (the reference to “hooligan spotters” came in the sub-heading, usually written by sub-editorial staff). But the anonymous police bravado “we know about them and we’re ready” is where the story really unravels. This “insider” clearly did not “know about them,” or PS would have been ready with a few quid for the charities, rather than the phalanx of police vans at the music night.

Officers, again anonymous, claimed to have “intelligence” (insert your own joke here) from social media. Yet PS spotted not a single reference to the fundraisers, which is some going for anyone, let alone someone whose job largely centres on…well…spotting stuff. Instead the only context was the “racism row” in the aftermath of Feyenoord’s Europa League tie with Roma on February 26th.

Thus was a charity fundraising trip publicised as a potential hooligan jolly. And while PS could not find any stories about the charity fundraising, they were somehow able to find what some might consider an ironic source of “intelligence” for their hooligan narrative. On February 25th, the “Vanguard Bears” Rangers fans’ website claimed that “the 120 Feyenoord fans…are not planning a friendly visit.” It painted TIF as anti-semitic hooligans ready to smash up Glasgow and fight with “Huns” in the city centre. And a fake @FeyenoordCeltic twitter account posted similarly-themed material.

So, what was the truth? The Dutch supporters attended a Friday night music night, with the huge and hugely superfluous police presence the top and tail of the article’s weekend-long “specialist police plan.” They wowed onlookers at Ayr United’s home game with Forfar on the Saturday. As the Ayrshire Post newspaper noted: “Fair play to the Feyenoord fans, what an atmosphere they created…they were some sight to behold…Time for us to return the favour and head over to Holland?!”

And the whole trip, for the second consecutive year, passed off without a smashed up Glasgow or a fight with “Huns on Sauchiehall Street” but with plenty of money raised for the three charities. Quite naturally, much subsequent ire was directed at the ET’s Rebecca Gray for the almost total failure to research her piece properly. But this ire ought to be directed too at whoever gave a “crime reporter” the story in the first place. For they decided to treat the trip entirely as a potential hooligan flashpoint, in slavish deference to the ill-informed police narrative.

However, any instincts to defend Gray were wiped away when she chose to “block” Celtic Research from her twitter account rather than attempt to defend the story, in keeping with a general omerta from the news organisations involved. The reporting of the weekend’s events is now being referred to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. And, as Celtic Research drily noted, “it is a bit more difficult to block IPSO than some random on twitter.”

Worst of all, the negative publicity had a predictably negative impact on support over the weekend itself, although extra funds are currently being raised by the raffling of Celtic (and ex-Feyenoord) striker John Guidetti’s shirt from the Aberdeen game. And Celtic Research reported that “Three charities are now down £250 (as) a venue is holding onto the £250 deposit money because of (the ET) article. The venue have said there was no mention in that article of any charity reasons for the event.”

English football supporters are often treated with sensationalist contempt. Every chance is taken to herald a “return to the dark days of the 70s and 80s.” The pitch invasions at Aston Villa this weekend were such a return, despite appearing to have more in common with Hereford fans celebrating Ronnie Radford’s famous equaliser against Newcastle in 1972– images which pepper the BBC’s FA Cup coverage without any moral qualms. But the media maltreatment of the Feyenoord fans’ trip is in a different column entirely. Many see an undercurrent of anti-Celtic bias. Others see the PS’s heavy-handed attitude to all football supporters. But whatever the veracity of such claims, the ET piece is shocking journalism, through either malice or incompetence.

It seems impossible to even start researching the story properly without encountering links to TIF’s charity fundraising, either last year or this. Typing “Celtic Feyenoord Together in Friendship” into a search engine produces heaps of such evidence, images of the above-mentioned merchandise and publicity flyers for the music event which clearly reference the beneficiary charities. You can only miss this by simply re-hashing the PS briefings and ignore, wilfully or by order, any wider context.

As Celtic Research asked: Did anybody in the media think to check with Celtic who were involved with the planning of this charity trip for months? Which…journalist or editor thought Celtic would supply 120 tickets and relocate season-ticket holders to an area of potential riot and aggro? What was the special plan the police had for them which the ET and STV reported?
Celtic Research also posted pictures of the “rampaging fans in the Cancer centre we supported last year and this.” And perhaps the key question came from @TIF_2015: “120 tourists came to Scotland this weekend for music, football, beer and fun. Why are we criminals and other tourists not?”

So, did Gray’s journalistic instincts desert her willfully or by order? Either way, it’s a disgrace. At the time of writing, the only formal acknowledgement from the ET and STV that they got their story badly and possibly actionably wrong has been the STV rewrite, although even that story kept its lurid “Police on alert over fears” headline. And Celtic Research’s anger shows no sign of abating.

Presumably, the ET & STV think their contemptuous silence will get them off the hook and the matter will be dropped now that the Feyenoord fans have been home a week. But I hope they are mistaken. Because too much time and effort was expended on the charity initiative for it to be undermined by lazy and possibly malicious journalism which, in turn, should not be allowed to pass unchallenged.

Further information about the TIF initiative and the charity beneficiaries can be found at any of these places:

A short history of the initiative can be found in the “Celtic Network” article “TIF 2015 – unique friendship and charity, Celtic and Feyenoord.”

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