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Celtic Park, the most politicized stadium in Europe and where Madrid will not be well received

Barcelona“We respect UEFA’s rules, but above all we respect the right of our fans to defend their ideas in a democratic way.” A few years ago, UEFA fined Glasgow Celtic after fans displayed a sea of ​​Palestinian flags in a match against Hapoel Beer-Sheva. The board of the Scottish club defended its fans by reminding that “Celtic has always been a club that does not look the other way when faced with the problems of our society”. In fact, before receiving the fine, a campaign to collect funds had already been launched on social networks with a double objective: to bring the money from the fine to the club and to raise funds for the association Medical Aid for Palestinians , which works with the Lajee Center in Bethlehem, in the West Bank.

The Champions League is back. And back to Celtic Park, one of the most politicized stadiums in the Old Continent. The match against the reigning European champions, Real Madrid, has raised great expectations in Glasgow, both for the sports poster and for the political charge of the match. “We all know that Madrid has always been well connected with the central governments of Spain, that it has very radical right-wing fans and that it became strong during the Franco regime,” explains James Fay, a Celtic fan. “Well, we’re against all this,” he explains, adding that he’ll bring a star to Celtic Park. “Are you afraid they might confiscate your flag?” “No, that doesn’t happen at Celtic Park,” he replies. In fact, the club could be fined if strongly politically charged flags appear against Madrid, as expected.

UEFA rules prohibit “carrying flags and objects and chanting with a message that is not related to sport”. In addition, “attitudes related to politics, religion or that are provocative against others cannot be authorized”. Celtic fans have always been very politicized, in two ways. One, the nationalist: it is the club that has championed Irish nationalism, especially in the context of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Celtic is the most beloved club among Northern Ireland’s Catholic community, which advocates that all of Ireland should be a single republic and end British control over the north of the island. Despite being a Scottish club, Celtic has an Irish soul. It was founded at the end of the 19th century in the eastern suburbs of Glasgow by a priest who thought football was a good idea to get young teenagers without much of a future out of the bars and streets. Industry in cities like Glasgow attracted thousands of Irish people fleeing the poverty of their island, then entirely under British control and where millions had died in the potato crisis. In Glasgow they found themselves abused by a society where the big Scottish businessmen were conservatives and defenders of a strong and united United Kingdom. Irish workers used to have lower wages and fewer facilities of all kinds, so the club they founded, Celtic, became their pride and an opportunity to defeat those in charge, represented by their great rival, Glasgow Rangers, a Scottish club where UK flags are always seen in the stands.

Over the years, Celtic has become the most beloved club among the Irish, with fans in the United States, Australia or wherever there are Irish people. In Northern Ireland it is quite a symbol. Champions of Europe in 1967 with 11 players born near Glasgow, Celtic commissioned an Irish flag from the new government in Dublin in 1922 when the Irish War of Independence, which had ended months earlier, was still fresh. It was a challenge in London. In 1952, when the flag was already very old, the Irish Prime Minister, Éamon de Valera, sent a new one, which caused a complaint from the Scottish Federation, which went so far as to call for the expulsion of Celtic from the league for having a non-British flag presiding over its stadium. In 1972 a judge again asked to sanction Celtic for this flag, but the club did not give in and won the case by proving that the symbol was part of its identity. This flag is still there, next to the Scottish flag and the club flag. And there is still no British flag. In Champions League matches, UEFA usually asks clubs to also fly the flag of the visiting club and their country. When Barça played at Celtic Park, the club raised a flag. In fact, when Celtic inaugurated their stadium, Celtic Park, in 1892, the founders of the club had already proposed to the activist Michael Davitt to take part in the inauguration of the venue by bringing a piece of grass from Ireland to plant in the middle of the new playing field.

Davitt (1846-1906) was one of the founders of the Irish Land League, an Irish nationalist association that fought to reclaim British-owned land. A left-handed man, Davitt had also taken his fight to Scottish soil, where he became a reference among Irish people living far from home. That 1892, then, he brought a piece of turf from Donegal, planted it in Celtic Park surrounded by thousands of fans and watched the first game played there, against Clyde. “In 1892, a man like Davitt was already chosen for this very symbolic gesture. Celtic was the club of the Irish living in Glasgow, and as such quickly identified with the political movements that claimed Ireland’s right to be a state. And to be a republic. A club opposed to the monarchy and the British Empire”, explains historian Aidan Ker.

Mussolini, hanged in Celtic Park

Apart from the national axis, there is the international one. The Celtic fans, especially the most radical group, the Green Brigade, are very left-wing. And he has always kept alive the myth of the International Brigades that fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Hundreds of people from Glasgow were in the war fighting and their memory lives on in songs and republican Spanish flags that can be seen every day in Celtic Park, next to ikurriñes or stelaes. Against Madrid, many more will be seen. When Celtic played a few years ago against the Italian Lazio, a club known for having radical fascist fans, a giant banner was seen in Celtic Park that reproduced the death of Benito Mussolini, when he was hanged by his feet in a petrol station in Milan after being executed by partisans. The drawing was accompanied by a message to the fascists: “Follow your leaders.” In the second leg in Rome, the Celtic fans celebrated the victory with a bunch of young people doing the vertical and angry at the rival radicals while saying that they were doing “a Mussolini” upside down.

This weekend, when Celtic thrashed Rangers 4-0, the Green Brigade area displayed a giant banner depicting a very famous photograph from the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, serious incidents in the city ​​of Derry, in Northern Ireland, between Catholic neighbors and the British army. The image of Paddy Coyle, a 13-year-old boy wearing a gas mask and a petrol pump, was one of the most famous of those days. And the one chosen by the Celtic fans, ready to be fined in the match against Real Madrid.

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