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Celtic are being held to ransom by a wilful group of fans with little respect for the club

THINGS were always heading towards a watershed for Celtic and the Green Brigade, and it came at Fir Park on Friday night.

Ronnie Hawthorn, Celtic's head of security, examines  the damage to seats at Fir Park with SPFL delegate Alan Dick
Ronnie Hawthorn, Celtic's head of security, examines the damage to seats at Fir Park with SPFL delegate Alan Dick

Everyone saw the smoke bombs discharged and thrown on the pitch. We heard the fireworks, we saw the flare blazing away. But it was not until the fans left the ground that we got a look at the ugly vandalism.

Around 175 broken seats, mangled metal frames, IRA slogans and an abusive message about their own chief executive scrawled across a ripped out seat: Celtic instantly had all the evidence they need to divorce the Green Brigade on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. A club simply cannot allow itself to be accompanied by a permanent and expensive liability. What next? Another "political" banner at Camp Nou on Wednesday and another UEFA disciplinary charge and fine?

It is thought that the Green Brigade have a politically motivated leadership pulling the strings of a posse of impressionable youths, but the rhetoric does not count for much when neds are gleefully smashing up someone else's ground. Sympathy for any legitimate complaints against aspects of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was lost at Fir Park because their self-proclaimed "persecution" by the police did not quite square with smoke bombs, a flare, fireworks, and seats being broken to bits without a single arrest being made. Aye, some persecution.

The inevitable Green Brigade statement, released yesterday, condemned the vandalism. "Nor do we welcome pyrotechnics being thrown on the park". Nothing about them being taken into grounds and set alight in the first place, despite those being criminal offences. If you believe the statement, the yobs were all behind the Green Brigade banner in the unofficial Green Brigade section of the away end, but it was "not members of our group" who were to blame. What are the chances?

Privately, Celtic thought they had a working relationship with them, but the Irish republican banners displayed at the matches against Aberdeen and AC Milan changed that, and Friday was the final straw. They have become a focal point for trouble and stress for their own club and now others. Those individuals among them who have any interest in the actual football will find a way to keep coming. Friday's yobs should be banned, the rest refused the right to buy tickets as a block.

The club have indulged and given a platform to the Green Brigade which has been abused. They cannot trust them now. Peter Lawwell cannot be held to ransom by a wilfully defiant group which shows little respect for authority and not enough for Celtic.

And Another Thing . . .

If David Somers, Rangers' new chairman, thought he got the tone right with his open letter to supporters then he is clearly as ignorant of the club's recent history as he made himself sound. Somers risibly claimed that until a month ago he had never heard of Charles Green, Imran Ahmad, Craig Whyte "or any of the other characters in Rangers' history". He had never met them, and nor would he recognise them if he passed them on the street.

If that was all true then he is unsuitable for the job. A credible director would research exactly what he was coming into before joining the board of any company.

What it sounded like, instead, was Somers clumsily trying to ingratiate himself with supporters by distancing himself from the despised Green, Ahmad, Whyte triumvirate. And it sounded like he did not have the instinct or the confidence to edit the language used in a statement released in his name when it made him sound foolish.

He also said Brian Stockbridge should not be blamed for Rangers' financial difficulties, because decisions were the responsibility of a whole board, yet went on to say Paul Murray and Malcolm Murray were unsuitable as directors when their previous circumstances were the same as Stockbridge's.

Maybe Somers has attributes that will help Rangers. There is a cautious belief that new chief executive Graham Wallace certainly does. It does not necessarily follow that current board=bad and requisitioners=good, or vice-versa. The "constitution" published by the requisitioners simply looked populist, like a student election manifesto. No-one in this dreary power struggle has been especially impressive. Most fans are inclined towards the requisitioners because they have engaged with them and seemed more transparent, while the board are deeply distrusted and have acted like they would not touch them with a bargepole.

"We have already commenced work to identify what is required to fully engage with our fan base," Somers wrote in his open letter. He made it sound like he was being asked to organise a moon landing.

Somers might have thought he was being flippant with that "wouldn't recognise them in the street" line but it sounded just like the sort of vacuous exaggerations Green used to spout. If he is going to survive the agm and remain as chairman, and he might, he will need to be much more impressive than that.

Finally . . .

If St Mirren go out of the William Hill Scottish Cup tomorrow that will be half of the SPFL Premiership clubs out before Christmas. That's an awful lot of big clubs, with big supports, prematurely resigned to a dreary, trophyless campaign. Try selling half-season tickets now.

The big clubs were brought in to the cup before Christmas to make room for an SPFL January break which does not exist. It has spoiled the cup's great format and tradition and placed the bigger clubs in unnecessarily early danger.

The SFA should change it back.

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