By TERRY MITCHELL - ANTI-FASCIST ACTION (reproduced from issue 40 of TÁL Fanzine)

It is undeniably true that many Celtic supporters proudly identify with the cause of anti-fascism, and TAL fanzine has played a key role in bringing this about. In this last issue of TAL it is worth looking back at the significant commitment that has been made to the anti-fascist movement by Celtic supporters in recent years. When TAL was launched several of ‘the staff’ were already involved with Anti-Fascist Action. Celtic Fans Against Fascism stickers were advertised in the magazine 14 years ago, and helped win active support for the very effective AFA campaign against the BNP’s major recruitment drive in Scotland in the early 1990s. One of the highlights being the cancellation of a BNP National Rally in Glasgow in November 1991 after the venue and participants were surrounded and attacked. Rather than just try to involve supporters in the wider struggle against fascism, anti-fascists at Celtic addressed issues closer to home from the very outset. Writing in the AFA magazine Fighting Talk, the TAL editor wrote:

“Only a few years ago Celtic supporters regularly racially abused the black Rangers player, Mark Walters, in his first few games against us. However the situation has now been completely reversed after the majority of the supporters turned against the mindless minority. It would be safe to say that the racists amongst the support have been very quiet for the last couple of seasons and those few individual wankers who tried to get away with remarks and abuse towards Rangers’ newest signing, Basile Boli, were very quickly dealt with by other supporters around them.” (Fighting Talk, Issue 9, 1994)

While the anti-fascist message was enthusiastically embraced by many supporters, not so the authorities. At the January 1995 game against Rangers at Ibrox the police demanded the Celtic Fans Against Fascism banner be taken down, on threat of arrest, because it was “provocative”!

After 3 years work on the ground Celtic Anti-Fascists was formally launched in February ’95, and it wasn’t long before Celtic fans were involved in a major anti-fascist battle. In July that same year, at the preseason friendly against Birmingham City, fascist hooligans from several clubs united to attack the Celtic supporters. The Far Right were inspired by their ‘success’ in getting the Ireland vs England game abandoned in Dublin in February, and after initial surprise the Celtic supporters fought back and clashes continued all day and into the evening with the fascists taking a heavy beating. Such was the reputation Celtic was getting for being solidly anti-fascist that when Paris St Germain supporters came to Glasgow in November (for a Cup Winners Cup game) any dubious looking French fans pulled immediately replied “no, no, I’m not fascist!”.

From the outset there was a special relationship between Celtic supporters and the large anti-fascist following from the Hamburg club St Pauli. Celtic Anti-Fascists participated in several European meetings and conferences, bringing AFA’s brand of militant anti-fascism to a new audience. Other international links soon followed, in particular Ajax, Breda, Bordeaux, Juventus and Athletic Bilbao. If any further evidence was needed of Celtic’s antifascist credentials it soon came when Celtic played Hamburg SV in the UEFA cup (1996). Fascists from across northern Germany joined forces with Hamburg’s right-wing hooligans to attack the Celtic supporters, and once again the anti-fascists emerged the stronger.

At the same time that Celtic supporters were battling the fascists across Europe, the club launched its Bhoys Against Bigotry initiative in 1996. While paying lip service to ‘anti-racism’ it’s primary aim was to remove the Irish heritage of the club and police

Celtic’s own supporters. Another attempt to attack the genuinely radical element among the support was the Channel 4 documentary ‘Football, Faith and Flutes’ which attempted to show Celtic and Rangers fans as being ‘as bad as each other’; no attempt to explain the reactionary nature of Loyalism, its links to the Far Right, and how Celtic supporters opposed this for political, not ‘sectarian’, reasons. Celtic Anti-Fascists led a very effective campaign to isolate the film crew from Celtic supporters and so deny them the opportunity to portray anti-fascism as ‘thuggery’ ( a view very close to the heart of much of the British Left).

Tragically it was the murder of young Celtic supporter Mark Scott, and the subsequent attempted murder of Irishman Sean O’Connor, that led to Celtic Anti-Fascists’ most effective campaign being launched in 1998; the Campaign Against Sectarian Attacks.

While the club blamed the victims for the attacks by Loyalist bigots, CASA looked for real solutions; CASA put forward political arguments explaining the links between fascism and Loyalism, showed the attacks were racist attacks, criticized the lack of protection for supporters from the club and police, looked at ways of improving transport to and from the ground, and kept supporters informed of what was happening.

At a public meeting in February 1998 a CASA representative made the following point: “Look at any racist attack and compareit to these sectarian attacks and you will see an undeniably similar method of operation. The organisations which benefit from racist attacks, whether random or organised, are in the long run the fascists of the NF and BNP. In Scotland, the direct beneficiaries of sectarian attacks are Loyalist organisations such as the UVF, UDA and LVF. Increasingly however Loyalist and fascist organisations have become increasingly indistinguishable from each other, having a cross over of members, strategy and tactics … Jason Campbell, the man who murdered a 16 year old Celtic fan, whilst probably not formally a member of any organisation on the Far Right, nonetheless shared a common goal and method with them. To terrorise and subjugate a minority community.”

When representatives of the campaign attended The Equality Goal conference at Celtic Park, in order to question Fergus McCann about the club’s deathly silence on the issue, on seeing them McCann became suddenly ill and left the meeting! Clearly the prospect of a public challenge from people who were serious about addressing the issue of racist attacks was too much for him. The fact that CASA was prepared to confront the issue at every level, from the street to the boardroom, showed a level of commitment that those involved can be rightly proud of.

Celtic supporters have a proud record of anti-fascism, and hopefully will remain involved in the new battles that lie ahead, particularly in the working class communities where the Far Right seek to gain political influence.

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