It’s been a busy few weeks for Celtic mostly off the pitch. As soon as the champions of Scotland knew the side they would face in the Champions League playoff social media went wild.
Many had hoped for Dundalk, a short trip back to Dublin so soon after the Barcelona game was in the mind of many instead they drew Israeli side Hapoel Beer Sheva. Almost as soon as the draw was announced the debating began online. Who was the better side? Nope this time the football took a back seat as fans – myself included spoke about the issues in Palestine and their relations with Israel.
Fans were vocal from both sides “keep politics out of football” was a view echoed by many while others saw this as the perfect stage to voice their disgust over the slaughter over the last few years in particular. I’m sure regardless of your view on politics in sport everyone can agree the reports from Palestine in particular Gaza over the last few years have been heartbreaking. You would really want to have a heart of stone not to sympathise with their struggle.
Even if you aren’t as read up on the problems there simply watching a short snippet of the news should be enough to anger you. Now the question “what does this have to do with Celtic Football Club”? Well some will say everything.
We all know the roots of Celtic and why they were formed many years ago. For this reason alone fans have had an interest in the conflict. Just two weeks ago we here in Ireland had a group of young footballers who traveled from Palestine to meet up with Irish sides. It was widely reported the young boys were subjected to a number of searches before even leaving Palestine before then leaving Israel. A sad state of affairs, these young boys experienced a different world while here, a world that was free. Then they returned back to what many have described as hell, a prison.
Now although I understand the argument behind no politics in sport I find UEFA preaching this hilarious their official ban on political demonstrations is hypocritical when you take on board the fact they can fine a club for their fans flying the flag of another country, to me that in itself is as political as it gets.
As fans approached Celtic Park in the sweltering heat they were greeted with a large number of Palestinian flags but nothing could prepare me for the reception inside. Twitter had led me to believe the support was split down the middle with all the talk of flags but I was wrong. Hundreds of flags were on display within the stadium with whole sections turned into a sea of Palestinian flags in a protest against the Israeli occupation.
Something I noted on the way to my seat was that of the age of fans with flags. From young to old there was no demographic that wasn’t represented. One of the most poignant images for me was that of a young child on his father’s shoulders waving a small Palestinian flag, their plight touching the hearts of most. The green brigade as always had something to say and their display is the image that has been beamed around the world today. It wasn’t all about the flag though Celtic did manage a win in a seven goal thriller.
Going three goals up thanks to Rogic in the first five minutes and then two from the inform Griffiths on the 39th minute and then on the half time mark. Celtic were in dreamland. Second half Hapoel Beer-Sheva roared back with a quickfire double, two away goals were Celtic about to fall apart? Game came back in Celtics favour on the 73rd minute after a goal from Dembélé and then the beautiful evening was finished off with a brilliant finish from Brown. The game was everything a neutral would want goals and an atmosphere like no other.
Now Celtic await news of a possible fine from UEFA over the flying of the Palestinian flag, so far many throughout the world have praised the fans for continuing to support an oppressed nation of people.
A special man once said “football without the fans is nothing” after last night I know exactly what he meant.