Pathways painted red around Hampden Park, Photo: Green Brigade Pathways painted red around Hampden Park, Photo: Green Brigade

Recent actions by football fans in Glasgow in solidarity with Palestine are a source of inspiration for boycotting Israeli apartheid, writes Mark Porciani

Despite the restrictions of coronavirus on football, activists and supporters still managed to show Israel the red card during their national team’s visit to Glasgow. 

Firstly, we witnessed an action from Glasgow Celtic fans’ group, the Green Brigade. On Friday morning, we awoke to the pathways around Hampden Park painted red to represent the blood of dead Palestinians. Also, walls around the ground were spray-painted with ‘Free Gaza’ and other messages of solidarity.

Then in the evening, in the lead up to kick off and during the game, a socially distanced protest occurred outside the main entrance to Hampden Park. This protest sent a clear message: we shouldn’t play ball with Apartheid Israel.

The fact that this Scotland vs Israel game fell on the same day as the 50th Anniversary of Salvador Allende coming to power is a timely reminder of the role sport can play in international solidarity against oppression.

As briefly documented in the film Nae Pasaran, Scotland was one of the first countries to play Chile in their National Stadium. During the fascist coup of 1973, this stadium was used to torture and kill trade unionists and socialists. In the 1970s, there was a very powerful solidarity campaign in Scotland. The fact that football was able to connect with actions of East Kilbride Rolls Royce workers galvanised Chilean Solidarity. 

Israel is an apartheid state and the lessons of the sporting boycott against apartheid South Africa are required in developing expressions of solidarity with Palestine into a similar movement. The fact that Israel is a member of UEFA, the governing body for European football, is linked to the cultural degradation of Palestine and its right to exist.

This game was originally meant to take place back in the spring and was cancelled due to the restrictions of lockdown. Coronavirus sadly stopped us expressing solidarity on a par with the 2016 Celtic vs Beer Sheva game. At this time, there was a lot of pressure on the Green Brigade and others, including myself, not to go ahead with the action. 

UEFA had threatened to fine the club. In reply, the Green Brigade set up a crowd funder to pay for any fines. What transpired was they raised enough money to set up a footballing team in Palestine – Aida Celtic.

There is an interesting two-part podcast about this by North Curve Bhoys. This was a learning curve for Green Brigade regarding solidarity with Palestine. Any other sporting fan wishing to stand up to Israeli apartheid could also learn a lot from them

Israel’s membership of UEFA makes European football a valuable source of income for its tourism industry. Every time big clubs play in Europe thousands of fans travel to watch games.  Football games against Israeli teams are regularly events. We need to popularise the sporting boycott as much as possible and encourage fans not to travel there.

In the 1988 Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Dundee United, Margaret Thatcher attended the game to present the trophy.  In the lead up to the game, trade unionists distributed thousands of red cards to fans of both teams which were then waved at Thatcher as she took her seat.

Actions like this are not yet possible under current circumstances.  But once the crowds return, we need to be ready to do exactly the same to Israel every time they play in Europe. 

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