During the summer of 2006, a small group of Celtic fans sat together in a pub in Glasgow and decided that things needed to change at Celtic Park.
A stadium revamp at Paradise (as I like to call it coming from a Celtic family) had left the atmosphere in the non-old firm and non-European home matches feeling flat and dispirited.
What was needed at Celtic Park, much like what is needed now at St James Park, was a fresh injection of colour, noise and most importantly, politics – much like that of St Pauli in Germany and Livorno in Italy.
And so it began… a small group of supporters, in a small corner of Celtic Park, embarked on a long and arduous ten-year adventure which culminated in 2016 with the first designated standing and singing section in the UK.
A similar movement is beginning to unfold at St James Park and I would urge all Newcastle United fans to support it.
First and foremost, the Green Brigade is more than just a singing section. Celtic Football Club has a proud background of standing up to oppressors. The vast majority of people who built the club were Irish immigrants during a time of intense famine and poverty.
These immigrants weren’t readily accepted into Glasgow by a protestant and British majority. In the streets around Celtic Park, where most immigrants had congregated, a football club was formed. Celtic was founded to serve those people in Glasgow who were suffering, in their time of need. The Green Brigade is relentlessly working for the people in their community, providing food bank collections outside the ground, they also recently donated £176,000 to the Palestinian cause.
These are all causes that the Green Brigade continues to work for, and it cannot be underestimated how important it is, the Green Brigade are shaping the whole ethos of Celtic Football Club. That is the way it should be. After all, Jock Stein once said “Football without Fans is Nothing".
The North East has a background of standing up for working people and that’s what this movement should represent. We have already seen this in recent weeks with the ‘NUFC Fans Food Bank’ – a fantastic cause that uses the power and pull of a football mad city to help those in our community.
We now live in a time where sending tweets and creating silly signs with silly puns is considered ‘doing something’. This movement though, has the potential to not only bring the noise back to St James Park, but to also bring a sense of identity back to St James Park, a movement which can have a positive effect on not only the team, but on the community as a whole.
It is important not to forget that all football fans who pay their own hard earned cash for a ticket are entitled to their opinions. Admittedly, this isn’t 30 years ago and the Newcastle United fan base is diverse. If people want to go and sit in the Platinum Club then they are perfectly entitled to do that, others who want to go and sit with their mates and talk about their working week should do that. If people want to sit in silence or come into the game 10 minutes late then no problem, they have bought their ticket and it is their right to do so. But what we need is a true ultras section, an organised group of supporters, who like myself, want to support the team the way we want to, by standing up and singing for 90 minutes.
The obvious problem of a formal singing section, which is already apparent in the Strawberry Corner, is that an organised standing section would mean that some people would be kicked out of their season ticket seats to accommodate the fans who want to be in the section. This is frustrating for them but in my opinion there’s no real way around it. This change had to happen at Celtic Park. If we also take into account that if we are promoted to the Premier League next season, then there will be away fans at pitch side, we don’t want to be drowned out by away fans. Therefore, what is equally important as wanting to sing, is that those fans who don’t want to sing make their way to another area of the stadium to allow the singing section to grow.
That said, change comes with consequences, some hard.
Presently, the club itself have made a special effort to make sure that the executives are catered for, also to make sure that there is an area of the stadium for families, it is now time for them to make the effort to introduce a section for people who want to stand and sing.
So if a standing singing section can improve the atmosphere, which it has done at Celtic, and does so throughout Germany, then why shouldn’t the club want that to happen?
If Mike Ashley truly cared about Newcastle United then he would want a section like the Green Brigade, at Newcastle United. I want to return to the St James Park that my Dad told me about growing up, or the St James Park of my first ever games in the 90s, the St James Park under Bobby Robson and even the St James Park of Mike Ashley’s first few years at St James where I stood with my mates in the Leazes Corner and we created a great atmosphere.
We cannot remain content with just having a good manager and a half decent team. It is the fans that need to be driving the future of this club, we should be learning from the likes of Celtic and St Pauli, Schalke, Dortmund, Livorno… even the likes of Lazio who are shaping their club, rather than idly sitting by and waiting for something to good happen.
I went to Celtic Park, for the first time this season, with my dad in December to see Celtic play Dundee. Luckily we had the pleasure of two tickets with the Green Brigade in the standing section.
Now I have been to a lot of football games, I know this because I have counted every game I have ever been to and it’s 467, give or take one or two. Including the likes of Newcastle in semi-finals, Tyne-wear derbies, finals at Wembley, massive European nights at Celtic Park and following the Republic of Ireland in major tournaments…
Despite this, I can say that because of the Green Brigade, because of their drive and determination to achieve a passionate group of supporters at Celtic Park, their non-stop singing, noise and bouncing throughout the whole game, Celtic 2-1 Dundee was the best game I have ever been to.
For those of you who aren’t sure about the scale of the effect that a noisy, loud and passionate standing section can have on your team, go to Celtic Park, go to St Pauli, take it all in, and I promise that you’ll come away thinking ‘crikey I wish we had that at my football club’.
Those of us that are currently leading this charge – the likes of Gallowgate Flags, Wor Hyem 1892 and NUFC Food Bank, they need our help and with it, with Rafa Benitez, with the players on the pitch, we can create something special (you never know, we might even win a trophy).
Help bring back the noise!
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles to [email protected])