Football Against Imperialism: What Celtic FC’s Solidarity With Palestine Could Teach the World

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Football Against Imperialism: What Celtic FC’s Solidarity With Palestine Could Teach the World

As the 2018 World Cup frenzy starts to take over the news cycle, it is essential that we highlight examples of how the sport has brought people together, such as is the case of Celtic FC and Palestine. Celtic Football Club, a football club based in Glasgow, Scotland, has consistently shown solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

The question asked by many isn’t whether or not the Palestinian cause is worthy of being supported, it is, but why Celtic FC and its fans have so consistently pledged their support to it while many others haven’t.

Many fans of the football club, say they sympathize with Palestine’s struggle because they see similarities between its fight against Israeli colonialism and imperialism and Ireland’s struggle against British colonialism, imperialism, and subjugation.

While the issues faced by the Irish should be seen in there own unique context they do bear some similarities to those faced by Palestinians.

It is essential to state this article doesn’t seek to call both struggles equal, because they aren’t, it is, however, meant to analyze the similarities of the two conflicts and highlight the solidarity created across borders through the sport of football.

Irish & Palestinian Anti-Imperialist Struggles

The Irish Diaspora, from the 1700s to present day, numbers in the tens of millions. Although many moved to escape famines and to embrace new seemingly more bountiful lands, millions also fled due to land displacement or subjugation under the British Empire. The Palestinian Diaspora, starting with the event of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’ in Arabic) have faced a similar struggle since the creation of the Israeli State in 1948. At that time, over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced from their homeland, a number, which has now ballooned to over 12 million.

The United Kingdom and Israel have primarily caused these displacements, by policies implemented throughout their colonial projects, routinely passing laws, which sought to force second-class citizenship on to Irish Catholics and Palestinians Arabs, forced displacements and presided over the military occupation of the lands of both peoples. They have also justified their murder and subjected both groups to oppressive and inhumane conditions.

The military-industrial complex in both the United States and the U.K. have also long used the lands of both peoples as a ‘live training ground.’

During the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles, British troops were commonly known to call Northern Ireland the British Army’s ‘best training ground.’ Similarly, the Israeli Army has used the Palestinian people and its lands as a ‘testing ground’ for arms supplied by U.S., U.K., and other suppliers.

As someone, who has done human rights work in both Northern Ireland and Palestine, the parallels between the two struggles go much deeper than just the towering walls that separate the two communities in both regions of the world.

The United Kingdom, throughout their history of colonialism and oppression of the Irish people, has introduced numerous acts such as the 1922 Special Powers Act, the Prevention of Violence Act in 1939, and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act in 1973, that has allowed U.K. armed forces and military personnel to detain and arrest individuals without a warrant and keep them in custody under internment for an undisclosed amount of time without a trial, if that individual was suspected to have ‘links to terrorism.’


The United Kingdom has defended these laws, claiming that they were necessary to deal with the threat of the Irish Republican Army and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. This use of internment without trial was eventually phased out after 1975, but between 1971 to 1975, 2,000 people were held in British jails without trial, 90 percent being Irish republicans.

Israel has also been notorious for using administrative detention to hold Palestinians in custody indefinitely, without ever taking them to trial. As of April 2018, 424 Palestinians – including two women and three minors – were held in administrative detention in Israel. Israel currently holds 315 Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons, and over 25 children have been in administrative detention since October 2015, a clear violation of international human rights law with the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) signed in 1991.

Due to these and other similarities in their historical struggles against imperialism, an overwhelming majority of Celtic FC fans and supporters have unequivocally endorsed the team’s support of Palestine, stating that it is about ‘standing up for humanity.’

Celtic FC & Palestine

Celtic Football Club was founded in Glasgow, Scotland in 1887 by Brother Walfrid, with the intent of helping the poor immigrant Irish population who had fled to Scotland after being displaced from their lands to flee from the hunger enveloping their land back home. Glasgow and Scotland at that time were primarily Protestant and treated the Irish Catholics as second-class citizens and with open prejudice and hostility.

Celtic FC became a symbol of the Irish struggle against British Imperialism but also became a shining light that the migrant Irish community could rally behind and a place where its members could come together. Support for the Irish struggle has had strong ties with Celtic FC throughout the years with fans singing songs supporting Irish Republicanism and the Irish Republican Army during games, especially if it was against their arch-rival club, Rangers FC.

For a lot of Celtic FC fans, their show of support and solidarity with Palestine is a way of showing solidarity with the dispossessed and oppressed, something that they have been familiar with in their struggle. However, their solidarity goes much further than just waving Palestinian flags; they have consistently used their platform to speak out against the abuses and killings of Palestinians by Israelis and have raised over £130,000 for Palestinian charities.

Celtic FC fans, many who self-identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist, are no strangers to showing support to oppressed people who fight for their land and the dignity to have fundamental human rights, as they also have at times showed support with the South African struggle against apartheid, solidarity with the Basque people for their independence from Spain, and have been known for raising money for Syrian refugees and welcoming them into their community.

Celtic FC fans know that their displays of solidarity are a way of showing the Palestinian people that they have not been forgotten, and to show them that there are millions of people in this world who are not afraid to stand up and show the world that they are with them.

International solidarity, now more than ever, is greatly needed in this world, as a way of all the dispossessed and oppressed people to finally come together and tear down this terrible system. Maybe, just maybe, Celtic FC fans have shown the rest of us the way forward.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Ian, many thanks for these details which were not known to me. Having met many soccer fans throughout the world the “green and white army” were always my favorites. Great to mix with especially when exciting soccer was played on the pitch or discussions were held after the match while getting rid of the thirst.
    After the “Orange US President” has retired it might be worth to keep all “Orange ones” out of politics as they have caused more enough damage to the world. Maybe not a bad idea at all to write a full length detailed article about the Orange takeover of Britain. You would be the right man for that!

    • There is also a much deeper, religious and political aspect to the Celtic-Rangers-Palestine-Zionism issue. Celtic are basically an Irish club, they are very much Catholic and closely tied to the Irish Catholic side of the Northern Ireland dispute. Rangers, their Glasgow rivals and arch enemies are very much a Protestant club, closely tied to the Orange Order and the Loyalist/Unionist side of the Ulster dispute. The Orange Order and other Unionist groups are Christian Zionists and have a long-standing close relationship with Jewish Zionists that dates back even before the creation of Israel. Therefore it is natural for the Celtic fans to be opposed to Zionism and Israel. The roots of this problem go all the way back to the end of the 17th century when William of Orange and his mercenary army invaded England and seized the throne to become William I of England, he then embarked on a military campaign in Ireland where his forces behaved very badly towards the Irish Catholics (William was a Protestant) and he finally secured his rule over Britain with his victory at the Battle of The Boyne. The Orange Order was founded at this time as a Loyalist group that staunchly supported William. Of course, William was in the pay of the Amsterdam Jews and he allowed the Jews back into England for the first time since Edward I expelled them in the late 13th century and allowed them to found the City of London and Bank of England. The Irish Catholics are still angry about this and remember William as Billy The Bastard, the Orange Order have never let them forget how they were defeated, not least by holding annual Apprentice Boys marches that commemorate Williams victory in Ireland. So, the Orange Order has been closely tied to the Jewish Zionists ever since it’s inception. It’s a complex issue and one that still incites violence today in Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland, particularly Glasgow. I hope this short explanation makes some sense, I think the whole William of Orange, Jewish seizure of Britain etc. needs a full length article.

  2. Thanks Ian for a great article. I am sure the Palestinians are grateful. By the way any news on the flotilla to Ghaza? Once more thanks, Ian.

  3. Ian, this is truly amazing that the football fans are putting on visible protest against foreign policies of their country. This is also happening in some East/Middle European countries. What is sad is that this is not being done by large Unions who have huge pools of people. But we all realize that the Unions are on short leashes when it comes to anything like this. The same goes for students on Universities. Not much that I see through my wondering around the Internet.

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