Thursday, 17 January 2013

50 Shades green

The packed North Stand at Celtic Park was roaring as Agathe sped down the wing,  one bright October day. Hibs were being stubborn as they sometimes are, 30 minutes in and still 0-0. However with Larsson and Sutton up front I was confident we’d break them down in the end.  Kevin Harper of Hibs, Celtic fan, graduate of the mean streets of Possilpark and of mixed race, clashed with McNamara in front of us and that was when big Col from 2 rows behind me decided to let loose.  We’ve all had a ‘big Col’ sitting near us over the years and it’s seldom pleasant. A fair description of his level of intelligence would probably match the old expression: ’The wheel’s turning but the Hamster’s dead.’  ‘Harper ya wee Bastard,’ he began ‘Ya fucking Possil junkie Bastard!’ he went on. Standard fair so far for those of limited vocabulary, not nice to hear but we’ve all heard worse. But big Col went too far that day. ‘Ya fuking monkey, oooh, oooh ,oooh!’  I turned to look at big Col’s red face as he spat this garbage out. He looked half pissed, red faced and angry. A hardy soul a further row back remonstrated with him, ‘Ow Pal, we don’t do that shit here, this isn’t fucking Ibrox.’ Big Col turned and sneered at him, ‘Shut the fuck up,’ as his friend beside him calmed him a little as play raged on and we all refocused on the game.

Thinking back over my time following Celtic, incidents like that have been rare. Although I have say that once in my life I actually considered not going back to Celtic again following a disgraceful exhibition by a few dozen morons wearing the colours of my beloved team. Older fans will remember and no doubt cringe at the memory of Mark Walters debut for Rangers at Celtic Park in January 1988. I stood in the Celtic end and looked on is disbelief as two fans arrived in full monkey suits. Others had bought bananas to throw onto the Park. This was Celtic fans, most likely the offspring of despised Irish immigrants, the ones who knew what discrimination and brainless bigotry were. Yet here were some of them disgracing the name of Celtic and embarrassing vast majority of decent fans of the club. Of course the press jumped on it (Conveniently ignoring 90 minutes of F**k the Pope from the away fans) and dragged Celtic’s name through the gutter. The Celtic Fanzine Not the View was scathing in its attack on what it called ‘Racist arseholes’ and are to be commended for getting this issue out in the open and letting some light into a very dark corner. The hypocrisy emanating from the Rangers camp was astounding. The club’s fans were chanting about being ‘Up to their knees in Fenian Blood’ every week and not a word said. Now however, they launched into the ‘Racist Celtic fans’ with glee. Some still post videos of that day on YouTube and try to pass it off as typical behaviour from Celtic fans which it most certainly is not.  Despite Celtic winning the game 2-0 against Souness and co, I went home from that game disgusted that Celtic fans could behave like that. This was our centenary Season, a year to remember with pride and these pricks had spoiled it all. It was my lowest point as a Celtic fan, no crap season or Old Firm defeat felt as bad as the feeling I had that day. I’d listened for years to the bile coming from Rangers fans and thought we were better than that. The blue clad morons who chanted ‘Wilson’s a Darkie’ back in the 70s (Paul Wilson had a Portugese mother) were beyond the pale and not like us I reasoned. As I chatted about it to my brother that night he reminded me that there were tens of thousands of Celtic fans at the game and only a few had let the club down. Celtic was worth fighting for wasn’t it?  

I’m glad to say I decided it was. In the years since then there have been isolated incidents involving Celtic ‘fans’ and racism. The idiot who racially abused El Haj Diouf a couple of years ago being the exception rather than the rule at Celtic Park. Thankfully he has been banned and will perhaps think again before behaving like such a prat. We are better educated on such issues these days and I think more aware of the all seeing eye of the media which will mercilessly publicise any incidents. The ‘Tar them all with the one brush’ attitude of some parts of the media means we all have a responsibility to protect the good name of our club and supporters. Seville showed what we are capable of and the accolades given to the fans after that football fiesta were richly deserved. They showed humour and sportsmanship even in the teeth of a bitter defeat. When one saw how others reacted in a similar situation in Manchester in 2008, it demonstrated a cultural divide between the two sets of supporters. I think Celtic fans learned a bitter lesson on that dark day in 1988 and are more prone to challenging the idiots who rear their unthinking heads from time to time at Celtic games. This is our club and we are all have a responsibility to making it the sort of club anyone from any walk of life or ethic/religious group would be proud to support. It only takes a few people behaving poorly to tarnish us all. Celtic fans may be green but they are increasingly many shades of green. You only need one qualification to follow the hoops and that is a love for the wonderful Glasgow Celtic. Open to all or not at all!

Epilogue: 28th December 2011, Joe Ledely rises above the Rangers defence and bullets the winner into the net. The dark, brooding skies of Glasgow’s east end are rent by a huge roar as Celtic Park explodes. Hammy beside me hugs me like a long lost son as we literally jump for joy. Hammy’s real name is Muhammad and is one of a growing number of Scottish Asians to join the Celtic family. Later, as I throw my arm across his shoulder and we're ‘Doing the Huddle’ he grins at me, ‘I love this  Club’ he shouts through the noise. I smile back, ‘Me too Hammy, me too.’  

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