Friday, 28 March 2014

 They're there and they're always there...
On the great open terraces of the old Celtic end at Ibrox an incessant rain poured down on the gathered thousands there to see if Celtic could win the title for the second successive year. So many disappointments and let downs had dogged the Celtic support in the previous 2 decades that the fans were still getting used to Stein’s revolution and the fact that they were the undisputed best team in the country. Their title win the year before was the first in 12 long years and now they were on the verge of something astonishing. They had won the Scottish Cup a week before defeating a defensive Aberdeen 2-0 and had also fought their way through to the European Cup Final. But the sunshine of Portugal was far from their minds as they focussed on the game before them at the home of their greatest rivals.  As a small boy, I was perched on the crash barrier near the front of the Celtic end. My anorak zipped up against the Scottish rain. My old man, far younger then than I am now, held me tight but his gaze was always beyond me, always on the pitch where his team were on the verge of glory. I recall more of the singing, bouncing and general mayhem on the terraces of that day than I do of the actual game but what does stand out is its effect on my old man. Each attack, each tough tackle, each goal saw his face go through a myriad of emotion. From joy to anguish, doubt to defiance and finally to ecstatic happiness as his team won the point they needed to be crowned Champions and win a historic treble. That’s what it meant to those Celtic fans who stood in the rain in 1967 singing their hearts out.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to see Celtic win a lot of Championships and each one brought me great pleasure. From the last day nail biters to the titles won at a canter, each one represents a victory for what Tommy Burns called ‘a people and a cause.’ In only one of the past 5 decades have Celtic failed to be the dominant force in the Scottish league. Consider the following championship tallies: 1960s: 4 championships, 1970s: 7 championships, 1980s: 4 championships, 1990s: 1 championship, 2000s: 6 championships, 2010s: 3 championships. (out of 4 so far) So since Jock Stein won his first title with Celtic in 1966, Celtic has won 25 League championships in 48 years. That is to say Celtic has won more titles in that period than all the other Scottish clubs combined. In the new century, Celtic has won 9 of the 14 championships contested and missed out on others by the slimmest of margins. They also faced opponents who used financial doping to gain what any right minded individual would call an unfair advantage.
As I watched the exuberant young fans dance on the pitch at Firhill this week I couldn’t help thinking of when I did the same at that age at Love Street in 1986. Just as it meant the world to those young Celts to be involved in their own personal piece of Celtic history, so it was for me back then. There is a seamless continuity about Celtic’s history and its support. The Club and its stories are passed from one generation to the next and many a parent gets misty eyed watching their children burn with the fire they themselves feel for Celtic. Passing on their affection for the Hoops and telling their tales of the glory days they’ve seen is an integral part of the Celtic family’s story. Just as my old man told me of Stein, Tully and Fallon, so this generation will tell their children of Larsson, Sutton and Lubo. Just as I was told of the Coronation Cup win and the 7-1 game so today’s parents will speak one day of Seville or beating the mighty Barcelona. Don’t make any mistake about it these are good days to be a Celtic fan. Our grandfathers saw just 1 league title won between 1939 and 1965. Those two decades after World War two were for the most part times of failure, underachievement and disappointment for the fans. The Stein years began a feast of honours which those fans, so hungry for success, gorged on.

So what is your favourite memory of clinching the title? Was it when the ‘Ten men won the League’ in 1979? Perhaps it was the miracle of Love Street in 1986? For the younger generation, the 2008 title win at Tannadice, made poignant by the passing of Tommy Burns that spring, ranks high as does the 6-0 demolition of Kilmarnock in 2012. For me there is no clear winner. They all make me a proud and happy as the first one I witnessed as a wee boy when Jimmy smashed home an unstoppable shot in the mud at Ibrox so long ago.  I still recall seeing the utter joy on my old man’s face as Celtic won that league at the home of their greatest rivals that day. His generation had seen the hungry years and they were due every ounce of glory Jock brought to the club. They had stuck with the team as season after season turned from one disappointment to another. The best players were continually sold and the Board of the time seemed to lack any great ambition. They did however make one great decision and that was to appoint a burly ex-Miner from Burnbank as the Manager in 1965. Jock Stein revolutionised Celtic and revitalised an ailing club. My old man used to say that ‘Stein was the making of Celtic.’ How right he was, now the wheel had turned, now Celtic were not only the best in the land but also the best in Europe. Now those long suffering fans could hold their head up and walk tall. Celtic were back from the wilderness and nothing would stand in their way as they ascended to greatness and met their destiny on a sunny day in Portugal.

Every title win Celtic has achieved since that first triumph in 1893 was achieved without any ‘honest mistakes’ to help them along. It was done without any under the table paying of players via tax free ‘loans.’  Above all it was done trying to play the game in that distinctly Celtic way. All 45 of those titles brought great pride to the Celtic family and the fact that the club of the ‘immigrants’ became the leading team in Scotland is in itself  remarkable testimony to the guts and tenacity of the Celtic community. From that remarkable first generation of Celtic fans who built a stadium with their own hands to the dedicated fans of today, Celtic is blessed indeed.  In every season there were vital games and vital moments when that support drove the team on to victories they might not have otherwise achieved. The support the team receives from the Celtic fans has been instrumental in so many victories. The titles are won by the dedicated professionalism of the players and management but the fans remain the wind beneath their wings. Many of those vital games down the years have ended with the Celtic supporters going home as exhausted as the players. They sing their hearts out, kick every ball and are generally that vital twelfth man. So it was at Firhill this week. So it was at Ibrox in 1967.

The players will no doubt take their deserved bow as fireworks boom out the message that Celtic are the Champions again but as you roar them on look around you at that astonishing group of supporters who have driven this club on to all of these glories over 126 remarkable years. Few clubs in the world are as embedded in their community as Celtic is. Few clubs have such a remarkable group of supporters. A good man once said of them….

'That's was so special about them right there. Just right up there; that's what's so special about them. They're there and they're always there. And God bless every one of them'

I would echo those words of Tommy Burns and add that this title, like all the previous titles won, is as much the property of the Celtic support as the players. The support has been there since 1888 and all Celtic have achieved has been built on their unwavering devotion. When those fans and the Celtic players are united as one, they are a formidable force indeed.




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