The Soul of CelticWe were standing outside the old Celtic end at Celtic Park in the 1990s as a slow drizzle fell. A roar announced that Celtic and Rangers were entering the field and kick off was just moments away. The trouble was we were a ticket short and hollering the popular ‘Any spare tickets’ into the air was not having much success. As the game began and the racket inside the stadium increased, a tall chap with an English accent and a Celtic shirt on stopped beside us and looked at his watch, ‘I’ll give my mate 2 more minutes, then you can have his ticket.’ We waited quietly hoping his mate was stuck on the M8 or still in the pub. ‘Nah, he’s not coming,’ the chap said and handed over the ticket. I offered him a fiver and he shook his head, ‘Keep it mate, a Celts gain is no loss to me.’ That snippet from 20 years back shows the spirit I’ve seen so often from Celtic fans and exemplifies just why Celtic will always be my team.
Of course my family had a role in handing their affection for the club on to me like their most treasured possession. Uncles, brothers, Grandfather’s and my old man filled my head at an early age with tales of great players, goals, incidents and legends of Celtic’s unique story. They also spoke of the comradeship they found travelling all over the country watching the Hoops play. Win, lose or draw there were songs on the supporters’ bus and laughter to raise the spirits. As a young lad taking my first steps in supporting the hoops, I recall well gripping my Da’s hand as we struggled through the crowds at the turnstiles. I recall too waiting outside Pubs from Parkhead Cross to Pittodrie waiting for the adults to emerge and take us kids to the game. Occasionally the doors would open and we’d sneak a glimpse into the mysterious world of men, the noisy, smoky bar with its raucous laughter and echoing songs. When the men had their fill they’d spill out onto the street and head for the stadium. The beer had loosened the tongues and the songs filled the air and the stream of fans joined the river around the ground….
‘We don’t need your Colin Stein, Eusebio or Alan Gilzean,
We’ve got someone twice as good, we’ve got Harry Hood
Oh Harry, Harry, Lou Macari, Kevin Barry , oh Harry Hood’
The chants echoes around the streets and backs were patted, hands shook as old friends met up again. We boys were lifted over the turnstile and headed to the usual spot near the front a few yards from the adults. Looking around the stadium was awe inspiring to a young mind. All of those faces, young and old had gathered with a common purpose; to cheer the Celts on to another victory. For many, life was hard but for those magical 90 minutes we could be transported into another world as the Hoops swept forward looking for a goal. Sometimes I’d gaze around me at the thousands of faces so mesmerised, so involved in what was happening on the field. It was as if they were using their collective will to drive the ball into the opposition net. Then when it happened, when the net rippled, the joy on those same faces was unrestrained. Strangers hugged and cheered like men possessed, except they weren’t strangers, they were all Celts sharing a small part of the club’s incredible story.
So many incidents fill my head when I think of those formative years following the Hoops. Like the time John Doyle accidently hit the Ref with the ball at Somerset Park and was cruelly sent off. Then there was the time I attempted to open a bottle of cheap ‘Pomagne’ after Celtic Scored against Rangers. Rangers equalised in a minute and I put the bottle back into my jacket pocket not realising the cork was ready to blow. Much to the amusement of those around me it exploded all over me and the cork nearly took my ear off! On another occasion a Police horse trod on my foot at Motherwell and the crowd swept me away from my shoe! I spend 90 minutes watching the game with one foot wrapped in plastic bags! I never did find the shoe and got back to Glasgow with just the one. Then there were those big European nights under the lights. I recall being in the Jungle as we beat Real Madrid one magical night and the place was just swaying and singing for the whole game. To see the support so at one with the team, so committed to the cause was just incredible. You arrived home from such games as tired as the players. All of these experiences and hundreds more make up my own little ‘Celtic story.’
All of you will be able to relate similar anecdotes from days gone by, from times shared with family and friends. Like me you’ll no doubt see pictures of older relatives, some perhaps passed on now, and smile when you recall some incident involving them and their beloved Celtic. You may even have the pleasure of taking younger family members to their first big game and smile at the wonder in their eyes. The same wonder you had a long time ago when you looked around the stadium and thought, ‘Yep, this is for me. This is my team.’ After the recent Inter Milan at Celtic Park, I exited the stadium behind two excited boys of 8 or 9, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders. To listen to their chatter just gladdened the heart, ‘Did ye see Guidetti’s goal, man I thought he was gonnae miss it,’ one said, high as a kite, his young eyes shining. His friend laughed, ‘I know, my Da nearly fell, he wiz screaming his head off!’ I remember smiling and thinking; ‘That was me once upon a time.’
Even when the old Brigade said their farewells, their last journey would usually include a slow drive past Celtic Park as if they needed a chance to bid it one last adieu. Celtic had been with them from their earliest days and they had gifted Celtic their support, their hard earned money and often their love. Their lives were brightened by Celtic victories and of course they endured the hard days too with stoic determination. Faithful through and through was their mantra and not just an empty phrase. I like to think their spirit still lives on at Celtic Park and that they’d be happy to see us still following in their footsteps, still supporting the Bhoys. I can still hear their voices, their laughter, their songs. The thousand arguments they had about players, referees, incidents now long forgotten. In some ways their lives were intertwined with Celtic to such a degree that it’s not wrong to say that they were and indeed remain, the soul of Celtic.