Sunday, 24 May 2015

Another day in Paradise

Another day in Paradise

It seems like only yesterday I was writing about Celtic’s trophy day against Dundee United in May 2014. Alas another year has drifted past but one thing remains the same; Celtic and their amazing fans celebrating another title triumph. As with last year I was annoying you all with a big green Celtic Foundation bucket and I’m pleased to report that the Celtic support responded with their usual generosity. One wee lad had saved his pennies in a plastic bank bag and poured it into the bucket with the words, ‘just keep the badge, you can raise more if you sell it to someone else.’ His old man had taught him well. As I stood a few yards from the Walfrid statue I watched as grey haired old friends laughed and discussed games from 50 years back. I saw toddlers in their Hoops on their old man’s shoulders going to their first trophy day. I heard accents from all over the UK, Ireland, Asia, North America and Europe. All the beautiful diversity of the Celtic support was there today.

I sat in the section beside the small Inverness support and it gave a new vista onto the game than the one I normally have in the Jock Stein stand. Celtic played some lovely football but time and time again my eyes swept around the stadium to look and listen to that fantastic support. Make no mistake about it, it is these fans who made Celtic special and who continue to make it much more than a football club. Players will come and go but the support remains. As I gazed at the packed North Stand, bathed in spring sunlight, the stadium echoed to that wonderful refrain ‘Let the people sing.  Once a more modest enclosure stood on that spot, we called it the Jungle and in some ways it was a bit wild. It was a very masculine domain and few ladies set foot there in the old days. It would roar out its support for Celtic and gave tremendous backing to the team. Visiting teams and the odd linesman felt the force of the Jungle on a good few occasions. It was there the affection for Celtic our relatives planted in us grew as the years went on. I smiled a little as I gazed at the North Stand and remembered the Jungle and those characters and incidents woven into the Celtic story. That was where we stood as kids with our fathers, uncles and older brothers. There’s a line in the song ‘Let the people sing’ which goes…

 ‘Our music did survive through famine and oppression, to the generations gone I will sing to you this song...’

In some ways Celtic is a sign of a community surviving many tribulations and finally rising to take its rightful place in society. The children of marginalised and often despised migrants have grown into fully fledged Scots, proud of their Irish roots and confident of their place in society. Celtic has grown well beyond that founding community and now welcome people from every sector of society. Those many thousands of Celtic supporters no longer with us would have loved today. We all know who they are and we all miss them from time to time. My old man stood beside me through so many great Celtic days and through the darker times too. He took great pleasure in Celtic’s successes and the drink and songs would flow long into the night when leagues were clinched or cups won. I can still see him through the haze of smoke, beer in hand, with his family and friends around him singing…

‘In the war against Rangers in the fight for the cup

When Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up

We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again

On Erin’s Green valley look down in thy love.’

Such memories linger in the mind and when days like today come around it’s only natural to think of those we shared them with in the past. Celtic Park was our crossroads, our meeting place, our sanctuary. It was the place where we saw friends and made friends. Where we stood in the same spot for years and got to know those around us and shared our passion for the Hoops. As a child you’d gaze in wonder at the thousands of faces, hear those thousands of voices, gathered with a common purpose, to drive Celtic on to success. As an adult you smile to see children of today beginning their journey as Celtic fans.

Days like today reinforce the bonds between all Celtic fans and the bond they have with their club. The old Brigade would love to see that passion for Celtic still continues and if such a thing is possible, I know they’d be smiling down on us. That’s why I always remember them on such days. They often knew hardship, poverty and lived with intolerance from the unenlightened which comes when you follow Celtic. Celtic meant so much to them. When they had little or nothing at all, they still had Celtic to make them smile.

‘To the generations gone, I will sing to you this song….’


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