The white sausage equator
Celtic’s tie with Bayern Munich this week got me thinking of another occasion they faced German opposition in Europe. Back in 1992-93 Season Liam Brady’s Celtic was in the middle of one of those barren spells which occur now and then in the club’s history. They had last won a trophy in 1989 when Joe Miller’s goal secured a dramatic cup win and would remain in the doldrums until 1995 when they beat Airdrie to win the cup after six long years in the wilderness.
That summer of 1992 saw Celtic supporters tortured by hope that they could finally put a side together which could match free spending Rangers. Manager Liam Brady had at best a poor record with signings as Cascarino and Gillespie had proved but the arrival of Stuart Slater and a rather jaded Frank McAvennie had the fans at least moderately optimistic for the new season. It was to prove another difficult year. The team finished well behind Rangers and Aberdeen in the league and were knocked out of the cup at Falkirk. Europe saw them paired with a decent, if struggling, Cologne side. A poor showing in Germany had Celtic facing the return leg with a 2-0 deficit to overturn.
Celtic Park was limited to 30,000 for the game as UEFA enforced post Hillsborough limits. Indeed Celtic Park was in need of rebuilding and the direction the club was taking was leading fans to ask serious questions of a board which seemed clueless about how they would finance the required changes or build a team to match cash rich Rangers. Results on the field combined with this seeming ineptitude off it were causing anger among many supporters which would eventually coalesce into open revolt as the fans organised to save their club. All of that was simmering beneath the surface as Cologne arrived in Glasgow with a swagger and confidence which was soon to be tested. Celtic’s supporters like a ‘do or die’ challenge and got right behind the team from the first moment of that game. In return the players roused themselves to give a performance which was surprisingly effective. McStay and Creaney slammed home excellent goals in the first half as the German side lost their composure and when John Collins hit the decisive third ten minutes from time it was all over. The fans sang long and loudly that night not knowing that this was to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise poor season.
I got talking to some rather stunned Cologne fans in a pub after the game and they were sporting enough to congratulate Celtic. It was obvious a 3-0 defeat was not what they had anticipated but they were full of praise for the noisy Celtic support. I kept in touch with a couple of them and invited them back to Glasgow for the Celtic v Rangers game the following spring.
Rangers were coming to Celtic Park on the back of a 44 game unbeaten run and few outside the Hoops support fancied Celtic’s chances. My two German visitors, Axel and Andreas, had a taste of the bars of the Gallowgate that day before the game and loved the singing and passion of the fans. As the songs boomed out they looked around and smiled, ‘This is what football should be about,’ one of them said.
As we headed for Celtic Park along the Gallowgate a mate in a builders van offered us a lift. Along with sundry other Celts, we piled into the back and there among the bags of plaster, planks of wood, old sinks and paint cans we banged the sides of the van as we joined in with the mix tape belting out Celtic songs on the van stereo. Someone offered Axel some of that famous tonic wine beloved of so many in Glasgow and like a good guest in our land he accepted. Then we headed out and joined the green river flowing to the old Celtic end which was literally bouncing as we made our way to a spot behind the goal. I don’t know what my German friends were expecting but the atmosphere and racket just blew them away. It seemed as if the whole Celtic end and Jungle was bouncing on the spot as they sang, ‘Soldiers are we whose lives are pledged to Ireland…..’
The game began amid a cacophony of noise and soon settled into a pattern of Celtic dominance. When John Collins finally scored in 36 minutes Celtic Park erupted. As we roared and sang our heads off a bizarre event occurred on the field; Referee, Mr Hope allowed Rangers to kick off with at least six Celtic players still celebrating the goal by the Jungle. Rangers poured forward towards the few Celtic defenders still on the field and only a fine save by Bonner prevented a goal. It was another one of those strange decisions which in many years of watching football I have yet to see replicated anywhere else. One of my German friends asked what was going on and why the Referee had done that. Before I could answer a nearby wag interjected, ‘Cos he’s a fuckin’ Hun wi a whistle!’ Andreas who spoke good English looked at me mystified, ‘Welcome to Scottish football,’ I smiled, ‘You’ll soon pick up the lingo.’ They learned a few other Glaswegian phrases that day such as; ‘atsapenalyyafud!’ or ‘deckatbasturt!’ and the ever popular ‘cmonselikfuckinintaethum!’ All in all it was an education for our friends from Germany.
That match ended in a 2-1 win for Celtic and we marched out of the stadium on a high. Sure, we’d end the season without a trophy again but it’s always nice winning those games and even in the darkest seasons Celtic would usually gub them at least once. As we made our way along the Gallowgate again I asked what they thought of the game and they both agreed that it was intense beyond anything they’d experienced before. ‘It’s like your life depended on the result,’ one said.
A few days after that game, Scotland played Germany at Ibrox and I went along with the two aforementioned German lads. On the bus heading along Paisley Road a big group of German fans got on. They were noisy and boisterous but not in any way threatening. My two companions seemed tense, ‘Bavarians’ one mumbled, as if this was in itself an explanation. It transpired that regional tensions and rivalries exist in Germany as they do anywhere else. There was, at least in footballing terms, no love lost between Saxons of northern Germany and their southern compatriots from Bavaria. Andreas muttered, ‘They drive around with car plates saying ‘freistatt Bayern’ (free state Bavaria) and think they are better than the rest of us.’ He then told me about the imaginary line drawn in Germany called the ‘Weißwurstäquator,’ (The white sausage equator) which separates the ‘crazy’ southern Germans from the rest. I guess all countries have these tensions and divisions but it was interesting to see it at first hand.
Celtic’s trip to Munich this week got me thinking about why many German supporters have a soft spot for Scottish football. You’d think with the power and prestige of the Bundesliga they’d be happy with their lot and disinterested in a small league on the periphery of Western Europe. One told me it’s because football in Scotland is rawer, more like the way it used to be in Germany. For some it’s politics with left leaning supports like FC St Pauli admiring Celtic supporters for their willingness to engage in politics in the sporting arena and champion causes close to their heart. Mostly though I think they like Scottish supporters for their humour, passion and willingness to back their team over and over even though it is unlikely to win.
Football is at its heart a tribal game and in the big leagues of Europe, awash with money the corporate side of football is dominating more. In England we see football tourists with half and half scarves containing the names of clubs who are traditionally bitter rivals. I could never envisage anyone producing a Celtic-Rangers version of that! There is something of a kickback against modern football with its high ticket prices which drive less wealthy fans out of the game. We have seen protests in France and England about extortionate pricing and even a huge display in Tunisia which read: ‘Football-Created by the poor, stolen by the rich.’
Perhaps some still see in smaller leagues around Europe a more innocent time when money didn’t rule everything. As the so called elite clubs of Europe mumble about cutting the number of clubs from smaller nations playing in the Champions League they’d do well to remember the roots of this wonderful game and lose some of their arrogance, greed and avarice.
Football belongs to us all not just the rich.