In a speech to the House of Commons in1843, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, described the children of London’s poorer areas as:
‘A fearful multitude of untutored savages... boys with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits. Girls who drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody...the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.’
To modern eyes his rant seems almost amusing but every generation has their ideas of how the young should behave. Perhaps the Earl should have asked about the lack of schooling and awful social conditions which produced these whistling, fighting, drinking girls rather than simply chastising them as untutored savages.
This weekend saw mixed reactions to the 7000 or so Celtic fans who travelled to the friendly match in Sunderland. Many Sunderland fans marvelled at the noise, passion and colour of the huge Celtic support while a few were following a darker agenda and looking for trouble. Sadly a few who follow Celtic obliged them. Such things happen in the tribal world of football particularly when young men have access to alcohol.
When you compare the media reaction to the 7000 voices singing ‘There’s only one Bradley Lowry’ to a couple of morons chanting a foul ditty about Lee Rigby, you could be forgiven for thinking bad behaviour is all they want to report. Make no mistake about it the vast majority of Celtic supporters were absolutely seething at the behaviour of those chanting about the murdered soldier. Not only because those who hate Celtic wrongly describe it as typical of our support but because it is morally repugnant. Of course many of those who follow another Glasgow side were onto it with glee and pontificating about how evil Celtic supporters are. We take no lessons in morality from hypocrites who have huge issues among their own support to concern themselves with. This isn’t about a point scoring, us v them debate. This is about the decent football fans of all clubs telling the moronic element that enough is enough.
There can however be no deflection from the need to address an issue within our own support. All the ‘whataboutery’ in the world won’t change the fact that a handful of our so called supporters behaved despicably and they need to wisen up. Thankfully the vast majority of Celtic fans called them out for it and hopefully they’ll engage their brains before opening their mouths in future. You can rely on the majority of Celtic fans to tell those going beyond the pale that enough is enough.
All big football clubs have their share of less cerebral followers and it is heartening to see Celtic supporters willing to self-police by letting folk know the standard of behaviour expected. We saw it 30 years ago when a handful of morons racially abused Mark Walters of Rangers at Celtic Park. In those pre internet days it was left to fellow supporters and the Fanzines to call out those guilty of this abhorrent behaviour. Not the View slammed them as ‘racist arseholes’ and reminded them they were standing against everything Celtic stood for.
Celtic fans have been traditionally known as knowledgeable, humorous and friendly. I see the work so many of them do for charity and the way they support the work of the Celtic FC Foundation. I can think of a hundred kindnesses I’ve experienced from fellow fans over the years. Being a Celt means trying to live up to those founding principles of charity, inclusiveness and good sportsmanship. It also means caring about the way the club and fellow Celtic fans are perceived. We basked in the wonderful behaviour of 80,000 Celts in Seville who were fine ambassadors for the club and won Fair Play awards from FIFA and UEFA. A good reputation is built over years but can be destroyed very quickly by a few unthinking and foolish individuals. Those who tarnish the club’s name will find elements of the media simply drooling at the prospect of more anti Celtic stories to push. They will also find that the vast majority of Celtic fans quickly letting them know that there are lines you don’t cross.
Two months ago we basked in the glory of a wonderful season. Let’s get back to doing what we do best; backing the team and driving the Bhoys on to more success. Leave the moronic chants to others and get back to being the best supporters around. An Italian Sports Magazine said after Celtic visited Juventus…
"The fantastic Celtic fans gave a real lesson in civility in sport. The chants and insults which blight too many games in Serie A are light years away from the spectacle of education and sportsmanship that the people in the Celtic away end offered... That horizontal striped white and green jersey is the uniform of a club worthy of the applause of the world."
That’s who we are, that’s who we must always aspire to be. It’s the duty of every generation of Celtic fans to educate the new generation about the Celtic way of doing things. When we accept poor behaviour among our own support as the norm we will have lost a vital ingredient of our identity. Celtic fans are not angels, not perfect by any means but they are decent enough to know when anyone has gone too far and they care enough to challenge them. This club means too much to too many to accept the behaviour we saw from a few at the weekend. I hope those involved learn and grow as human beings. It's a big responsibility being a Celt.