It has to be earned
Football can be a remarkable game once you fully invest your emotions in a team like Celtic. Over the years I’ve experienced just about every emotion watching Celtic. From pride and joy at the club’s successes to despair at those low points all supporters have to face now and then and everything in between. Today was one of those joy filled days when the sun shone, the team clicked and the atmosphere crackled. Looking around Celtic Park in the spring sunshine and seeing such happiness on the faces of so many was such a pleasure. Few things in life bring that level of passion and commitment out in people.
Like most of you reading these words, I thoroughly enjoyed the league clinching thumping of Rangers. Not because I define myself by whom I hate but rather by what I love. Celtic is my team; I inherited Celtic as I inherited my old man’s blue eyes but even if I didn’t, I like to think I’d have chosen to follow this remarkable club. Yes, it has to do with its traditions of good attacking football, charity and openness but it’s more than that. There is an intangible quality about Celtic which draws me to it.
Some years ago I spoke to a German Celtic fan who was surrounded by the riches of the Bundesliga in his home country with its fine stadiums, excellent teams and big crowds. I asked him why he followed Celtic and he told me it was about the people who followed the club. They had humour, heart and never lost their love of the club even in more difficult times. He loved the singing, the comradeship and the adventures he had following Celtic around Europe. As we talked he also explained that he liked the fact that they weren’t apologetic about holding political or social views which were at times discordant with many in the society the club played in.
Celtic has a strong identity and that draws some people to it. That same identity sticks in the craw of others in our society still locked into old modes of thinking. Every football club has its own character and personality and like individuals, no club is perfect. Football thrives on the rivalries this creates and would be a poorer game without them. Who could fail to be impressed by 25,000 Hibs fans singing ‘Sunshine on Leith’ or by Aberdeen’s ‘Stand Free’ tifo at last year’s cup final? All of these expressions of identity help make up the very fabric of Scottish football.
As the songs of victory swept from the stands onto the pitch I gazed at the away support and in truth briefly felt a little sorry for them. Their identity is as valid as anyone else’s but does seem to be overly focussed on what they stand against rather than what they stand for. The few songs they sung which were audible in the din around me where the usual dirges about the Pope, Bobby Sands and paedophilia. Would it be too much to ask that they celebrate their club’s history in song rather than descending to the gutter with this filth? ‘No one likes us, we don’t care,’ they sing but I’m sure a lot of decent folk who follow Rangers do care and don’t agree with the club’s reputation being trashed. If a returning exile set foot in Glasgow for the first time in 50 years he’d find the Rangers songbook had barely evolved at all since he left.
The banner they held in a previous game which stated ‘We deserve better’ was mocked by a banner among Celtic supporters telling them in no uncertain terms that they deserved nothing of the sort. The entitlement mentality exhibited in such a banner is in stark contrast to just about every other support in the land which knows that in the harsh world of professional football you have to plan, work and fight for everything you get. There were no ‘we deserve better’ banners around Celtic Park in the early 1990’s when the club was in turmoil and facing the very real prospect of administration or worse. There were no puff pieces in the press saying Scotland needs a strong Celtic. Instead of whining about their lot, Celtic fans rolled up their sleeves, mobilised and pressurised the old board into relinquishing control to people with the money, know-how and strategies needed to help Celtic’s renaissance begin. The fans then backed the club by investing millions of pounds in the club and laid the foundation of the successes we are enjoying today. The majority of people investing in Celtic then were by no means wealthy. Ordinary working class folk took out bank loans, saved and scrimped to get a few hundred pounds together to help revive their club. Their investment was financial, yes, but it was also emotional; Celtic meant so much to them that they sacrificed hard earned cash to be part of the rebirth of the club.
As I walked home from the match on Sunday there was an understandable feeling of happiness among the Celtic support which contrasted starkly with the sullen and aggressive faces glowering at them from the doorways of Pubs best avoided. My old man used to warn my brothers and me about the dangers of following Celtic when we were kids. ‘Stick with the crowd,’ he would say, ‘get yer scarf in yer pocket after the game and watch out for that liberty taking mob.’ I’m sure the parents of many Rangers supporting lads were giving similar advice to them and I’m not for a moment suggesting Celtic fans are all angels but there is a minority among the Rangers support which hates all things Celtic with such visceral malevolence that it transcends the normal boundaries of sporting rivalry.
They are not taking this period in the Karma Café well nor are they enjoying the glee with which supporters of other clubs are reminding them that their days of being top dog in Scotland are long gone. What they fail to see is that their conceit about their ‘rightful place’ in Scottish football is actually holding them back and compounding their misery. Nothing is your ‘right’ in sport; everything has to be earned on merit and all the illusory superiority in the world won’t keep the ball out of the net if your team is poor.
I can’t help thinking that an opportunity was missed in the aftermath of the 2012 meltdown and subsequent liquidation of the old club. Had the new owners said then, let’s start afresh; be done with the bigotry of the past and build a team up under the guiding hand of an experienced coach then the club might have broken out of the straightjacket of their history. Instead men like Charles Green pandered to the ‘No Surrender’ mentality and fostered an absurd narrative which had some believing that despite breaking the rules of football on an industrial scale, they were somehow the victims.
Sunday was a real joy to me as all Celtic victories are. These are great days to be a Celtic fan as the club is successful and thriving on and off the field. I see new stadiums taking shape and crowds on the up throughout the Scottish game. There is reason for optimism in our old game as the new century unfolds.
I just wish some would join us in the 21st century and leave the failed and tarnished attitudes in the past where they belong.