Long may it flourish
My old man once told me that he had tears in his eyes watching the bus carry Jock Stein and the Lisbon Lions as it eased its way up Kerrydale Street in that euphoric May of 1967. ‘It was like it was meant to be,’ he told me with a wistful smile. The fairy tale of a team founded to feed the hungry of Glasgow’s east end rising to become the first non-Latin side to be crowned Champions of Europe seems impossibly implausible but it happened. The world of football may have changed dramatically since those more equal times and it would now be unthinkable for a team like Celtic to repeat that feat today.
During that golden era, in which Stein’s side won 25 major honours in his 12 seasons at the helm, there were no open topped bus trips for the victorious team. Such was the ferocity of feeling Celtic aroused in some the Police would not have allowed such an event even had it been proposed. Things have changed today and the east end of Glasgow has undergone something of a transformation. There has been huge redevelopment which has, for the most part, swept aside the sub-standard housing which many inhabited. This though has come with a depopulation and de-industrialisation and knocked the heart out of long established communities which are only now starting to recover.
It was through this transformed east end which Celtic’s victorious double treble side travelled on their way to Celtic Park. They were welcomed by a delirious crowd who welcomed them home as warmly as any mother ever welcomed a returning son. I stood on the Celtic way watching the sea of smiles, the flags fluttering in the May sunshine and listening to the songs of victory fill the air. Those images are imprinted onto my memory forever as they will be for many others who were there. The Celtic bus was enveloped in a loving embrace by the people who follow this incredible club, who make it what it is today and that affection is just as strong as it was when Jock Stein brought the European Cup back in 1967. It has endured since Neil McCallum headed Celtic’s first ever goal at the first Celtic Park 130 years before. In the wake of that game the Scottish Umpire commented…
‘The Rev Brother Walfrid, who took a deep interest in the origin of the club has every reason to flatter himself as to the success of the Celtic. Long may it flourish in our midst.’
The good brother would have smiled to see how his team has indeed flourished and grown in ways the founding generation would be amazed by. In Victorian Glasgow Celtic gave pride and hope to a poor and marginalised community; gave them a chance to be winners for a change in an unequal world where many struggled just to put food on the table. He would also be happy to know that the fortunes of his people have been transformed as much as the east end streets around Celtic park and they now rightly take their place and play a role in every sector of Scottish society.
Celtic’s achievements since Brendan Rodgers’ arrival have been considerable. Records have tumbled and six successive domestic trophies have been garnered and added to Celtic’s roll of honour. There remains the glass ceiling of Europe to be smashed and while no one thinks Celtic can realistically compete with the elite clubs of Europe we can and should do better than we currently are. That being said, the expectations and hopes of Celtic supporters are simply that the club makes the group stages and gives them some of those great European nights under the lights to enjoy.
Fans of other Scottish clubs would no doubt argue that the gulf Celtic try to bridge against the mega rich clubs in the Champions League is comparable to the gulf they face in trying to stop Celtic domestically. There is a grain of truth in that but Scottish football is showing signs of being on the up again. Hibs are playing good football and on their day can match Celtic, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen will be pushing at the door again and the intriguing arrival of Steven Gerrard at Ibrox will be box office next season although it remains to be seen if the Ibrox club can finance his ambitions.
Celtic though will not rest on their laurels, there will be players coming in and doubtless a few heading out. Patrick Roberts will be one going to further his career elsewhere but I’m sure he’ll take a head full of good memories with him. Rodgers knows the importance of the Champions League to a club like Celtic in footballing and financial terms. He will have plans in place already to try and enhance his squad and add the quality which will give Celtic a fighting chance of making it through to the group stages and another shot at the big boys.
All of that though is for the future and Celtic fans can now allow themselves a while to bask in the glory of another imperious season in Scottish football. They may not have powered through the season like a well-oiled machine as they did last term during their invincible campaign but they turned up for the big matches and broke their main opponents when it mattered. That 3-2 win at Ibrox when Celtic won the match despite playing for a long spell with ten men was one such game which effectively extinguished any hope their opponents had of mounting a serious challenge for the title. It also inflicted psychological damage which was obvious in the return match at Celtic Park when a Rangers bereft of belief were utterly vanquished and were in truth lucky to escape with just a 5-0 spanking as Celtic eased off in the final 30 minutes.
Yesterday’s celebration at Celtic Park was a worthy thank you to a group of players who have given Celtic fans such marvellous memories. As I watched the supporters dance and sing out their songs of victory, it was noticeable how many children were there. These are great days to grow up supporting Celtic and many of them will be getting the bug I got so long ago. It would be nice to have shared these moments with my old man who shed a tear in Kerrydale Street all those years ago but I’m sure he would have smiled yesterday and said, ‘It was meant to be.’
It was Da, it was.