Riding the rollercoaster
When was it for you? You know, that moment when you thought ‘Wow! This is my team and it always will be!’ Sometimes you feel it as a boy when your old man or older brothers drag you along and you go just to see what the fuss is all about. Then something magical and life changing occurs. Maybe it was a Johnstone dribble a Larsson dink or a Nakamura free kick. Maybe it’s the sight and sound of the support urging the team on or that feeling of comradeship you get among likeminded people. Whatever it was you leave the stadium hooked. You get it, you’re a Celt for life and there really is no cure.
From that day forth you’re riding the green and white roller coaster with all the highs and lows, triumphs and disasters that brings. They can leave you feeling so low after a bad result but by God they can raise you to the heavens when it all clicks. Nothing short of being in love can match the euphoria of Tony Watt scoring against Barcelona, Larsson ending that desperate tension in Boavista or Tom Rogic’s poetic and magnificent last gasp winner in that invincible campaign. This is how it feels to be Celtic, they sing and by God, they’re right. We kick every ball, we feel every emotion as we follow the fortunes of our club. The supporters are Celtic and Celtic is them.
Sure we don’t play in the money bloated English game and as time passes I feel less inclined to see Celtic go join that soulless circus with its mediocre millionaires, money chasing mercenaries and that God awful, condescending arrogance and misplaced sense of superiority. Scotland might be a small and relatively insignificant footballing nation these days but do you know what? I love the game here with its tribalism, its honest endeavour and petty rivalries. The fan culture in Scotland is laced with self-deprecating wit and humour, as well a real knowledge of the game. The fans are passionate, loud and deeply committed to their clubs.
We have learned to ignore the jibes of clueless nonentities on tabloid radio shows who seek to induce clicks for their advertisers by spouting ill-informed nonsense about ‘pub Leagues’ and the standard of play in Scotland. I’ve watched such utter dross in the English Premiership at times, you know - that rich league some Harlem Globtrotters eleven won by 19 points last season? We Scots put up with the ‘my Nan’ brigade who like to inform us that their granny would be top scorer in the Scottish Premiership. Mark Lawrenson, surely the most depressing football pundit ever, said in the week Celtic were due to play Manchester City at home in the Champions League, ‘City have been scoring a lot of goals, there could be another big score up there.’ Manchester City brought half a billion pounds worth of talent to Celtic Park and couldn’t win. Nor could they win at the Etihad against Celtic, a stadium blessed with a magnificent group of players and an atmosphere like a village library. We saw Burnley, 7th in the ‘best league in the world’ need extra time to beat Aberdeen in the Europa League. Their Nan must have been injured that night.
All my life I’ve heard their condescending nonsense. ‘Revie’s Leeds will be too good for Celtic’: Result; Leeds defeated home and away by a much better side. Blackburn Rovers: ‘Men against boys.’ Result: Rovers defeated home and away by a better side. Liverpool after drawing at Celtic Park will finish the job. Result; the Reds defeated in front of their own fans. Scholes, Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo should be too much for Celtic to handle; Result: Nakamura’s sublime free kick sends the homewards to think again.
Celtic’s historical record in competitive European matches against English sides is as follows: Played 20, won 7, drew 6. lost 7. In other words they have held their own over 50 years of playing English sides in Europe. Indeed if we call the Empire exhibition and Coronation Cup competitive, and they surely were, then Celtic’s record would read: Played 24 won 11 drew 6 lost 7.
Those of us following teams in the smaller European leagues will always face the prejudice and ignorance from a minority of those following team’s in leagues like the English Premiership. It’s ironic that one chap I debated with online was an Irishman from Dublin who follows Liverpool. He bad mouthed the Scottish league; blind to the irony that people like him are contributing to the paucity of the Irish league, which struggles to attract fans. He couldn’t comprehend that the Scottish Premiership is the best supported league in Europe per capita. That Scottish Clubs have competed in 10 European finals and compared to other nations of similar size this statistic is astonishing. Consider the number of European finals reached by countries with similar populations to Scotland: Sweden 3, Norway 0, Switzerland 0, Denmark 0. Scottish sides have also outperformed teams from bigger countries such as Russia, Greece, Turkey, Poland and Romania.
So what exactly do the ‘my nan’ brigade suggest we do in Scotland? Give up on our national game because we don’t have the population or TV money to compete with their league? Not a chance of that happening because hard as some of them find it to comprehend, we love our teams as much as any of them love theirs. From Anan to Aberdeen there are fans who get excited on match day and look forward to getting to the game. Most of them will seldom if ever see their team win a trophy or play in Europe but still they love the game. We Scots and our insipid sports media need to start talking our game up. None more so than the exiles in England like Charlie Nicholas or Jim White, who give in to peer pressure down south and slag the game in Scotland mercilessly. Sure, the standard north of the border isn’t what it was in the golden days of the 1960’s, 70’s& 80s but it sure the hell isn’t the ‘pub league’ we’re led to believe it is. The almost pathological nature of the prejudice against Scottish football is quite bizarre. No one goes on about slagging any other European league in the manner some down south speak of the SPFL.
We have teams of honest pros here giving their all every week and producing some cracking games. We have supporters as passionate as any creating some fine spectacles and atmospheres; Consider Easter Road singing ‘Sunshine on Leith’ after beating Hearts, or Aberdeen’s tifo against Burnley or their epic display at the 2017 cup final, then there’s the roar of a full Tynecastle or the sight of 60,000 Celtic fans singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ at a big European night, and yes, even the noise of Ibrox on a big match night is beyond what most English stadiums can manage. There is much to be proud of in the footballing traditions and culture of this small nation on the western fringes of Europe and despite our clannish ways it’s good to see fans of all clubs defend our game against those who run it down.
Of course we can never compete on a level playing field with a country boasting ten times our population and operating with so much TV money that half the clubs in their top league could continue to function if no fans whatsoever came to their games. We should though, stop undervaluing our game and stop talking it down. It’s on the up at the moment and can produce some exciting matches.
Like most folk of a certain age I had a favourite English club as a boy but in the modern era I’ve sat through a few too many ‘Super Sundays’ and been bored to tears. It simply doesn’t interest me anymore. I’m much happier watching Celtic battle it out with our local rivals. If you want to compare like with like try comparing the English league with the Spanish. La Liga teams have won 13 European trophies in the past ten seasons to the Premiership’s 3. For atmosphere, the Bundesliga wins every time.
For supporters in Scotland, nothing beats watching their team take the field for an important game. We know the limitations of our game but we’re rightly proud of what we’ve contributed to football. I know from so many wonderful games I’ve watched over the years the joy football can bring. I know the excitement of watching the big European games under the lights or those raucous derby matches where you sing yourself hoarse and go home exhausted. I know the highs and lows of being so committed to your team that your mood can be affected by their results. I know the comradeship found in following the team all over through good times and bad. I’ve seen the last minute winners, the painful defeats, the unexpected triumphs and moments of magic from players which make you smile. I’ve seen a stadium reverberate to 60,000 voices booming out in unison their support and love for their team. I’ve seen those supporters full of passion and noise; drive their team to victories they had no right to expect.
All the money in the world can’t buy you that.