Jumping the Dyke
I got talking to a chap from Fife in the Chadwick stand at Rugby Park last week and he was telling me that he’d been following Celtic for over 40 years despite his old man dragging him to Ibrox as a boy. ‘I had a pal at school who was a Dunfermline fan.’ He told me, ’he took me along to watch the Pars play Celtic one time. Celtic were brilliant that day, especially Bobby Lennox. I just felt a wee affection growing inside me for them.’ I asked him how his old man felt about him supporting Celtic when he was a dyed in the wool Rangers man and he said rather wistfully, ‘He stopped going after the Ibrox disaster, it affected him a lot and he just lost interest in football after that. We never spoke much about football as I grew up but he knew I’d started following Celtic. He said one New Year when he had a drink in him, ‘I never thought you’d jump the dyke, son.’
We were reminiscing about all the changes that had occurred at Rugby Park and indeed across Scottish football since we first started following Celtic; new stadiums, artificial pitches and some players becoming very wealthy men for kicking a ball around. Some things never change though and fan culture is one thing which evolves more slowly. There was a moment after the final whistle when Leigh Griffiths led a knot of players to the stand we were in to applaud the supporters, Most applauded back although one or two around me, angry at the loss of a late goal, actually booed. My friend from Fife commented, ‘these young bucks need to realise it’s not all cup finals and wins when you follow a team.’ He had a point, perhaps getting a bit older ads a bit of perspective to life? After all Celtic have won around 30 major honours in the last 20 years while clubs like Kilmarnock have won 2 or 3. Everything in football needs to be earned and heaven forbid any sense of entitlement growing amongst the Celtic support.
I occasionally pass a happy hour looking at old Celtic games on YouTube. They bring back memories of games I attended, great players I watched and some of the old stadiums before their renovation in more recent years changed them forever. The state of some the pitches is also an eye opener and one wonders how ball players like Johnstone and Lennox managed to play at such a high level on some of those mud heaps. The style of play has also changed greatly as the years passed. Footballers now are faster, fitter, bigger and teams are better organised but the skill factor and that freedom to go express yourself has diminished. Tackling too has become a lost art form as Referees are clamping down on things which were once accepted and commonplace. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there were some fairly brutal defenders plying their trade in the past who wouldn’t last long in the modern game. The pass-back rule has been a great change to the rules as it keeps games flowing and forces defenders to actually play some football. It seems strange watching matches were defenders pass it to the keeper who simply picks it up. Some European teams would even use it as a time wasting tactic.
As I listen to the crowd singing in those games from the past it also struck me that the songbook of Celtic fans has changed a lot. There are common threads and songs which are always there and I recall standing in the old Jungle at Celtic Park and the tannoy would boom out ‘The Grand Old Team’ then it was ‘You’ll never walk alone’ as the teams came out. We’d chant the name of our keeper Peter Latchford until he gave us a wave. There was almost a ritual to things back then, a certain order we did things in. As the game got under way we’d be engrossed in the action, roaring the team on, reacting to shots or fouls and totally living those 90 minutes. After some games you went home worn out almost as if you’d played.
Those old YouTube videos also show that Celtic fans were singing what English Commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme once called ‘revolutionary songs.’ In games as far back as the 1960’s you can hear ‘Sean South’ or the ‘Soldiers’ song’ being aired. Celtic have periodically asked the support to sing football songs and leave the politics at the turnstile and while many don’t join in these songs any more a significant minority do particularly at away games when it’s more of an outing and perhaps more alcohol is consumed. During the worst days of the Troubles some of the chants being aired at Celtic Park were strong enough for the club to hand out a leaflet to supporters which expressed in the strongest possible language that they wanted it to stop. Jock Stein had said in the 1970’s ‘There are enough good Celtic songs without bringing religion or politics into it.’ It has been a perennial issue for the club and the supporters and one which still causes debate today. My thoughts are that supporter culture will continue to evolve and songs will change over time. There will probably always be some Irish content in the Celtic supporters’ repertoire given the club’s identity and history but the debate about what is appropriate in 21st century Scotland will continue too.
I said farewell to the chap from Fife as we headed out of Rugby Park last weekend. There was of course disappointment in the air after another sloppy performance had cost the team the points but chatting to him had reminded me that when you follow Celtic, you stick with it. It’s a lifetime love affair which will have its ups and downs but will always leave you wanting more. As we shook hands and headed off in different directions, I asked him if he was glad he had ‘jumped the dyke’ as a boy. He grinned and replied, ‘Fuck, Aye! Once Celtic gets a grip of you, it never let’s go.’
He had that right.