This is how it feels to be Celtic
I had one of those moments you get now and then at last week’s Celtic v Rangers game. It came when around 58,000 Celtic supporters were booming out, ‘You’ll never walk alone’ in those last, tense moments before kick-off. I roared out that famous old song with so many others and we transcended all that makes us unique human beings to become one, just for a few magical moments. As a wall of noise reverberated around Celtic Park, I looked past the green and white scarf I was holding aloft, towards the bright, azure sky. I thought, as I sometime do at such times, of those I once shared those moments with who are no longer around.
I thought of my old man who taught his boys to love Celtic. When we were kids, he’d bump home four sheets to the wind after a good win, singing some Celtic song for the neighbours to hear. My mum would hush him reminding him that not everyone up the close was a Celtic fan but more often than not he’d continue. My uncle who went to every game with us and loved nothing more than a good sing song and a few pints in the pub before heading down to watch the Bhoys. They’d grown up watching Celtic in the dire years after the war and stuck it out through thick and (mostly) thin until Stein arrived to give them more success than they could have dreamed of. They knew tough times and tough conditions but watching Celtic on a Saturday transported them out of their everyday lives for a couple of happy hours, giving them a chance to be winners.
As boys we’d sit outside the Straw House pub at Parkhead Cross before home games waiting for the men to finish their beer and whisk us down Springfield Road to Paradise. Now and then the doors would open and we’d glimpse the world of men in the bar beyond. A blue haze of smoke hung in the air and there was a buzz of noisy chatter and occasional laughter. Sometimes songs would flow from the bar out onto the street where we waited and listened enthralled. How we longed to grow up so we could join our dads and uncles inside.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has these moments of contemplation when they are at Celtic Park. Many of you who follow Celtic will come from families who have followed the club since its inception. Others will have discovered Celtic in their own lives and come to realise that it’s the club for you. Whatever route you took to being a Celt, you invest such much time and emotion in the club that it’s as if you leave an imprint on the place. As ‘You’ll never walk alone’ finished and the Bhoys were in the huddle, that roar that goes up split the east end sky and I focussed on the pitch. My nephew, who lost his brother just a few short weeks ago, said to me, ‘That was emotional.’ I could understand very well the pain he has been through of late but for 90 minutes or so we would let Celtic take our minds off life and all the joys and troubles it holds and they didn’t disappoint.
Celtic did all we could have asked and bossed that game in a convincing manner despite the closeness of the score. For periods they pounded Rangers who grimly hung on like a boxer on the ropes until Olivier N’tcham arrived to supply a long overdue knockout blow. Watching Celtic’s transition from defence to attack was a thing of Joy. Tom Rogic glided towards the Rangers defence with that elegance and assurance of purpose he has. His cushioned pass to Edouard was perfection and the Frenchman in turn fed Forrest who guided a tantalising ball across the six yard box where N’tcham was waiting to blast it home. It had taken Celtic just ten seconds to race from their own box and carve out a goal of sublime beauty. Of course, we went wild in our corner of Paradise, strangers were hugged, the air was punched with delight and smiles as wide as the Clyde only parted to let out our roar of joy. It was a beautiful moment, one you file away to smile at later. One where you smile quietly to yourself as the game restarts and say, ‘that was you da!’
We joined in the songs cascading from the stands onto the field, tens of thousands of people from all walks of life singing as one. What else gets you so passionate? Not politics, not religion and certainly not any other sport. ‘This is how it feels to be Celtic’ we sang and in those moments all the frustration of the transfer window, all the worries we have about life, work or other issues were blown away as we focused on enjoying the moment.
It isn’t easy to put into words what Celtic means to so many people. The club is deeply embedded in its community. It gives them a purpose, a sense of identity and belonging. The squabbling which goes on among fans at times is not a symptom of apathy, rather it is a sign that they care deeply about their team. As I left the stadium last Sunday elated that the team had played so well, I glanced at some of the thousands of names carved onto the walls of Celtic Park. So many names representing so many families who have followed Celtic down the years. Those names may be carved onto the bricks of Celtic Park but at a deeper level, Celtic is carved onto the hearts of many, many people. The soul of Celtic has and always will reside with the fans.
This is how it feels to be Celtic.