Former Celtic defender and current youth coach, Darren O’Dea, turns 34 years of age today. The Irishman rose through the ranks at Celtic Park and represented the club in the Champions League, domestic cup finals and league title clinchers. He also earned 20 caps for the Republic of Ireland and played for the likes of Reading, Leeds United and Ipswich Town, before winding down his career at Dundee.
O’Dea’s finest moment in a Celtic shirt came in the 2009 Scottish League Cup Final when his goal in extra time gave Celtic the lead over Rangers. The Hoops went on to win that clash 2-0.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) February 4, 2021
I had the chance to catch up with Darren, who regularly commentates for Celtic TV, to ask him about his views on the values of Celtic Football Club and the Celtic faithful. The short interview was part of a project to examine the meanings and differing views of the club, as well as exploring the social history of the support.
After offering Darren my sincere thanks for agreeing to assist me with the project, here’s what the former Ireland international had to say:
Q) When you were playing for Celtic, did others in the team know about the history and culture of the club?
I think most players, when they sign for Celtic, they see and think of big Champions League nights, winning leagues and playing in cup finals. But the reality of Celtic is that it’s more than just a football team. You represent a culture. You represent a massive history. If you haven’t grown up in the club or supported the club then you can’t understand it until you experience it so most players that come will learn as they go along. A lot of them take to it all great and love the admiration and love you get from Celtic fans. I would doubt they understand or know about the actual history but they will know and understand the passion and love the club has.
I always felt to play for Celtic and to be taken to by the fans; it wasn’t just about playing well in a match. It was showing commitment to the club and the cause. Whether that’s taking time to sign autographs or acknowledge fans after long trips for away games. Obviously playing well was the main part but at a club like Celtic it’s so much more. I do think that other players get that but only learn it as they go along.
Q) What do you think that Celtic and its support stands for?
First and foremost it represents a fantastic football club and supports the team everywhere it goes in the world. It’s no coincidence everyone wants testimonials against Celtic as even for friendlies like this the fans will always turn out in incredible numbers. But Celtic is a way of life. The club was set up with not football in mind but to help Irish immigrants. And I think that upbringing stems through the club still to this day. The fact is Celtic is more than just a football team. It’s a culture and a way of life for people. It’s a community! Albeit, a massive community. I’ve played in Canada, Ukraine, and I’ve travelled to many countries in football and I always see people in Celtic jerseys. The club has a worldwide community and even if you meet someone half way across the world who is a Celtic fan you immediately have a connection. It’s one big family.
Q) In your time as a player at the club, which moment would you say was your favourite and which match had the best atmosphere?
I have so many fantastic memories of Celtic. Whether that’s Tommy Burns flying me over as a 15 year old to try and convince me to sign, and he had Henrik Larsson come chat to me to talk about signing. Then making my debut against Inverness in the cup. Scoring my first goal, against Dundee United. Playing in the last 16 in both legs against AC Milan. Winning the league when Naka scored that free kick. I’ve loads more. But one that always stands out, and it might sound strange to other people, but my best moment was making my Champions League debut against Copenhagen. I came on for the last 30 minutes and I think we lost 3-1 (it was 3-0 when I came on haha). The reason this is my best moment is, as a youth player, the training we did was some of the hardest training I’ve ever done. Every day we’d work, work, work. We were a ridiculously fit team and technically very good as well. Tommy Burns worked us all as hard as I’ve ever seen. And the phrase he’d always tell us is “You’re not training to be SPL players, you’re training to be Champions League players.” So all that hard graft, sweat, blood and tears became worth it when I made my Champions League debut. I knew Tommy was proud of me as well and when you made him proud, you knew you were on the right road. So that always sticks with me.
The best atmosphere, strangely enough, that I experienced was against Manchester United in the Champions League when Naka scored ‘THAT’ free kick! I say it’s strange because I didn’t play and was on the bench. But sometimes when you’re playing in games you are so focused that you don’t take in everything, but that night was so special and the atmosphere was even more special.
Q) Finally, now that you have played for the club and achieved success, what does Celtic mean to you?
Truthfully, Celtic means no more to me now than it did before my time, or during my time there. I always knew about the history and culture and was always a fan. It’s a club that just keeps moving along. I am lucky to be part of tiny bits of history with winning leagues and cups and that was always the aim when I started. Now I’m just part of a family. As a fan. (Darren has become a youth coach at the club since this interview). But whether I was a player or now as a fan, I have always realised, understood and embraced what Celtic Football Club is. Hail Hail!