CELTIC FANS – “The Greatest In The World?” I wonder about this statement sometimes.
In the first place, men like Jock Stein, Willie Maley and Bertie Auld definitely got it right when they said that Celtic would be nothing without their fans. Historically the club as represented by the eleven privileged to take the field in the green and white jerseys, have been the rallying point for an underclass, an ethnic minority, a persecuted sub-culture – whatever the current sociological jargon may be.
Has anyone, incidentally, wondered just how the Irish in Scotland would have expressed themselves without their football team? Less wholesome, more violent ways would be my guess.
But that is the origin of the club. Today, one hundred and thirty one years down the line, the club is open to all. My family, for example, Church of Scotland (more or less, and never evangelically hysterical about it!) has supported Celtic since the days of Sandy McMahon.
Today I am delighted to see ethnic minorities (apologies for anyone who finds that term offensive) well represented in our support and of course our playing staff. It is indeed not a man’s creed or nationality that counts, but the man himself, as men like Walfrid and Maley used to say.
It was my privilege to watch the 2019 Scottish Cup final low down at the Celtic End with three people I had never seen before. A pleasant faced lady, a pretty young girl and a gentleman who looked as if he had been watching Celtic for as long as I have.
What an experience to share the tension, the heartaches, the joy and the euphoria at the end.
I possibly will never see them again, but even if that is the case, I have still enjoyed their company in the most intimate and passionate of ways.
And yet it would be wrong to paint Celtic supporters are always being lovable. Coming home on a supporters’ bus after a defeat is not always pleasant with the constant hounding of Ronnie Deila a recent reminder of the unpleasant side of Celtic fans.
He was described as “an embarrassment” and a “disgrace”, yet he won the League twice out of two starts!
Peter Lawwell is tolerated as long as things go well, but when things go badly, he is the convenient target with people telling you how he pulls out of transfer deals and keeps the money to himself!
Remember a man called Paul Telfer? An idiot beside me booed him on the day that he was collecting his League Championship medal!
I have also heard Kenny Dalglish, Paul McStay, Jimmy Johnstone and Henrik Larsson all being bad mouthed after a bad game, and it doesn’t even have to be a bad GAME. A bad PASS will sometimes qualify them for a verbal knifing.
One wonders what it was like on the planes coming back from Lisbon. Most supporters deliriously happy, but there would have been one or two saying that Jock Stein doesn’t really know what he is doing, that Billy McNeill is over-rated, that Jimmy Johnstone will never make it or that Bobby Lennox was far too slow. (No kidding, by the way, I once did hear Lennox described as “a yard slow”!)
But twice, only twice, have I been really upset. Once was when my boyhood hero Steve Chalmers was playing at Tannadice Park in May 1963 (on the Saturday after the first game of the 1963 Scottish Cup final and four days before the awful replay).
He was being played on the left wing, hideously out of position and was playing very badly, but he was trying. It wasn’t so much that he was being booed by that group of so called fans, it was the filth and the venom that reduced this 14 year old boy to tears. One of them even called Stevie a Citrus Fruit So and So!
Granted, there was nothing vaguely approaching a brain between the ears of the man who said it, but it was ludicrous! But oh how Stevie shut them up four years later!
The other time was even more distressing. Paul Wilson was of “mixed race” (if that phrase means anything to anyone) and a chant was often heard from the less well intellectually endowed of the opposition support to the effect that “Wilson’s a P***”
That I could cope with, more or less. By 1975 I had entered the teaching profession and I realised that there were quite a few stupid people around. But then one day in the Jungle, when Celtic were playing badly and losing to Motherwell in January 1975, some Celtic supporters, not all, I stress, but a sizeable minority, started that offensive chant – at one of their own players!
It was one of my saddest moments as a Celtic supporter. The team had just won 9 in a row, incidentally, and Paul Wilson scored two goals in the Scottish Cup final in May of that year!
Ignorance is, of course, a terrible thing. I would like to think that there has been some improvement in recent years, but then again if you read some of the tweets and twitter stuff in social media after a game, you wonder.
More than once this season, for example, I have read that Odsonne Edouard is a “disgrace”, that Callum McGregor “doesn’t try”, that James Forrest “is not Celtic class”, and more or less every player gets told at least once that someone doesn’t want to see him ever play again.
Such nonsense usually is self-condemnatory, of course, and I suppose that it is the price that we must pay for free speech, and no doubt someone will say that it is all about under-achievement and lack of fulfilment. That is all probably true but it is awful nevertheless.
The trouble is that Celtic supporters do not know they are alive. It is a horrible feeling not to win a tournament, but it is a long time since we had that experience. In fact it was 2016 – even before the Brexit referendum! Come to think if it, Celtic have therefore gone through the entire reign of a British Prime Minister (Theresa May) without losing a domestic tournament!
I wonder if there is another team in domestic football anywhere in the world with any similar record? Birmingham City once lived through the reign of a Pope – Pope John Paul I in 1978 – without scoring a goal, but he lasted only 33 days! But Celtic’s achievement must be unique, is it not?