Essential Viewing, Al Jazeera – The Fans Who Make Football: Celtic FC

A documentary commissioned by Al Jazeera, and wonderfully put together by Jamie Doran, was aired on the Arabic news channel last night. Providing a fascinating insight into the values, traditions and identities of the Celtic support, the film makes for essential viewing.

To describe the documentary, the metadata on Al Jazeera’s programme guide states: “Celtic FC has some of the most passionate fans in the world but their cause goes beyond sport and stands in the face of history’s greatest human rights issues.” The programme perfectly encapsulates that balance between supporters passions for football and certain issues away from the field. It achieves this by reflecting on the shared history of the club and Irish communities, as well as speaking to supporters in a modern context.

If viewers have any doubts over the size of Celtic Football Club, they are immediately dispelled when the narrator opens the documentary by explaining “Celtic is a football club in Glasgow. It was founded by Irish immigrants, so our story begins… in Albania.” There’s a purpose behind the humour as we are met with the Albanian President, who is a passionate fan of the club. From there, footage is shown of Celtic supporter’s in Sydney, Munich, Thailand and beyond.

To understand how Celtic became so vastly supported, it is important to understand the club’s humble beginnings. Jamie Doran ensures that the Irish origins and charitable roots of Celtic are suitably covered, by synopsising the story from the club’s birthplace – St Mary’s Catholic Church in the Calton district of Glasgow.

From one spiritual home to another, Doran takes viewers across the water to the north of Ireland, and West Belfast specifically. There, scenes from a recent title party are displayed and the famous leader of the “Scooter Squad” is interviewed about his devotion to the green and white hoops.

Whether certain sections of society like it or not, a considerable part of the Celtic support have always held the cause of Irish freedom dear since the outset of the club. The singing of songs about Ireland’s struggle for independence and civil rights has formed the backdrop to many games. The politics behind these songs is one of the key aspects in the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers.

As such, the Republican and Loyalist communities are momentarily explored, with an explanation as to how this conflict and divided society transmits to Glasgow. Interestingly, the mural paintings on the Republican Falls Road are very international and progressive in their outlook. Indeed, viewers see images of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Palestine, Black Lives Matter and even a piece of art dedicated to combatting climate change. By contrast, the other side of the peace wall is littered with inward looking paintings, triumphant and closed minded in their character. To further explain the differences between these communities, who almost embody Celtic and Rangers, Jamie speaks to local mural painters and professors at the famous Queen’s University.

It’s not all heavy viewing though and indeed the scenes quickly refocus on the heartwarming story of young Celtic fan, Jay Beatty, who the world took to their hearts. After that touching footage, we are bequeathed with stories of the passion that supporters have for this club… from the garage of a Belfast house of all places!

Tony Coleman set up a Celtic radio show from those confines, but he has also established a Celtic shrine on the walls. He speaks of the gift of Celtic being passed down the family, from generation to generation, describing supporting the club as “a birthright.” Inadvertently, Tony’s Celtic inspired décor also presents a world view. There are posters illustrating the invasion of Palestinian land, flags in tribute to Che Guevara, and scarves expressing Irish identity along with support for the cause of Irish Republicanism.

From a Belfast garage to the standing section of Celtic Park, Jamie Dornan’s film captures the way in which politics and football combine with a certain number of Celtic fans, as they stand in support of the oppressed around the world.

Not only do politics affect some supporters in this way, but, as a multi-newspaper owner explains, politics also impacted upon the identity of Celtic fans across the Northern Ireland state, when the Irish tri-colour and expressions of Irishness were effectively forbidden under the Flags and Emblems Act (1954), which was in place until 1987. This discrimination meant that supporting Celtic was a huge outlet for the Nationalist community, and indeed they could express who they were in Glasgow. Aside from that, it instilled the values of inclusion and equality among the faithful – something that the club stands for to do this day.

The above details combine to produce an atmosphere at Celtic Park which is famed the world over. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo are just some of the names to wax lyrical about the Celtic support on a European night. It’s not hard to see why, as Jamie quite correctly points out that everybody sings on those nights and the scenes of Paradise belting out You’ll Never Walk Alone are testament to that. Beyond the noise, Celtic fans are renowned for turning up in huge numbers despite playing in Scottish football. We are renowned for travelling abroad in our droves and behaving in a certain way. All of this is captured and then some!

The last third of the film offers footage from Celtic’s recent Europa League clashes with Lazio. Renowned identifiers with the grotesque ideology of fascism, the Green Brigade responded by taunting fans of the Italian opposition with banners depicting the execution of Mussolini. Two weeks later, Rome was invaded by 15,000 Celtic supporters.

The Hoops faithful are shown singing about football greats and star striker Odsonne Edouard. Meanwhile, one Celt is interviewed and explains “Celtic has taught me anti-fascism, anti-racism and to welcome immigrants, which I am, being from an Irish background. It has taught me to respect others and to look after others who are less fortunate than ourselves.” The supporter in question goes on to say: “Lazio are a fantastic football club, but they have a base of fans who are very right wing in their politics. All we came here for was a game of football but if you don’t oppose fascism, then you are supporting it.”

All of the above – the values of inclusion, of charity, Irish identity, supporting the oppressed and the cause of Irish unity – combine to make a very special institution. However, Celtic is a football club and it goes without saying that like every other support, Celtic fans have a real passion for the game. Fortunately, we have an equally rich history on the pitch.

Jamie Doran stirringly says: “The fan’s high principles were matched by manager Jock Stein’s lofty ambitions. In 1967, he led Celtic to the final of the European Cup in Lisbon.” It goes without saying that Celtic were victorious in conquering the continent and bringing the trophy back to British shores for the first time. The fact that the feat was achieved with a squad of local players only adds to the mystique of the story.

Footage from Lisbon is beamed onto the screen as John Fallon talks about his experiences as a member of the 12-man squad that day.

The film concludes by returning to where it began… in Albania, where a Celtic supporter’s club is being opened by the President. Then a great story of charity is told by Jay Beatty and his father, before the show comes to an end.

This documentary is a must watch. Celtic is a club that combines footballing excellence and deafening support, with political, cultural and charitable values. This film covers it all with wonderful footage and informative narration.

It is available to be viewed on YouTube, and is set to be shown on Al Jazeera again on Thursday 25/02 at 03.30. 

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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