Founded in 1998, with the FIFA World Cup in France 1998 as the catalyst to bring together the smaller groups and pockets of individual Celtic fans around the country.
With the football world converging on France and Scotland fans travelling from Paris to Bordeaux to Saint-Étienne, connections were made and conversations began between supporters, with several Bhoys located in France realising they were not alone, and with the emerging world wide web, there was the potential for a network to be developed.
The leading figure among those founders was Bill Ford. Resident in France since the 1970s, Bill worked as a translator in the banking and finance industry by day, but by night and weekends, he led the charge around Paris to find, each week, a bar willing and able to screen Celtic games. With the help of Alain Kohl, a young Luxembourger student, and others, he rallied and organised those in and around the city to make meet-ups for matches a regular occurrence, recruiting those he saw on the city’s Metro wearing green and white.
That early organisation pulled together around 90 members across the country, and in Paris, the group soon developed beyond just gathering to watch matches on TV, most usually in the Highlander Pub on the city’s Left Bank.
With two season tickets at Parkhead, trips to Glasgow became a frequent occurrence, and Bill’s work with supporters’ liaison officer John-Paul Taylor at Celtic meant assistance to organise European adventures took the club out on the road. Porto, Juventus, Stuttgart, Barcelona, Seville, to name but a few—the French CSC flag was a staple sight at away games during this period.
By far the biggest enclave beyond the French capital was found in Marseille, with the Celtic Irish Club Marseille, based at O’Brady’s, numbering around 40 members. The bar’s owner, Jean-Luc Bardy went all in, with a famous visit from Charlie and the Bhoys for a concert held in the bar and local lad Bobo Baldé holding his last press conference in France there.
Tony Cascarino was once a regular. Around the mid-2000’s, several trips set off from O’Brady’s and headed to Parkhead for matches. Around the country, the connections made in 1998 began to pull together those located outside of Paris and Marseille into the much-hoped-for Celtic network.
Out east in Alsace, Chris Lacey began the first French CSC mailing list to keep everyone informed on business, with its popularity seeing it grow beyond just an update for members into a regular read for fans back in Scotland and Ireland and as far as the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Further down on the south coast, the Riviera-Tims branch was headed by Raymund MacVicar and Michael McLaughlin. Out in Brittany, Jack le Pommelet and his friend Fanch rallied the crowd, which largely centred around SNCF rail workers, ensuring they became a regular and recognisable fixture on European away trips.
Back in Paris, a regular frustration for CSCs all over the world soon made the need for a permanent home essential. The best laid plans to screen a match at one bar or another only to find the friendly barman not on shift or a perceived bigger match being screened instead meant match day promises fell through one time too many.
A need for a permanent base was felt, and in 2004, the French CSC settled in its spiritual home, the Harp Bar at Place de Clichy. Recently taken on by Nils Torngren, a Swedish barman, The Harp was known as an after-hours bar for staff working in the other bars around the lively Clichy boulevards. Guaranteeing to show every game in turn for the faithful dedication to fill the bar each week from the Bhoys of Paris, the deal was sealed, and the tiny pub has been the go-to point for Celtic fans visiting the City of Light ever since.
Tragedy struck the CSC in the summer of 2007, when Bill Ford, the club’s leader, was struck down by lung cancer with startling swiftness.
From his diagnosis to his passing, it was a matter of weeks, and the club embarked on the 2007-08 season without the figure who had corralled the support and driven forward with the successes of the CSC.
Bill’s grave is situated in the Cimetière de Montmartre, a mere goal-kick distance from the Harp Bar. The words spoken in eulogy at his funeral by one of his disciples at the CSC, Pascal Joncour, cannot be bettered:
‘Before we met him, we were all isolated Celtic fans. From us, he made a true family, which he was the heart and soul of and was proud of. Every one of us had a special, personal bond with him, for he paid attention to everyone and took the time to know and understand us, as well as to share his passions. Bill was a great ambassador for Celtic, Scotland, and Ireland in this country. He was a link between the old tradition of a club that represents more than football and the new generations. Today, he joins up with those who made the great history of Celtic, whether their names are remembered in books or have remained anonymous.”
The spirit instilled in the group lived on, and through the commitment of Pascal, Stephane Henot, and others, the club continued on at The Harp, offering a welcome home for supporters arriving in Paris or simply passing through for a weekend.
The visitors did come, and the sturdy band of regulars at the Harp were complemented each week by tourists enjoying a weekend in Paris, short-term contractors spending a few months at a time working in France, and curious locals drawn in by the rowdy celebrations on Boulevard de Clichy.
Many a tour group being dropped off for a show at The Moulin Rouge paused to peer in the steamed-up windows on a cold winter night or navigates around green and white-clad revellers using the street as a makeshift terrace come sunnier weather.
The first half of the 2010s saw the Glaswegian double-act of Stephen Quinn and Michael Graham regularly taking shifts on the bar and ensuring any passing Premier League fan requesting the Spurs game to keep on walking. The duo led efforts to boost membership and revive the CSC website while pushing the boat out into social media.
Happy New Year! Different location, same result… 🇨🇵🍀🍻 pic.twitter.com/EH2CqJrpD3
— French CSC (@FrenchCSC) January 2, 2024
In 2017, for the first time in the French CSCs lifetime, Celtic came to play in Paris. Memories swirled among the elder statesmen of the encounter back in 1995, but this was to be their time against the newly-monied PSG.
TV appearances followed on the SFR and Canal+ French channels, with one producing a lengthy feature on Celtic. Once again, the boulevards were packed, with Celtic fans already arriving in numbers on Sunday evening for a match to be played on Wednesday.
The 20th anniversary of the CSC came in 2018, and a call was made to try and get as many familiar faces as possible of past and present to Paris for a celebratory shindig. There was birthday cake and cameos, followed by a live Irish music set from the French folk group Rebel Spered. The bar’s manager changed again in 2019, with Mathieu Moreau taking over. During the period of changeover, the CSC took brief residence in McBride’s, a city centre haunt excellently hosted by Barra O’Ruadhain, and for several games at the Pure Malt.
Once the CSC settled back at its natural home, Mathieu’s first task was to steer the ship through the struggles of the COVID pandemic. The current crowd features the experience, wisdom, and wisecracks of Jimmy Dunnet, a founding member of the Rio Fergus McCann CSC in Rio de Janeiro who signed up on a transfer deal from South America in the mid-2010s.
The faithful French trio of Marc Labardin, Paul Roustan, and Benjamin Urien proudly represented the CSC and have waved the flag on numerous European away days in recent years. Not forgetting Mike Duffin, whose appearances in any group photo always get a shout-out from the HWEUCSC alumni.
Meanwhile, old faces come and go. The business travellers whose contracts have brought them in and out of Paris at various times, some going back to those early days with Bill Ford, such as Rob Dillon and Davie Coyle. Those who have moved beyond Paris but still return, usually unannounced, to bring a whirlwind of laughs and craft beer to the bar, such as Marty De Bhaillis, who keeps the flag flying in the South of France, and Arnaud Maurice, always with a bag of brews.
Others who have passed through, have gone on to lead their own paths in the CSC world, with Sean Kelly, a visitor from the U.S. through Europe in 2017, returning to Detroit with inspiration from the community spirit built at The Harp and other CSCs. His own hard work now has the Detroit CSC emerging as a new and exciting active hub in the U.S.
👋 admin here, i will be in japan for two weeks after christmas & i will bring the last package of detroit celtic scarves for sale or trade to any japanese celtic supporters in tokyo, kyoto, or nagano who wants to meet up 🇯🇵 🍀 pic.twitter.com/oJdWXXJjYH
— 𝕯𝖊𝖙𝖗𝖔𝖎𝖙 𝕮𝖊𝖑𝖙𝖎𝖈 𝕾𝖚𝖕𝖕𝖔𝖗𝖙𝖊𝖗𝖘 (@DetroitCSC) December 24, 2023
A link-up was also made that year with Kuala Lumpur CSC, based at Sebastian’s Rock Bar. For a city so famed for glamour, famous faces have been few and far between over the years. Paolo Nutini quietly slipped in for a nightcap after one of his gigs in Paris, while James McAvoy briefly turned up on the doorstep in the middle of a miserable Scottish Cup semi-final. At one stage, Macaulay Culkin and Pete Doherty were said to be occasional late-night visitors to The Harp, though their Celtic credentials remain unconfirmed.
David McIntyre – Celticbars.com
An extract from Football Without Fans – The History of Celtic Supporters Clubs by David McIntyre ( Celtic Bars). Football Without Fans – The History of Celtic Supporters Clubs is out now and available in print and kindle versions HERE. Watch the video in the Celtic World tweet below for some amazing facts on the Celtic support around the world.
Just before Christmas, David McIntyre from Celtic Bars was interviewed by Celtic TV about his Football Without Fans book. Here’s the video on Celtic TV’s You Tube channel . You can order a copy in print or kindle from Amazon regardless of where you are in the world. Order your copy HERE.