Football Without Fans – Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities CSC

Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities CSC celebrate their 40th anniversary this Thursday. This is their rather eventful story…

 

The Irish poet WB Yeats said that ‘Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.’ As the Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities CSC nears its fortieth season, its trademark has been not only keeping the flame alive for young Celtic supporters attending the universities and colleges in Edinburgh but also introducing the fire of the love of Celtic to many new supporters.

The club was founded in February 1984. It was down to a couple of first-year students at Heriot-Watt University who lobbied the CSA for tickets for a game against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Posters were displayed around the two university campuses, and on 22 February, a bus with 57 supporters made its way from David Hume Tower at Edinburgh University to the old Heriot-Watt Student Union in Grindlay Street and the Heriot-Watt campus at Riccarton. A meeting the following week established the new club, and after much debate about what they should call themselves (James Connolly and Mary Queen of Scots were part of the suggestions in a rather lively discussion) the now famous acronym HWEUCSC was born.

They elected their first President (fittingly,  named Kennedy) and first Honorary President in Brian McClair, a graduate of Glasgow University. When HWEUCSC was formed, another more long-established CSC at Glasgow University had been in existence since the early 1970s. GUCSC were great mentors for their younger cousin on the east coast. Sadly, the GUCSC went into abeyance in the 1990s, although pleasingly, the club is currently up and running again.

So, while HWEUCSC can now claim to be the longest continuously run student CSC, they are content to avoid any controversy by recognising that in this case, they weren’t ‘first to wear the green.’ Over the years, they have helped other student CSCs form at Stirling and Dundee universities, both of which are sadly currently in abeyance, and there is currently a club at Strathclyde University. They have rekindled their relationship with their Glasgow cousins, staging a three-way footie tournament along with Strathclyde University CSC in March 2022. They have many ex-students who have remained in Edinburgh as well as locals and non-students of all ages, meaning that they have a very wide-ranging age membership, from kids to veterans.

Over the years, they have had members from around Europe, as well as Kashmir, India, Egypt, the USA, Australia, Nigeria, and Kurdistan. As those guys moved on, they are proud that a little bit of Celtic went with them.

They currently have around 170 members, allowing a bus to every home game as well as helping members attend away games via tickets and trips on other Edinburgh CSCs. The club has had various Honorary Presidents over the years, some obvious and others perhaps less so. They include Danny McGrain, Robbie Coltrane, Pat Nevin, and Ardal O’Hanlon (known better at the time as Father Dougal from Channel 4’s ‘Father Ted’) The position has been vacant for a while, but it was agreed at their recent AGM to reinstate it.

They are probably best known for their Tommy Burns Supper, which they first held in 1986 with Tommy himself and Brian McClair as their guests. The Supper was established after a skirmish in a city hostelry with the Tory student society, which had just held their Burns Supper. A resolution was made to show the posh boys how to properly celebrate Burns, except it was in celebration of ‘our’ Burns.

Their event quickly grew, needing to move to a bigger venue in its second year, the Teviot Row Student Union holding 230, which has been the venue just about ever since. The Supper, with charitable causes at its heart, is a deliberate parody of the traditional event, retaining the cock-a-leekie, haggis, and a dram but celebrating all things Tommy and Celtic through song, speech, poetry, and performance.

Over the years, they have honoured many Celtic players past and present, actors, journalists, and even politicians as guests. Tommy himself attended almost every one of the 22 suppers until his passing in 2008 (save one when he was on managerial duties in England and another when dealing with his illness.) A final event was held in 2009, with Tommy’s family as the guests of honour. But subsequently, after much debate and discussion among the members, they rekindled the Supper—with the blessing of Tommy’s family—in a joint event with the Celtic Foundation at Celtic Park in 2017 and two more back at their spiritual home in Teviot Row in 2018 (their 25th) and 2019. They plan another to celebrate the club’s 40th anniversary in early 2024.

They like to style themselves as having a ‘radical student’ edge, with the highlight perhaps being their successful banning of Rangers supporters clubs and merchandise from the two universities in 1986. They launched simultaneous motions through the two student union bodies to put in place a ban because of the Rangers’ long record of not signing Catholics. (This was an important principle to them.) At both universities, the motion was sponsored by other student clubs such as Labour, Liberal, and SNP societies and anti-racism groups.

At Edinburgh University, the general meeting at which it was debated apparently had the highest turnout since student activism around the Vietnam War. It was passed in both universities with overwhelming support, with only small groups of Rangers supporters and political allies arguing against it.

Part of the resolution was that the then rector of Edinburgh University, one Archie Macpherson, was mandated to write to every Scottish football club to ask them to support the motion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his job, he resisted doing so, but the letters were sent anyway, with over half the clubs replying: some passive, some supportive, and some positively hostile.

A postscript to the saga was the signing by the Rangers of Mo Johnston in 1989. The then-elected President of the Heriot-Watt Students Association, also a member of HWEUCSC, received a call from the Daily Record asking if the ban was now rescinded because of Johnson’s signing. His response, in true politician style, was that such a rescindment was not a decision for him but for the students of the University. To their knowledge, the ban remains in place to this day.

Their ‘leftfield’ character has shown itself in other ways, such as in the University Challenge. Two committee members made up half the team from Heriot-Watt University’s only ever appearance on BBC University Challenge in the late 1980’s, with the campaign lasting as long as Celtic’s Euro runs at that time—one victory before a heavy defeat. Their added claim to fame is that one of those two members made history by being the only contestant ever to appear on the show with the Hoops on.

Those same two members made more history a year or so later when they got arrested in the grounds of Holyrood Palace following a very late-ending Tommy Burns Supper, having climbed the fence with their carry-out just because they were ‘curious’ about the palace grounds. Special branch searches of their respective flats and a warning letter from the procurator fiscal duly followed.

The 40-year journey of HWEUCSC bus tunes—from tapes to CDs, to Bluetooth, and back to CDs again—has made them pretty distinct for their eclectic playlists. As well as the usual Celtic and rebel fare, their tunes include much from the left and anti-establishment ends of the spectrum: FC St Pauli and German punk anti-fascist music mixes with rather unkind punk music about the Tories and ska tributes to Fidel Castro.

The tune to the Pink Panther cartoon series was also a staple for a few years, and nobody to this day is quite sure why. Any supporters club that reaches 40 years old will have its fair share of traumas. One highlight from their early years would be the committee member who, being a wee bit worse for wear, managed to lose all the cash from bus fares and tickets for 50 members on the floor of the Jungle.

Another was the committee member who spectacularly left a bag of 60 Tommy Burns Supper tee-shirts on the top deck of a corporation bus on the way home from a game, never to be seen again.

They were early supporters and members of the Celtic Trust, as well as hosting a public meeting for ‘Celts for Change’ at their student union. While the club has members at various Edinburgh universities and colleges, they have tended to base themselves in pubs. Their first base was the Tap O’Lauriston pub in Tollcross, before moving for a long time to the International Bar. The latter became known as a Celtic bar, and they got great financial support from the owner. They did, however, move on, and now they receive good support from Dropkick Murphy’s in the centre of the city.

In season 2023–24, a few projects are being planned leading up to their fortieth anniversary in February 2024. That will be a chance to bring together members old and new, as well as commemorating some who have passed and enthusing some more new members to keep the tradition of CSCs as part of their own Celtic experience.

It wouldn’t be half as much fun supporting our beloved Hoops without the tunes, buses, suppers, banners, traumas, and fun, even if this sometimes clashes with the studying part. W.B. Yeats would be proud of them.

Congratulations to everyone @HWEUCSC on your 40th Anniversary. HH from the team at The Celtic Star!  Football Without Fans…

Photo Colin Poultney/SWPL

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.

More from Football Without Fans tomorrow on The Celtic Star, the Celtic supporters website. Will it be your CSC that’s featured?

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.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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