"There's a Club if you'd like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you..."
By The Way - Weekly Columns
By Paul T I've written before about my circuitous route to becoming a Celtic fan: coming from a single parent family there was no real strong paternal influence there to guide/cajole/force me into supporting anyone, and in the absence of a father there to take me to games I occasionally went to Easter Road as a young kid to see the great Hibs team of the early '70's. My first memory of seeing Celtic play in the flesh was at Pat Stanton's testimonial in 1978, a year or so after I’d been captivated by the sight of the white Celtic tracksuit top that Tommy Burns was wearing as a sub in the 1977 Scottish Cup Final and had decided there and then that I'd found 'my' team. I was 7. Ironically my father was a lifelong and active Celtic fan, and while the nature of our relationship meant that we never had the opportunity to go to a game together before his death, we did see each other through a throng of bodies at the occasional home and away game over the years. I'm sure it gave him some degree of pride, although from my perspective at the time I never gave it, or him, a second thought. The bond I formed with the Club was a strong and, at times, strange one: going to a non-denominational school in West Lothian as I did wasn’t the greatest of environments to show your hand on which team you supported, unless you supported the Sons or the Cousins of William. I literally wore my Celtic support like a badge: many’s a trip down the old Science Corridor (not a euphemism) would end up with my schoolbag (green, always green) covered in spit or worse. I couldn’t give a single fuck: Celtic and music and Star Wars was what it was all about for me, with girls being added to that list a short while later. I didn’t have any notion then of the socio-political positions of the Club, the support, probably even myself to be honest. I had to look up what being a Fenian actually was after one too many times having it literally spat in my face after yet another drubbing of the Forces of Darkness (then, much like now, they were an absolute irrelevance as a footballing force and a source of amusement beyond that). I didn’t really ‘get’ the Irishness thing until I was in my much later teens, and I never developed the need to know the words of the non-football songs I’d hear sung around me at the games. The thing for me was that, as my love for Celtic grew and with it my experience of going to games, the results became important but never paramount: I grew to love the experience of the football every bit as much as I loved us winning, mainly through the time it gave me with my pals, the shared experience we had going to games and dissecting them afterwards, the social possibilities it opened up to me. Going to Celtic Park was AN OCCASION, no matter whom we were playing. Partly from my perspective I guess from the financial aspect, as certainly before I was working and making my own money, it was the struggle my mum went through to make sure that I had enough cash to go to as many games as I could that made all the difference to me. She even sweet-talked a young guy at her work to take me on his supporter’s bus when I had nobody else to take me and was too young to be allowed to go on my own. I probably haven’t thanked her enough for all that if truth be told: it can’t have been easy for her, and I know for a fact she sacrificed a lot of her own to make sure I could watch the Hoops as often as I could. As a consequence of all this, I guess I never really equated supporting Celtic with a burning need to win everything: we played in a relatively competitive environment, with some very good teams challenging us (Aberdeen, Dundee United & latterly in that era Hearts) and also some absolute dross popping up to win the occasional fluky cup final. My relationship with Celtic was much more about the rollercoaster: the highs of League & Cup wins, the lows of perpetual European disappointment and occasional domestic disaster, underpinned with a deep mistrust of anyone in administrative authority at the Club: the Biscuit Tin Years. Even after the financial Arms Race started in Scottish football I never had any expectation beyond Celtic competing strongly: there were good years and middling years and, from 89-95, barren years, but by and large you just sucked it up and got on with it, win or lose. There are a whole generation of supporters my age & older who probably have similar life experiences to me as far as supporting the Club goes, and I’m aware many of the younger crew look at us and roll their eyes as we caution them on the lessons of The Nineties and the dangers of hubris & the realities of what can happen when expectation starts to become bloated and unrealistic. At the same time, I’m not in the lecturing game: one of the great things, probably the greatest, about being a Celtic supporter is that there’s no ‘right answer’: we’re home to a wide range of beliefs, opinions, politics and indeed expectations of success & that’s exactly how it should be. The worst kind of support is where dissent is shouted down, where there’s an attempt to homogenise or manufacture a ‘single view of the truth’ and I’m absolutely delighted that’s not us. By the same token, it rips my knitting to see the “#CelticFamily’ nonsense on social media and the accompanying expectations that by someone being a fellow Celtic fan they are automatically to be accepted as sound: it’s a lovely thought but, being perfectly frank, some of both the best and worst human beings I’ve ever met have supported Celtic. The one-size-fits-all thing sounds good in theory, but life isn’t like that. I’ve a tendency to meander in my writing (second only to my tendency to slip in as many Smiths references as possible) and I’m not entirely sure the point I’m trying to make here: basically, it’s cool to have different opinions; it’s cool to listen to old bores, or it isn’t; it’s not cool to make your own rules on what constitutes a “true Celtic fan”, just embrace the diversity; and, finally, be hashtag-aware kids, I’m secretly judging you. MTH @pault1888
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