This originally appeared in a zine I briefly produced called The Magazine. It then appeared on the Setanta website when it mainly a text based thing. It has got preserved here for posterity. As I have observed before, up until about ten years ago I wrote a lot about sport, a lot more than I actually care about sport relative to, say, nature. But evidently sport appealed to something in my young manhood.
I had mixed feelings about reposting it. I had remembered this article as being a kind of anti-Celtic screed, which I thought would read now as needlessly provocative and adolescent – whereas on reviewing it is not quite that – I am not sure there is much that a thoughtful Celtic fan would disagree with. I tend to agree now with the onetouchfootball commenter who observed that this contained nothing new and was mainly composed of assertions, and a certain prim self-righteousness pervades it which I think is actually atypical of me.
Onetouchfootball was the main messageboard I ever posted on – though even at the height of my posting life, I did feel it was a bit of a waste of time and prone to flame wars (are they still so called?) – and is full of interesting people. My posts tended to bring an end to whatever conversation was going on, or garner exactly zero replies.
GLASGOW CELTIC COMA SCALE
‘For it’s a grand old team to play for
‘And it’s a grand old team to see
‘And if you know your history
‘It’s enough to make your heart go OOOOOOOHHHHHHH’ -Celtic Supporters Song
IN 1967, Glasgow Celtic won the European Cup in Lisbon, with a team entirely comprised of men from within miles of the stadium. The Lisbon Lions have become a central part of Celtic’s mythology as they struggle to win anything much with their expensively assembled multinational crew.
In the culture of football club as PLC, the likes of Man Utd and Juventus aren’t particularly worried about the paying punters from the local community who might want to see their alleged representatives play a game. They are interested in the football club as Brand; they want to sell replica jerseys and mugs and pictures of Beckham/Davids/whoever to the punters in Middle England, Malaysia and Munich alike. They try to encrust themselves in tradition and myth (like Barcelona, Liverpool and Juventus) or the glamorous aura of loadsamoney (Marseilles, Blackburn).
Generally, the mystique of the really big clubs for whom allegiance crosses national boundaries has various components. A distant foundation with plenty of sepia-tinted photos of stoical-looking men in baggy shorts with arms folded does wonders to establish a club as rooted in a definite past. Most clubs have legendary father figures of the distant past; Busby, Shankly, Paisley, Jock Stein, etc. Many clubs also have the aura of tragedy in the background; the Munich Air Disaster, or the death of Celtic’s goalkeeper John Thomson during a Old Firm game in September 1931. Finally, being associated with a particular region or ethnic group, particularly one which has been persecuted or oppressed, is also handy. Step forward, Barcelona and Glasgow Celtic.
What is there in all this that attracts a Kuala Lumpur taxi driver or a Garryowen teenager to support a team many miles and possible
continents away? Why are Barcelona team shirts sold in Lifestyle Sports in Galway and on the Oslo High Street?
Something linking the characteristics of superclubs listed above is that all revolve around a sense of belonging, a sense of tradition and even of family. It is unfortunately a cliche, but modern postindustrial society is increasing a place where people have lost a sense of belonging. Tradition and even the sense of a local community have all but disappeared among the suburban middle classes. I know more about Puff Daddy than the people who live two doors up.
Celtic are the fortunate position of having a ready-made brand identity, and a ready made demographic; the millions of Irish both in Ireland and in the Diaspora. Millions of Irish who sing The Fields of Athenry when they get drunk, closing-time Provos the world over.
Celtic supporters enjoy wrapping the green flag round; supporting Celtic is a refuge for armchair Republicans who doubtless regard singing rebel songs as a revolutionary gesture. The same middle class lost souls who would never dare openly support the IRA happily chant ‘Up the Ra’ within the safety net of football.
From our distant perspective, Celtic may seem to posses the charm of the underdog when pitted against the monotonously successful Rangers. However in Scottish football the Old Firm are twin behemoths, bloated giants whose perpetual stumbling in European competition is always good for a laugh. To call Celtic underdogs is like calling Pepsi or Burger King underdogs.
As the Lisbon Lions illustrate, like most football clubs Celtic were once genuinely part of a community. Founded in 1888 by a Marist Brother to give the Irish population of Glasgow a focus of pride, Celtic in the pre-Murdoch era genuinely did represent a community focus for the Irish community of Glasgow, and beyond to Donegal and the North of Ireland generally.
But now supporting Glasgow Celtic in Ireland has become a facile badge of Irishness. More to the point, it is Irishness as Brand Name, as Lifestyle Accessory. Those Celtic supporters who claim that they are engaged in a profound expression of culture as they watch various Scandinavians struggle to match Aberdeen are sadly deluded. They are simply credulous consumers of a carefully-designed corporate package. And that isn’t what football is about. Football is about teams that are genuinely part of a community, it’s about windswept days in midwinter, it’s about heart and soul and guts and blood and thunder and mud and diesel and dust and misery and joy and love and hate and futility and redemption.