Following the Greatest Football Supporters in the World Award to Celtic fans by FIFA I saw a lot of comment online from supporters, virtually all were unanimous in saying that this was well deserved. Many also commented about the fact that we received this whilst at the same time the Scottish government have implemented the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act which sees sections of the support videoed heavily by the police, illustrating that perhaps we are greater appreciated abroad than we are at home.
There were also those however who, whilst appreciating the merits of receiving the award, did wonder whether it was a little patronising and an example of where we as a club are; that we celebrate an award for the behaviour of the fans rather than celebrate great European victories. Whilst I do have some sympathy for that discussion (and that concept has been extended further by the recent fawning of the German press) I believe there is every legitimacy in accepting the praise and fawning of foreign journalists, clubs and players. Maybe some of that criticism is part of the Scottish culture of rejecting praise and being more comfortable with being average but I believe we should be rightly proud of this reputation and unabashed at accepting the plaudits.
There is much to like about modern football, modern stadia and modern football culture. It is a safer more pleasant environment than I grew up in, but there is also much to criticise in this money-driven time where every club is looking to squeeze every penny it can in order to satisfy the never-ending greed of some of the top players. In the praise that we regularly attain after European nights for the atmosphere at Celtic Park, I see a longing from many clubs and people in football for the game to return to the way that it used to be. And I see an envy that we at Celtic have something special that they have lost.
In our Foundation we have a charitable division that stays true to the ethos of our club. It has a chief executive who is a supporter like the rest of us and staff and activists who care deeply about the added value that the foundation brings to the local community. It is an integral part of Celtic that stays true to the ethos of the founding foundations of our club – it is not a tick box exercise.
In our stadium we have a football ground that was built following a fans’ movement that saved the club from the ignominy of administration and was created with the viewing pleasure of the ordinary supporter in mind, not at the priority of the corporate fan.
The team is managed by a life-long supporter of the club with a hefty sprinkling of Scottish-born and academy reared players throughout the squad interspersed with foreign stars who manage to retain a connection with the fans.
Nothing can remain the way that it always used to be and Celtic have evolved like all other clubs, but we have managed to retain a core and ethos that can be traced all the way back to the foundation of the club. We have a charitable division that is at the core of the message of the football team. We have a 60,000 seat stadium where the majority of supporters are not tourists, but come week in week out and we have a raw passion for our team that is fused through our club from the team to the boardroom without a desire for oligarch money nor players who cavort in goal celebrations oblivious to the joy of the supporters.
We receive accolades for our atmosphere within the stadium because it is not false. We receive accolades because we retain something that the bigger clubs have lost. At a Premier League coaching conference in May Brendan Rodgers had a power point presentation about the joy of managing Celtic and the importance to the team of us the supporters. His presentation was full of close-ups of fans and how we react to victories, to defeats, to goals, to celebrations. “They are a priceless source of inspiration,” he said. “How could a team not be moved by that level of commitment?”
We have inspired the team to a once in a 100 year unbeaten run. I don’t think that should ever be something we should be embarrassed about.