You were not my first love, and you will never be first in my affections. A quirk of geography, yes, but one that prevails. I grew up in Coventry, and that was that. My team was set in stone, and they have been my team for 22 fruitless years now. Celtic must have been ingrained within my soul from an early age, but try as I might my first memory of Celtic was reading that on a particular Sunday that Celtic were playing Rangers. I boldly predicted a home victory, knowing that they were the team were entrenched within my family’s psyche. My childhood enthusiasm shouted that Celtic would win 3-0 and that Rangers would have five players sent off. The game in question would soon be christened the St Patrick’s Day Massacre, and my initial wild predictions from within the eager mind of a seven year old almost came true.
In an indirect way, Celtic changed my life. As I started frequenting Celtic minded pubs, I heard discussions on politics that I hadn’t heard at school. My eyes were opened wide, and a political consciousness broke through. From being a fifteen year old who only lived for football, I was a seventeen year old who self-studied the modern Irish conflicts. Whilst this can potentially sideline into a debate about Celtic being a club that is apolitical and inclusive, I would counter argue by saying that football and politics are irreversibly linked, and that football without an underlying political facet is like a body without a soul. I am not judgemental enough to suggest that every Celtic supporter has an interest in Irish politics, but it was listening to passionate and intellectual views from within the Celtic family ignited the flame that ultimately led me to obtaining a degree in Politics. Without Celtic, my adult life would have been different.
The Martin O’Neill era made me walk around university in Leicester with my head held high. Celtic gave me the sense of victory that my first love could never do, and whilst this statement reeks of glory hunting and settling for second best, it was always a simple sense of pride that a club that had found its way into our collective family heart in the 1910s had continued to inspire almost a century later. When I was punched in the face by a fascist in a Rangers shirt on an anti-BNP demonstration, I was not filled with hate for the evil scowl that had faced me before his fist of fury connected. On the contrary, I felt greater pride that, ethically Celtic had always been quick to denounce discrimination and bigotry. Whilst Rangers finally embraced the 20th Century in 1989, Celtic had been progressive and driven by its own beliefs, not revelling in the hatred of others, for the entirety of its existence.
Celtic provided me with a wonderful day with my, now sadly deceased Father, in 2004. The love for the Celts stemmed from my Mum’s side but my Dad was a Dunfermline fan. The meeting of the two sides in the 2004 cup final was a wonderful occasion that has taken on greater personal poignancy in the last eighteen months. Although at half time I was sat there stony faced whilst my Dad was partying on the other side. Thankfully, Larsson could sign off in style, unlike his first Celtic Park appearance when he almost knocked my uncle out with a stray shot in the warm up. Through an accident of time, Celtic were the last team my Dad cheered on in his life. The hospice bedroom had ITV, and the Champions League qualifier versus Arsenal was a game that my Dad, his brain riddled with cancer but his mind determined and full of humour, wanted to watch the game. We sat together, eyes fixed on the tiny screen as Mowbray’s side was taken apart. Dad did keep drifting to sleep but I could sense of how happy he was that we were spending this moment together. I am not ashamed to say that, for the first time since Celtic leapt into my life, that the result bothered me not one bit. The fragility of life overruled everything, the sadness and pride equally pulling my heart strings as the realisation of what was about to reign over with the darkest cloud. Seven days later, my Dad passed away.
In the 2010/11 season, Celtic captivated me than it ever had before. I do not have any Celtic supporting fiends, and the family members who introduced me to the club and took me to games in the last decade have been pre-occupied with raising their children. I want to thank Celtic for being far more than a football club, but for being a source of inherent happiness, and at times a sense of bittersweet sadness for so many people. I want to thank Celtic for re-establishing a connection with family members from generations past, ones that there may be no other topic of conversation without this great club. I am not an important fan of the club, those who travel all over Scotland and Europe on a regular basis are. I am a Coventry City supporter. I have been to see Celtic five times this season, but I want to thank Celtic for creating such an atmosphere that allows thousands of fans to huddle with complete strangers. Despite going to matches on my own, I feel like I truly belong. The Celtic family are inclusive and they are wonderful, and we will truly never walk alone.
Thank you Celtic, and I will see you next season, albeit from a distance.