Each and every one of my family lived and breathed Celtic…except me. I often wondered if something was wrong with me, as Celtic didn’t hold that much appeal. Sure, I liked watching them, I even went to the odd game with my Dad, I celebrated when they scored, I commiserated myself when they were defeated, but it wasn’t the be all and end all for me. Sure, I even got the new strips when they came out and wore them to play football with my pals down the local park (or in the street playing heady-two-touch) but I was a boy with massive ambitions to be the single greatest astronaut who ever lived (Neil who?) and to be the first man to discover that the planet Mars was made out of chocolate, with a soft and chewy nougat centre. Celtic were more of a distraction to me when I was five. They got in the way of space-faring, like a giant green and white hooped blockade of Imperial Star Cruisers. I wasn’t Celtic daft, which if you’re from where I grew up, is just plain…odd.
I was more aware of my ‘Odd-ness’ in the Centenary year, which almost blindly passed me by. For an eight year old, I remember vividly the day my father went to the 1989 Scottish Cup on the local supporters bus for two reasons. Firstly, I was on my way into town with my mum who had promised me a new Star Wars toy if I behaved myself and didn’t get myself lost in the labyrinthine forests of clothes racks in Marks and Spencers, or somehow became stranded in the aisles of some cold, lonely shoe shop (which I had an absolute gift for doing…every time…). The second reason I remember this day vividly is that on the No 4 bus home, I was struck by a massive, violent bout of diarrhoea. I had to get off a stop early and run, gasping, on tip-toes, with one hand holding my jacksy and the other undoing my belt, round the back of the Ranza bar to unleash a gush of smelly brown water, that had wee brown submarines the shape of whole, unchewed chips in the midst of it, from my rear end. I almost didn’t make it. As the last of the liquid pooh sputtered from my sphincter, I suspected the plate of chips and gravy from the wee cafe in the Argyll Markets that I had for lunch had caused my unfortunate faecal eruption. the woman who served me had a fag hanging from her lips as she slopped the lumpy, quivering globule of gravy onto my cold sliced potatoes. I wondered if they had been cooked properly at the time, now I knew that they hadn’t.
But that night, exhausted and with a bum like a Japanese flag, the way I viewed Celtic changed suddenly and with a smile. My Dad returned from watching the hoops thrash the Huns 1-0 (or so he slurred). He brought me home a match programme which has since been lost to both the cruel and unstoppable passage of time and an overzealous mother hell bent on cleaning every single inch of her domain…every single day. But something was different. The fabric of the world had changed during the course of the day. I saw my father return home happy. Not only happy, but the kind of giddy happiness that I suspect he saw in me on Christmas morning as I fervently tore off the wrapping paper of a massive At-At Walker from The Empire Strikes Back. Then it struck me that this was more than a football match to him, more than a football match to my Uncles and Aunts as they made their merry way back from the boozer that evening. My father was beaming, his face was bright red from a day spent singing in the stands and drinking in the pub. It’s a strange kind of feeling seeing your old man, a man who toiled daily and usually returned home on the verge of breaking down, the weight of the world so heavy upon his shoulders that he physically slumped before usually finding refuge in the bottom of a can of Tennents Lager (the old cans with the semi-nudey wimmin on the side). I went to bed that night so happy for him, with the seed of excitement planted in my small, fertile mind.
Over the years that seed blossomed and I grew into my Celtic life. I grew more aware of my identity as a Scots working class Catholic. I began to relate more to the ethos of the club I supported. I saw how it was more than a football club, a philosophy of tolerance and acceptance of different cultures. It was a way of life, heck, it was a spiritual brotherhood, the magnitude of which I hadn’t even begun to comprehend. Later on, through the glorious Martin O’Neill years I travelled the world on company dime, visiting such far flung places as South Korea and Brazil, I readily identified myself as a Celtic Supporter. People I met took on the mantle of our club, catching the enthusiasm I had and carrying it like the Olympic flame with them on their paths of life. I’ve turned born and bred Levski Sophia fans into die hard Tims, I’ve taught Dutchmen the words to the entire “Willy Maley” song and have video tape of them singing it joyously, I’ve listened, rapt, as an old, wizened Red Star Belgrade fan rhymed off the names of the Lisbon Lions as the men who conquered Catenaccio. I gave away Celtic jerseys and scarves to South American fans who took these personal totems and held them as sacred objects. I was a Celtic Missionary spreading the word to the heathen populations of foreign countries. And each time I travelled further and further away from the land of my birth, my love of Celtic grew in my heart. The love that once was nothing more than a small spark had ignited into an everlasting inferno of pride. Each time I returned home, it was to Celtic Park I went, renewing my bonds with my team and each time I loved Celtic more. And when the decision came to immigrate to the Antipodes, it was with a heavy heart that I went, knowing full well that I left behind something more than myself or my family. I left behind Celtic. Not only that, my support group of peers, my friends (who were mostly Celtic fans) were being left behind. I was starting fresh, in a new country, one that had Football as a 5th choice sport. I thought I’d be alone, cast adrift in a sea of loneliness, no Celtic to keep me warm at night.
How wrong I was. Upon arrival in Australia, I found out that there was a local supporters club. I contacted them and was invited up to the club the next night for the Celtic V Motherwell 4-4 game (WGS first league game in charge). Regardless of the result, what I recall most from that night was the warmth of the people, of my fellow supporters who knew the pain I’d felt leaving Glasgow, who knew that trepidation I held in moving to a foreign land, who knew the love a supporter has for Celtic.
I was welcomed instantly. This was my home away from home and suddenly it all made sense. Almost 20 years after that first spark of love was created that distant night when I saw how happy my father was, I knew now what he knew then…that I belong to the Celtic Family. Too often you can go out in Australia now and see a guy (or gal) wearing a Chelsea top, with no knowledge about the clubs history or the casual racism that saturated their terraces in the 80’s and 90’s. You can travel through South Korea or Japan or China and see Man United tops everywhere. Sure, the people can name a couple of the players, but they have no idea who Bobby Charlton is. But you take a Chelsea fan away from home and he has nothing. No attachment to his club except the tattoo across the width of his back and the facial scars from his days as a casual. I could travel to the ends of the Earth and would still always have a home in the hearth of Celtic. This is what makes us unique in the world of football. Our fans not only spread over the world, travelling to all corners of the globe, but we take with us the history of a people, the Celtic Nation. We take our clubs history and ethos and apply it to the everyday living of our lives. We are Celtic.
Glasgow Celtic has shaped my life in many different ways. From the small boy excited to see his father joyously happy, to the warmth of being received into the welcoming arms of a Celtic Supporters Club in a far off land, Celtic has been with me every step of the way. With the advent of the Online Celtic Community, I now have a place to talk Celtic every day. I think about Celtic every day. It permeates my thoughts. It defines me as a person. It’s who I am. Now my eldest son is four years old. His Grandfather sends him every single item from the Celtic superstore over to Australia and the wee fella wears it with pride (I’m still trying to get him to stop wearing the bumblebee strip!). He doesn’t realise it yet, but he’s part of the Celtic Family too.
Celtic is my life. I can say that now with pride…although it took 20 years and travelling to the other side of the world to truly realise it…
…and I can still name every Star Wars character…except the fanny-faced guy…