In 1997, I lost my second footballing virginity, being taken to the land of my parents for the first time, and to a three quarters built Paradise. At this stage in my albeit football obsessed existence, I was aware of a rivalry of sorts between this Old Firm, but only knew the other side to be called Fucking Rangers, as that what family members referred to them every May as they clocked up nine painful league titles in a row.
The opponents were Dunfermline Athletic, substandard cannon fodder I assumed, on this Wim Jansen’s first league game in charge. The previous week’s defeat at Hibs was just a mere blip, and surely this was to be a routine victory, to give the 13 year old kid with an English accent a memorable trip to reflect upon. The day didn’t start off well, however, as I saw a pie seemingly in slow motion dive through the air before depositing its scolding contents all over my new Celtic t-shirt (a horrible Umbro piece of leisurewear that my Mum turned pink days later). Turning to my uncle, I saw him clutching his face that had obviously been hit. Thoughts flashed through my brain. Is this that Old Firm anger that I had been hearing about? Had we been infiltrated by the huns who wanted to punch kind uncles in the face and throw pies over teenage kids? Were the 43 Dunfermline fans actually a bunch of crazy, pie hating folk?
It wasn’t until I saw a dreadlocked fellow strolling over that the pieces slowly came together, revealing a less sinister story. Henrik Larsson, in perhaps one of his first acts at Celtic Park, had misplaced a short during the warm up straight at my Uncle’s face. Thankfully, this was not a prophecy of his Celtic career, but the pie being left on my lap was sadly a metaphor of my Celtic career, as the Celts’ were left with egg on their faces, losing 2-1 to the Pars. Larsson came over to apologise and shook my hand, and it was only whilst watching him, as a 20 year old in the 2004 cup final, that I realised that, if I had been less blasé about meeting a footballer, I could have been his strike partner that day and we could have been buddies. Sadly for me but not for Celtic, this never came to fruition. I just remember being overawed by a stadium, which although not completed was far beyond the noise capacity that Highfield Road could ever produce, and I knew that I had found a team that I could proud to have a lifetime fling with.
I never returned to Celtic Park until 2005, where I finally saw Celtic win in a drab game against Motherwell. Due to my obsessed love of my own football team, I rarely make more than four or five games a season, ensuring that I do not miss any City games in the process. The childlike naivety gave way to someone who Irish politics at university, using the Old Firm as the basis of study, perplexing many down here who weren’t used to the inextricable political and social aspect of Celtic. Whether this last part is agreed with, I am delighted that my family never gave up on me, merely allowing me to trudge along the Championship, finishing 17th every season, and introduced me to a club that can capture the heart and soul of those whose first allegiance may be elsewhere.
Just to prove that God does have a sense of humour, there has been a connection in recent years, with Hartson, Keane, Bellamy, Dublin, Telfer and Strachan’s managerial team all having had a foot in both camps. To top it all off, Neil Lennon made a name for himself at our main rivals, Leicester City.
At this moment in time, I have never felt as much love for Celtic as I currently do. This is largely down to the aforementioned Lennon, and the way that he has the team playing. Having been at the Scottish Cup game against Rangers, I was astounded, shocked, and dismayed by the media smear campaign against the manager.
No longer the naïve teenager who was aware of the huns only by name, I wasn’t surprised that Lennon was targeted. He stands for everything that the establishment hate, but the repulsion that I felt as I listened to callers on Radio Clyde argue in a pathetic manner that he somehow brings it on himself due to his actions is akin to arguing that victims on domestic violence somehow deserve it because they acted in a manner that the fist happy scumbag took a dislike to.
This argument defies logic and intelligence, and yet lunatic ramblings such as the Rangers Supporters Trust are somehow given top billing on national radio stations. They may not be first in my affections, but I was led to Celtic in 1997, and I am proud to say I am a Celtic fan, even if there is a slight disclaimer next to that statement.