Hopelessly Devoted To Celtic: Part 1
The global journey of Relentless Effort was well over the half-way point and at 38,000 feet over the Atlantic, I thought now was as good a time as any to reflect on what was achieved so far. I was satisfied that I had left nothing on the park, but I was exhausted… and couldn’t feel my legs.
Over twenty days and nights, I’d taken in Vegas, Boston and New York, watched seven Red Sox games in two cities and drunk in every bar across Bean Town and the Big Apple well past 3am.
If I was tired, too bad, there was no turning back now – literally. I was now on a British Airways flight across the Atlantic bound for Glasgow. I threw back four or five Baileys (beer and wine was giving me serious heart burn by this stage and the creamy components of the Irish cream were acting like an alcoholic Mylanta). I surveyed the remaining stages of my itinerary and prepared myself for the final onslaught.
An onslaught that involved four Celtic games, normally totally doable, except that aside from the two in Glasgow, one was in Helsinki, Finland, and the final game would see me hauling my arse back across the Atlantic for a friendly with Real Madrid in Philadelphia, PA.
As I wrote in a previous Relentless Effort column, Glasgow holds a special place in my heart. It is the birthplace of my parents. It’s the city in which they fell in love and then married. However, it is also the city in which they chose not to raise a family. Instead, migrating across the world to a rural town in West Gippsland, searching for a better life for their children.
Every time I return to Glasgow, I’m reminded of the reasons why they chose Australia over Scotland. Glasgow can be an unforgiving, harsh city at times. I sometimes wonder – if it wasn’t for the racial and religious intolerance against its Irish Catholic community, struggling local economy, a deadly knife culture and the shit weather, Glasgow would be a great city to live in.
That being said, I’m a staunch defender of the city on the Clyde and some of it citizens. I tire of those rare Aussie backpackers that barely make it out of a London Walkabout to venture north of Hadrian’s Wall only to completely bypass Glasgow on their three day shortbread tin tour of Caledonia.
If they bothered to get off the M8 they would discover a city rich in stunning Victorian architecture – built when it was once considered the second city of the empire and some of the friendliest people on this earth with an unwavering commitment to dropping the C-bomb at every opportunity. Unlike the Scottish capital, Glasgow has soul ya [insert expletive]!
It’s the wicked sense of humour of the local Glaswegian that endears the city to me the most. A perfect example is the traffic cone that sits on the head of the Duke of Wellington statue out the front of the Gallery of Modern Art in the city centre. The story goes, in the 80′s some anonymous local placed the cone on the head of the Duke, only for it to be removed by the city council. The following morning, another cone was on top of the 20 foot statue. Twenty years later this tug of war continues.
Now that is Relentless Effort.
More than a practical joke, the cone in some way represents Glaswegians disregard for authority. A trait that I see in my own siblings from time to time.
This defiance, or perhaps mistrust, is no more evident than in the green half of the city. For over 125 years, Celtic supporters have held deep suspicion towards any form of establishment – be that politicians, media, law enforcers, football authorities and lolly-pop ladies.
But can you blame us? From the Scottish Football Association attempts to boot the club out of the league in the fifties for flying the Irish tricolour over Celtic Park, to their recent attempts to break their own rules and allow a brand new football team – Sevco – direct entry into the Scottish Premier League, they make it so easy for us to suspect that the hidden hand of international masonry is at play in Scottish society.
The media brand it as stereotypical Celtic paranoia, this is the same media that remained silent for the better part of a century instead of doing their job of exposing Rangers Football Club for practicing workplace discrimination by refusing to sign Catholic players.
Paranoia aside, returning to Scotland for the first time in two years, I sensed a new optimism in the air amongst half of the city. Change had come to Glasgow.
In a sporting sense, so much has changed in the past six months. Celtic’s former rivals, Rangers, were taken to court by the tax office for not paying taxes for a decade, then fell into administration – uncovering debts of over $140 million and eventually were liquidated with its remaining assets sold for a pittance.
It was under this new optimism that I joined 60,000 member of the Celtic family for the first competitive match of the season.
Celtic 2, Helsinki 1
UEFA Champions League Qualifier 1st leg
Celtic Park, Glasgow
After arriving in Glasgow from New York on the Wednesday morning, that evening I headed up to Glasgow’s east end with my cousins for a Champions League qualifier against the Finnish champions. The 60,000 seater Celtic Park is an impressive site and dominates the skyline of the east.
It appears like a phoenix that rises from the ashes of the long neglected east end of the city. It was built in the late 1800′s by the club’s founder, a Marist brother, to be the home of a football team to raise money to feed the starving Irish in his parish.
Those of us suffering from paranoia may question as to why Glasgow remains the only major industrial city that took in hundreds of thousands of Irish in the aftermath of the famine, yet has no memorial to the tragedy of An Gorta Mór - unlike Boston, New York or Melbourne.
In truth, to the Irish diaspora in Scotland, Celtic Park itself is an appropriate memorial to those who died and those who survived and made a new life in Scotland. Every home game for the past 125 continuous years has been an expression and celebration of our Irish identity.
In 2012, the neighbourhood around the stadium is in the process of getting a much-needed facelift in preparation for Celtic Park hosting the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
What is happening in Glasgow is like that Seinfeld episode when Elaine’s life takes a turn for the worst as George’s life goes on the improve. So too has the fortunes of Celtic and its supporters whilst misery is washing across the south of the city and those who once supported Rangers. As my cousin remarked, it’s as if all our dreams have finally come true.
That being said, the Celtic pubs that line the Gallowgate, the road that approaches the stadium, still remain true to their roots by still reeking of piss, sweat, spew and Guinness farts. Bars like Bairds, Hoops Bar, Bar 67, Haggies, The Phoenix and Sarrie Heid are not the kind of places you’d take a girl on a first date. But I could think of no better place to wet the lips before the match or celebrate a win after the game than in these bars with fellow Tims, singing songs of freedom.
I never tire, nor take for granted the walk up the Gallowgate to Celtic Park. For my cousins, this is a fortnightly routine, like it is for AFL or league fans back home trekking to the G or the SFS. But for me, I can only assume it’s the sporting equivalent of when my fellow Flack writer Ares Mars makes his yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. The lights of the stadium in the distance, the throng of people in green and white hoops, the accents of my parents around - this is my family – this is my home – who needs drugs when you have Celtic?
European nights at Celtic Park are special. During the reign of Saint Martin O’Neil, the support took pride in the restoration of our European track record by beating teams like Lyon, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Valencia, Barcelona, Benfica and Porto.
But Celtic’s recent track record with these tricky European qualifiers had been sketchy at best. Complacency had resulted in slip-ups against lesser known teams like Sion, Braga and Morwell Falcons.
Progress in Europe is a financial must for Celtic since the TV money from Sky and ESPN in Scotland is so pish – thanks to the negotiating skills of the SPL. The Germans got a better deal out of Versailles than the SPL has from the broadcasters.
On this particular summer’s evening, the sun was out and the mood was positive. As the game unfolded, it was clear that the Tic weren’t going to take the Fins lightly. Celtic approached their Nordic opposition with caution. So cautious that Helsinki went 1-0 up just after the break and secured a vital away goal. All seven Helsinki fans in the away section went crazy.
Thankfully, Celtic pulled their finger out and replied with two quick goals to take a slender 2-1 lead into the return leg on the following Wednesday in Scandinavia.
The following day, Glasgow turned on the weather for me with a mainly cloudy and 17 degrees type of day. But it didn’t stop me and the locals sitting out in an outdoor cafe in the posh Hyndland area with the grannies drinking their cups of tea and blethering the afternoon away. If I closed my eyes, they could have been my Mum and her sisters.
That night I headed out with my cousin and what was meant to be a quiet drink resulted in drinking till the bars closed and then ended up at some random lassie’s West End tenement, sorry… town house… drinking pints of absinth mixed with cordial concentrate. I do believe I had five of them. At 6:30 in the morning, I was drunk enough to almost kiss a South African… I said… almost.
Celtic 1 Aberdeen 0
Scottish Premier League – Opening Day
Celtic Park, Glasgow
On Saturday morning, we headed back to Parkhead to see the unfurling of the League Flag and the opening game of the season. This was a seminal moment for Scottish football. Finally the focus was back on football and away from the financial corruption that has been seeping out of Mordor since February.
For the first time in the history of the game, top-flight football would be without the forces of darkness and evil that has bullied Scottish society for the past 140 years – Rangers. Their absence has seen a shadow across the game lift and sunlight shine across the land. That is a metaphorical statement, the sun hasn’t been seen in Scotland since 1967.
In this post-Hun Scotland a new harmonious air has blown cross the land amid renewed bipartisanship. Clubs like Dundee United, Motherwell and Celtic all wished each other well on twitter as they began their respective European campaigns.
The love in continued before kick off with the Celtic support welcoming the visiting Aberdeen fans with a round of applause, and then the sheep shaggers reciprocated. Then the Aberdeen team formed a guard of honour for the Celtic players as they walked out onto the pitch as the Champions of Scotland. At which point I almost fell off my seat.
No doubt this universal love-in will go out the window when Celtic visit Tyncastle and one of their cultured fans jumps the fence and assaults our manager … again.
The game was a tight, dreary affair, a lot like most games in the EPL outside the top four. But the Green Brigade, those crazy kids in section 112 keep the passion and atmosphere in the match. At one point, holding a up a banner that read, The War Is Over – The Rebels Have Won to the tune of Zombie Nation.
You’ve got to admire the efforts of the Green Brigade in restoring the famous atmosphere at Celtic Park. Football in Britain has become so sanitised, it’s groups like the Green Brigade that turn dull games into a worthwhile experience.
Sure, they’re controversial, but they have restored the great tradition that is, the originality of the Celtic support. Thanks to the bhoys and ghirls in section 112, Depeche Mode had their single I Just Can’t Get Enough back in the charts – and then has been poorly copied at every other English ground since.
This season, they seem to be going through a 90’s trance phase with 2 Unlimited’s No Limit changed to No Rangers, as well as - Zombie Nation - an ode to the new Sevco club and Discoland
Celtic secured the points when a shot was spilled by the Dons keeper at the near post. The 1-0 result for the champions wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to secure the three points.
That night I went out on the town and painted it green and white, but I had Wednesday on my mind, so I behaved and was in bed by 4am. The team had an important date in Helsinki on the Wednesday night … relentlessly, I’d be there.