Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Albanian President reacts to Celtic Greats’ result

If you weren’t looking for a football ground you would miss Blairwood Park. Home of Oakley United, the ground peers on to the main road as if it’s playing hide and seek with cars. It played host to the latest instalment of the ‘Fitba’ Greats’ series.

These games aim to raise food and funds for local foodbanks where the matches take place. It also aims to bring an old-fashioned community day out to the villages it visits, with bouncy castles, face painting and hexagon football being an added attraction and, for some, the main attraction.

That football can bring out a few hundred locals with families in tow on a crisp October afternoon shows the power of the game. That the fixture is between a collection (some would say motley crew) of ex-professionals, prominent supporters from the world of film, politics and wrestling, as well as ordinary fans, strengthens that feeling. Football can be used for good when not being commercially exploited to make profit.

You had Celtic and Rangers fans mingling, laughing, joking and having a beer with not a police officer in sight. That’s not the narrative of commercialism or of the politicians, but it’s the reality in villages and towns all over the country, as is the poverty and other issues that these games aim to raise awareness of.

Blairwood Park is open and mostly uncovered. There is no terracing but behind one goal is a bank of grass and one side is lined by giant fir trees that some of the ex-professionals rival in the age stakes. Most of the professionals will have been in bigger dressing rooms. I looked into the inner sanctum and it’s all bodies, boots and banter. The Wintergreen caught my throat and stung my eyes and I heard talk of “tight hammies” and “not lasting 90 minutes”.

There is an air of professionalism, though. All the players have a name card above their peg, the teams get a kitman, physio, fully soundtracked welcome on to the pitch, as well as mascots and team pictures. The game is an occasion for those lucky enough to play.

Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind

This was Brian McClair’s first appearance for the Celtic Greats side and he lined up with Tom Boyd, Simon Donnelly, Mark Wilson and Rudi Vata. Other ex-Celts to have donned the ACSOM-sponsored hoops include Massimo Donati, Bobby Petta, Paul Slane, Mark Burchill, Craig Beattie and Didier Agathe.

ACSOM invited Choccy along, as we wholly support the cause and are proud to do our bit to help these events take place. Our partnership with FansBet made this shirt sponsorship possible and it fits in with their mission to give something back to the fans.

I overheard stories from ‘back in the day’ as the fans reminisced about the players in their prime, while ignoring the misplaced passes and the red faces in front of them. The fans lucky enough to play also love the occasion. They speak in reverential tones about Brian McClair passing them the ball and that “they used to watch him from the terraces and now he’s passing the baw to me!”.

The entire experience is sure to be tinged with a dose of surrealism for the supporters, but things got even stranger in the aftermath of the occasion…

Following a heavy defeat for his side, Rudi Vata sent a video of the Celtic team to his close friend – Albanian President IIir Meta. The President of Albania – who has already shown his passion for all things Celtic via his social media channels – Tweeted the footage with a message praising all involved. To see the ACSOM jerseys on the President’s timeline was brilliantly bizarre.

As the post-match drinks were being consumed and the crowd began to drift home, the score didn’t matter. Granted, that was because Celtic got hammered, but as I watched the players spending time with fans, whilst kids ran about the pitch booting footballs into an empty net, or past a reluctant goalie who is lost in the goal frame, it reaffirmed that these games are for the communities who have always supported Celtic, and it is satisfying that these games are able to give them a little back.

Kevin Graham

Watch the creator and cast of Bend it like Brattbakk with A Celtic State of Mind

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