Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – When U2 brought Sarajevo to Celtic Park

It came in the 63rd minute. The moment that they were waiting for. Tater scored and became their hero. The tie had gone but pride is always available. And they danced. And they hugged. And they ran. The stewards tried to stop them, but they couldn’t. The 40 or so fans who had travelled from Sarajevo just wanted to share the moment with their players. No malice in their attentions, just pure unfiltered joy. The beauty of football.

They had a voice at Celtic Park. They made themselves heard. It wasn’t the first time Bosnian voices were heard at Celtic Park, but that was in entirely different circumstances. In August 1993 U2 played Celtic Park as part of the Zoo TV tour. The European leg was called Zooropa and its theme was a unified Europe. Ironic eh?

The band had been contacted by Bill Carter, an American aid worker, who was trapped in Sarajevo, which was under siege from Serbian forces. Bill wanted to highlight the plight of the people of Sarajevo, which he felt had been forgotten. U2, well Bono, decided that they would do this by buying a satellite to transmit live messages from the Sarajevo television centre to the audiences at their concerts.

For 12 nights during the European tour, Bill and others, who were part of the underground resistance, would cross the area known as ‘Sniper’s Alley’ and broadcast in near darkness from the television centre. Bono believed that he was highlighting the plight of the Bosnians but others, including some band members, thought the link-ups were in bad taste and could be construed as exploiting for entertainment.

The band admitted that these interviews were the most difficult thing they had done in their career as the stories being told nightly got darker. Celtic Park was one of those nights when a Bosnian woman informed the crowd:

“We would like to hear the music, too, but we hear only the screams of wounded and tortured people and raped women.”

The band would record ‘Miss Sarajevo’ with the late Luca Pavarotti under the name ‘Passengers’ a few years after the gigs. The song is about Inela Nogic who won the title of ‘Miss Besieged Sarajevo’ in 1993. The contestants lined up with a banner that bluntly said, “Don’t let them kill us”. Bill Carter made a documentary about this pageant which was funded and directed by Bono.

The band never got off lightly by the interviewees. One of the London gigs saw Bono asked what he was going to do and that:

“We know you’re not going to do anything for us. You’re going to go back to a rock show. You’re going to forget that we even exist. And we’re all going to die.”

The statement is based on fact. While the interviews were a misstep, that the band used their status to highlight the plight isn’t wrong; it’s totally right. That they played in Sarajevo after the siege had ended was right. Entertainment and sport have a wider pull than politics and should be used to highlight social injustices and issues. Those who say politics and sport shouldn’t be mixed have a point but there are times when they are great bedfellows. The problem that we have is that sometimes politics are just used to provoke and offend and not for good.

A few seasons back Celtic played Hapoel Be’er Sheva. The Green Brigade and the wider Celtic support used the game to show support and highlight the somewhat forgotten plight of those in Palestine. The footage has been seen worldwide. Roger Waters used stills from the display at his gigs and others use their status to highlight the on-going situation in the West Bank. This could have just been seen as an act of grandstanding. In fact, it was dressed up like that by some sections of the media and other supporters.

For the return leg, some Celtic fans travelled into the West Bank and were told of the importance of the action of the Celtic fans that night. If you Google: “Celtic fans Palestine” you will find numerous articles from the Middle East praising the support. That a Palestinian flag still flies at every home game and another supportive display was on show during the 2017 Scottish Cup Final shows you that it wasn’t grandstanding. It’s a small gesture, one that won’t make any difference to those who make decisions, but it’s a gesture that has thousands not feeling forgotten. That’s the power of football.

UEFA have a responsibility to all football clubs under their banner. They need to administer water to the dreams of all clubs, not just service the bank balances of the rich. Celtic and FC Sarajevo are clubs with respective narratives, stories, journeys, histories and success that deserve better.

The people of Sarajevo deserve a successful football club and a chance to show how far they have come. Football is a distraction and release from daily or historical troubles but it is also one that instils and brightly flares pride in cities and communities. So, at that moment, in that goal, they deserved to celebrate. Football is all about those moments and we should never let those who rule the game forget that.

Kevin Graham

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