By the time Celtic celebrated their centenary season, securing the league and Scottish Cup double in the traditional ‘Celtic Way,’ I was already obsessed by everything about the club, its players and its history.
To commemorate the “story so far,” the club released a video charting the rise from its humble beginnings to its glorious successes over the years. The film started with footage of the ex-Liverpool Manager, Bill Shankly, simply saying, “Celtic is the most successful football club in the world”. As a 10-year-old listening to those words, I could only be further inspired about my team.
The video itself is a beautiful tribute to the many men and women who served Celtic over that first 100 years and propelled the club from the depths of despair in the east end of Glasgow to overcome many adversities and achieve international fame and recognition. As the old video reels are pieced together, talking about the glory days under Jock Stein and the nine-in-a-row champions, once again Bill Shankly addresses an interviewer with his very unique tone about the merits of Jock Stein.
“Celtic’s a big club with a big name… and if he’s got useful players and he trains them the right way… gets them all to do what they can do, you know, well… it’s a form of socialism.”
That statement, even hearing it back 30 years later, still triggers an emotion in me. That emotion extended my love of Celtic the club into the social culture associated with the fans.Watch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind
The ‘80s represented a significant change in the make-up of the UK. The viciousness of the miners’ strike, the tension and ‘Troubles’ in the North of Ireland and, later in the decade, the Poll Tax, all meant growing up in the 1980s meant you often asked yourself, “Which side are you on?”
The music I inhaled from the room I shared with my brothers started to shape my opinions: U2’s ‘Bloody Sunday’; The Pogues’ ‘Thousands are sailing’; Christy Moore; Billy Bragg; The Jam and The Style Council… Question everything and understand the difference between right and wrong. The decades may have passed, but these basic asks remain, and I believe that’s the case for many Celtic fans.
In early 2000, I made a trip along to the La Passionara on the banks of the River Clyde for an International Brigade Memorial Trust rededication of the sculpture. At the event, I met with several veteran International Brigaders, and I had the opportunity to listen to their stories, which were laced with social and romantic principles. These were the roots from which many of the Brigaders joined up, but their ideals were soon blown away in the brutal conflict.
My older brother sang the Christy Moore song ‘Viva la Quinta Brigada’ later that evening at the official reception in the Glasgow Trade Halls. The tears shed by Bob Doyle and other veterans as the names of fallen comrades were sung showed that the emotional ties between those volunteers lived on.
My interest in the International Brigade led me to make a visit to Madrid in 2014 where I joined members of the IBMT on their annual commemoration of the battle of Jarama, as we retraced the steps through the olive groves taken by volunteers in the battle for Madrid. The camaraderie of the visitors on the tour gave a reflection of the global appeal of the men and women who followed their idealistic instincts to fight Franco, Hitler and Mussolini, and the rise of Fascism and to support the fledgling democratically-elected government in Spain.
Glasgow and Scotland has a history of radical movements on the left side of the political scale, from the weavers to the Red Clydesiders, the militant Labour MPs elected to parliament post-First World War and the International Brigaders.
You can now add the events at Celtic Park last week, when the 60,000 sell-out crowd sent a very clear message to a section of the supporters of Lazio and their extremist views. A group of the visiting support had earlier made their way through Glasgow’s city centre making fascist salutes even though their club had already been charged by UEFA for racism in the previous match.
The Green Brigade has a wide and varied songbook which, at times, not everyone in the Celtic support will agree with. However, in recent years the inclusion of Viva la Quinta Brigada shows that those anti-fascist views still remain strong amongst a large section of our fan base. It’s not all about the songs; it’s the solidarity with marginalised groups and the fight for equality and social justice. Social campaigners across the world use pictures and footage of the Celtic support to help highlight the plight of the “forgotten”.
Less than a week after the sickening scenes in Bulgaria, as England players were racially abused by some in the home support, Celtic fans raised our voices and clenched our fists to show our disgust at the views and actions of the Lazio ultras, and to show that there is no place for racism or fascism in football or any other way of life.
Martin DonaldsonListen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind