We often debate about the standard of Scottish football compared to yesteryear and we often compare it to the English Premiership. We often take a verbal kicking from folk down south about football up here and whether we are a big club etc. Does it really matter?
Do Dutch fans compare the Eredivisie to the Bundesliga? Is it relevant or important? I don’t lose any sleep about whether a Burnley or Leicester fan considers Celtic to be a big club or not. I know the answer. But I don’t think
it was always like this. I believe there used to be a generic respect down south, not just for Scottish football but for us as a club and us as a support. What changed? Here are my hopefully sensical musings.
The myriad of old pictures that do the rounds online these days evoke wonderful memories, particularly of former teams and heroes and nostalgic glimpses of the old Celtic Park. The Celtic support, especially, never fail to dig up images which have never been seen before or provoke brilliant and, more often than not, very amusing dialogue. I have been drawn to couple of pics which took me right back to my formative years in the Celtic End of the old Park. On the terraces in the mid-eighties, there were many fashions which mirrored local and sometimes national trends. The picture below posted by @retroceltic had so much going on! The Davy Crockett tricolour hat, the double denim and a young Andy Payton lookalike holding his scarf aloft at the front…
One of the items that this pic and others prompt interesting chat on, is the half-and-half ski hats. Not entirely sure how many of them made it to the pistes of the Alps but certainly suitable to deal with an East Kilbride winter or indeed a summer.
From memory, I can only really recall seeing Celtic / Everton and Celtic / Manchester United versions, although clearly this pic and others which have been unearthed, show a number of different English clubs being paired with us (some such as Chelsea being rather difficult to comprehend). Many folk on both sides of the border squawk when they see these images with the usual “You’re shite!” “No, you’re shite!” comments and why would you have a second team etc? Twitter threads descend into farce and the insults are traded about not having second teams or being fan boys for other teams. What I am willing to argue here is a couple of things (and there’s no denying their popularity at the time). Back then, many supporters in both Scotland and down south would admit to having a (‘second’) team across the border. If not a genuine affinity then certainly more of a respect for their clubs and support if nothing else… certainly not the case anymore. And I should add that these hats were viewed very differently to the horrible half-and-half scarves you see outside the ground these days (St Pauli notwithstanding).Listen to GIANNI CAPALDI with A Celtic State of Mind here:
For me, going to games as a Primary School-aged kid in the mid ’80s, I didn’t have an English team, although I had a number of different kits at the time. I suppose I kinda liked Liverpool, as I had the 1984 Liverpool (European Cup v Roma) strip, and Kenny Dalglish was my dad’s hero. Was I upset if they got beat? Nope. I also had a cracking Man Utd kit (’85 FA Cup-style) and didn’t mind them either. Could I give a toss if they won or lost? Nope. Bizarrely, I remember it being well documented that Celtic had an affinity with Everton and Man Utd because they were the ‘Catholic’ clubs. I am not saying I did or do subscribe to that but it was certainly mentioned. The obvious similarities in both Liverpool and Manchester having a significant Irish community like Glasgow could be a factor here also. The Celtic / Liverpool friendship never really registered with me as a thing until the Hillsborough Benefit match in 1989. A lot of things changed after this.
Watching Match of the Day or whatever in the ’80s was guaranteed to throw up a set of hoops in the crowd. Some grounds more than others and if we had played in a testimonial at a particular club then rest assured hoops, or green and white hats and scarves would be visible for weeks and months thereafter. I would argue that changed post SKY Premiership changes in ’92 when, to all intents and purposes, English football disappeared up its own arse. Marketing guys were involved like never before and many supporters would simply be rolled about in club shops and bedecked in their own club merchandise.
Top English sides traditionally had a core group of Scottish players in their ranks. Many of them spending the vast majority of their careers down there. Consequently, there was a respect regardless of any ‘Auld Enemy’ prejudices. As a teacher, I have taken a number of groups to games at the likes of The Etihad, Old Trafford and Anfield. At each of these grounds we have done the official tour and I have been impressed with the knowledge of guides, not just of their own club, which you would expect, but of Scottish football. In fact, the guide at Anfield commented that Liverpool should always have at least one Scottish player in the side and was delighted that Andy Robertson was now a key player for them. I could have listened to the guys at each ground talk about football all day. Naturally, I would manage to divert the chat to Celtic and there was a genuine warmth towards us, talking about the great teams of ’60s and ’70s, players who have played for both clubs, and our support.
Celtic fans would travel down to the aforementioned testimonials midweek in staggering numbers – 15,000 to 20,000 at a time. Although too young to go myself, I loved reading and hearing about the stories of these trips from my uncle, who would go down with the Sighthill Emerald CSC. I was intrigued so much by his tales of Old Trafford for Bryan Robson’s Testimonial that I ended up getting the full 90 minutes of the match on VHS. As I often did back then, I spent a lot of time focusing on the crowd and the singing from the Celtic End. The match commentary team, which included Denis Law, waxed lyrical about the Celtic support. That the Stretford End emptied after the match and ran up the pitch towards the Celtic support to applaud them and swap scarves through railings only emphasised the respect and admiration they had our support that night.
The songbook that night was very typical of the ’80s /early ’90s… much of the songs still get an airing today and at times invoke much heated debate. There have been many others who have commented on whether we should sing certain songs. What I find intriguing is that, to my knowledge, there was little comment in the press, or reaction by opposing fans, that whilst still in the midst of the Troubles and attacks on British Mainland were still a feature of the conflict, the Celtic support would sing songs highlighting support and sympathy for Irish Republicanism. I note that now this seems to be a stick to beat us with. Certainly in England, with the rise in right wing ideals which are presented vocally and visually by fans travelling with the English national team, and fairly recent links with Loyalism and paramilitary groups within the North of Ireland, not to mention the anti Catholic / No Surrender-type chanting, we as a club are a target because of our perceived identity.
I find this paradox baffling… that when we travelled down south in the past, often amid some of the worst violence in the North, there were no real issues between us and fans of teams we were playing. Sadly however, most fans who have travelled to games across the border in the last 15-20 years will possibly have met a more hostile reception – much of this a result of us being labelled IRA sympathisers / Republican etc. I am acutely aware that many of our fans will identify with this label. Many will not. That is a wholly more complex and lengthy debate.
My personal opinion is however, that at some point in the not-too-distant future there will be significant restructuring of football across Europe. Whether that is European / North European Leagues or Celtic becoming involved in a structure that would see us play more games against English opposition, I believe that something will happen. Our standing, reputation and more pertinently for those behind any moves, the income we can generate across the globe if involved, are the reasons I think we could be approached. The current financial plight of the game in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic may prompt changes sooner than first anticipated. The thought of travelling down to English grounds (in what would be huge numbers) is something I find quite exciting.
However, given my thoughts above, I do believe it would pose a huge logistical and security nightmare. I firmly believe there would be a welcoming party in every town / city we went to. The potential for large scale unrest would be large and I am fairly confident the press would do their utmost to fan the flames. And being a fully paid member of the ‘Heightened Sense of Awareness CSC’ (formerly Timmy Paranoia CSC) I have my suspicions as to who would be labelled the aggressors. I am under no illusions that every Celtic supporter is some sort of modern day saint but I genuinely don’t think that we have groups of fans who are intent going to the games for a scrap!
This aspect of potential trouble is something that concerns me should we have the type of reshuffling I referred to above. Like it or not, others don’t see us as we would perhaps like to be seen. Again, I have no desire to be loved by fans of other teams but I do not want us to be labelled incorrectly. I am conscious that may sound contradictory. I don’t have an interest in English football and would struggle to name more than a coupe of players in even the top sides down there. Could their fans even name more than a couple of Scottish teams outside of the two big Glasgow clubs and maybe Rangers? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I was first going to the games and right up to the early ’90s, many fans had more than a passing interest in the fortunes of an English side and vice versa. More than that, there was a respect, grudging or otherwise, about each other’s clubs and support. Will we ever regain that? Sadly, due to the game changing so much, I fear not. Does it affect how I feel about Celtic or take away from my feelings about the game. Nah, not at all, but I think it just shows how things have changed and we are not seen by others as we perhaps once were?
Maybe like me you don’t give a toss but I’ve got to pass my time doing something (obviously if my boss is reading I am still doing loads of work from home!).
SoulbhoyWatch Sophie Millar’s stunning rendition of ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’: