What defines a Celtic supporter
Having recently posted some of Bobby Sands diary on SC it had me reminiscing on my life growing up in North Belfast during the height of the conflict in the North of Ireland and how the date of Bobby’s death was strangely on the same day, albeit 5 years later, as another significant moment in Irish republican prison history that is linked to my immediate family.
My father was one of a group of 9 Irish Republican POWs that tunnelled from their ‘cage’ and escaped from Long Kesh during the 1st mass escape of Republican prisoners from the prison on the 5th of May 1976.
As you are now aware I am from militant Irish Republican stock. Something I say with great pride ‘I am and will always be an UFB.
Growing up in Belfast for some of us identifying with and supporting Celtic FC was just another method of ‘resistance’ stating our ‘Irishness’ in the face of the Orange state and British occupation, wearing a Celtic shirt was, for us, the equivalent of shouting ‘up the Provos’. Not that I was from a Celtic supporting family. My Father was only really interested in boxing. My love of Celtic grew from playing football with friends who were Celtic daft. Weaned me off my earlier childhood flirtations with Man U Anyway I always thought the Celtic strip was one of the coolest kits ever – always been a bit of a fashionista.
Now due to my families Republican activities our wee terraced house was often visited by members of her majesties armed forces. Various regiments over the years but all wrecked the wee house to a greater of lesser degree but those who showed the most animosity towards us, outwith the Paras, were members of Scots regiments. They had an awful reputation – bigots with guns and uniforms as most of them were and still are I contend. But amongst them there were ‘alleged’ Celtic supporters. I can recall sitting on the bed in my room with 2 heavily armed ‘Brits’ from a Scots regiment searching the room. One of them spots the picture of the Lions I had on the wall and my scarf. “I’m a Celtic fan to” one of them tells me. He goes on to tell me all about his trips to Celtic park on leave how much he loved watching Celtic and how his mother was from Dublin. I never replied. All this while his ‘comrade’ was emptying the contents of my bedroom cabinet on the floor and kicking them around the room. This very same ‘Celtic supporter’ later threatened to shoot our family dog as he was vainly trying to attack the Brits. We had him, the dog, barricaded behind a make shift barrier comprised of a large fire guard and chairs, That dog really hated the Brits. A well balanced Lab – he hated both Irish coal-men and British soldiers in equal measure. There were other instances where we, as a group of teenagers, would be stopped and searched by Army foot patrols. With Scots regiments there was always at least one ‘again alleged’ Celtic supporter there trying to engage with us. Never gave them more than the required name, age and address to stop being ‘lifted’ by them. One one occasion these jovial Jocks thought it would be fun to have us sing ‘God save the Queen’. To me it was just a stupid song, one of our group, my mate Joe, refused to join in and received a rifle butt to his chin for his trouble. He started singing after that! We actually still laugh about his brief act of bravado – or stupidity as I call it.
So where does all this lead me. I guess it would be that oft asked question what actually defines a Celtic supporter? Could it be as simple as someone who enjoys watching the team play football with none of the emotional or political baggage usually associated with the Club or should there be more to it than that?
For me it is understanding our history, the reason for our creation, the struggle of the Irish and in particular the Irish diaspora in Scotland, and by default those of us in the occupied 6 counties, to prove we are the equals of all. As Martin O’Neill said – Being a Celtic fan gives some of us an identity, a sense of Irishness.
Yet still I still can’t quite reconcile a Celtic supporter from, I assume, the Irish diaspora, joining the British Army and then going to serve in Ireland. Later in my working life I have met a number of other Celtic supporting former Brits, one who actually claimed to have left a half eaten Mars bar on Bobby Sands grave while serving in the North of Ireland! When I asked them to help me understand their claiming to be a Celtic supporter, knowing all the Reb party tunes, knowing the history of the Club and then reconciling serving in the British army in Ireland or selling their soul as I put it to them their usual response was invariably ‘it was a job’!
Are they Celtic supporters? They are obviously are but not ones I would not willingly recognise as being so. Albeit I have dithered on the subject occasionally.
Am I actually going against our ethos of being a club open to all? Am I imagining some emerald green tinted version of what I would like Celtic FC to be wholly predicated on my own experiences during the war in the North of Ireland. Did that version of Celtic ever exist? Just what does Celtic and the Irish connection mean in the modern world and should it matter? 1888 was a long time ago after all!
Closing on a happier note. The old Lab and my Father spent their last years in the rural tranquillity of the Co Monaghan countryside. With never a sight of a coal man or British soldier to annoy the dog or my dad for that matter.
The above guest article is by Oglach. Please consider helping out the site with a small firstname.lastname@example.org