Those who do not understand football will not get what happened last week, or why it was such a big deal. I could write this article for them, but it would be pointless.
The poetry of Tony Watt’s run and shot, the Roy of the Rovers quality of that, is not going to grow on them if they don’t grasp it intuitively, and that’s provided they know who Roy of the Rovers is in the first place. These people do not like football, or understand the fans or why it means so much to them. They will never feel what we did when Jordi Alba ghosted in at the back post in Spain, with seconds left, and stuck the ball in the net, and so they’ll never understand the overwhelming joy that made Rod Stewart burst into tears when the final whistle went in Glasgow.
They will not understand, either, how we can use words like “heroism” to describe the exploits of a dozen or so millionaires kicking a ball about, and they cannot comprehend how that 90 minutes of sport could have generated international headlines only 24 hours after a US Presidential election had been won.
This article isn’t for them. What’s more, the title, whilst it appears to fit the team in green and white out on the pitch, isn’t for the players either.
This article is for us. This article is about us. What the guys on the pitch did was incredible, but the real Incredibles were in the stands, and watching TV’s, and listening to radios, and relying on text messages and online updates.
The Incredibles are us, the vast footballing fraternity around the world which calls itself The Celtic Family. The Incredibles are the enormous international support network that keeps this club great, and renowned and respected.
Let’s talk first about those who were outside the ground, those of us who weren’t there on that special night. Being a Celtic supporter is the one constant thing in my life since I was a wee boy. Whatever else in it has changed, from my personal circumstances, my taste in music, my political views, the girls I’ve dated, the jobs I’ve done and the mistakes I’ve made, Celtic has always been there, and my love for the club has been the same.
I haven’t always been able to go to the games, sometimes due to finance, sometimes due to work, or something else, and so along the way, as will happen from time to time, games, even whole seasons, have been missed, at least in terms of being there every week. There are moments which others remember as defining, matches which live in the memory forever, which I can’t relate to in the same way, because they were there and I was not. But I have memories of those nights which are mine, and which are special to me, and which are every bit as good as those I’ve had at games.
Examples come to mind, readily. On the night we beat Juventus at Celtic Park, I was in an evening class at college, and missed every kick of the ball. I spent the three hours of that class looking at my watch every two minutes, willing the fire alarm to go off or for there to be a sudden power cut which sent us all home (or in my case, to the Gallowgate), growing more frustrated at every wasted moment that passed, biting my fingernails to the quick. When the class finally broke up, I realised the game was coming to a close, and I battered my way through the throng at the door and into the hall, where I got my radio out, plugged in the headphones and started for the stairs, in one big hurry to get to a pub where I might at least see the closing moments.
When the game itself came on, the first thing that hit my eardrums was the sheer noise in the background. It was thirty seconds later when the commentator announced, to my total disbelief and joy, that it was 4-2, and I leapt down half a flight of stairs, landing on the back of a guy in my class, who was frantically scanning his mobile for news, and told him the score. Then we both let out ear splitting roars, and we hugged and danced and made something of a spectacle of ourselves, but it didn’t matter. I remember that night for that moment, as I remember kissing the floor in the Gannochy Sports Bar of Stirling University, in a flood of tears, as we reached the UEFA Cup Final.
I was in a single person room, in student halls, a room crammed wall to wall, with people, watching the worlds crappiest portable TV, with too bright colours and a bad reception, on the night we knocked out Liverpool on the way there, and I remember, with equal fondness, another night, a couple of years later, and a ridiculous show of emotion in a Stirling boozer, where I told my friend Gemma, “We now live in a world where Celtic have knocked Barcelona out of Europe.” Those nights do not mean less to me because I was not at the games.
7 November 2012 will haunt me though, because never before has the disconnect between being part of the live experience and simply being part of the family been so great. As I realised what I was watching was perhaps the single greatest moment our club has had since 1967 there was, and still is, and probably will always be, a sense somehow of personal loss, that I wasn’t there to see that game, that I wasn’t at Parkhead on that special, historic night. It will forever hold a place in the pantheon of great Celtic moments, and deservedly so, and I was watching it at home.
I am certain I am not alone in feeling that way, and as hard as it is for me, it’s got to be tougher on those other people who were going, and who didn’t make it for one reason or another. For me, I’ve known for weeks I wasn’t going to see this one, and I had time to wrap my brain around it, and that has lessened the impact of having missed a moment that will have people talking long after I am dead and gone. I can’t even begin to comprehend how those others must feel, and in particular a guy I know, David, who’d been looking forward to the occasion for ages and was ill on the morning of the match, so much so that he reluctantly advertised his ticket on Facebook in late afternoon, and ended up watching history made from his bed.
Yet I’m moved to ask this question. Do you think the joy he felt at full-time was any different from the joy felt by someone sitting in the stand? I read, on CQN, of guys in tears as they tapped their keyboards and despite, myself, feeling a very real remove from the occasion, I was so hyper it’s taken me days to write about it, and I still don’t feel like I’ve completely come “down” from what seems like a glorious high.
Yet I understand that, on some level, it’s not really about the experience itself, that what counts for some people is feeling that, because they were there, they somehow influenced the event. None of the huge family of fans scattered around the globe, who didn’t attend, can actually say that … can they? Well, to be honest, I actually think we can.
These days, the atmosphere for a big match doesn’t begin on the day of the game. It starts days, sometimes weeks, before. Discussion forums buzz with likely lineups. Defeats in the run up to the game are analysed for the weaknesses that might prove catastrophic on the larger stage. Wins are talked up, and debated, for their ability to build momentum. Every tactical decision is scrutinised to see if the manager is experimenting while he can. What’s more, excitement builds. That’s when the “good luck and go get them” messages start to pour in to the players Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. That’s when the radio phone in’s hum with chatter. All of this helps to shape the event, all of it helps to grow it into something special.
Before the match even kicks off the whole of this Family is involved in the occasion. The global nature of the event is endorsed, and the weight of that, the size of it, must surely be felt inside the walls of the club itself. The players must feel it even before they walk out onto the hallowed green turf and hear the roar of the crowd. It’s not 60,000 people on the night … it’s millions across the world, and that is what makes it an occasion above and beyond those who actually attend. We all help shape this thing, in its size and scale. Following the performance in Spain, and considering our fantastic home record, I knew the build-up to this one was going to be amazing. The Green Brigade were always going to do something very special, and when they asked help from the global Family the Family responded, and made it even better.
That said, there is no doubt at all that the atmosphere at the game was a decisive factor in the result. When one considers the performance in Barcelona, it was an awesome display from the Celtic side, but they were unable to get over the line. This Celtic team is capable of great footballing feats; that much is now beyond doubt, composed as this team is of great players with great natural ability. Yet they are not on the level of the best club side ever to don jerseys, and we all know that to be true. What made the difference, a crucial difference on the night, was the support. It lifted our players to even greater heights.
On those awesome European nights, the atmosphere at Celtic Park is second to none. No ground can compare with it. In 2008, the Daily Mail ranked the ground third in terms of atmosphere behind the Nou Camp and Anfield. The Bleachers Report named the ground this year amongst the very best in the game (the first ground on their list, actually), and the debate frequently crops up as to this question. Yet few other clubs in Europe can claim, as we can, that Milan, Juventus, Valencia, Porto, Manchester United, Benfica, Lyon, Villarreal and now the mighty Barcelona, along with a host of others, have strutted into town thinking they could put on a show and go as winners, only to find that things weren’t as easy as they thought once they walked out of the tunnel.
The Green Brigade, in particular, add an incredible amount of atmosphere to every match. They are much maligned outside Celtic Park, with the media targeting them for frequent abuse. Yet their worth is known inside the club, and their display was truly incredible. Their devotion to this team is awe inspiring, and their passion, even in those “controversial” moments, is an inspiration. They are, to me, true outriders and heroes of the support. They keep alive some of the best traditions we have, and their refusal to bend or bow when faced with criticism is commendable. They know the term “fundamentalist” can be worn as a badge of honour, not shame.
On nights like last Wednesday, they are the beating heart of Celtic Park.
A lot is being made of the Rangers support right now, and the numbers they are bringing to Ibrox. At 50% reduced rate ticket prices, with a siege mentality fostered and fed, with the defiant belief they have been betrayed by the rest of Scottish football and their unquestioning devotion to the man at the helm, I would be more amazed if they didn’t have these numbers. No-one expected anything else in the short-term. When a football club is mired in crisis, the fans will always rally so long as that crisis was not created inside the club. Rangers fans believe this one is a product of external forces, and so there was never going to be a backlash or boycott.
Changes in that attitude will come. The proposed share issue will either succeed or it will fail, and if I had to stick my neck out I would predict a failure, but either way, their club is not facing a quick trip back to the top but a long, slow and painful slog through the ranks, and there are other dark clouds on the horizon. The media seems wholly ignorant of, or unwilling to talk about, scandals swirling around Rangers’ principal leaders, the details of which are murky but they involve offences which will be all too familiar to us, with tax evasion high on the list. That club is not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot, and putting faith in the men presently at the helm is madness when one actually considers as much is known about their business backgrounds as was known about Craig Whyte’s, and none of it makes any better reading.
Walter Smith’s return to the fray has been hailed as a triumph, but in giving his seal of approval to the Green plans he had better hope they are up to snuff. This website covered one of Green’s press conferences in grim detail, detailing the many ridiculous assertions in it, and further instances of him bending the truth until the elastic snaps have not been difficult to find.
The key questions which were raised in that article are still unanswered, and fresh new ones have been raised.
The fall-back he relies on is that all of these questions will be answered in the shares prospectus because the FSA will demand that before they allow him to proceed, but anyone who has done their homework knows this too is an artfully crafted lie. The FSA are not involved in scrutinising the bona fides of this share issue as the flotation is not on one of their regulated exchanges, as anyone with two minutes to spare and the will to check it out can discover easily, yet this blatant attempt to mislead the fans is repeated ad infinitum by a media which either can’t or won’t learn the lessons of the recent past.
If the share issue goes wrong, and the club is struggling when the start of next season comes around, Green will be forced to put up prices drastically. If performances on the pitch aren’t a lot better, will they still get full houses? If the share price has collapsed, if league reconstruction seems no nearer, will the support still be there? Worse, if the club is, again, mired in scandal, will there be anyone at Ibrox with enough faith to keep the faith?
Celtic fans are showing up despite full price tickets and a continuing financial squeeze, to watch dismal domestic performances in what we are told is a one team league. There is no crisis to rally us, there is no outside enemy to unify us and no great battle to engage us. There is no struggle to get us behind the side.
Yet the fans are there, game after game, 40,000 plus, each and every week. It seems clear to me that this is an accomplishment we should be proud of, and another sign than when it comes to the crunch, Celtic fans have no equal.
Celtic fans really are The Incredibles.
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