Celtic Minded

Celtic and Scotland star Kieren Tierney connects with the fans evoking the Spirit of the Jungle when the fan experience was altogether more rooted and less commercially sanitised.

Celtic and Scotland star Kieren Tierney connects with the fans evoking the Spirit of the Jungle when the fan experience was altogether more rooted and less commercially sanitised.

The first ‘Celtic Minded’ book happened by chance. Published in 2004 it came about because over a number of years I had been researching supporters of numerous clubs in Scottish football as well as those of Scotland’s international team. It became obvious through numerous interviews and surveys of fans’ opinions and views that there was much more to be said about supporting many football clubs [as well as Scotland and others] than often seemed apparent. Many supporters had deep-seated and multi-layered ideas about all manner of things that touched on their passion for the game – history, culture, nationalism, the administration of football, financial interests, and political influences throughout football and wider society.

Celtic supporters, were a particular case in point. They shared similar emotions, thoughts and feelings as fans of other clubs and followers of the Scotland team, but there was clearly much more and there was also a lack of appropriate language, avenues or spaces to speak and be listened to. Sometimes, these supporters were even apprehensive about expressing relevant experiences, thoughts and identities at all. From an academic perspective, these otherwise marginalised voices were well worth exploring.

Arising from such questions a survey of available literature and an informed glance soon demonstrated that for many years the relevant material available on Celtic and its massive following was fairly straightforward; bits and pieces of history, reports on games, pictures created of wonderful footballers, even utterings from the annuls of supporting the club. However, most was little out of the ordinary: interesting to followers of Celtic maybe, but not much more.

On the basis of what came to hand, it was difficult to recognise, and indeed understand, what it was about following Celtic that gave it life, the meaningfulness that some of its supporters talked about, ‘presumed’ even. If Celtic and the community it was born from, and that had traditionally provided the vast majority of its support, was as distinctive in Scotland/Britain as some people suggested, if people would metaphorically have ‘walked, a million miles’, if people got so much from watching and winning and participating as part of Celtic’s life, there were undeniably things missing in the available literature.

Although the argument for being unique was often stated or indirectly implied, it was still sometimes difficult to see what was that ‘different’ from Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Aberdeen. The colour of a football strip, a great atmosphere at big games, even winning a lot of trophies, or some of the significant ones available, is hardly sufficient to make a club ‘special’ in the ways that Celtic fans referred to their club. After all, most clubs are special to their supporters. The obvious question was, ‘what comprises Celtic’s special, rather unique, status’?

Apart from a few mentions, some indicators, often superficial, supposed and haphazard, of the ethnic Irish and Catholic religious origins and roots and contemporary identities of the club and support, there was little substance to indicate distinctive and unique status. These parts of the club and its support were largely missing from a majority of available accounts, occasionally only viewed as part of an historical artefact providing a sentimental memory, even commercial advantage with some smart marketing, Nonetheless, such things also appeared to be equally poorly articulated. Sometimes they were consciously and/or unconsciously even silenced, rendered embarrassing, shameful.

Was there something about Scotland that made the Celtic experience ‘different’ – indeed, was this itself an element of the club and support’s uniqueness? Why had the club and some of its supporters often conspired, mostly unconsciously, to render the fundamentals of the club marginal, almost out of reach, situated on the top shelves marked history? Why did the contemporary Scottish media, and others, even mock and abuse much of what in reality made Celtic and its support distinctive?

Considerably related to any story of substance regarding Celtic’s origins, history and experience, although people of Irish descent constitute Scotland’s largest multi-generational immigrant community, there also remains a dearth of published works that considers and recognises various aspects and achievements of the country’s Irish diaspora. A traditional and long established absence in school educational materials and within the popular mainstream media means that there is much illiteracy in terms of knowledge and understanding of the experiences of the Irish in Scotland. . .

So, as an act of some kind of publishing faith, Celtic Minded came out in 2004. It wasn’t thought of as the start of a series. But after the collection of papers and essays and accounts of supporters had to be quickly reprinted, it was realised something rich had been tapped into: a seam of interest that was telling. It was evident to the historian Professor Tom Devine when asked to write a foreword: ‘Celtic Minded is a football book with a difference,’ he wrote. He continued:

‘The book’s true value. . . [lies in] addressing the subject of football as an important social and cultural force in modern Scottish society. [It is] a highly readable account of the Catholic Irish immigrant community which gave birth to the club. The reader will find impressive accounts of the relationship between Celtic FC and such varied and controversial topics as national identities, modern Scottish culture, Irish diaspora, racism, bigotry and sectarianism.’

Interest was such that a series was born and Celtic Minded 2 (2006) and Celtic Minded 3 (2009) followed, the latter dedicated to the memory of the late great Tommy Burns, magnificent servant to the club and local boy of Glasgow’s east end who had passed away in 2008, and a precious contributor to that very volume.

Other contributors to the series also wrote in a way that few had been able or willing to in the past. They challenged many of the stereotypes and prejudices that are embedded in Scottish football and society. Thus, the Celtic Minded series has become a football community speaking and representing itself in print: declarations and assertions for those that have frequently been voiceless. The series therefore represents a critical contribution towards an enhanced understanding of not only Celtic FC but also the history of the Irish in Scotland, emphasising that soccer has played an important role in the internal and external narratives intrinsic to this community’s experiences: in itself this represents a story with a difference. The contributions to this new book, Celtic Minded 4 admirably keep up the standard and pace.

Sam Bradley