Sunday 11th May 2008 12.30
Scottish Premier League
CELTIC 2 (McManus 37 McDonald 87)
Canning sent off (2nd Booking) 83
Murray sent off (DOGSO) 90
Now you might find this hard to believe but this was actually something to do break up a journey home to Oxfordshire! Watching a game at Wick Academy had become a mission, and so when I finally managed to get it done at the third attempt a day earlier I sat in a cheap hotel in Perth contemplating a beast of journey home! It needed something to break up the drive back to Banbury, so a few days earlier I’d looked for a game on the way. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought about Celtic, it certainly isn’t due to any sectarian thoughts, you’re reading the thoughts of the product of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother after all!
I suspect it was because I assumed that the game would be sold out, the fact that Celtic had already won their third title on the bounce perhaps meant some of their patrons must have decided that a Sunday roast in front of the telly was the better option. As it was I picked up a slightly discounted, slightly impaired view of a game dedicated to Hoops’ legend Tommy Burns who’d died the previous week.
Getting a ticket was fortunate, and it was fun trying to convince the folks at Wick that the reason for my weekend odyssey was them rather than Celtic. It may have been the truth but I don’t think I got my point across particularly well. I know why, other that the completely off-putting sectarianism on both sides its a lot easier to get to Glasgow than it is to Wick!
I am more than aware the Brother Walfrid founded the Celtic in 1887 as a means of fundraising to help the alleviate terrible poverty among the Irish community in the East End of Glasgow but the club has grown to be far more than just a charitable course. It is a remarkable story, from the humblest of beginnings to one of Scotland’s two biggest clubs, representing the not just the Irish immigrant population of Glasgow but the whole Irish diaspora worldwide. The truth of it is that it’s very much a case that you cannot look at Celtic without considering the other half of the “Auld Firm” – Rangers.
As far as I’m concerned each is the “Ying” to the other’s “Yang,” Rangers Protestant, and Unionist and Celtic Catholic and Irish Nationalist. That holds these days whether or not you happen you happen be any of those things, it is of course amazing how many folks become rabidly religious on matchdays. For me, the two clubs, equal but opposite have helped each other grow from a process to trying to keep up with the other, to a point where success is measured largely by comparison with the other. That sectarianism is why I’ve had no great interest or allegiance in either club – after all to some fashion each hates a different half of my existence!
But I’m a football fan, and I visit grounds, and let’s face it any 60,000 capacity stadium is going to interest me! What you see here has little now to do with Brother Walfrid or in the case of three-quarters of the ground the families that owned Celtic prior to 1994. All but the Main Stand dates from post the 1994 Fergus McCann revolution and without a Leitch-type historic preserved stand I found it difficult to feel that sense of history. This is though the hallowed ground of Jock Stein, Jinky Johnstone, Henrik Larsson, and the Lisbon Lions. Its virtually certain that the feat of winning the (1967) European Cup with a team that were all from 30 miles of Glasgow will never be emulated, and it was interesting visiting the scene of that famous triumph last year, but I digress.
My first impression of the place wasn’t as lofty as that though. I parked up close to the coach park, and there was a fan clearly several beverages into a heavy session propped up against the rear corner of his coach, urinating against the tyre- better out than in I suppose! Then there was the young lad, aged around 10 I suppose who approached me, ” Poond to mind your car Mister?” It seemed a reasonable investment, there was a Wick Academy programme and pennant in the boot after all!
So how did I find Celtic Park? Well other the being big and green, the was the usual sense of doing a game at a huge stadium owned by a famous club. There was though little of that sense of jaw-dropping wonder that I’d got at the likes of Bayern Munich or SanFrecce Hiroshima even if that restricted view added up to an easily swerved post. As it was Celtic cruised to a straightforward end-of-season win against another club with an Irish heritage- Hibernian. I did wonder of there would have been a little more spice to it had they been playing Hearts? Obviously there would with the other lot…..
The players performed their end of season lap of honour for doing precisely what was expected of them, win the league which meant beating Rangers- no more and no less.
Inevitably I ended up comparing Celtic Park and Ibrox, and for the record the latter shades it for me, due entirely to that wonderful Leitch main stand. I’m sure Celtic fans will point our that their ground holds 10,000 more than their rivals. But ultimately I’ll always be put off the Auld Firm by the sectarianism, even if its that that in part, that has made the two clubs the biggest fish in a compatively small pond.