Celtic’s position in Scottish football should hold us back, and there are many who will argue that of course it does just that. Celtic’s position in Scottish football should limit our horizons and prevent us from ever being able to establish a truly global support. But go anywhere in Europe and beyond and you will find that this is not the case.
All across Europe, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Celtic bars and supporter’s clubs outside of the UK. Our club has special advantages, those which aren’t available to the many money-fuelled sides of the EPL and which in normal circumstances couldn’t hold a candle to us.
We have that world famous hooped shirt for a start; I don’t know that it’s the most ubiquitous football strip on the planet, but because it stands out you can spot one anywhere.
We have a history, and not just in the sense of our football. Celtic is a fairy-tale. The club founded by immigrants to feed the poor and which rose to the summit of the European game. No wonder so many of our fans self-define as on the left of the spectrum; they remember where this club comes from, we remember who brought it into the world and why.
It’s because of this history, and this sense of community, that we are one of the clubs across Europe which will never accept a sugar-daddy oligarchy. The very idea that Celtic would ever wind up in the hands of some petro-state or the plaything of some mad dictator, no matter how much was promised for spending on the team, is unthinkable. The fans would simply not allow it, and we have all heard the fans of other clubs say this … but Celtic fans mean it.
Club merchandise would pile up in warehouses unsold. Organisations would spring up all across the support; Occupy Celtic would stage sit-ins at the stadium, in their thousands, better attended than the games themselves. People would be barricading the road to the training ground … there would be no “Glazers Out” type banners, with people doing their protesting from their seats in the stands. No-one would be in those stands to protest. TV pictures from Celtic Park would make you automatically think you were watching the COVID season.
The noise level would be virtually non-existent; it would be like watching Man City.
There is a constituency amongst the support which would embrace oligarchy wealth; of course there is. But they would be a small minority, and talk that success would change things would fall on deaf ears as a lot of fans would no longer give a damn, devoting their time and attention instead to removing the directors and changing the ownership of the club.
The feeling would be “we can outlast them” and the emotional drive would be “we have to outlast them.” Because Celtic is more than a football club and many of our fans, the majority, care where the money comes from and how our owners reflect on us. For this club to fall into the hands of people such as those who now run sides all across Europe and beyond … it would be an obscenity, a repudiation of our founding principles, a grotesquery from which we’d want to extricate ourselves as quickly as possible, and in the end those efforts would probably succeed.
There are a handful of clubs around Europe who have the principles and the devotion to their history to resist any such moves and any such interest before it gets to the stage of actually drawing up the contracts and sparking that outrage; our friends at St Pauli, Livorno in Italy, AEK Athens in Greece, Real Vallecano in Spain, Marseille in France, Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel, Standard Liege in Belgium and, of course, it almost goes without saying, Liverpool, and that’s just plucking one name from each country; there are many, many more.
See, not all football fans, and not all football clubs, are the same. Success at Celtic means more than it does at other clubs precisely because it was not attained by the spending of obscene sums of money from disreputable sources, or even just sources outside of the club itself. Celtic spends what it earns; if the Scottish TV deal collapsed tomorrow we’d barely notice it and although it would be a hardship for most clubs here, they’d essentially all survive. If the EPL TV deal collapsed tomorrow it would be an existential crisis for all of English football.
All except for those clubs in the hands of the oligarchs. They would survive. But to become ever more dependent on that kind of cash, it would be a curse not a blessing. The people who have brought our planet to the brink, the people who treat their own citizens not as real human beings but as replaceable parts in the big machine, the countries which wage war on their neighbours … if football is a community game, what kind of community is that?
The real football community is that one we’re part of, the one which fights for the rights of the immigrant and the working man, the one still rooted in history and the origin story, the community that understands what the concept of “the global game” really means … it is why we have our global footprint and why we’ll always have friends and allies across the sport, because we have never sold out and we never will whilst the fans have a say in it.
Celtic is important. Celtic is critical. As the tide of filthy money threatens to swamp the sport, we’re one of the shining cities on the hill, nestled above the flood waters.
Do not ever think that doesn’t mean something. It means everything.