Posted on Saturday, 12th January 2013 by admin
Our contributor Johnybhoy on the trials and tribulations of following Celtic from abroad
It’s the worst part of living in a gloriously sunny and warm part of the world.
That yearning for the roar of the Parkhead crowd. There’s nothing else like it in the world, and how I miss it.
There’s something to be said for having your elbow bumped as you try to drink a cup of piping hot tea, the boiling liquid cascading down over your unsuspecting fingers and scalding your lips. There’s also something to be said for that guy, you know the one, the one that sits behind you and does nothing but complain about the Celtic players, calling them every name under the sun yet celebrating deliriously when the ball rips into the net and a striker in a green and white hooped jersey wheels away in celebration.
Celtic Park erupts as one. One heaving mass of people sharing a single, simple joy.
I share that joy.
But I share it from 10,000 miles away.
My story began a long time ago in a country far, far away.
Believe it or not, when I was a young boy, Celtic Football Club wasn’t my life.
Almost all of my mates were Celtic daft. They could rhyme off he names of the players of the day, while I knew one or maybe two of them. Jackie Dziekanowski was one of the only players I knew in the Celtic team as a bhoy.
I was born into an East End Glaswegian, Scots-Irish, working class family. I grew up five minutes from the Garngad. My family were Celtic daft. Every one of them. Even my Granny at 80 years old still watches the games with a religious fervour that would make most Celtic supporters look like armchair Cricket fans who’d only just heard that Football was a sport and that there was some team called Keltic that played the game in some far-off land in the icy north of the British Isles.
Each and every one of my family lived and breathed Celtic…except me. I often wondered if something was wrong with me, as Celtic didn’t hold that much appeal. Sure, I liked watching them, I even went to the odd game with my Dad, I celebrated when they scored, I commiserated myself when they were defeated, but it wasn’t the be all and end all for me. Sure, I even got the new strips when they came out and wore them to play football with my pals down the local park (or in the street playing heady-two-touch# but I didn’t find football all that alluring. I liked watching my cartoons and trips to the cinema better.
However, in Celtic’s Centenery year my life was about to change dramatically. The year was 1989.
I remember the day vividly. The front door went and my three uncles piled in through the front door, my Uncle Stevie had a carrier bag full of clonking cans, one of which was already open in his hand. They were all unreasonably happy for 9am in the morning. My dad grabbed his jacket and out they all poured. My mum turned to me and told me that they were going to the Scottish Cup Final.
That night my dad returned from watching the hoops thrash the Huns 1-0 #or so he slurred#. He brought me home a match programme which has since been lost to both the cruel and unstoppable passage of time and an overzealous mother hell bent on cleaning every single inch of her domain..every single day. But something was different. The fabric of the world had changed during the course of the day. I saw my father return home happy. Not only happy, but the kind of giddy happiness that I suspect he saw in me on Christmas morning as I fervently tore off the wrapping paper of a massive At-At Walker from The Empire Strikes Back. It struck me, as I stood there in my transformers jammies, that this was more than a football match to him and my uncles as they danced their merry way back from the boozer that evening. My father was beaming, his face was bright red from a day spent singing in the stands and drinking in the pub.
It’s a strange kind of feeling seeing your old man, a man who toiled daily and usually returned home on the verge of breaking down, the weight of the world so heavy upon his shoulders that he physically slumped before usually finding refuge in the bottom of a can of Tennents Lager #the old cans with the semi-nudey wimmin on the side#. I went to bed that night so happy for him, with the seed of excitement planted in my small, fertile mind.
As that seed germinated throughout my formative years, I endured my fair share of heartbreak as a Celtic fan, as did we all. I watched Tommy Burns’ rampaging team somehow always come a close second to that mob across the city. Many time my little heart was smashed upon the rocks of despair by the huns. In hindsight we all now know that they stole each and every victory against us by the crimes of improper registration, unpaid taxes and more.
But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Then the tide turned with the appointment of Martin O’Neill ad we finally had some real pride back. The Blessed Martin heralded in an new era, an era of dominance for Glasgow’s Green and White.
Over the years that once small seed blossomed and I grew into my Celtic life I grew more aware of my identity as a Scots working class Catholic. I began to relate more to the ethos of the club I supported. I saw how it was more than a football club, a philosophy of tolerance and acceptance of different cultures. It was a way of life, heck, it was a spiritual brotherhood, the magnitude of which I hadn’t even begun to comprehend. Later on, through the glorious Martin O’Neill years I travelled the world on company dime, visiting such far flung places as South Korea and Brazil, I readily identified myself as a Celtic Supporter. People I met took on the mantle of our club, catching the enthusiasm I had and carrying it like the Olympic flame with them on their paths of life I’ve turned born and bred Levski Sophia fans into die hard Tims, I’ve taught Dutchmen the words to the entire “Willy Maley” song and have video tape of them singing it joyously, I’ve listened, rapt, as an old, wizened Red Star Belgrade fan rhymed off the names of the Lisbon Lions as the men who conquered Catenaccio. I gave away Celtic jerseys and scarves to South American fans who took these personal totems and held them as sacred objects. I was a Celtic Missionary spreading the word to the heathen populations of foreign countries. And each time I travelled further and further away from the land of my birth, my love of Celtic grew in my heart. When Celtic played in Seville against Jose Mourinho’s Porto, I was bobbing up and down in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, my ear held tight against the receiver of a $12 a minute satellite phone to hear the score.
The love that once was nothing more than a small spark had ignited into an everlasting inferno of pride. Each time I returned home, it was to Celtic Park I went, renewing my bonds with my team and each time I loved Celtic more. And when the decision came to immigrate to the Antipodes, it was with a heavy heart that I went, knowing full well that I left behind something more than myself or my family. I left behind Celtic. Not only that, my support group of peers, my friends #who were mostly Celtic fans# were being left behind. I was starting fresh, in a new country, one that had Football as a 5th choice sport. I thought I’d be alone, cast adrift in a sea of loneliness, no Celtic to keep me warm at night.
How wrong I was. Upon arrival in Australia, I found out that there was a local supporters club. I contacted them and was invited up to the club the next night for the Celtic V Motherwell 4-4 game #WGS first league game in charge#. Regardless of the result, what I recall most from that night was the warmth of the people, of my fellow supporters who knew the pain I’d felt leaving Glasgow, who knew that trepidation I held in moving to a foreign land, who knew the love a supporter has for Celtic.
I was welcomed instantly. This was my home away from home and suddenly it all made sense. Almost 20 years after that first spark of love was created that distant night when I saw how happy my father was, I knew now what he knew then…that I belong to the Celtic Family. Too often you can go out in Australia now and see a guy #or gal# wearing a Chelsea top, with no knowledge about the clubs history or the casual racism that saturated their terraces in the 80’s and 90’s. You can travel through South Korea or Japan or China and see Man United tops everywhere. Sure, the people can name a couple of the players, but they have no idea who Bobby Charlton is. But you take a Chelsea fan away from home and he has nothing. No attachment to his club except the tattoo across the width of his back and the facial scars from his days as a casual. I could travel to the ends of the Earth and would still always have a home in the hearth of Celtic. This is what makes us unique in the world of football. Our fans not only spread over the world, travelling to all corners of the globe, but we take with us the history of a people, the Celtic Nation. We take our clubs history and ethos and apply it to the everyday living of our lives. We are Celtic.
I’ve been here almost eight years now. Since the births of my kids, I just don’t get the time to get up to the Celtic club anymore. On special occasions I’ll manage it, but sometimes an 11pm kick-off on a Sunday just isn’t worth it, not when you’re up at 5am with an inquisitive two year old. More and more often I find myself sitting in the bedroom, laptop on and Celtic TV streaming on the screen. Wee blocky, jerky players run after a tiny wee square. Sometimes the feed stops for a second and when it’s come back you’ve missed a wondergoal by Charlie Mulgrew, or a classic poachers strike by Gary Hooper or a world class save by the giant-handed impenetrable yellowness that is Fraser Forster.
But it’s all worth it.
Sometimes, especially when we’re in Europe, we’ll be lucky enough to have our game shown on SBS – the only terrestrial channel to show “Soccer” in this damned red, hot country. On those glorious evenings I’m up at 2:30am, ready for the 3am kick-off By the time the game is finished, regardless of the result, I’m far too awake and hepped up on coffee to sleep, so it’s off to work on four hours kip and copious amounts of red bull to keep you awake through the slog of the day.
The dream of Celtic keeps me going through those days.
When Celtic beat Barca this season I went into work beaming. I bragged to everyone who even knew what a football looked like that Celtic -my Celtic – had beaten the greatest club side in the history of the game.
Glasgow Celtic has shaped my life in many different ways. From the small boy excited to see his father joyously happy, to the warmth of being received into the welcoming arms of a Celtic Supporters Club in a far off land, Celtic has been with me every step of the way. With the advent of the Online Celtic Community, I now have a place to talk Celtic every day. I think about Celtic every day. It permeates my thoughts. It defines me as a person. It’s who I am. Now my kids are 5 and 2 years old. Their Grandfather sends them every single item from the Celtic superstore over to Australia and the wee fellas wear it with pride #I’m still trying to get young one to stop wearing his brothers old bumblebee strip!#. He doesn’t realise it yet, but he’s part of the same Celtic Family as I am. His older brother watches Celtic DVD’s all the time. he still thinks Henke Larsson still plays for Celtic and names “Thommo” as one of his favourite players.
Celtic has been and always will be my life. I can say that now with pride…although it took 20 years and travelling to the other side of the world to truly realise it…
…but sometimes I just miss having your tea knocked all over you as you try to take the game in from the top row of the Jock Stein Stand. I miss the guy who complains constantly about the Celtic Players and most of all, I miss the roar of the Parkhead crowd.
Follow my on twitter @johnybhoy
I also have a blog
I write for the websites whatculture.com and also disinfo.com.