Yesterday afternoon I took a trip to Livingston, to watch the Young Hoops in the Irn Bru Cup.
I am going to write some thoughts on that game, and how it casts a light on our club and the Champions League Group, later but I was on the way out of the game when my mate showed me a picture someone had sent him on his mobile.
It was of Barton, taken yesterday at Sevco’s match in Linfield. He was smiling into the camera with a couple of wide-boys from a Loyalist marching band. My mate and I mused about how deep into the “culture” this clown is already getting.
Anyone who’s read my articles on him knows I predicted exactly that, but it was still dismaying to see that picture because it’s clear that this stuff still has the ability to pull people towards it, warping them, turning them into haters. Barton is already way down that road, and he’ll certainly arrive at the same destination as Gascoigne and Novo and the other institutionally daft idiots who’ve embraced it over the years.
To the best of my knowledge, because he’s the only one who ever talked about it, only Terry Butcher has ever slid into that sewer and resisted it.
In his autobiography he talks about how deep in the heart of darkness he was, fully wrapping himself up in the flag, tuned right into the mentality, little short of embracing it all … only for his wife to stop him and ask him to take a good long, hard look at himself. To his eternal credit he did just that and recoiled, in shame, from what he was becoming. He took a back seat to all of that “cultural” nonsense from there on in.
But it has an evil attraction for some people, and it doesn’t take a lot of analysis and examination to understand why it does. It’s for the same reason as the far right has always been able to get traction, a mixture of myths, lies and fantasy fed in just the right doses. Convince people they are special, superior, but that society has deliberately supressed their advance, tell them it’s out of fear, blame some other group even, either for having all the power or by corrupting those who do.
We’ve seen it throughout history, and it always finds a following.
The problem is, it reduces the world to the size of grubby back street boozers and cold meeting halls where the windows rattle in the frames. You can’t grow a thing by attaching it to that. You can’t expand it by narrowing its attraction to the sort of people who thought the FBI were the bad guys in Mississippi Burning.
At the same time as the bigots beano was going on at Linfield, a few hundred Celtic fans, myself and my mate included, were having a nice wee day in Livingston. The result didn’t matter, we were there to watch the future. Celtic is always watching the future.
Everyone is well aware that I thought the Palestinian flag protest was a mistake before the game, because I honestly couldn’t see that it would do any good except to insult our guest and draw fines from UEFA, but I was glad to be wrong because it did a lot of good and the fine from UEFA has been made look like a bad joke. I still think they might even gain some perspective out of it and not bother issuing us with one. The way that protest, and the subsequent fund-raiser, raised our profile is another example of Celtic reaching out past the club itself, of our fans embracing other causes and the plight of people around the world.
The Green Brigade boys didn’t do it for that reason, any more than the Celtic fans gave money to the fund-raiser to do it, but that’s kind of the point. It wasn’t about getting the credit or making us feel good about ourselves; it was a principled, humane gesture made for all the right reasons.
We aren’t insular.
We don’t narrow our appeal.
We expand it, beyond these borders, into the wider world and I know the followers of Sevco and Rangers before them sneer at us for that; one famous post on one of their forums once accused us of “latching on” to other clubs in a “desperate desire to be liked”, as if being liked was some sort of curse.
Yet deep down they know that it’s better than being hated, but they can’t seem to break out of a mind-set and behavioural norms which inspire that emotion. When they followed Rangers they sang that “no-one likes us, we don’t care”, which is easy to do when you are on top and looking down on everyone else. Now they follow the Newco and are looking up and wailing about being victims, but the thread that joins one and the other emotion is tighter and tougher and the link more obvious than many of them presume. Their issue isn’t that no-one likes them, it’s that no-one respects them, fears them, any longer and that burns more than anything.
But they did this to themselves; they shrunk their appeal to the margins, to the boot-boys and those who believe that Britannia still rules the waves. Their annual sojourn to Linfield is an anachronism and an embarrassment; even worse than the picture of Barton is the one of their whole team, in the centre circle, posing with the flute band. Hours later, that same band – The Shankhill Defenders – marched in “honour” of a murdered UVF assassin who killed Catholics.
Do these people have no idea at all how they look to the rest of the world?
Who is in charge of their marketing and PR?
Sevco will die, like Rangers before them, and it’ll be because of this.
Their appeal doesn’t exist outside their own circles and even amongst the community they think of as their own – the white, Protestant working class – there’s very little appetite for songs about being up to their knees in blood. The world has passed these people by. Their kids may be brought up with this stuff, but we’re living in a big new world and things passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter, even from brother and sister to brother and sister no longer have the same hold they once did.
The information and technology age has smashed boundaries and borders and united the world and ideas. The bubble will burst for a lot of these people … they’ll make their own choices and decisions and many – a great many – will reject that “culture” entirely.
When some of our guys tell them “Your grandchildren will be Celtic fans,” that’s not a taunt; it’s the literal truth, because the demographics are moving that way, away from their backward sectarian isolationism and towards something better.
Yes, some of their grandchildren will be Celtic fans, those in Glasgow at least.
Others will be Aberdeen supporters, or Hibs fans, or follow Hearts.
Some will look at the tribal nature of where they come from and reject football altogether.
Celtic is easier to pass on, because it’s not set in stone, not something that retains one shape and one form, but it’s something that evolves, improves, and every generation enhances it further. We don’t close doors to the rest of the world, we open them wide. We walk into rooms marked Do Not Enter and we poke about in there, and pull back the curtains and let in light. Our club isn’t constricted or constrained by bigotry, hate or fear.
As time goes on, we’ll become even more attractive, even to those who might never have an interest in football.
Politically aware, socially responsible, open to all, inclusive, our entire history, reaching back, has a fairy-tale quality to it.
Theirs has the consistency of a nightmare.
Yesterday, Celtic fans were watching the future. Their entire club was wrapping itself ever more tightly into the straightjacket of the past.
I don’t know why they can’t see it, but it’s going to kill them.
Something that corrupt, it’s probably better if it does.