Embed from Getty ImagesWhen I was six-years-old, I lived in Dundee, on the east coast of Scotland. Other than Wham bars and episodes of Gladiators, the only thing I cared about was Celtic Football Club. When I grew up, I wanted to be Paul McStay. The best part of my day was playing football with my Dad after school. I’d be Celtic (obviously), and he’d be Ireland, or Shamrock Rovers, or somebody equally inoffensive. My father clearly understood the importance of drama in sport, as every night Celtic would come back from being 9-1 down to win 10-9.
But then everything went wrong. My best friend in the whole world was a Dundee United fan. He was a couple of inches taller than me, had a pair of Adidas trainers and owned a monster truck Scalextric set. He was a man in my eyes, and almost certainly the coolest one in Scotland. So. one night, as I walked out to the park with the ball tucked under my arm, I announced that I wanted to be Dundee United. Without breaking stride, Dad said, “Nae problem son, I’ll be Celtic”. Celtic won 10-0 in an absolutely crushing defeat. There was a rematch, in which Celtic repeated the extraordinary feat. I can still remember my legs burning, running down the hill to pick up the ball twenty times in the space of about ten minutes.
“One more game, please Da”, I gasped. I decided I’d be Celtic this time. Dad was Dundee United. Incredibly, for the third game running, Celtic won 10-0.
And that was that. My time as a Dundee United fan lasted less than an hour on a freezing cold November evening, on a patch of public grass beside Ninewells Hospital. It’s without a shadow of a doubt the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. But maybe not for the reason you’d think. Ok, sure, Celtic are working towards an eighth consecutive Scottish Premiership title, while Dundee United are battling it out in the footballing backwater that is the Scottish Championship. But it’s something much deeper than that. Embed from Getty Images
I was only ever going to live in Dundee for a few formative years of childhood. Now, at the age of 30, I have no real link to the city, nor the club. Celtic, on the other hand, is a family obsession.
My brothers, my father and I go and watch the team together. We fly to Glasgow, meet other family members and friends, and go to the game as a wee community. There’s dozens of people in both Ireland and Scotland who I’ve spoken to on a regular basis all my life, and yet have never spoken to them about anything other than Celtic. And when I see the team run out onto the pitch, I feel like they represent me, my friends, my family. They’re an essential part of my relationships with the people I love, and I in turn feel a part of the club, and the team itself.
And it’s that feeling, more so than the notion of success, which is addictive to sports fans the world over. We shout louder for people we know, for people who we feel truly represent us. When the O’Donovan brothers won the silver medal at the Olympics a couple of summers ago, it felt like we all did. Because listen to them, they’re like us.
And when people scoff at the huddled masses at League of Ireland games, it’s this point they don’t seem to understand. As a supporter you ache for the best for your club, we all want to watch the beautiful game played in a beautiful way. But most of all we ache for a deeper connection with those on the pitch, we want to feel part of something that truly represents us, our mates, our families.
It’s the kind of feeling Scalextric was never going to deliver in the long term.