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Not Playing For Celtic: Another Paradise Lost; by David Bennie; mainstream Publishing; £12.99 hardback

A couple of seasons back I dropped my copy of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch on top of that week's Celtic View. Looking down at this curious juxtaposition of footballing literary styles I immediately cleared the empty beer cans from the table, got out my A4 pad of notepaper (unused since - and during - Uni days) and began to think of a title for my own magnum opus, which would both intellectualise and articulate my experiences as a Celtic supporter.

Give or take a few scribbled paragraphs about shitty away games at Motherwell and some pipedreams about what the front cover would look like, that's as far as I got.

Thankfully, David Bennie got off his arse for longer than I did and created a masterpiece which eclipses even the standard set by Hornby.

My opinion is neither jaundiced nor overtly partial but based on the fact that bennie doesn't seek to emulate Hornby by doing a Celticy-Fever-Pitch-by-numbers; rather he has produced a far more intellectual book analysing his emotional attachment to the 'Tic.

Not Playing For Celtic is very readable but it also derives an intellectual kudos due to the exhaustive research contained within its pages - ye know, footnotes, quotes an a' that stuff. However, the overriding aspect of this book's battering of Hornby's is that it's funnier. Okay, I admit that I can relate to the episodes which Bennie recounts of his love for Celtic far easier than I can with Hornby's Arsenal, but it is Bennie's account of his emotional experiences which provide the humour rather than quirky recollections of long-forgotten games.

As a boy deprived of seeing his beloved Celtic in the flesh because of a Hun dad and protective mother ("You know what these big drunken crowds can be like") he decided to punish his mother for depriving him of the opportunity of seeing a 7:1 tanking of Raith Rovers:

"I lay down in the cabbage patch belonging to the Dolans, directly under their back bedroom window and 25 feet or so below mine, face down and completely still, after having smashed my radio on the tarmacadam path for dramatic effect. I must have lain like this for about half an hour - utterly motionless except for an occasional shudder of the shoulder in supressed hilarity - until my mother opened the bedroom door to call me for dinner... The sight of my 'lifeless' prostrate body provoked a blood-curdling scream which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up... Only when the Dolan clan congregated round me and confirmed an ambulance was on its way did I finally open my eyes and dryly mouth, 'Wh- where am I? Dad, am I in heaven now?' ... The soundness of my thrashing was even more ferocious than the circumstances may have seemed to merit."

Needless to say, in the face of such dedication to the cause his parents finally relented and eventually he got his wish, succinctly making the transition from Celtic supporter to Celtic fan (fan being shorthand for absolutely mental fanatic) in the space of a few formative years.

The reader is allowed to wallow in the glories Bennie enjoyed and the emotional traumas endured in the name of Celtic spanning a lifetime from being conceived after his father returned home 'buzzing from the excitement' of seeing Real Madrid against Eintracht Frankfurt through to the heady, hopeful days of more recent campaigns.

From the football-induced chromasome to Celtic-fixated journo with Scotland on Sunday Bennie's personal victories and tragedies are encapsulated within his football-related reminiscences. He is a typical fan with many views on life and Celtic that others may not share (would you make a Faustian pact with Mephistphelese to ensure a Celtic European Cup win every few years in exchange for Tory victory at every General Election?) but it is his personal experiences as a fan which provide the depth and rationale behind the book:

"Being a Celtic supporter is the only role that gives me any sense of communal identity, that gives me a feeling of being part of something bigger and more important than myself, that links me in any kind of deep emational bond with other human beings. What are the alternatives? To be Scottish, or a Socialist, or an existentialist, or a nihilistic misanthrope, or an alienated athiest? Being a logical positivist is a source of some comfort, but only intellectually. In the final analysis being a Celtic supporter means that I am not and never will be totally alone, or beyond the understanding of similar beings."

The book is a masterpiece in terms of one fan's devotion to Celtic; a masterpiece in terms of rationalising devotion to a football club and, undoubtedly, David bennie's magnum opus... the bastard! I wanted to do that. I wanted to do it first specky! My front cover would have been better... (no it wasn't, it was my idea first - furious ed)

 

PAUL THE HUMBLE HERO

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