PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
Joe Bradley is Lecturer in Sports Studies at Stirling University, an academic and a keen Celtic follower, and he has produced this superb collection of essays from 'Celtic Minded' individuals which deals with the social and community experiences among the Irish diaspora in Scotland.
One of the major themes of the work is the belief - firmly supported by anecdote and evidence - that a deliberate attempt has been made over the years to suppress 'the Irish fact' in Scotland, to misrepresent its contribution to Scottish life, to marginalise it almost to invisibility - a sobering reflection on the nature of a modern Scotland and its claims to be a multi-cultural society.
The book does much to counter this trend, but where does Celtic come into this? The work begins with a lengthy (about 67 pages) background unit on 'Celtic Football Club and the Irish in Scotland' by the editor himself. Bradley's prose style indicates that he is an academic but he intersperses his pages with frequent excerpts from sources more familiar to football followers such as from journalists and 'letters to the editor'. This is an excellent modus operandi as he is able to build up strong arguments, the more learned being complemented by the more familiar.
Bradley illustrates the uplifting effect the success of Celtic FC had on a community, persecuted and downtrodden - and the continuation of that association down the years, perhaps never more dramatically shown than at Seville in 2003.
Halfway through the introduction I began to be impressed with the appearance of the book: an excellent and tasteful cover with a Celtic collage, a clear and distinct font making for comfortable reading, wide margins complete with adequate footnotes, and an excellent variety of illustrations including two detailed reproductions of paintings of 'Irish famine ships'.
The essays come from various sources: historians, sociologists, novelists, Professors of English Literature, folk-singers, composers, journalists, expatriate Celtic supporters, and former players ... It is an impressive range of contributors, indicative of Celtic's universal appeal. At the end of the book a brief biographical note of all the contributors appears, including a mention of their first Celtic match attended - a homely touch for some august individuals.
I found it a fascinating mix; some were brilliantly written from the point of view of style and polish, but the two or three that fell below this rigorous academic standard made up for that by being sincere and from the heart - in fact, often incredibly moving.
I did make a tactical mistake in approaching this book, mainly because I was enjoying it so much. I read most of it at one sitting, and the variety of opinions, arguments, approaches, and styles made this a bit wearing. A few days later I picked it up again and this time read it more slowly in stages. 'Celtic Minded' is not a book to be devoured; it is to be savoured at leisure.
It is not a book for the bigots (of any persuasion); it comes across as an appeal for tolerance and understanding . Nor is it a book for readers of tabloids; it is thoughtful and thought-provoking.
Is it a book for football followers? Yes, if you are interested in football, Celtic and the nature of Scottish society. Most definitely, it is a welcome addition to the Celtic library.
However, a book review should concentrate on the book itself, and not the meandering opinions of the reviewer. Here are some excerpts, which give some idea of the breadth of content.
From 'The case for Brother Walfrid' in which Mark Burke suggests a statue of Brother Walfrid should be commissioned for the new Celtic Park: 'The gathering of the Celtic support today is an outpouring of pride and joy; a leitmotif of who we are and where we have come from; a tribute to the generations who came before us - and a tribute to the vision of the man who created Celtic';
from 'The Celtic Phenomenon' by Tom Grant [formerly a Celtic director]: 'When we opened the new Celtic Park, it was the sign that our Club was back, strong and proud once again. I could imagine the pride those first committee men and directors must have felt. All the fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, all the grannies and grandfathers that brought all of us to see 'the Celtic'';
from 'Across the Irish Sea' by Jim Greenan who travels to every Celtic home match: 'Celtic Park is a monument to our countrymen who made the journey we make with such regularity and that we now take for granted';
from 'Social consciousness, class and political identity' by Frank Devine: 'To this day the environs of Celtic Park on match day can be considered a no-go area for right-wing, racist, and fascist groups';
from 'Not a fan. I don't go. I don't like football. But...' by Des Dillon, prizewinning Scottish novelist, writing about growing up in Coatbridge: 'I felt alienated and incapable, and then read 'Juno and the Paycock' by Sean O'Casey. I had a literary awakening. There on the pages was the language we spoke in our Coatbridge living room. Words and phrases that tripped daily off our tongues had made it into the world of literature';
from 'The Scottish-born Irish and Celtic' by Joseph McAleer and Brendan Sweeney: 'Ironically, if Tony and John had travelled west instead of east [from Ireland] they would have become part of the massive Irish contingent in cities like New York and Boston. They would grow up to become proud Irish Americans and they would be able to celebrate their Irishness every year in the Saint Patrick's Day parades ... Few would dare to have a go at the Indian population in Glasgow for supporting their homeland's cricket team because that would be seen as racist';
from 'Living the dream' by Eddie Toner: '... the contrast in the reception we received when travelling abroad to that which greeted us in Scotland. In Europe our fans are universally well received, we mix well with the locals who in turn seem happy to party with us';
from 'Celtic and Catholicism' by Patrick Reilly, Professor of English Literature, noting the reaction of Kilmarnock supporters at Rugby Park at the end of last season: 'Were the home fans, as one might have expected, upset at the drubbing? Not a bit. Many were too busy deliriously cheering the news of every goal at Ibrox ... Never has a support been more ecstatic in humiliating defeat';
from 'See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil' by Hugh MacDonald, a journalist, writing about other journalists who claim to support smaller clubs in Scotland: 'How could he retain his integrity [it was claimed] if he was revealed as a follower of either Rangers or Celtic? It was never asked how he could retain his integrity while indulging in the shameful and frankly embarrassing and dishonest pretence of supporting another team';
from 'An Identity worth having' by Aidan Donaldson, writing about newspaper coverage of religion in Scotland: 'One might expect that no reputable newspaper editor would send his cricket columnist to cover a flower show, nor would he ask an economist to write a report on a football game. Yet, when it comes to commentating on any issue concerning the Catholic Church, everyone - including those who have never entered a Chapel - is an expert and should not feel constrained by ignorance, lack of knowledge. or even humility';
from 'Shut Up' and 'Trouble': the nonsense over sectarianism' by Willy Maley, professor, and columnist for the Celtic View: 'Sectarianism might be no more than a flag of convenience for a form of discrimination so ingrained and institutionalised that it is easier not to address it, except in the hand-wringing manner of Uriah Heep or in the hand-washing manner of Pontius Pilate.'
from 'Celtic minded: a Protestant view' by Tommy Gemmell, brought up as a Motherwell supporter, but who scored for Celtic in two European Cup finals: 'It [Celtic's Catholic or Irish ambience] never made me feel excluded as it was part and parcel of that particular environment. I was living with difference for the first time in my life and I was learning from the experience';
from 'Playing for Celtic: family and community' by Andy Walker, ex Celt and now TV studio pundit: '... and will never forget the extra yard I could find when spurred on to greater achievements by the fans. They could literally lift you off your feet with their encouragement, and I'm convinced Celtic games have been won in dramatic fashion over the years because of the energy the fans can relay to the players'.