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Celtic's paranoia: all in the mind?

by tom campbell

There have been a lot of books written about Glasgow Celtic. Some are trivial, some are terrible, some have things to say but don't say them well and some should be read by anybody who has an interest in the club. It is fair to say that a substantial number of the books in the last category were written - at least in part - by Tom Campbell.

Campbell has been involved in at least seven previous books about Celtic and two of his previous books (Glasgow Celtic 1945 to 1970 and The Glory and the Dream) are the best books ever written about the club. His books are invariably meticulously researched and well written and although they are written from the perspective of a supporter they are always objective.

This latest book is rather shorter than many of his earlier works and marks a departure in style, being more hard-hitting and critical in tone; but it is nonetheless an important book on what is undoubtedly a controversial topic.

"Paranoia" is an over-used word. Its meaning is best summed up by quoting the final sentence of the dictionary definition used by Campbell in the introduction to the book. It reads: suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification.

It is indeed an over-used word and Celtic supporters - individually and collectively - have been accused of suffering from paranoia for many years. In this book, Tom Campbell seeks to find out whether the accusation is true or false.

The evidence he presents is, for the most part, compelling and will doubtless infuriate many people who read it, particularly those who are not Celtic sympathisers. His conclusion - that prejudice against the club is no longer as a result of religious bigotry - will probably equally infuriate many who are Celtic sympathisers. Although I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I think Campbell deserves a great deal of credit for expressing his opinions and hopefully this book will stimulate debate among the supporters.

If Campbell believes that the club is no longer the victim of religious bigotry emanating from officialdom then in the first half of the book he presents an extremely convincing case that it has been in the past and that consequently it is understandable that many supporters have a deep-rooted mistrust of, for example, the SFA. Of course religious bigotry directed against Catholics generally (as opposed to the largely Catholic-supported Celtic specifically) has long had an ignoble tradition in Scotland - and as Campbell illustrates, not just in the West Central belt - which still exists. But, as the author points out, it is no longer a virulent as it was, say, in the 1920s.

Prejudice specifically aimed at Celtic has always existed and until at least the 1950s some of the most powerful off-field opponents the club faced operated at the highest levels of the Scottish Football Association. In particular, the long-term secretary, or Chief Executive as he would probably now be known, Sir George Graham, was a bigot, an empire builder and, apparently, a crook. He also appears to have had a disgraceful attitude towards the club, to put it mildly.

The chapters devoted to the controversies surrounding Celtic's flying of the Irish tricolour in 1951 and 1952 and the Old Firm game at Ibrox in August 1949 will make most Celtic supporters angry half a century after they happened.

The first half of the book generally works well, although I'm not sure the chapters on the referees Jim Callaghan and RH Davidson could not have been condensed into one. The chapter on Celtic players and the Scottish national team is interesting (although I don't agree with his assessment of the low number of caps awarded to wee Jimmy) but given that - other than for active members of the Tartan Army - a few people in the country seem all that bothered about the national team it seems a bit irrelevant.

The chapters in the second half of the book are individually very good, especially the one about Hugh Dallas. Campbell's account of the infamous match of May 2nd 1999 against Rangers is the only worthwhile account of that crazy evening I have read. The author scores even more emphatically in this chapter when he discusses the comments that appeared in the newspapers in the aftermath of the game. I was at the match and would admit, as Campbell does, that some of the decisions made by the referee were correct. Like Campbell, I also agree, though, that overall Dallas did not have one of his better games (believe me, I'm a master of understatement). However, as the book points out, much of the Scottish sports media spent several days afterwards telling us that Dallas had performed magnificently and effectively it was a privilege for Celtic fans to have their team's matches refereed by a "world class" ref and consequently we should shut up as we were all paranoid anyway.

Campbell does seem to have a real distaste for much modern football reporting. An interesting thought that occurs on reading the book is that when the club was in dispute with Sir George Graham (as it often was) the newspapers appear to have largely sided with Celtic but in the last few years the club has had few champions in the press. Campbell makes the point that it is unlikely that much of the anti-Celtic coverage in the papers will be religiously inspired as so many of the sports journalists are - in theory at least - Celtic supporters. The anti-Celtic coverage is, the author believes, driven by the nespapers' desire for sensational stories - apparently the worse the better. Unfortunately, amongst all the rubbish, a number of dismally true stories about Celtic are also printed.

I would have been totally sold on this theory had I not read the papers the day after Celtic's 2:0 victory at Ibrox on September 30th this year. I would refer readers of the book to the quotation by the journalist Ian Bell used on page 37 of Campbell's book, pages 24 - 25 0f NTV 96 and the aforementioned letters pages of Scotland on Sunday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I did have reservations. The years between 1970 and 1994 are argely ignored, and yet these were not uninteresting times for those of us who may or may not suffer from paranoia.

One of the oft repeated complaints made by Scottish football supporters who don't follow either half of the Old Firm is that they cannot stomach Celtic's complaints about referees when the reality is that Celtic still get far more "favours" than any other Scottish team. I think that is possibly true. Certainly Celtic last season did get a few breaks. But I also remember that in the early eighties when Aberdeen were Celtic's major on-field rivals that several matches turned on contentious refereeing decisions and that in almost every single instance Celtic suffered.

More interesting still would be the infamous match at Ibrox in October 1987 after which four players were charged by the police following an on-field brawl and an incident involving the Rangers player Roberts conducting a chorus of a sectarian song. Much of the media's reaction to that game centred on the part played by the one Celt involved. I can still remember Allan Heron referring to Rangers' Chris Woods as "The shattered 'keeper". Chris Woods and Terry Butcher were subsequently found guilty as charged in court while Roberts was "not proven". Ffrank McAvennie was acquited.

The other areas of concern to me are the conclusions reached by Campbell. Not so much the conclusions themselves, as I agree with most of them, but how he arrives at them. I do believe that much of the Celtic support's mistrust of officialdom being based on ancient bigotry is largely misplaced. The problem is that the case the author presents in the preceding chapters does not present all that much evidence that the anti-Celtic bias (which may or may not exist any more) is not sectarian in origin. I do agree with his conclusions in that respect but I am sure anyone who has no prior knowledge of Celtic or Scottish football would be all that convinced by what is written in the book. And that to me, in what is otherwise a logically argued book, is a weakness.

However, Campbell is correct to criticise certain sections of the Celtic support - particularly at away matches where a sizeable minority seems eager to behave in a way that seems almost designed to confirm or instil prejudices against Celtic among people of the host town.

While not quite up to the best of Campbell's earlier books it is always immensely readable and, for what is a contentious subject, surprisingly humorous.

I have my misgivings but I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject. The concluding sentences sum up the best of the book - and reality - well: "Celtic Football Club has survived for more than a century, and has flourished. many of the wildest dreams of the club's founders and early supporters have been realised a hundredfold, and yet too many of the club's following still suffers from a persecution complex, and misbehave accordingly. It is time to rise above that."

JIM PAYNE

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