How Celtic became the champions of Scotland's Irish community

How Celtic became the champions of Scotland's Irish community

IN the 2010-11 season Celtic faced Rangers seven times but it was by no means a record-breaker.

Shortly after Celtic’s formation the two clubs could feasibly face each other up to ten times a season when adding long-gone Charity Cup, Glasgow Cup, Glasgow League and Inter City League fixtures.

With Harps, Emeralds, Celtics, Hibernians and Emmets representing the immigrant Irish population throughout Scotland, why did Glasgow’s Celtic become the ultimate champions of the community?

Scotland’s greatest living historian Sir Tom Devine suggests the reasons why the club from Glasgow’s east end became so significant: “Success begets success and that begets the support. Celtic were very opportunistic in stealing the best players from other clubs.

"The question is why did that team emerge as a super team, part of it is location and the huge support which existed in the west of Scotland, the second thing is the success on the football field, that community had to have a sporting champion in what was the king of sports within Scotia: football.”

The emergence of new working class Irish-Scots living in the newly-built tenements and working in Scotland’s thriving factories and shipyards had found a worthy leisure pursuit in Celtic, one that would have meaning beyond the limited confines of association football.

Sir Tom suggests the third reason and arguably the most significant cause that allowed Celtic to become the Irish community’s “super-team”, was Rangers.

He said: “The third element that kicks in is the Rangers factor, if there had been a Rangers situation in Dundee and Edinburgh, you may have found that Celtic would not have been the super team. The conflict became ethnic, sectarian, religious and gladiatorial; you had to have a sporting champion, since this conflict was being worked out in Glasgow, it was almost inevitably going to be a Glasgow team that would oppose the champions of the other side.”

In the late 19th century the concerns of the Celtic community was survival, the character of the support has since been through many transitions. In 2014 it’s difficult to gage what the principal identifiers are.

“I think this is the problem, the Celtic support is quite technicolor and variable and in terms of the Irish situation, for example, for all I know you may well have a silent majority who think the referencing back to Irish politics is not acceptable at all.

“That’s why as a historian you have to be very careful to weigh evidence, it’s not necessarily the most obvious stuff which appears in public.

“It would be fascinating to carry out a poll of Celtic supporters, that might result in the fact that those who shout loudest are not necessarily the most typical views. The demand for the six counties to be restored to Irish rule is obviously an acceptable political demand, it’s the way you go about it.

"There is no doubt that the Irish Republican Army overstepped the line morally during their campaign and therefore those who support Irish freedom ... in my view have to be very careful of what they say, because there is plenty of hymns and values going back to the period of Walfrid that they can be proud of and that can manifest itself.

“The church frowned upon a lot of these political activities or at least a lot of them in the late 19th century. For someone like Walfrid the main commitment was to supporting the poor and social justice, that seems to me to be good enough in displaying a code or set of values for a football club. Just be concerned about the darker side and watch that.

"The whole thing about it is, the evidence currently in the north of Ireland is that there is a very substantial minority in terms of the continued relationship with the union and that includes both Catholic and Protestant, there is no interest in the south of Ireland in politically securing a union with the north for a variety of reasons. Society moves on and people have got to be aware of that.”

Sir Tom is among a growing list of prominent public figures who have spoken out against the club’s refusal to pay the living wage.

“I think the living wage situation is an own goal, the foundation of Celtic was a remarkable achievement because it was founded as a charitable institution, that was followed by sporting glory in the late 19th and early 20th century. I would not like to see any of that diluted.

"If there are suspicions that it has been diluted that is of course because it is run as big business in the shape of one man, that’s got to be carefully monitored, the only group that can monitor that and ensure pressure is brought to bear are those who actually make the club: the support”.

Richard Purden is the author of We Are Celtic Supporters and Faithful Through and Through