One of the most important memories of my childhood was the Champions Cup semi-finals match between Celtic and Inter Milan (not yet called the Champions Business League). I do not remember what year it was. The game was in Glasgow, it was pouring rain and among the Celtic team in their strange white and green striped shirts there was a small but gifted player with red hair and the number 7 on his shorts.
Celtic lost the penalty shoot-out, but that night was the night when my love affair with Celtic started. It is the longest lasting love story of my life, a love affair without betrayals, lasting through the good and bad. It is an affair which will last until the day I will be lying in my coffin, dressed in that famous green and white shirt (now polluted by a sponsor’s logo).
For me, it was a small triumph over nicknames like “carrot head” or “rusty head” as I used to be called. I had finally found my role model in this small, but wonderful, right winger who was wearing that strange shirt. From that moment my destiny was fulfilled, from that day I have become a Bhoy!
Even today one of the first things I check when I go online (wherever I may be) are Celtic’s news, new possible players, injuries, team plans, or just “gossip”: Celtic may well be the only constant thing of my life.
All of this thanks to Jinky? Or it is a Karmic matter? Was it also the first skirmish of my strangeness? At that time everyone I knew was supporting Inter Milan, A.C. Milan, or Juventus. Instead, I was supporting a team nobody where I was living even knew about.
Of those years I also remember another very painful setback, the one at St. Siro Stadium. It was the Champions Cup final against Feyenoord. Black and white TV images brought that first childhood suffering, caused by the love for my team. What I didn’t know was that it the end of a wonderful era, the end of the “Lisbon Lions!” And strangely enough, I have no memories of this wonderful team’s greatest triumph, the night in Lisbon when we beat Inter Milan in the Champions Cup final, what a pity!
Even today when I have some free time I go on my computer (or PSP) and play with some football manager game, I always choose to be the Celtic manager. Sometimes I would like to change, to try another team, but it does really not make any sense to me. Celtic or nothing! I really like to create my own Celtic team, a team that wins championships and Cups. For a middle aged man it may not be really such a great achievement, but at least it helps to keep the child inside of me alive.
Honestly, sports in general do not interest me anymore. It disgusts me to see the amount of money thrown to pay players who act like superstars (whatever it may mean) and behave just like brainless spoiled brats! Then I take solace thinking about Tommy Burns, another of the idol’s of my youth, another “red head”, another “Celtic Man” through and through! A man who played football in the team he dearly loved, never a star but a true human being, a man who I was lucky enough to meet! He played under the rain, the snow, in the freezing cold without gloves or any other fancy garments, he played the Glasgow Celtic way.
Even though football no longer interests me, I can’t stop loving my Celtic. I really think that Celtic is much more than a football team, it is a way of being, a culture based on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality who have roots in the struggle for Ireland’s freedom under the British bloody occupation and from the consequent fight from freedom of the people of this beautiful country.
And this “infinite” passion took new energy thanks to new friends I met through the most unlikely of sources, that virtual “thing” called Facebook that I used to think being quite useless (I signed up only trying to promote Sainam’s work, pretty unsuccessfully I must say).
So here I am. Me, a man who always loved being out of the “herd”, someone who always liked to be by himself. But now I found new enthusiasm in sharing this surely irrational passion with new friends scattered all over the world.
Me, a guy who when in a bar watches the people comparing them to Ban Naudom’s Borabu when, at dusk, they go a drink in the rice field’s ponds.
Me, a man who when the people of his village dance around following the KonYao chariot (it is a traditional rite, where they dance to the rhythm of Morlam music) always just watches them, from a distance and with detachment. They are dancing (and drinking) all together while I stay out, even though they repeatedly call me to join the dance.
A call that I always kindly decline.
I stubbornly kept myself out of the herd, as a lone wolf wandering alone in the forest, just observing but now I wonder … am I preposterous or just a kind of loser? Maybe a bit of both, but now I really feel happy to be part of this group of people who support Glasgow Celtic, I like to be with them, to get angry to rejoice and suffer for the absolute futility of a football game. Yes, I am glad to be part of this green and white herd, to be among people I never met and than I will probably never meet but with a heat which beats…green and white.
Who knows, maybe this year I will also dance around Ban Naudom’s dusty roads, following the MorLam chariot. Maybe I will throw away my shyness mixed with presumption and will finally jump inside the herd, making the people of my village happy, goofily dancing because I finally understood that there is nothing wrong in the sense of belonging, I feel is a natural need of every human being and that it is nice to share with other human beings moments of joy (and pain as well).
Are Jimmy Johnstone and Tommy Burns to thank for all of this? Will I have to blame them for the poor figure I will do dancing around Ban Naudom?
In any case, together with Danny Mc Grain, Bobby Lennox, Roy Aitken, Davie Provan, Packie Bonner, Naka, Henrik Larsson and many others they have been an important presence in my life even though nobody of them will be more important than Glasgow Celtic F.C. because they are not the players who make Celtic, but it is Celtic who makes the players!
Long live Jimmy Johnstone and Tommy Burns – you’ll never walk alone!
© Claudio Romano