While the Celtic support is getting rave reviews wherever it goes in Europe and the Green Brigade have brought a proper Ultras atmosphere to Celtic Park, are fans now reacting less to what actually happens on the pitch and is it really helping the team? Graeme McKay questions if rather than always being supportive maybe this Celtic support also needs to show some tough love.
Despite the fact that I was pretty buckled on Augustiner, I knew it was coming. It can be almost sensed in the air, like a thunderstorm or a ‘but’ that follows a pregnant pause. The supporters in the top corner of the Allianz Arena collectively filled their lungs and began that dirge – over and fucking over. We were being ragdolled up and down the pitch, but at least we had the party; the ‘sing song’. Coming away from Munich, it felt like the Tartan Armification of the Celtic support was complete.
The Green Brigade have brought amazing things to Celtic Park. They made the turgid football of the Strachan, Mowbray and Lennon years at least a bit melodic and they have done countless acts of charity, as well as reaffirm Celtic fans on a global scale, so much so that I am often approached by Germans who want to tell me how well we are respected around the world. However, an unfortunate by-product of the Green Brigade years is that the fans in general are much less reactionary to what is happening on the park.
I first noticed this phenomenon not at a Celtic game, but in the Max-Morlock-Stadion in Nürnberg. The ultras bounced and sang non-stop and the rest of the crowd gave a mild applause whenever something good happened in the match; this applause was mirrored with a slight grumble when things went against Der Club. It got to the stage where the noise made by the Nürnberg fans was so constant and unchanging that it was quickly habituated. The hum coming from a small section of the crowd became like the car alarm outside that we soon forget is blaring.
Working from the perhaps shaky belief that supporters can have an influence as to what happens on the field, it would surely mean that a hum so easily habituated would not be entirely useful? I am reminded of the truly inspiring atmospheres at Celtic Park and most, for me, came pre-Green Brigade. They came with genuine roars of excitement and determination at games, such as taking Valencia to extra-time in the UEFA Cup. It was spontaneous, it was guttural and it was emotional. It was lifting the atmosphere up all of the notches in the hope that the players on the park would react.
As Celtic fans, I feel like we have a mild obsession with our image. We delight in being the good guys; the supporters that make a mess, have a party, but don’t cause a riot; the fans that support over and over; the anti-Rangers. And this can lead to circumstances where our band is playing as the boat sinks.
Celtic showed nothing in Munich. It was toothless and meek and Kieran Tierney was perhaps the only player to come out of it looking like a footballer. It was an utterly embarrassing performance from a side that looked as if they didn’t care; a team that looked as if they were just there to make up the numbers. So why should the supporters be any different? If the players don’t believe they can compete, then perhaps some fans are right in just looking to draw the best cities for a bevy.
But for me, as someone that was sitting with the home fans in Munich, the team didn’t deserve an ‘Over and Over’. We will be faithful through and through, but sometimes the players should know that we don’t think their performance was good enough for the Celtic badge. Sometimes we should be telling them that we still have faith, but that they need to get their shit together.
A tinge of embarrassment came over me as I was leaving the game and a Bayern fan asked to swap shirts. He told me that we had the best fans in the world and I felt for that one moment like a girl had just told me that she liked my personality. I do think we have the best fans in the world, but I think those fans need to ‘manage’ the team a little bit better. I think we need to know when to put the arm round a player’s shoulder, but also when to throw a tea cup at his face. Some defeats in our history deserve the aforementioned dirge, most don’t.
To paraphrase Roy Keane: let’s not kid ourselves, we are a financially small club, we’re up against it, but let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again. Oh, and the second I see someone pouring Radox in a fountain, I’m going to start throwing punches.