I WILL PREFACE THIS by saying that sport is not my area. But there is no escaping it: my own dear football club has risen to the top of the political agenda. One of Scotland’s top firms and best-known brand names, with a truly global reach, Celtic has suddenly become a byword for negligence, thanks, above all, to that Dubai trip, which may go down among the all-time sporting PR disasters.
I am the first to say that Covid shaming can go too far. Sometimes, the sanctimony conceals snobbery about young and working-class people. The same could also be said about attitudes to nouveau riche footballers, who face the brunt of resentment because the “wrong type of people” have become millionaires (Raheem Stirling was right to expose these ugly attitudes). Yet for all of that, there is no defending the Dubai debacle.
It wasn’t clever at the time. The leaked pictures of players sunning themselves with a pint sent the wrong message, when fans are losing their jobs and are barely allowed to leave their homes in the bleak Glasgow winter. I won’t discuss the footballing side, except to say it had already been miserable enough to inspire heated protests. And, it should be remembered, the fan protests were themselves greeted with covid-shaming sanctimony, not least by the board.
Then, the comeuppance. Christopher Julien, a player who had no business being on the flight, since he was injured for four months, contracted the virus. The result was that a full thirteen players, plus the Celtic manager and assistant manager, were forced to self-isolate. Again, I won’t comment on the football, except to say I watched the game last night in a state of frantic, gammon-faced rage at the incompetence.
Some Celtic fans are so ardently trusting of their club that they blame this all on Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government. Readers of Source Direct will know that I am no regime loyalist for the SNP, and I have supported Celtic since the bad old days before Fergus McCann. Yet it’s absurd to blame anyone but ourselves here. If anything, one might accuse Sturgeon of being too lenient on what is (ultimately) a formidable capitalist firm.
The irony is, and I speak from personal experience, being a Celtic supporter is rather like supporting independence. Both causes are simultaneously anti-establishment and overly accustomed to being in power. Both inspire extreme loyalty. Both also inspire the proverbial chip on the shoulder. Fans of both react unsympathetically to criticism of the leaders, even in good faith by supporters who genuinely want the cause to succeed. Accusations of disloyalty abound. Yet in both cases, the internal critics are growing more vocal and more numerous by the day. In both cases, that admirable streak of loyalty can get stretched to breaking point.
Sadly, our own club’s selfishness may have had wider repercussions for Scotland’s less fortunate footballing cousins. Yesterday, football below championship level was suspended for three weeks. Sturgeon very directly linked this to Celtic’s actions: “I know fans of other clubs feel very strongly that the whole of football should not pay the price for the actions of any one club, and I agree with that… As we do, I do hope that Celtic themselves will reflect seriously on all of this.”
I can’t quarrel with Sturgeon here. Nor can I disagree with that old Celtic hate figure, Scottish Tory leader and linesman Douglas Ross, when he says: “We don’t want to see the whole of Scottish football affected by the actions of one club.” Sometimes it’s best to own up and admit it: this is humbling.