SINCE its foundation, Celtic has had firm links with Ireland and with a large number of people originally from the North living in Shannon, the Glasgow giants have long had a big local support base.
Celtic have two supporters clubs based in Shannon, one of which is the Charlie Tully Celtic Supporters’ Club. Kenny McGorrian is its PRO and he says he has supported Celtic since “the moment I could talk”.
He grew up in Larne, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of nationalism but Celtic had followers there too. “I come from a very loyalist town but there is a Celtic club there. No matter where you go, there’s support for Glasgow Celtic.”
His obsession with the club started in his childhood and kept developing. “When you’re young you pick your team and it never leaves you. Your loyalty grows. When we were playing football we always wanted to be Billy McNeill or Jimmy Johnstone.”
He says that the supporters’ club will not tolerate sectarianism. “I know hundreds of Celtic supporters and none of them are sectarian. We have a very strict code of conduct and we’ve no room for sectarianism or racism. You couldn’t have even one member who was sectarian or it would fester.”
Support for the club is now endemic in his family, Kenny says. “I have 58 nephews, nieces and in-laws as well and everyone of them wears Celtic gear, supports Celtic and watches games. We could nearly have our own supporters’ club.”
The Charlie Murray Celtic Supporters’ Club is named after Angela Murray’s father, who died in 2003.
Angela is a passionate supporter and she remembers her community’s love for the club when she was growing up in West Belfast. “Since my early days, it was always Celtic. My dad was always singing ‘hail, hail the Celts are here’. We were brought up with them and when Celtic won the European Cup in ’67 we were living on the Falls Road. We were waiting to be rehoused and there were massive parades and bonfires. It lifted everyone’s spirits, which was great. It was a time when there wasn’t much work or anything in the area.”
The family left a very unstable Belfast for more peaceful lives in the South but her father’s passion for Celtic endured. “We came down in the early 1970s and my dad’s love of Celtic was still there. I remember him moving radios around the house trying to get reception and they’d be buzzing and lots of language!”
Peter Fitzgerald, the club’s chairman, is originally from the Channel Islands and took up the Celtic faith after moving to Shannon. “It happened when I fell in with people from the North. We became friends and they educated me. I come from an Irish background, my mother and father were both Irish. I didn’t have a lot of time to go to Parkhead because I was playing so much football at the time but when I stopped playing I started going across,” he said.
In the ’80s, the trip over was an adventure in itself. “We would embark on journeys of 15 hours on buses. There were no bypasses then. We’d go to the North to get the ferry, right through Dublin and Dundalk. We’d meet British soldiers at Newry and they’d have various tactics to delay you. It was amazing what we had to overcome,” Peter added.
The club has 10 season tickets and members frequently get to Parkhead, while it sponsors the Shannon Town U-7 side. Peter feels the bond between the club and supporters is stronger than is usually the case in professional sport.
When Charlie Murray was terminally ill, the then Celtic manager Martin O’Neill made a special effort to spend time with one of the club’s great supporters.
“When Charlie was dying we met Martin at the Irish association dinner dance in CityWest and we wrote to him too. It was mentioned to him that Charlie was sick and when he replied to our letter he said he’d see him. We took him over with his son, Charlie Jnr, and there was a huge tour of Parkhead. O’Neill came up the player’s tunnel and everyone started clapping. He stopped them and said ‘Is Charlie Murray here?’ Charlie was all chuffed and O’Neill took him up to his office for an hour. Charlie regaled him with stories of going over on cattle boats in the ’30s and ’40s. I couldn’t imagine Alex Ferguson or Ancelloti being that accessible or sharing that bond,” Peter added.
Angela said she will never forget the Derry man’s gesture. “I’ve great respect for Martin O’Neill because he made my dad’s dream come true,” she said.
According to Peter, there are very committed supporters such as Paul Ferguson, who helped found the club, but the club’s following has dipped since the halcyon days of 2003, when the Celts were cruelly defeated in the UEFA cup final by a Jose Mourinho-managed Porto side.
He feels that Celtic’s future may ultimately lie in a British league. “I’m not sure you won’t see a British league in the next 10 or 15 years. I think Dermot Desmond is holding on for that. With our global support I think we could be at the top of it. There’s nowhere in the world you can go that you won’t find a Celtic supporters’ club,” he added.