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Butler: Football folklore, Celtic style

Noel Butler
11/9/2012 12:15:04 PM
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Not often a football match transcends for all the right reasons the action on the pitch. Wednesday night we witnessed what certainly was one of those all too rare occasions.

'Watt A Night' dominated the headlines in the local Glasgow newspapers yesterday morning in recognition of 18-years young Tony Watt who had calmly slotted away what turned out to be Celtic's eventual winner. 

Not bad for a player whose transfer fee cost his club approximately the same amount as newly minted dad Lionel Messi earned for his 90 minutes of toil and labor.

125th birthday fantasy, a teenage fairytale that come the final whistle had Rod Stewart reach for the smelling salts as the hard nosed man of Rock &Roll was reduced to a bottom lip quivering wreck. Every picture does indeed tell a story.

Sir Alex Ferguson may have had a sculpture unveiled at Old Trafford earlier today commemorating his unprecedented 26-years of service to the Manchester United cause but for all the silverware and unprecedented success the Scotsman has accomplished Old Trafford owes a considerable debt of gratitude to a fellow countryman of Ferguson's.

Ferguson's methodology was shaped by Celtic legend Jock Stein. A man in possession of an immense football brain - Stein was at the helm when Celtic conquered Europe in 1967. And with it a club founded on November 6th, 1887 instantly became the Barcelona of their time.
 
Coincidentally, the Scottish club's opponent that early spring 1967 evening was Internazionale who were coached by the legendry ex-Barcelona boss Helenio Herrara. The Celtic legend was born and out of the achievement the club pioneered the global fan base movement.

Unlike ex-pat supporters of most clubs who have a favorite local pub or café to cheer on their team Celtic supporters across North America have a number of Celtic themed social clubs to call home.

The North American Federation of Celtic Supporters Clubs [NAFCSC] comprises member clubs that are scattered in unlikely North American football hot beds such as Hawaii and Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Their origins go back two decades when a collective of Celtic supporters got together, including current Honorary President Jacky Meehan who explained to TSN.ca the NAFCSC's founding days.

"20 years ago we just wanted to see the Celtic matches on the TV so we got a few clubs together in the Ontario region and then it just went North America wide." Today 50 plus clubs are in existence.

The Federation holds annual conventions rotating them biannually in Las Vegas and San Francisco. It was in Vegas in 1997 the NAFCSC honored Jock Stein's Lisbon Lions on what was the 30th anniversary of Celtic becoming the 1st British team to win a European Cup.

I clearly recall back when the Federation was planning that 1997 convention discussing in depth with Meehan a team from a bygone era where all but 1 of the players in Celtic's Starting XI that warm spring Lisbon evening had been born and grew up literally within a stones throw of Celtic Park.

No Porsche SUV's in the training ground car park in those days.

Quite admirably many of the NAFCSC member clubs sponsored each of the players. All of whom showed in Vegas apart from captain Billy McNeill for health reasons. The highlight of the convention a star studded gala to honor the team.

Even though in recent seasons Celtic have not been a force outside of Scotland and coupled with the considerable downturn in immigration from the old country the Federation continues to blossom

"It's fantastic. We get terrific support and the likes of Wednesday will only result in more people getting involved." Was Meehan's take on how he sees things following the Barcelona scalp.

With the Federation headquartered in the heart of Ontario there is a significant Montreal connection to Celtic in the guise of Fergus McCann. McCann was a highly successful Montreal based businessman who in the late 1960's I'm reliably told thought nothing of traveling across the Atlantic as a supporter in search of cheering on his Celtic on the European stage.

From fandom came ownership when in 1994 McCann acquired a controlling stake in the Glasgow giants. Hardship had befallen the club as it flirted with bankruptcy.

Meehan explaining, "Fergus McCann saved Celtic. He came in there and told everyone what he was going to do - he was in to make a profit.  That he did."

"He had a 5-year plan to build a new stadium and vitally position Celtic as a power again which to his credit he achieved."

McCann wasn't a popular figure as he positioned the club for a stock market listing whilst placing the focus on matters off the pitch initially before finally Celtic were able to regain the Scottish title from their fierce Glasgow rivals.

It wasn't long after McCann's tenure that the club returned to the European glamour stage for a third time when in the 2002-03 season they reached the UEFA Cup Final.

The 'Bhoys from Seville' came up short in a five-goal thriller against Porto. In which by some estimates had upwards of an incredible 100,000 Celtic fans descending from across the globe on the Spanish city of Seville.

Hardly surprising following Wednesday night's final whistle some Barcelona players felt compelled to describe the patrons of Parkhead the grandest of all. With the club's Twitter feed congratulating Celtic for winning on such a pivotal occasion as the club's 125th anniversary celebration.

The might of Barcelona moved by simply taking part.

Meehan himself had no doubt what Wednesday means. "It was a fantastic night. It truly put us back on the map. The display beforehand was an absolute credit to the fans to celebrate the birthday 125 years.

"It just shows you what the Celtic fans are about. As we keep on saying Celtic is more than just a club. They are a way of life, a family thing to everybody involved with Celtic."

Having grown up in an Irish Catholic household where my first vivid TV recollection of football was Billy McNeill lifting the European Cup that so called Celtic way of life is something I can certainly attest to.

It is evenings like Parkhead that reaffirm our wanton belief everything is beautiful about the world's game. Whilst vitally providing a much needed respite from all the greed, scandal, rancor and outright criminal behavior which seems to have enveloped football in recent years.

It doesn't matter Celtic's time of possession is recorded as the lowest ever in recording a UEFA Champions League victory.

Try telling that to Rod Stewart and the hundred's of thousands in years to come who will claim to have been in attendance.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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