It was a summer’s evening in Berlin, and although it was only a friendly game and although the vibe was more crusty Kreuzberg than pissed-up Parkhead, nevertheless the pre-season Glasgow Celtic match against FC Union last month promised much in the way of raucously proclaiming my allegiances and even more in the way of gloriously hailing the triumph of the Bhoys in Green (now just remind me once again how you say ‘hail the triumph’ in German). As a prelude of what was to come later in the day I spotted, near Kottbusser Tor station at 10 o’clock on that Friday morning, a small but quite visible group of burly chaps in Celtic regalia – early arrivals on the EasyJet flight from Glasgow no doubt. They were speaking German but this only suggested to me that our Scottish cousins were taking their place in the ranks of other well-travelled and sophisticated young people who saw no barrier in foreign languages.
I started to question that easy assumption some eight hours later when I again made my way to Kottbusser Tor to catch the U-Bahn for the trip out to Köpenick. Celtic fans were vociferously present throughout the journey of course and hooped shirts, green-and-white scarves, kilts, the strangulation of the English language and the drinking of beer were much in evidence. I was noticing however that more and more of the wearers of the hoops, more and more of the wearers of the scarves and the kilts, more and more of the strangulators of the English and more and more of the drinkers of the beer hailed, not from the heartlands of the West of Scotland nor indeed from the heartlands of West Belfast but more surprisingly perhaps from the heartlands of Hamburg (in general) and from the heartlands of St. Pauli (in particular).
The skull and cross-bones was as visible as the shamrock and although brown and white sit uncomfortably (from the aesthetic point of view) with green and gold, nevertheless the overall effect is pleasingly rakish and marginalized. I am enough of a Celtic supporter to know that we have several inter-club ‘relationships’ with other teams in other countries – Shamrock Rovers in Ireland, Liverpool in England and of course St. Pauli in Germany – but I was genuinely surprised to see how engaged and practiced these guys from Hamburg were. More pierced, more heavily tattooed and way more piratical than their Glaswegian counterparts perhaps, but Celtic supporters all the same.
And now it looks as if another set of German football fans might well be accepted into the extended Celtic family if the friendliness and warmth of the FC Union supporters – very much reciprocated – is anything to go by. They pass several of our litmus tests for inclusion with flying colours anyway so I for one would be very much in favour. For example they have a proud history of being against stuff, which is always a recommendation.
They were against the Stasi in the bad old days of the GDR; they were against the East German government who sponsored their bitter rivals Dynamo Berlin and they suffered the ignominy of having those same bitter rivals win everything, often under very suspicious circumstances. So, bitter rivals who have the support of both the political mainstream and national football organizations? Now that’s starting to sound very familiar. A solid working class support with left-wing credentials intact? Tick that box as well. Welcome to our world, lads.
By the time we reached the away supporters section of FC Union’s compact little Alte Försterei stadium in Köpernick things had really started to warm up. I had stepped over and/or picked up on the way several Scotsmen, clearly suffering from exhaustion after their long journey from Glasgow but all such minor concerns were put behind us as the game kicked off and we looked forward to seeing how the minnows from the German Second Division would handle the Champions League veterans; we looked forward to the singing of songs and the beating of tribal drums and we looked forward to some measure of vindication and some measure of confirmation that we were in fact and in deed, the champions.
But it’s a funny old game and things didn’t turn out quite like that. True we had the ritual passing of the enormous Celtic flag – it travelled up and down the away section of the stadium quite happily for much of the match and even Che Guevara made his usual appearance on the Irish tricolour. We also had continued enthusiastic drinking of beer; we had much photograph taking and lots of banter but we, the fans in green and white, had precious little to cheer about. So little in fact that the French-speaking African grandad beside me who was with the raddled 60 year old St. Pauli rock chick, disappeared after 30 minutes or so and was never seen again.
At half-time FC Union were 1-0 up and looking good value for their lead – they added two more goals in the second half and ran out worthy winners at the end much to the delight of their support but here’s the interesting and unusual thing…… it didn’t really bother me. It didn’t really bother the St. Pauli pirates and it really didn’t bother the tired and emotional Glaswegians either. So for the most part it seemed, at least in the Celtic end of the ground, the result was not the important thing. The important thing was and this is what makes the evening memorable – the important thing was that the most successful chant of the night, the most involving chant of the night, the loudest and longest chant of the night from the Celtic end of the ground (a section which also included a fair sprinkling of FC Union supporters I have to say) was not ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ nor ‘The Fields of Athenry’ nor yet even ‘The Celtic Song’ it was instead ‘Anti-Fascista, Boom, Boom, Boom! Anti-Fascista, Boom, Boom, Boom! Anti-Fascista, Boom, Boom, Boom!’ and as we chanted that, Scots and Irish and Germans and Brits, I felt as proud as I have ever felt at a Celtic match and I knew too, despite what we are constantly told about tribalism and cliques and sects, that there are certain clans worth belonging to.
Image credits: 1. © Luke Atcheson 2. © Veitschiese via Flickr 3. © VisitBerlin | Scholvien 4. © Grey Hutton