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Celtic meet and greet Tuesday at Fado

With eager anticipation, the many green-and-white-clad fans packing the bar waited. And waited. And waited.

It was well past the stated 7:30pm arrival time of their Celtic heroes, yet no one seemed too perturbed. Certainly not enough to prevent them from continuing to run their tab as they speculated on who would show.

“Me and my friends, this is when we get to see each other- when Celtic is around. It’s a family not a club.”   -Glasgow native Joe John Devlin

New coach Neil Lennon who took over the reins last season seemed a certainty. Perhaps recent signing Joe Ledley, brought in from Cardiff City to solidify the midfield, would be leaving his signature on everyone’s jersey, or perhaps 10 goal man Marc Antoine Fortune, who is going to need to live up to his assurance of delivering even more for Hoops, especially with the return of Robbie Keane seeming impossible at this point.

And then they entered: forward Mark Wilson and Celtic legend and current 1st team coach Alan Thompson. At least he seemed like a legend, given the reverence with which everyone spoke of him, the very way they said his name speaking to his play on the pitch.

To the readily apparent childish glee in the eyes of many — many of whom who were bringing the next generation of Hoops fans to pass that glee onto — Celtic’s PR Director Tony Hamilton apologized for their tardiness, offering that the boys were coming from a training session. A training session for a match today with the Philadelphia Union, that it seemed everyone could almost taste, the excitement was so palpable.

“I think the support in North America is what sets this club apart from other clubs in the world,” Hamilton said, addressing the fans, several of whom traveled from across the pond for the match.

Celtic defender Mark Wilson touches up the kit.

“Me and my friends, this is when we get to see each other- when Celtic is around. It’s a family not a club,” Glasgow native John Joe Devlin, said, his two young girls close to his side.

In the states for 11 years, he’s touched base with fellow members of the Celtic Diaspora as well as with friends and relatives from back home during matches in Tampa, Philadelphia (vs Man U in ’03), and Connecticut dating back to 2000.

That sentiment continued to be reinforced by the emotions on display as everyone met with Thompson and Wilson, the current and former player taking the time not just to sign jerseys and shake hands, but to chat with each fan with a relaxed air, which heavily reinforced Devlin’s statement about family.

“It’s great when we come to places like this around the world to see the great fans we have.”

-Former Celtic player and current 1st team coach Alan Thompson

“My father was there when they became the first British team to win the European Cup in’67,” Devlin said, his family holding season tickets with Celtic since their inception in 1888. “The ticket from that game is in the family bible. This one with the girls,” he said looking affectionately downward, “will go in there as well.”

John Joe Devlin with the next generation of Cletic fans.

“It was an honor and a privilege to play with this great football club,” Thompson said ahead of his exit from the pub. “Neil [Lennon] has given me a great chance to come back and work with fantastic players and hopefully after this season we have two to three pieces of silverware,” the applause, needless to say, raucous at this point. “It’s great when we come to places like this around the world to see the great fans we have.”

While many of those fans are far removed from their Scottish and Irish roots, with Celtic serving as a touchstone to their heritage, it’s hard not to find thick accents wherever the team goes.

Speaking of a “pilgrimage of people,” Gary ‘Swing’ McDonald assured me that the atmosphere at the game would be infused with the passion of such a dedicated fan base.

“It’s not like an English team or an American team,” he said. “The whole game the stadium will be bouncing. There are at least 15 bands that follow the team around playing Celtic songs. Valencia was supposed to be here originally. It wouldn’t have been the same atmosphere. I’ve got guys down from Boston, the north of Ireland, and Poland. It’s a worldwide thing.”

It was not at that point that I brought up Doop or Four Leaf Clover. I did take a second to mock a particular Disney song though.

“Yeah that’s pretty bad,” McDonald agreed in regards to the Friday Night Lights inspired chant, while adding that Celtic, like many long serving clubs, will take on pop songs as chants.

“Certainly,” I replied, while offering up that ours is worlds apart from something as utterly brilliant as a Ryan Giggs chant based on a Joy Division classic.

As for our fledgling club, he added, “I think it’s great [for the fans] to have soccer in their own back yard. It’s not the greatest standard but it’s their first year. The SoB were very proactive. It’s great to have that intense interest in soccer,” he said appreciating the parallels between Union die-hards and manic Celtic fans. “They go to D.C. with their own section,” he said, seemingly impressed, before adding, “give it four or five years, and the one’s who are still around- they’re your true fans.”

Sure, the fans and the team can’t compare to a club that’s been around well before the automobile. But it’s clear that Petr Nowak and Neil Lennon have similar tasks ahead. Lennon no longer has the interim tag as head coach and has high expectations to take the title from a fractured Rangers team.

But while Celtic has seen several key players come into the club- they also seem set on signing Mexico international Efrain Juarez ESPN reports– there’s been a lot of movement the other way. And again, there’s little hope of Keane’s return since Hoops can’t afford a full transfer. While there’s bound to be more activity in the transfer market, don’t expect rabid Celtic fans to let Lennon off the hook easy either way if he doesn’t meet expectations.

Friends (l-r)Stanislaw Guzikowski, Gary “Swing” McDonald, Joe Falloon, and John MaCrae pose with an unnamed Celtic fan who disappeared into the lost canyons of the night.

The great thing about The Union is that Nowak isn’t waiting for our patience to run out. Sure, we’ve made it known at times that we expect more- at least when the team was at home- but that’s been tempered by the many positives shown in a budding team in their inaugural season.

But if you’re wondering what the match will be like today, look no further than Nowak’s insertion of Jack McInerney into the 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Tied 1-1, McInerney, a pure forward, came on to join Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux, effectively giving us three strikers.

A bit crazy, yes, especially since we conceded the go-ahead goal on the counter following a push that left us horribly exposed. Sure, you can accuse him of being reckless, but you have to agree that these are very calculated risks he is taking, risks he prefers to take since he sees them as being essential to shaping the character of this team.

If the World Cup has taught us anything, it’s that confidence transforms recklessness into studied certainty. Chemistry, sound tactical play, and skill are essential factors in doing so as well, but while Nowak helps his team to bring these latter element to the fore, he also shows an extreme disdain at times for the ‘expansion team’ tag along with a fierce desire to have his team leave such an identity well in the past.

So in that regard, he’s sure to temper his respect for Celtic’s record books, while the Union fans continue to build a tradition of their own, while looking upon a fine tradition from Glasgow.

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  1. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » Celtic meet and greet Tuesday at Fado | Glasgow Celtic

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