After four long months, Celtic return to action against Nice this evening, the first of three friendly matches in France.
With elements of everyday life beginning to return to some kind of normality, seeing Celtic back on the park feels like a seminal moment for all of a green and white persuasion.
That may seem a hyperbolic statement, particularly concerning a pre-season friendly, and given the circumstances which caused the curtailment of the 19/20 season. It would, of course, be wrong to trivialise the heartbreak this pandemic has caused to so many families by declaring the return of football, in itself, as a greatly important moment of 2020.
Whilst this season has the potential to be one of the most special in the club’s history, the excitement surrounding tonight’s game against Nice does not simply reflect the anticipation of the year ahead. Though the match may prove to be the first preparatory step towards the holy grail of ten, what gives the reappearance of Celtic such significance goes beyond anything that can be achieved on the park.
To many, far from a hollow marketing slogan that adorns each PR campaign, Celtic really are more than a club. They are a community.
As the virus wreaked devastation across the globe, it is perhaps the widespread lack of community, the injustice and inequality so prevalent throughout society, that has most glaringly been brought to the fore during this time. In such a period of anxiety, compounded by deeply rooted societal flaws, the vacuum left behind following the interruption of football became paradoxical. Both highlighting the insignificance of sport, and simultaneously exhibiting just how much it means to so many people.
Whether a simple form of escapism, or a symbol of cultural identity, the sense of being part of something greater than oneself creates an, at times irrationally, emotional attachment between a supporter and their club.
In this regard, the multi-faceted identity of Celtic breathes life into that famous old saying.
While it would of course be naïve to romanticise the club too much in the age of commercialisation throughout the game, to many, Celtic’s founding ethos does still ring true: its charitable origins, its representation of the Irish Catholic community in the west of Scotland, the political leanings and displays of a large percentage of its fanbase, its ‘open to all’ policy.
Familial bonds are often fused together by a shared passion for the club, conversations dominated by Celtic, weekends planned around the games, lifelong friendships formed, and lifetime savings spent, following the club.
In a society so often lacking in empathy and unity, for many, it is the sense of belonging that has been so badly craved during the shutdown of sport more than the game itself, and whilst some, or all, of the factors above may not relate to each and every supporter, they contribute and combine to embody, as Celtic’s most beloved son Tommy Burns put it, “a people and a cause.”
For some it is devotion, for others a distraction from life, but for all today marks the return of something that life just doesn’t quite feel the same without.
There can be no denying how special this season could be, and while the journey on our way to make it ten begins soon, for now, what is undoubtedly most important, is that Celtic are on the ball again.