Words: Liam Divers
Images: Offside Sports Photography
I’ve lost count of the 6am starts for away days, the layovers in nondescript European airports and the frantic, oh-so-frantic hunt for tickets when your usual guy falls through.
I imagine if you ask the fans of the vast majority of clubs about those things they might grumble and moan, but they won’t ever stop. Why would they? Without going all “Away Days pics/vids #therealfans #freetommy” on you, it’s what makes it fun: the away day goes hand in hand with a resounding away victory, a lucky derby equaliser before a last-minute winner.
And it’s that final event I want to expand on a bit more. On Sunday afternoon in Dundee, as Odsonne Édouard disappeared under an avalanche of his teammates, a tiny ginger man belied his years and went haring down the touchline to the away support, arms held aloft. He reached the corner flag and either used it to prop himself up or performed some sort of inverted Elvis impersonation with it. His red face beamed with happiness as he bellowed to the jubilant Celtic fans. It was Neil Lennon, of course, interim manager of Celtic. Why the jubilation? Well, his team had just won the game with basically the last kick of the game to extend their lead at the top of the table.
Something wrong with this guy pic.twitter.com/GHWmsx8BWA— Sam (@sjs1872) March 17, 2019
Soon, footage of his celebration began circulating on social media and with it, came The Comments. There were those who found it utterly hilarious and those who thought it showed #passion. However, a larger, much more vocal group took to various forms of media to point out how embarrassing it all was. How beating the side second bottom of the league in the last minute wasn’t cause for running half the length of the park and that the way he behaved was as if “he had just beaten Man City in the last minute”. And I can’t help but find that a bit sad.
Touched a nerve with a few Celtic fans I think. Neil Lennon celebrating like he’s just beaten Guardiola’s Man City instead of relegation strugglers Dundee is a touch embarrassing. That’s all. Celtic fans very quick to mock Rangers when they do the same.— Tom English (@TEnglishSport) March 17, 2019
Touched a nerve with a few Celtic fans I think. Neil Lennon celebrating like he’s just beaten Guardiola’s Man City instead of relegation strugglers Dundee is a touch embarrassing. That’s all. Celtic fans very quick to mock Rangers when they do the same.
The world can be a bit shit sometimes, and as we all know, football often doesn’t help that. For all the game’s ills—racism and bigotry, hyper-commercialisation and financial doping—why then do we need to pull apart and poke fun at people truly enjoying themselves at the game? Can’t fans just not enjoy anything anymore? That’s what Lennon is, here: a fan—a fan of his own work, a fan of the team of players he’s responsible for, a fan of the club. Can we only enjoy football presented via the prism of touch-screen 3-piece suit wankery sponsored by hatchback manufacturers with adverts fronted by perfectly smooth-faced Frenchmen? While I've come to expect it from an out-of-touch print press who can only desperately flail and annoy to generate interest in their work, I struggle when I see it come from fans themselves. Isn’t this what you want to see from your manager? In fact, don’t you wish you were there with him? Or in the stands, barely able to stay upright as bodies come flying over the top of you from the rows behind, knees bruised for days afterwards and bits of pie crust in every pocket of your jacket. Or in my case, near-fainting into the arms of your brother-in-law as Tom Rogic seals a Treble. I am still mortified by that bit, though, if I’m honest.
Scenes like Lennon on Sunday are what we should use to sell football. The same goes for the Newcastle fans losing their ale-addled minds about Matt Richie’s 94th-minute equaliser against Bournemouth: that’s what makes football. It isn't a cause for either derision, snootiness or punitive measures from governing bodies. It’s why we pile on coaches at ungodly hours, sleep on benches in airports, and call in every favour possible for that elusive ticket. In the hope that we might experience the feeling of being carried down six rows as your manager pretends he’s an aeroplane on the pitch and your mate is getting carted out by a steward for trying to leap a hoarding and hug your goalie
For better or worse, football can often mirror society. I just hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that, in football, and when it comes to winning in the last minute, sometimes it’s okay to make a bit of a fool of yourself; though it means so much more to all of us, this is a game after all—aren’t you supposed to enjoy it?