I am one of those persistent lefties who become puce-faced fascists in matters concerning my chosen football club. It’s pathetic, really. You spend the week proclaiming the virtues of caring socialism and abjuring the ruthlessness of the free market and then Saturday comes. That’s when you turn into the lovechild of Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet.

There are no limits to your avarice in seeking an advantage for your team; your fury is terrible to behold when one of your own has under-performed. They must be jettisoned immediately and never be allowed to wear your shirt again. You are impervious to the possibility that his wife and children might be sitting in close proximity. It’s their fault too.

Where your closest rivals are concerned it’s not sufficient merely to gain the victory and collect the points: they must be humiliated and ground into the dust. In these games too, any questionable decision by the referee must be treated as a war crime.

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You seek out a weak player among your opponents and set about the task of undermining him at every opportunity. Very few aspects of his life are considered out of bounds: his relationships are exposed; his physical appearance and body shape are cruelly caricatured and any known personal habits are portrayed as hopeless addictions.

In normal life this kind of behaviour would render you unsuitable to be in charge of small children and very probably the subject of a social work inquiry. But this is football and football has always played by its own rules. It has evolved its own moral eco-structure. Irony and perspective flee; hypocrisy and petulance reside.

When you’re a Celtic supporter like me you can sometimes add sanctimony to this unholy mix. Owing to the origins of my club, which was established to lift our Irish forbears out of poverty we ascribe to it the virtues of Mother Theresa. We are on the right side (that is to say the Left) of the world’s political struggles and scour the planet seeking oppressed minorities with whom to make common cause.

At Parkhead during lulls in the action I become an amateur vexillologist trying to identify the flags of downtrodden states and small African republics and am filled with the glowing certainty of the righteous. I patronise my friends who support the ‘wee teams’ by telling them that we are bound by a higher moral code.

I insult their intelligence by claiming underdog status even as we use our economic muscle to hoover up their home-grown talent in our quest to win every major prize (ten and counting) on offer.

I still give this club my support even when it seems there are more Tories in the boardroom than the 1922 committee. Until recently, this board resisted paying the Living Wage to its lowest-paid employees. It refuses to tolerate any trade union activity.

Celtic has a few very rich employees who routinely earn more than £1m a year. At the other end of the wage structure they have many non-playing employees who are paid as little as the board think they can get away with. This week it chose to exploit the UK Government’s coronavirus bail-out scheme which will pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers if companies keep them on their payroll.

The scheme is primarily intended to help small and vulnerable firms survive without having to make their workers redundant. I doubt very much if it was intended to be used by cash-rich sporting giants like several in the English Premiership, the richest football franchise in the world. Like Celtic, they too feel they must dip their beaks in the state’s largesse at a time of economic crisis.

It would be difficult for Celtic to impose arbitrarily a wage cut upon their highest paid players, but I’d like to think that some of the millionaires on their payroll might volunteer to accept a modest levy to guarantee the jobs and wages of the non-playing staff.

Celtic’s last set of annual results showed they had nearly £40m to play with, excluding £25m from the sale of Kieran Tierney. They have just concluded the richest sponsorship deal in Scottish sports history which won’t be far off £50m. Celtic can afford not to take advantage of the Government wages scheme and leave it for much more deserving causes.

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I understand too that it might seem unfair to be singling out Celtic. I’d like to know, for instance, how many of those working in our richest financial institutions – those whom we bailed out in 2008 to save the economy – will forgo their massive bonuses in order to guarantee the wages of their most financially vulnerable employees.

And the decision by senior executives of the Scottish Rugby Union merely to ‘defer’ part of their ridiculously huge salaries is also astonishing. Rugby is a minority sport in Scotland and over the last decade or so, in a very small pool, Scotland have not been very good at it. But I’m a Celtic supporter and I’m simply examining the conduct of my own club.

In matters of finance Celtic always insist they must deliver their fiduciary duty to shareholders, a phrase that has become so synonymous with its directors that I expect it soon to be nailed above the entrance and translated into Latin.

Celtic is the richest, most successful and best-supported sporting organisation in the country. It exerts an influence on Scottish culture that goes well beyond football. The club itself ceaselessly proclaims it’s ‘more than just a football club’. It’s meant to convey a sense that they really are bound by higher values than mere profit, but they really aren’t.

Celtic borrowed the slogan from Barcelona who showed last week that they really are more than just a football club when their first team squad volunteered to make significant cuts in their salaries to protect the jobs and wages of non-playing staff.

The decisions Celtic and other rich sporting organisations make and the attitudes they adopt at times like this matter. People look to them seeking signs of humanity and good leadership. Coronavirus is asking us all to be the best versions of ourselves. This applies to the capricious, grasping world of football too.


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