Philly Goes Green and White
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Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” – Bill Shankly, Scottish football player
The legendary Bill Shankly never played for Glasgow Celtic, but he might have been talking about this 124-year-old football franchise, founded by a Catholic priest to occupy the Irish immigrants who settled in Scotland’s largest, most populous city.
Its rabid fans are a diaspora unto themselves. People like Seamus Cummins. Cummins, of Huntington Valley, is the former president of the Molly Maguires Celtic Supporters Club, which used to meet at Paddy Rooney’s Pub in Havertown. He became a fan by way of his father, whose father came from Derry, and his grandmother, who was one of those displaced Irish (from Donegal) who lived in Glasgow.
So when the Celtics announced they were coming to Philadelphia to face the Real Spain team on August 11 at Lincoln Financial Park, Cummins wanted to make the other Celtic fans comfortable in the City of Brotherly Love. All 20,000 of them.
That’s how many are expected to descend on the city from all over the world next weekend. That’s how many showed up to cheer on their team when they last played in Philadelphia in 2004—against Manchester United, itself no slouch in the fan department.
“We have Celtic supporters coming from China, South Korea, Ireland, the UK—the 60 Celtic supporters clubs in the US will be represented,” says Cummins, technology director for the Jenkintown School District and admin of a Celtic-themed website. “We have 30 coming from Houston and more than 100 from New York. It’s quite the atmosphere at the game.”
Now, if you’re imagining bleachers collapsing and rioting on the field, Cummins is reassuring. “Celtics fans are jovial, fun—we just like the craic,” he says. “When we went to the Europa League finals, 80,000 Celtics fans descended on Seville, Spain, and there was not one arrest.”
So there’s a lot of craic planned. With Glaswegian John Joe Devlin, bar manager at The Plough and the Stars in Chestnut Street, and Molly Coulter, manager at Fado Irish Pub on Locust (home to the Philadelphia Celtic Supporters Club), Cummins has scheduled an entire weekend of fun.
It stars with breakfast at the two restaurants, and at night, live music (including Charlie and the Bhoys, a group from Glasgow that traces its roots to Donegal), dance parties, and two rousing nights of poolball, called by Wired magazine “American’s next great barroom sport.” (Quick rundown: Players stand on a large pool table and kick or head soccer balls or points. Check out the video.)
A representative from the Marist Brothers in New Jersey, Bryce Byczynski will be on hand on Friday at 5 PM to offer a blessing at the Irish Memorial at Front and Chestnut. Freelance journalist Phil MacDiolla Bhain, author of “A Rebel Journalist,” will be at Fado earlier in the afternoon to talk about the story he broke that effectively eliminated the Celtics biggest rivals, the Glasgow-based Rangers, by revealing that they had not paid their taxes for 12 years. (A new Rangers team is in place, but to fans like Cummins, the rivalry has lost its luster for the moment.)
Popular local musicians, Raymond Coleman from County Tyrone, as well as Oliver McElhone from Derry, will also be performing for the Celtics fans.
Of course, the best craic will be Saturday for those holding tickets to the game at the Linc. If you enjoyed the version of “Fields of Athenry” sung by the Irish fans at the World Cup in Poland this year, you’ll like the musical entertainment in the stands, says Cummins. “You’ve never heard singing like this before,” he vows.
It won’t be Celtic Park in Glasgow (where the turf for the center circle of the pitch was laid originally by a Donegal man named Davitt and was made up of shamrocks from Donegal sod). But chances are, it will feel like it.