The Importance of the Scarf
One of the oddest things about football must be the relevance of the scarf.
For most, the scarf is simply a fashion accessory that happens to keep your neck warm on a cold day. I have a very boring one that I wear on the odd occasion I have to wear a suit for work and it happens to be a cold day. It does exactly what I need it to though, it keeps my neck warm on those cold days when I don’t really get to pick what I’m wearing.
I should probably explain that my idea of getting dressed is jeans and a t-shirt with trainers. That’s the case whether I’m going to work on a normal day – my job lets me dress pretty much how I want within reason – or going to the shops, or going to the pub. And if you’re a pub that won’t let me in because I’m wearing trainers… screw you, I’m going somewhere else. I’m long past caring about such nonsense. I like my feet being comfy, that’s more important to me than any image your pub might have. You probably charge too much for drink anyway if you care about such things.
Not that I’ve been to a pub that does that in a long time, but it used to happen to me frequently when I went out in Stirling. I don’t remember it being much of an issue in Glasgow, oddly.
But never mind my fashion choices. Scarves in football aren’t really a fashion choice, they’re more of a statement.
Firstly, the football scarf isn’t for keeping your neck warm. While it can be used to do that, it’s far more important than that. And this is probably where I simultaneously seem very strange and very familiar to people reading this.
I never go to the football without a scarf. Ever. If I leave the house without my scarf, it’s either a disaster and I have to go back and get it, or I’ve done it on purpose because I’m buying a new one. The latter is a rare event that I’ll come back to shortly. Why is leaving without a scarf a disaster? Because it’s bad luck. Yep, there’s an aspect of superstition in the scarf.
My first proper away trip in Europe to see Celtic was in Munich in 2003. Not being practiced in the whole away trip in Europe thing, I made the massive mistake of forgetting to take my scarf. I knew it was a bad omen for the game, so I went hunting for someone selling one. In the end, I got an Olympicstadion scarf as a memento of my visit to one of the iconic stadiums in Europe. But it wasn’t my scarf, and I knew it. Celtic took the lead in the second half, but ultimately lost 2-1. I know I had absolutely nothing to do with it – if anything it was far more to do with taking Sutton off and allowing Munich to run the midfield for the first time in the game – but to this day I still feel like I did.
I know, it’s ridiculous.
The really daft thing is, the scarf I left at home that day wasn’t really my scarf. It was my second scarf.
The first Celtic scarf I ever had was retired at the end of the previous season. Well, it went to Seville with me, so that was as good a way for it to go out than any other. Yes, we lost that European final, but it was still an amazing occasion. Of course, my intention to keep that scarf safe and sound meant I turned down the offer of swapping a scarf with a Porto fan that day – something I’m still disappointed in myself about today.
Swapping scarves is a terrific way of demonstrating friendship between two sets of fans. We might be rivals on the pitch, but we can see past that rivalry and appreciate the passion for our relevant teams and share in that commonality. The swapping of scarves is a perfect way to cement that, given that scarves are relatively cheap and yet give you a terrific memento with a story behind it.
And maybe that’s the key to the importance of the scarf. It’s not just a piece of material, it’s an item with a story attached. Some stories are longer than others of course, but all of them can invoke memories of some sort. For instance, I may not have swapped scarves in Seville, but I do have a Shakhtar Donetsk scarf in my collection from a visit to the Ukraine. I’d like to think that the attractive woman I swapped with still has my Celtic scarf, although to be honest I just hope she’s okay as that area of the world isn’t exactly the most hospitable place at the moment. The wreck of the airport I once walked through is a frightening reminder of that.
If the swapping of scarves helps to show the bonds of friendship between rivals, it can also play a more poignant role. Several of my scarves over the years have found their way into shrines after the death of a footballer. The likes of Jimmy Johnstone and Tommy Burns have seen massive tributes outside Celtic Park, while I was slightly disappointed that Joe McBride didn’t see anything like the same recognition when he passed on. I met Joe at a couple of North American Celtic conventions, so when he sadly passed away I made sure my scarf was among the small number of tributes to one of the Lisbon Lions who didn’t get to play that famous day.
Furthermore, my Celtic scarf was one of several that turned up at Fir Park in Motherwell when Phil O’Donnell passed away on the field of play. It’s not unusual to see scarves of all sorts of clubs turn up in these tributes, especially when they’re as big as Tommy Burns or as shocking as Phil O’Donnell. If you need any more of an example of that, look at how many Rangers fans paid tribute to Tommy Burns on their way back from Manchester after the UEFA Cup final.
Then there’s the scarf that, ironically, splits opinion.
As I’ve said earlier, scarves are a great way to show friendship, but for some the idea of their club sharing a scarf with another is a step too far. I can understand that, but only to a point. For instance, I have half and half scarves from Celtic games against Liverpool and Barcelona – two clubs I identify with and I recognise that we have a bit of a bond with. I even like to see them do well, and would back them against most opposition. But in recent years I’ve also seen us have half and half scarves with Rapid Vienna and Atletico Madrid. Given previous games against those two in the 1970s and 1980s, you have to question who would want to buy those. Then again, those games predate my memories and they’ll predate birth dates for many more, so maybe I’m the one with the problem there. Football, and the teams within it, has moved on.
Funnily enough, I didn’t see any Celtic-Sevco half and half scarves when we met them in the League Cup semi final recently. Which is a shame as, from a certain perspective, that might have been a nice wind-up.
Mind you, last November I did see Scotland-England half and half scarves, which I’m sure were popular among about 55% of the population.
Given I was wearing a Scotland-Ireland half and half scarf that same day, maybe I’m not one to comment. I’m sure that scarf probably annoys all sorts of people. But as someone with Irish heritage, I feel I have every right to own one, and I will endeavour to get a Scotland-Poland half and half scarf when Poland visit later this year. I even went looking for one when I was recently in Dublin on the weekend that Ireland met Poland, but alas I couldn’t find one.
I’m sure many people have other rituals involving scarves. Some will never wash them for fear of bad luck. Some will only tie them round their neck a certain way. Some may even have similar bad luck feelings if they don’t have it with them as I do, while others may feel even changing their scarf could be bad luck.
But I’m sure many will have their own scarf stories. And if my experiences are anything to go by, they’ll all be worth hearing.