On Wednesday night, my plan was to go along and see Celtic play Kilmarnock with my wife. With the season winding down, and our season tickets not being renewed at the end of the season due to the same family commitments that have seen us miss many games this season, the chances were that this game would be the last where we’d both go together for quite some time. In my head, it seemed oddly fitting. The first time we’d met it had been on a supporters’ bus heading down to Rugby Park, so another Kilmarnock game, albeit at home rather than away, just seemed fitting.
Alas, our childcare options changed earlier in the week and as such we couldn’t go together. Fortunately for me, negotiations meant that I would at least get to go to the game myself. With only three home games left in the season, and the other two being unknowns until earlier that day, I was quite happy with this arrangement! Not only that, but it meant I’d still be able to take along a couple of bags of shopping for the Walfrid’s Legacy foodbank collection.
For those of you who missed it – and I’d be surprised if anyone reading this did but you never know – this was the third such collection at Celtic Park in eighteen months and the first that wasn’t being organised by the Green Brigade. The previous two had seen the local Glasgow North East foodbank benefit, but this one would see a multitude of foodbanks benefit from the collection. Something like fifteen different foodbank related groups would be benefiting, with just about every group of Celtic supporters putting their name to the support of this. This was all backed with the approval of the Celtic Foundation – the club’s own charitable arm. Although it should be noted that it was made very clear this was the fans’ initiative and that the Foundation had their own plans to make the 100th anniversary of the passing of Celtic’s founding father.
So, finishing up at work, I headed on down to the stadium – via Tesco to fill a couple of bags for donation of course. I dropped off those bags on the Celtic Way…
… and then never left the outskirts of the stadium until almost full time.
The funny thing about having become a bit of a known face in the Celtic online community – albeit a semi-retired one now that I no longer record match reports and only really cover the Celtic Graves Society events – is that you get to know many of the other known faces in the Celtic online community. So when you turn up at events like these, you tend to know the people that are part of them. So much so that when you spend long enough chatting to them they suggest you grab one of the luminous jackets and lend a hand if you want to.
So I did. Well, what else was I going to do? It was only half five at this point and kick off wasn’t for another two and a quarter hours yet!
So for the next while I helped collect bag after bag after bag while other volunteers started to sort them into types of food that the various foodbanks might specifically need. I’ve got to admit, I was quite enjoying myself at this point, and as kick off got closer it was clear that the frequency with which people were appearing with bags was increasing. It was great to witness.
Until I got handed a bucket that is.
Now, despite what you might think given the aforementioned match reports, I don’t exactly have the gift of the gab! The truth is that I’m a bit quiet most of the time, and that’s probably something a psychologist would put down to my childhood and being the smart arsed kid from out of town with the funny name. But more on that another day.
While it’s actually really easy to talk into your own phone – which is what I used to record the match reports – it’s quite another to talk to someone else. It’s never really been my strong point, although I’ve certainly improved that aspect of my personality over the years. Nevertheless, I’m still quite reserved for the most part, so if I can disappear into the background then I will. Going to people and taking bags from them was pretty easy – I was noticing the people approaching with those bags and most of them were relieved to not be carrying that weight any more! But being handed a bucket means you actually have to have people come looking for you. You have to be noticed and, as I’ve said, that’s not my strong point!
Nevertheless, I headed round to the opposite end of the ground from where my seat was with the intention of staying there until about quarter past seven. Stay there, gather what money people were offering, and then head back round to hand back the bucket and head into the stadium.
Well, that then became twenty past seven as the crowds started getting bigger.
And then half past seven.
And then twenty five to eight.
I wasn’t really for moving to be honest, because every time I even thought about it someone else would come over and stuff some notes into the bucket. I certainly wasn’t going to knock that back! The generosity of people heading to the game was amazing. Several people actually apologised to me for having not had time to go and get food as they’d come straight from work. This was as they were stuffing £10 and £20 notes into the bucket! I did my best to reassure them that no apology was necessary.
Finally though I got chased back round to The Celtic Way by a fellow bucket collector that knew I was planning on going into the game. They didn’t have a ticket for the game so they were happy to stay. I was already considering staying myself, but some of the food had been dropped off with him, so it actually made sense to send me back round to the front to recruit some help to take the bags to join the rest. So I quickly made my way back to the front of the stadium.
At which point I saw the entire Kerrydale Clover full of bags.
I don’t know what kind of expectation there had been for this foodbank drive, but this was beyond anything I could have imagined. It was an amazing site to behold.
Then I noticed there was still a lot of people heading in to the stadium and no one else standing around with a bucket. Of course there wasn’t, they were all trying to deal with the sheer volume of bags! So after sending people round to help out where I’d just come from, I stood and collected even more coins and notes whilst singing along to You’ll Never Walk Alone that I could hear emanating from behind me.
Among everything else on Wednesday night it was the 26th anniversary of the Hillsbrough Disaster. What more fitting a tribute than a rousing rendition of an anthem we share with the Liverpool fans.
Now, I doubt my singing made any difference to the generosity people were showing. For one thing, I wasn’t singing all that loudly, so I doubt anyone noticed! Which, given my singing abilities, is probably a good thing. But it’s hard not to join in at the best of times anyway so I was enjoying myself if nothing else!
Finally, with the game getting under way, the stream of people heading into the stadium dried up which allowed the volunteers and organisers to take stock of what they had. And what they had was now a logistical nightmare.
All of these bags now had to be loaded into a number of vans and people carriers and cars to be transported to their various destinations. So, having made sure my bucket joined the others in a safe location, I joined in. Well, the quicker we loaded everything then the quicker we could go in and watch the second half.
Except we ran out of vans.
Every vehicle that turned up was loaded as full as we could, with a mixture of specific requests that had been sorted earlier and just random bags of whatever was lying around. The logistics had meant that the earlier sorting had been ditched as the volume of bags overwhelmed! Don’t worry though, I’m relatively sure everyone got what they needed – and more!
By the time it reached half time, and the lack of roars from the stadium made it clear the game was still goalless, the organising turned to vans coming back for a second load as well as talk of moving the remaining bags into the stadium once the game was finished. Until then, a few volunteers could head into the game while others would stand guard awaiting full time.
I looked over at the stadium and noticed the turnstiles were closed. Like I said earlier, I’m not one for wanting to be noticed, so I’d already made up my mind I wasn’t even going to bother attempting to talk a security person into letting me up to my seat! Besides, there was part of me that wondered just what it was like to hear the roar of Celtic Park from the car park.
Before I could consider volunteering for guard duty however, some of the vans showed up for their second load, so it was back to loading duty.
Then came a small roar, and an announcement. Kilmarnock had scored. Suddenly I was feeling rather glad I’d stayed outside!
Fortunately, I got my wish a little while later as a loud, surreal roar blasted from the stadium followed by the PA playing some music. We didn’t need any more evidence that Celtic had equalised! By the time a couple of more cars showed up, Celtic were in front and the mood among everyone was just a little better. I’m pretty sure I jumped for joy at least once when I heard a big roar!
Then came some more good news. We had a fifteen minute window to move bags through one of the big gates and into a side office before they’d have to stop us as the crowd started to disperse. Amazingly, between that and the remaining vans we managed to completely empty the Kerrydale Clover before the referee inside had blown for full time. Given the volume of bags, that was some feat in my view.
In fact, not only was everything clear, but it was clear with a few minutes to spare. Just enough time to “beat the stampede” and get back to my car to hear the full time whistle on the car radio as I was getting out of the area before the roads clogged up! I’ve never left a game early in my life, but the difference in journey time I witnessed on Wednesday night means I can see why people choose to do so!
I’m still not going to start though.
I may not have seen any action on the park, but I saw plenty that made Wednesday night a thoroughly enjoyable one. The generosity of the supporters was amazing, and I couldn’t thank enough of them personally for everything they gave. The organising of those who were in charge was terrific – even in the face of what seemed to me to be overwhelming volumes. Everyone was happy to help.
And of course, everyone was happy with the 4-1 scoreline!
I know this blog has a high likelihood of having a “look at what I did” vibe to it. The word “humblebrag” was probably invented for exactly this kind of thing. But that’s not the point. I just want to illustrate what I saw go into an event like this, and it’s extremely difficult to do that without saying “this is what I saw”. I was one of many collecting the bags, I was one of many with a bucket collecting money, and I was one of many loading vans afterwards. Not only that, but I hope you can imagine there’s plenty more that went on before and after the day that I’m not party to at all. I literally turned up and did stuff for a few hours. Others there have been planning this for weeks, organising and coordinating the vans, talking to Celtic to make sure this could all run smoothly around the game. There’ll be people still weighing bags, sorting food and counting money even now. Those are the people who need the “look at what we did”, not me.
Although I’m fairly sure none of them would want that! Which is why I’ve not named any names in this blog.
You see, this is probably the first time I’ve properly seen what goes into something like this. Prior to this I’ve more or less turned up, given some money or a couple of bags, and went about my own business and gone to the game. This time I saw just how small that, admittedly extremely vital, aspect of the whole event it actually is. And even then I only saw some of what goes into organising these events.
So with all that in mind… Thank you to the organisers, thank you to all of the volunteers, thank you to the Foundation, thank you to Celtic for winning…
But most of all, thank you to everyone who gave something, no matter how little. It might be the small part of organising it, but as I said it’s still the most vitally important part of the whole event. Without that generosity, it’s just a bunch of people standing around outside Celtic Park in high visibility vests!
From the feedback I’ve already seen, the generosity shown on Wednesday night will keep these foodbanks going for months. I really wish they weren’t needed, but while they are I’m delighted we have such generosity among us that we can keep them up and running.
Now we just need folk running the country with the same attitude because then we’ll have people in a position to do something about it.