Problems on the pitch are making headlines – knocked out of European competition before Christmas. Ten games in the Europa League without a win. However, off the field, Celtic are showing the world what it can do to help fight poverty.
The beautiful game is now a multi-billion-pound industry with the world’s top clubs accused of being out of touch with their fans and communities that have supported them over the years.
Celtic F.C. Foundation are part of the reason that it will not happen at the Glasgow club with the organisation remaining true to its roots in more ways than one.
“A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and for the unemployed.”
These are the words of Brother Walfrid, who was a religious man from County Sligo, Ireland.
Brother Walfrid travelled to Glasgow’s East End in the 1870’s where he became the Headmaster of the Sacred Heart School in Bridgeton. The poverty he encountered in the area of the city was so rife that he decided do something to try and help the community with the result being the formation of Celtic Football Club in 1888.
His story will forever live in folklore. The stories that fathers the world over will tell their children when talking about Celtic F.C.
Recently, I spoke to Tony Hamilton, CEO of Celtic F.C. Foundation, about how important the charitable side of the club was and of its importance to fans and shareholders alike.
Hamilton explained, “I think it’s something that sets us apart at this football club. This is the fans foundation, it’s the charitable arm of the football club but it’s ownership and the pride that the people feel for it goes far beyond the shareholders, the directors or the senior management team here. It’s hugely important, it’s why we are here in the first place.”
The Foundation aim to help the community in key areas of society. “H.E.L.P.” The acronym stands for Health, Equality, Learning and Poverty. While talking about this Tony said, “The first three are drivers to alleviate the poverty that people face. We have geographical priorities which are the north and east of Glasgow but we work in various other places. We have followed Brother Walfrid and we work in London and we also work in Ireland because we are a Scottish club with Irish roots. We also try to work internationally where we can.”
Celtic F.C. Foundation have an initiative called ‘Ability Counts’ which is hugely important to the club as it helps children with Down’s Syndrome. “It is a complicated place to be for the child and their families. We create some diversion there. We have won awards for that. We are trying to expand the initiative and it is something that we ask all Celtic supporters to support.” The Chief Executive said, “We are now trying to take it to Ireland, where we are actively fundraising.”
“We have a joint venture with Scottish Disability Sport who work with people that have severe and complex physical disabilities. We have two people from those ventures who we have made ambassadors. The first being Martin Perry who we are trying to get to the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2016. He’s a remarkable character and he is the ambassador for disability.
“And another young lad from Lurgan, who is 12 in a couple of weeks, named Jay Beatty whom the Celtic fans have taken to their heart, is our Ambassador for equality.” Tony Added, “We are a club open for all, we really buy into that, we believe in it and we think we can make a difference.”
After concluding my interview with Tony Hamilton, i decided to contact one of the Ambassadors and managed to speak to Martin Perry about himself and how important Celtic F.C. Foundation has been in his life. “When I was born I only had one full limb, my right leg, this was due to a condition called Congenital Limb Deformity. Celtic F.C. Foundation have provided me with the opportunity to train as a full-time athlete and to follow my dream of becoming Paralympic champion.”
He added, “To be an Ambassador for Celtic F.C. Foundation really is a privilege. The opportunities that they have given me already are truly amazing. It is also great to be able to give back to the community through the work of the Foundation.”
I asked Tony about his personal experiences with the Foundation and he told me of a “humbling experience” that happened in September 2015. “We had the opportunity to be involved in the construction of a stadium in Port Au Prince in the Caribbean island of Haiti. Haiti is the most deprived country in the western hemisphere and I was lucky enough to go there for the opening of this stadium which has generated employment on the island through construction and has since generated employability since it’s been built.”
He added, “You have never seen poverty like this. You think your life is tough, you can’t find your keys or your phone has run out of charge. I’m enormously proud that we were in a position to help with something like that that.”
At this time of year especially, it becomes increasingly difficult for some people in our communities. People are living in squalor. Some cannot heat their homes. Some cannot give their children a Christmas like others can.
Tony went on to tell me about the Christmas appeal which in run regularly. “This has a massive impact on loads of people. Hundreds if not thousands of people across this city. We have a bucket collection at the game on the 5th December. “We have done a lot of fundraising for a couple of hundred families that we have identified through local churches and schools. We deliver couple of hundred quid to each of the families, privately, we don’t publicise it and we don’t tell people who they are.”
He added, “That’s where half of the cash goes and the other half goes to other charities who look after women, children and refugees who are all in refuge. That’s the best example of who we are and what we do. It’s a bit like the fish and the fishing rod. We are feeding people for a day or we are giving them the means to provide Christmas for a day. The employability stuff has longer term benefits in that and providing people with the ability to work and look after themselves.”
We spoke about the future of the Foundation and its work. The CEO told me that it is always going to look at ways at which it can benefit others and will constantly reassess what it does and what it can do better. “But as long as this need exists, starting here in the north and east of Glasgow, there will be a space, sadly, for Celtic F.C. Foundation.”
While Celtic F.C. Foundation may never solve poverty or inequality, it will always have the fans and the community to think of. It is what sets Celtic apart from other clubs. The link between the Hoops and their fans is only equalled by few other clubs.
The Board of Directors may never spend billions to improve the situation on the field. But the simple truth is the club is not out of touch with the fans or the community.
On the field they are creating headlines for the wrong reasons. There will be no European football in the New Year. But Celtic F.C. have a greater purpose. Tackling poverty.