It’s hard for outsiders to understand what it’s really like being a Celtic fan in Glasgow. You can know about the history and heritage, the rivalry with Rangers, the relentless pressure of being one runner in a two-horse race, and the often ugly religious baggage that comes as part of the package for some. But to fully appreciate how these come together in a cocktail of pride, passion, politics and humour, you have to live it. However, Paradise Road is as close as you’re likely to get to a genuine slice of life of the modern Celtic fan.
As the story follows protagonist Garra and a handful of his contemporaries through a decade of following Celtic, it’s all here: the persecution complex; the disappointment and bitterness of the 90s and renaissance of the naughties; the utterly unshakable belief that all the ills of sectarianism are entirely the fault of the other side, and the conflict between the intellect and the nagging tenets of family background. Some of it might be difficult for neutrals to swallow, but it’s revealing and it’s honest.
If you’re expecting a tight narrative and fast-moving plot, this isn’t the book for you, but that’s not really the point. It’s about football, and how life can be tracked by what’s happening on (and off) the park at your club, and it captures that perfectly. Though the book is nominally about Garra’s life, it’s football that’s in the foreground and we only get the very basics of the other threads of his life and relationships. Garra’s relationship with Celtic is the focal point and it changes as his life progresses. He becomes more disconnected from his club as football and Celtic become more corporate. As the game becomes a business, driven by TV money, the book questions whether Garra moves away from Celtic or whether Celtic moves away from him. And, for all that supporting Celtic is pretty much unique, that’s a sentiment many football fans will be able to relate to.
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