I’ve had some memorable match nights in the Cock Tavern — home of the London No. 1 and Underground Celtic supporters clubs — in King’s Cross down the years. Undoubtedly the one that shines brightest in the memory was four years ago — Thursday, May 22, 2008 to be exact. The SPL season was drawing to a close at this unfamiliar time of the week after Scotland’s football authorities extended the domestic season to assist Rangers’ European campaign.
Just a month earlier, a 1-0 home defeat to Motherwell — the culmination of a poor seven-game run that saw Celtic exit Europe and the Scottish Cup while dropping eight points out of 12 in the league — had seemingly ended Celtic’s hopes of three-in-a-row. Rangers were six points ahead with two games in hand. Yet six weeks and six consecutive wins later — including two pulsating victories against the Ibrox side — Celtic were one game away from clinching the title.
Adding to the emotion was the death the previous week of Celtic legend Tommy Burns, and the emotive scenes of his funeral just two days before the title decider. Never had a potential title win seemed more important, as snatching league glory from the jaws of defeat would be a fitting tribute to the former player and manager.
The culmination of those frenetic, nail-biting and sombre few weeks came to a head for me in the Cock Tavern.
People poured into the pub to watch Celtic play Dundee United until every square inch of floor space was taken. Trying to swig a pint to calm the nerves proved a near impossible exercise. Anyone with personal space issues would have been out of luck but it didn’t matter, the excitement in the crowd was infectious and rippled through the sea of spectators.
Stood shoulder to shoulder, a murmured rumour of an Aberdeen goal against Rangers became a roar when it was confirmed by the television graphic (trying to hear any commentary over the cheers of the crowd was in vain at this point). Hugs shared with strangers then descended into joyous chaos as Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink’s goal all but sealed the title minutes later.
Yet such moments of footballing bliss would be no more at the Cock Tavern if it were to close, as has been reported in this week’s Irish Post. It’s not the most salubrious of venues, nor is it in the most upmarket part of town. But pubs like the Cock are treasured gathering places for Celtic fans around Britain and Ireland, while the working-class areas where they’re found have produced diehard fans and players alike, and remind us of the principles upon which the club we love was founded. We can go anywhere in these isles — and further afield — and know that despite appearances, we’re guaranteed a warm welcome by the Celtic family in whatever outpost we wind up in.
Wherever I have lived in Britain and Ireland, there has always been a Celtic bar close by to catch a game and meet like-minded people, be it the Crumlin Star in Belfast, the Luton CSC, the St Albans CSC and currently the Hayes Bhoys CSC. If away from home for work or holidays, the expanse of the Celtic family has ensured I haven’t had to miss a game, from tracking down the Bournemouth CSC hidden along a dark corridor inside a train station, to eventually locating the Tokyo CSC on a wet and windy winter’s night in the Japanese capital after taking a wrong turn coming out of Roppongi Station.
Few, if any, other football clubs can boast the global support Celtic can, or the ability of that fanbase to set up a dedicated meeting place for supporters to converge and indulge their shared passion. Such bastions of support should be preserved. Of course not every Celtic game at the Cock Tavern will produce the same euphoria as that experienced during the 2008 title decider. However for the Celtic fans at the Somers Town watering hole — and at Celtic clubs and bars around the world — having a safe, welcoming haven to watch their team, hundreds of miles from Glasgow, is priceless.
That’s why the doors of the Cock Tavern, home to two of London’s Celtic supporters clubs, should remain open to the Celtic family and the rest of the venue’s loyal patrons.