Two Nines and Other Celtic Stories

The Immortals: Two Nines and Other Celtic Stories. By Philip Vine.

Pitch Publishing; 352 pages illustrated; hardback; £9.80.

Amongst the scores of fanbases across the footballing panorama, there are few so reverential to the history of their club and the storied figures who populate its successes as the followers of Celtic FC. There is a profound sense of solidarity inextricably tied to this club with the social cause it stands for that transcends the march of time, as well as the parameters of mere sporting competition. The hooped heroes of seasons past are afforded a sentimental permanence scarcely attained by even the most illustrious of historical titans. In this vein, they are truly immortal.

In the current footballing climate which subjects the sport’s history to the most exacting revision in order to expunge from the record any feat not televised on Sky Sports, The Immortals: Two Nines and Other Celtic Stories by Philip Vine represents a vital challenge to the commercial wisdom of modern football. Equally importantly, however, it also represents one of the most essential Celtic reads in a rapidly self-saturating market.

For some readers, the book’s sub-title may, at a glance, prove somewhat misleading. Vine’s ambition, along with his ability as a writer, place this work far above any rote account of Celtic’s two historical nine-in-a-row runs; a never-ending list of results and goalscorers filling up the pages before the bibliography. In reality, the historical scope of this book is far more diverse, delving into the romantic origin story which set the club apart from its foundational moment; the recovery operation under Ange Postecoglou from the calamitous ruins of the “failed ten” season; as well as Vine’s own love affair with Celtic Football Club. Indeed, there is a notable section of the book detailing the club’s pre-history which unflinchingly confronts the horrors of the Irish genocide and its enduring legacy within Glasgow’s social and sporting institutions.

It seems like a bewildering spectrum of Celtic lore in light of the book’s title, but it is deftly held together by Vine’s astute grasp of what the club represents to its supporters. You cannot isolate the astounding achievements of Celtic Football Club on the pitch without diminishing the fundamental character of the club as an act of resistance in the face of real social oppression. As Vine puts it, ‘This club from Paradise does not live by football results alone’.

This is not to say that Immortals offers little by way of historical detail. On the contrary, Vine manages to trace the story of both nine-in-a-row teams in a way that it equal parts enlightening and engaging. It is often said that Jock Stein’s tenure as Celtic manager was the stuff of fairy-tale, yet so few writers have ever illustrated this fact with quite the same poetic grace as Vine does in this book. As a supporter of a far younger vintage than those who lived the trajectory of the Lisbon Lions, it’s easy to forget (and often intentionally overlooked) the sporadic eruptions of turmoil and would-be crises which dogged the club’s greatest manager – not to mention the retrospective significance of Billy McNeill’s header in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final. The book is never too wrapped up in bleary-eyed nostalgia to eschew the general feeling of diminishing returns following the pinnacle in Lisbon which lurked on the fringes of Celtic Park.

It speaks to the literary merits of this book that, even when the charming characters of football in the 60s & 70s is replaced by the one-dimensional automatons of the modern game, there is still an engaging story told of a period which, truth be told, we were all there to experience between 2010/11 & 2020/21. Naturally, the acrimonious conclusion of Celtic’s second golden era it one many supporters may wish to repress for the time being. But Vine’s account nevertheless offers as much insight as historical detail that goes beyond what is offered in Celtic’s literature.

As mentioned, Vine pulls no punches when it comes to the explicitly political nature of football in Glasgow’s East End. While the Celtic support may appear united behind a cause of social justice and
equality, the emergence of groups like the Green Brigade as the vanguard of this movement has nevertheless teased out a layer of fans who feel politics and football could and should be separate. To those who may feel either confusion or indignation at Vine’s pointed account of British genocide in Ireland or institutional bigotry perpetrated by Scotland’s ruling class, he offers a very simple reminder that ‘Celtic’s very foundation was a political act’. It is a refreshingly direct approach which is not afraid to cast a critical eye over the club’s own historical shortcomings in confronting religious prejudice, without reverting back to the impotent conclusion that ‘both sides are as bad as each other’.

Immortals is not, however, a political or philosophical treatise. Nor is it a banal account of Celtic’s most iconic figures, nor a nostalgic compendium of stories from the terrace. It is, in part, all of these things because all of these things constitute the history of Celtic. And that is the crux of Immortals. The concerns of Celtic Football Club today and its supporters are sustained by the deeds of the legendary figures immortalised in the green and white hoops – as Vine puts it: ‘If we fail to read our history we risk losing the vision of these men, the panoramic perspective gained from the heights of their achievements’.


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