So where did we come from? How did we manage to get through university? Paul Reilly tells of our equally remarkable, if not a little drink-sodden, story.
A match postponement the day before, a rearranged early morning bar opening, a bus arriving late, two punters lost, four pee stops on the way, and parking in the home supporters car park by mistake. Only the Heriot-Watt University Celtic Supporters Club could start this way. But it did, with a trip to the League Cup Semi-Final at Pittodrie on 10 February 1984. Two young Heriot-Watt Town Planning students felt it would be a great idea to run a bus and niaively canvassed for fellow Tims by way of posters throughout the two campuses. Having nearly been thrown out by their landlady following a deluge of phone calls, that first fateful trip took 53 eager but, to be honest, pretty pished Celtic supporters (well, 50 actually, plus two Aberdeen supporters and a Partick Thistle supporter) all the way up the east coast to cold windswept Pittodrie -and an awful goalless draw.
A week later the Supporters Club was born at the old Heriot-Watt Student Union in Grindlay Street. A second bus went to the successful home leg, where a Charlie Nicholas goal saw the Hoops through to a Final which they would eventually lose against the Huns in, wait for it, dubious circumstances. Plus ca change, eh?
The Club grew quickly from its humble beginnings, having joined the Celtic Supporters Association in that first season and thus securing tickets for away games in the days when season ticket holders were confined to a small band of comfy leather seats in the old main stand. That first season saw our first “luxury” trip – an overnight stay in a Transit Van in Blackpool on the way to the Lou Macari Testimonial in Manchester. Many more trips have followed since then – all over Scotland, England and Europe, and even some end-of- season “mystery tours” to avoid Hun Cup Finals – which used to be an all-too-common occurrence.
Since then the Club has seen many Scots, Irish and English fans through its doors, most of whom were already supporters, but many others who had previously heard of Celtic only fleetingly. These came from places like Wales, France, Kurdistan, Kashmir, Egypt, Nigeria, America, Sweden and even Orkney and Shetland.
The Club has always been known for organising events beyond its core of travel to matches, such as theatre trips, pantomime trips (honest!), brewery tours, “behind the scenes” trips to Celtic Park, race nights, quiz nights and debates, including a very successful public meeting in Teviot Row Union during the McCann revolution era. A previous favourite before these days of strict limits on away tickets was our “pre-match reception” for other supporters clubs, which was basically just a chance for some cheap drink in the student unions before games at Easter Road and Tynecastle. Perhaps our finest event remains the Tommy Burns Supper, which you can read about elsewhere, which retains its incredible popularity with tickets at a premium. The Supper has always had good causes at its heart, having raised thousands of pounds over the years for various causes. It is this charitable heart that which has led the Club this year to adopt an official cause of its own, Casa Alianza, and it is hoped that the relationship between the Club and this worthy organisation will bear fruit in many different ways, both collectively and individually, in coming years.
Perhaps to show that HWEUCSC isn’t always fascinated with drinking, we have been successful over the years on the football field. In our second year, eleven barely sober volunteers reached the final of the Intra-Mural tournament at Edinburgh University, and subsequent years saw the successful reign of our football team, Pat Nevin’s Haircut, with our special kit of pink paisley pattern pyjamas. Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. Recent years have seen a five-a-side tournament organised by us and involving various Edinburgh Celtic clubs. Football also allowed us to nurture our relationship with the Hibs supporters club at Edinburgh University with the annual St Patrick’s Day Challenge, the beautiful and original sculpture trophy for which was lost when a drunken member decided to present it to Paul McStay at a Tommy Burns Supper. A wee bit of our history was lost with that trophy…
The Club’s finest moment perhaps arrived in 1986 when it was the prime mover behind a ban on Rangers Football Club at Edinburgh University, to be followed by Heriot-Watt University some weeks later. The Club’s members, with support from all parts of the student body, proposed that, due to their practice of not signing Catholics, the Huns should not be allowed a society or to sell merchandise on campus. The motion proved particularly difficult for the EU rector at the time, one Archie “Whitesox” Macpherson. Worse than this, our bold rector had to write to all Scottish football clubs and ask them to support our policy. Unsurprisingly, the story made headline news with TV and paper coverage, to the extent that when the Huns signed Judas Johnston three years later, it was the Daily Record who approached the Club Secretary, who was then also full-time President of Heriot-Watt Students Association, for his view. Infamy.
Over the years, the Club’s transport has ranged from minibuses, buses, transit vans (to Manchester, London and Cologne – don’t ask!), shared arrangements with other Clubs, to the current heady heights of two buses to every home match.
Given that following the Hoops is thirsty work, the Club has always ensured that it has a natural home in various watering establishments. Its early days were spent in a drunken haze in the student unions at Grindlay Street (HWU) and Potterrow and Teviot Row (EU) and Albertina’s (Art College) before finding a more settled home at the now sadly demolished Tap O’Lauriston. Following a Souness-like change of management in that establishment, and having commented once too often on the poor state of the product available, the Club was asked to leave. After a brief dalliance with Burlington Berties, the Club was approached by our current meinhost, Stevie Proudler, and the rest is history. The Club remains proud to be associated with the International Bar, and will continue to build a presence in its old original haunts in the student unions around the campuses. Anywhere to be annoying, frankly.
Our Club is perhaps unique amongst supporters clubs in that it can count upon new members on an annual basis as a new tranche of fresh-faced students roll into the universities.
On top of this, many student members move on, graduate or (most likely) get thrown out of their studies but continue their downward spiral, er, sorry, membership of HWEUCSC, which allows the Club to have an eclectic mix of students, ex-students, pretend students, never-had-beenstudents, and old men. Over last summer, the club decided it was time to make a special effort again to reach out to our core membership which is, after all, students, and thus even cheaper travel and easier arrangements to book tickets was agreed for our work-shy colleagues.
Those members who move on take our name with them, and thus we’re perhaps lucky to enjoy a wide profile amongst the Celtic support, which is only helped by the media’s unhealthy fascination with events such as the TB Supper and our previous annual “Jobby in a Box” Award (which now needs to be revitalised, if you know what I mean).
HWEUCSC will reach a remarkable if unlikely 25th birthday in 2009, and it seems that the hopefully special celebrations in that year, to involve past, present, deceased and barely alive members, will be marked with that special HWEUCSC trademark – being a wee bit different, perhaps a bit strange, amateurishly organised, but definitely to be followed by a well-earned hangover. Enjoy your time in the mayhem that is our wonderful (if not a little tipsy) Supporters’ Club