I’ve always had a slightly selfish, ambivalent streak as far as charity events go. By this I mean, like most other people, I’m happy to turn up & chip in, but I’ve never really had much of an interest or inclination in becoming involved, always citing some excuse or other & hoping that whatever I contributed, usually financially, was being matched elsewhere by someone with the aptitude & skills required to actually pull a complex, multi-dependency event together successfully. As I’ve gotten older, and particularly through seeing the examples of what’s gone into pulling together events that my kids have been involved with through schools & clubs locally, I’ve had a little more insight into the challenges & obstacles that need to be overcome to make major events a success for all involved, and consequently I’ve been slightly more willing to come out of my comfort zone and help a little. I’m never going to be a front man kind of guy, that’s just not me at all, but the value of just giving up a few hours of your own time now and again to help those that help real people day-in, day-out has dawned on me a little more as I get to an age and place in my life where you possibly become a little more reflective, a little less ballsy, and a bit more vulnerable to situations where you start to realise the very thin lines that exist between being able to help with charitable endeavours if you can, and being in a position where family or friends might need help from these very same types of organisations at some point.
Saturday was an interesting case in point for me: I’d been aware for some time through a friend I’d met via Celtic’s online/ social media community that plans were afoot for a further Foodbank Collection at Celtic Park: the fact that foodbanks need to exist in any modern, supposedly civilised society is a source of national shame for us all, but its good to see people banding together to help those in society who might need a helping hand whether temporary or longer-term, and this cause in particular resonates with many of us who have an inkling of the history & origins of the Club. It wasn’t until a few days before however that it struck me, following reading a few appeals via social media for helpers on the day, that it would be easy for me to come through to Celtic Park (I was coming anyway FFS!) and offer an extra pair of hands to support those who, lets face it, were doing a damned sight more than most of us every day to help people who really need support. One brief text later, I knew where & when to be on the day, with a very rough idea of what I’d be doing.
I’m involved with one of the online Celtic social media accounts which gave me an opportunity to help a little in advance of the day by getting some of the key information about the day into the public domain: an event like Saturday’s is wholly dependent on the goodwill of others to make it a success, and the best way to ensure that is available is publicity. The good thing about the reach of the various Celtic-related social media platforms, official and fan-managed, is the sheer number of potential attendees at Celtic Park you can reach in the run-up to a game to help get the information out for people to read & decide whether they are able to contribute. That’s a key thing for me for future events: it literally takes seconds to retweet or repost information that could potentially help increase awareness & therefore the chances of a successful day, all of us with social media accounts can play a part with very little effort to help with that.
My awareness of the previous Foodbank Collections at Celtic Park was vague and a little limited: I could recall them happening, but I wasn’t sure exactly how ‘official’ they were in terms of active Club support, and I recalled some social media chatter about how difficult the logistical side of organizing, collecting, transporting, sorting & distributing the collected items could be. This time round, I was aware that the Celtic FC Foundation were heavily involved and, via a friend of mine involved in the organisational effort, got a little prior insight into the sheer range of organisations from the Greater Glasgow area who stood to be potential beneficiaries of a successful day. I turned up at Celtic Park on Saturday probably a little unsure of what to expect of the day: I left pretty humbled.
Saturday was a beautiful sunny spring day in Glasgow, and this was my first learning: don’t come overdressed as you’ll be standing about in that heat for a LONG time, and bring a bloody hat if you’re bald! As I write this I’m doing a pretty decent impersonation of an overweight matchstick…the main collection point was to be at the Clover on the Celtic Way, and when I turned up at noon I found a smiling bunch of volunteers & Celtic Foundation staff, and an already-growing pile of shopping bags which people had deposited on the Clover. If you’re a regular attendee to Celtic Park, you’ll probably know that the period three hours before kick-off isn’t peak-time normally, with majority of fans arriving much later depending on their travel plans & pre-match drinking habits! However on Saturday the Celtic Way was already pretty busy with both fans & people manning various stalls the Foundation had organised to coincide with a Healthy Hoops event. It was enough to keep me away from the burger van I can tell you!
Within a few minutes I had my instructions for the day: myself and a small team (Krys, another Paul, Chloe & Isla) were dispatched to one of the two remote Collection Points at the other main access routes to the ground (ours was behind the Lisbon Lions Stand) and told to wait on the influx of fans with (we hoped) bags of items for the Collection. By about 12.30 we were in position, and over the first hour or so we had a steady stream of visitors turning up with bags & boxes of groceries, toiletries, Easter eggs, and in some cases hard cash. We had a particular moment of surprise when a car pulled up about 1pm and the driver deposited four laden cardboard boxes of every kind of household item under the sun with us. An absolutely amazing effort.
We’d been told to expect the arrival of a Golf Cart pulling a trolley which would allow us to fill and transport the items we collected back to the main Collection Point, however half an hour or so into our shift I got a call to tell us that the police had objected to this strategy & we would have to fall back to Plan B, which was to pile the donations up and await the arrival of a couple of vans from beneficiary organisations, which would arrive just after 3pm and we would fill them up direct from there. Lo and behold, that strategy was similarly abandoned as, yes you’ve guessed it, the police objected to that too! Another learning from the day: never underestimate the capacity for Police Scotland to invent nonsense traffic issues that hamper foodbank collections.
While the plans were changing rapidly, the steady stream of people arriving to donate was increasing: it was incredibly humbling to see so many fans, from all walks of life & ages from the very young to the elderly, getting involved in supporting the event so generously. There are too many individual acts of kindness I witnessed on Saturday from the donating fans to list them individually, but there were some very kind words as well as some very generous deeds. We’d started over time to spot people walking along Janefield Street with bags and moving out towards them to relieve them of their burden and return it to the collection: another learning here- many people bring plastic bags to football games for reasons other than foodbank collection, and not all of them appreciate 6ft4 guys with shaven heads trying to grab those off them! My favourite moment of the day was seeing the other Paul, at the urging of Tara from Glasgow NE Foodbank who was coordinating the efforts on the day & had popped round to check on us, try & grab a shopping bag off a blind man who, understandably, wasn’t for giving it up as he was walking home from the shops rather than donating to us! You live and learn…
By 3pm the steady stream of people had slowed to a trickle, amongst them one guy who was quite alarmed to see guys in luminous vests taking carrier bags off people as he assumed “yir takin’ folk’s cargo’s aff them!” Thankfully he had nothing to worry about as he’d clearly finished his…word then came through that The Feds had relented & yes, the golf cart & trolley would be arriving to pick up the donations, which was just as well as the thought of carrying them all round to the Celtic Way had the more dainty-framed of us (hi Krys!) a wee bit stressed. Within a few minutes we were joined by our colleagues from the Collection Point at the Jock Stein Stand who had just had their donations uplifted, and between us the trailer was soon filled and on its way back to the front of the stadium. As we walked back we heard the explosion of noise coming from inside as Stuart Armstrong scored the first goal, with everyone diving into their pockets for their phones to see if we could find out about it.
The final part of the day for me was at the Clover, where we helped unload the trailer for the last couple of vans who were waiting on us arriving. I didn’t see the full collection at its peak but I’m reliably informed the Celtic fans helped fill at least 17 vans with household items each- truly phenomenal. The logistical side of this had run like clockwork with the first of the vans rolling up the Celtic Way around 3pm and by the time I left at about 3.30pm there were only a handful of bags left to be loaded. A logistical triumph! I was in the ground and in my seat before half-time, tired, sunburnt, but very proud of the Celtic support and what I’d witnessed from them over the previous three hours or so.
Altogether, Saturday was a great experience for me & left me very humble at both the actions of the people who coordinate these organisations and what they do to help people daily, and also at what I’d seen for myself in the way the Celtic supporters had risen to the challenge of supporting the day. As I said earlier, I’d much rather live in a country where foodbanks weren’t required, but whilst they are, events like Saturday can really make a difference