Regular readers may remember my Troublesome Fenians post from the beginning of this year which was about Celtic ultras The Green Brigade’s efforts to organise a foodbank collection at a Celtic home game last winter. Yesterday they held another food drive and this time I went along to help out.
Because of last year’s amazing success everyone knew to expect a pretty good response this time and there were more people on standby with vans to help shift the donations. These were all volunteers and friends from the Celtic support too as the foodbank which was to receive the donations (Glasgow North-East Trussell foodbank based at Calton Parish Church just a few streets away from the stadium) has no vans of their own. As well as these drivers there were about 5 members of the Green Brigade at each collection point. Tara from the foodbank had got some collection buckets stickered up too as although last year the Green Brigade had asked for food donations only they still got over £500 in cash donations from people who hadn’t been aware there was a food drive on.
It was a fresh clear day in the morning and we all stood about at the collection point at the back of the Green Brigade’s own section at the stadium, not certain what to expect but hoping to at least match last year’s donations total. People began to trickle in with carrier bags. There was a wide range of people who were donating. Everything from a wee slow stiff old man with a walking stick and a couple of cans that had probably come from his own cupboard shelf, to the smart middle-aged chap who pulled up in a Merc and popped the boot to reveal half a cash-and-carry in there – whole cases of sugar, boxes and boxes of biscuits. We’re not sure if he was a shop owner or if he’d just rocked up with a hundred quid and bought food until it ran out. Another collection point reported they’d had a transit van from a supporter’s group that had been driven from West Lothian and the whole bottom of the van was covered in carrier bags for us. Meanwhile, a couple flash cars dropped off a succession of men in suits to the Executive Entrance. None of them came over. Most of them avoided eye contact.
We moved round to another point by the coach park to see how it was going there. By this point a few photographers were taking snaps as people brought their bags to add to the pile. The GB lads shuffled uncomfortably. No-one is too happy about faces being in the press but these were taking pictures for the food bank so they lined up anyway.
Wee teenage laddies with scarves walked up shyly with a couple of bags of donations and walked off a bit taller after being loudly thanked. It was a lovely thing to see wee guys bothering with such efforts at all. A smartly-dressed guy walked past a short distance away after hovering about briefly. A discussion between the GB lads: ‘is that that Sky boy? It is! [at top volume:] HAW mister, it’s a food drive, did yez no get the memo?’ General laughter all round. The Sky reporter sped up.
We moved to the point at the bottom of the Celtic Way. This was getting very busy now, about an hour before the game. The cash buckets were being shaken and it was obvious there was plenty coins in them but also people were stuffing notes in. Fivers, tens, twenties. Somebody said he had more than one fifty pound note in his bucket. Tara and some of the elderly ladies who volunteer at the foodbank were here at this point looking delighted with how it was going. A photographer with an official Celtic FC tabard on was trying to line them up with some bags for a photo. He wanted some Green Brigade lads in there too but this was too much. They have a precarious relationship with the club at the best of times. Eventually someone agreed and the ladies all lined up beaming with him for the shot.
We moved round to the point on the Gallowgate towards kickoff time. The van here belonged to a joiner that no-one seemed to know but who had volunteered the use of his van. When we got there his transit van was stuffed full of bags and they were piling up on the pavement. We had to keep shifting them to the sides so people could get past. I had a wee wobbly moment when a guy crossed the road to us with a bulk box of nappies and another 5 massive packs balanced on top. Probably about 80 quid’s worth. He set them down without a word and went off into the stadium as if he does this kind of thing every day.
3 o’clock came and our driver moved off to take the load to the church. He offered to come back for the rest, even though it would mean he probably missed the first half of the game. ‘I don’t mind, I’ll be back’. Frantic phone calls were going back and forth about vans by now as it was clear we had got a lot more then last year. I was sent round to the church to help unload with a few others, including a lady who had brought a bag of donations and then asked for a bucket to shake because she wanted to help. As we walked I had a chat with her. She wasn’t a Celtic fan but had seen something about the food drive online and decided to come along.
When we got to the church there were three vans parked up and with the crew of twenty or so people we had there we unloaded all the bags. The yard in front of the church door was literally covered in bags. We made a sort of human chain arrangement – the people unloading the vans left the bags on the pavement, then someone else took them into the church lobby, then someone else took them in to stack along the side pews. These were quickly filled and we had to move upstairs. The food was still coming in vans and we began to worry we actually couldn’t fit it all in so two of the vans were diverted to a disused shop the foodbank has the use of as a storeroom. Meanwhile the rest of us sweated up the stairs with bags and bags of cans and jars and packets. It took us an hour and a half to get it all indoors. The generosity of the Celtic support is amazing. A lot of these people are probably not so far from needing the services of the foodbank themselves but they came up trumps. The foodbank elderly church ladies were utterly delighted. As I sat having a cup of tea which they kindly provided afterwards one of them said ‘it just goes to show eh? These young people, these Celtic Brigaders. All you ever hear about them is bad things but then they go and do something like this’.