Do not be quick to dismiss those who value the sense of community and passion generated by football clubs.
‘Wee’ (a Scottish and Irish colloquialism for ‘small’) Jay Beatty is my latest hero. Jay is an eleven year old young man from Armagh in Ireland, and is a Celtic fanatic. Jay has Down’s syndrome, yet despite the challenges he faces, he has captured the hearts of football fans worldwide. Jay first came to prominence at the end of the 2013/2014season, when former Celtic star Georgios Samaras plucked wee Jay out of the crowd to join in with Celtic’s celebrations following the presentation of the Scottish Premier League trophy. Jay’s love for Celtic is well known by the fans, and videos of his revelry following Celtic goals have gone viral on Celtic websites. Having heard of Jay’s love for Celtic, in an act of tremendous kindness, Hamilton Academicals (another football club in Scotland) invited Jay and his family to attend the match between Hamilton and Celtic. Jay was granted the opportunity to mingle with the players, give a team-talk to his beloved Celtic squad, and in perhaps the pinnacle of his afternoon, Jay was invited onto the pitch at half-time to take a penalty in front of the adoring Celtic support. He scored, and both Jay and the fans went into a frenzy. They chanted his name, and Wee Jay’s dreams were fulfilled.
But the story doesn’t end there. In another act of incredible insight and love, the Scottish Football Association entered Jay’s half-time penalty into the ‘goal of the month’ competition for January, in which Jay competed with professionals who had scored memorable goals that month. The competition was decided by a public vote, and perhaps unsurprisingly, an enormous majority deemed that Jay should be presented with the award. On Sunday, during the half-time break of the match between Celtic and Aberdeen, Jay was awarded the Goal-of-the-Month trophy in front of 50,000 cheering supporters. He celebrated by scoring another penalty, this time at his beloved Celtic Park, known as Paradise to the Celtic support.
Is this not what dreams are made of? In an extremely challenging age, sport can unite people, offer them hope, fulfil their fantasies, offer them a sense of belonging, and bring out the very best in human nature. God bless Hamilton, the Scottish Football Association, and Celtic for their kindness and concern for this young man, and may we use the popularity and almost omnipresent nature of football to bring joy into the lives of others.