Exclusive: Celtic fan and film-maker Jamie Doran on Jinky, Female Ultras, and Bhoys in Baghdad

By Euan Davidson

February 16, 2021

Film-maker and Celtic die-hard Jamie Doran has seen it all.

The Glasgow-born film-maker is a four-time Emmy Award winner, a former producer at the BBC and is a documentarian beyond reproach. He’s dodged bullets in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan, been ambushed by the Taliban, found himself in a firefight with hundreds of ISIS fighters, been under bombing more times than he cares to remember and even threatened with hanging in Burma.

His first love, though? Celtic Football Club. Doran has already produced an excellent Bhoys-related film, the fantastic Lord of the Wing [iMDb]. However, when Al-Jazeera were looking for their next Doran-produced epic, it took little convincing when he decided to follow the Bhoys on their 2019 trip to Rome [BBC].

67 Hail Hail spoke to the only man with more accolades than Celtic themselves over the last decade, Jamie Doran, about the new film. It’ll be screened on Al-Jazeera on the 23rd Feb at 22.30.

Tak Darakht village on the outskirts of Bamiyan province on January 6, 2021. / (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

From the Jungle to the Caves of Afghanistan

You’ve been in Afghan caves, on the front in Syria, talked to the Taliban, discovered the murky underworld of Moscow, but also made a film about Jimmy Johnstone. Why is this the right time for a look at Celtic, once more?

It’s interesting timing because obviously there seems to be some kind of gap growing between Celtic and the fans. And I think it was a moment to actually bring back the understanding that the fans are the club. Sometimes I think those in hierarchy of all teams forget how important the fans are. I think this pandemic has very much brought that back to heart; to understand that football without fans is zero, it’s nothing.

Tell us about the film: you travelled with fans to Rome to watch Lazio, and reported from Belfast. What surprised you during filming?

In Rome it was a wee bit different, because obviously Lazio have a certain political stance, and Celtic fans’ stance is very much the opposite. We were kind of expecting some problems. I remember 4 fellows got stabbed that night, which was very unfortunate. There was quite a tense atmosphere at the game, but in the end of course, we won. And Ntcham, who of course has now left us, scored that wonderful goal. I won’t forget it.

In terms of the politics of Celtic fans, has much changed from your early experiences at Celtic Park, or do you feel the Celtic supporters are more political now?

There’s been a massive change. When I reached my teens, the sectarianism was pretty strong, on both sides of the divide in Glasgow. The sectarianism has been pushed aside at Celtic Park, and replaced with something that was always there; a political feeling. A political strand, that looks at the wider issues. Not just this narrow nonsense of sectarianism, but the far wider issues. That’s what we try to reflect in the film. About who the fans are and what their drive is.

I remember one fellow telling me that: “without politics, Celtic wouldn’t exist”. And I found that an interesting phrase but actually, it’s probably true. There is a cause far beyond watching the football team. It’s a cause that unites many people standing on the terrancing. It brings them together in a way that other teams couldn’t possibly hope for.

Olivier Ntcham: Gladiator in Rome / (Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images)

Jamie Doran on Celtic’s worldwide appeal and the running of the club

What’s Celtic’s reputation in the Middle East? Especially after the famous Pro Palestine demonstrations?

It’s not just the Middle East. I travel the world, at this very moment I’m meant to have been in six countries this year. Right around the world, they know Celtic, they know the Celtic fans. It’s the fans that make the club, everyone knows that. 

I do quite a lot for Al-Jazeera and obviously they cover some of the Arab countries. The reaction to those fans flying the Palestinian flag was immense. You cannot understand how big it was at the time. 

Literally no matter where you go, you come across this understanding that Celtic means much more than kicking a ball.

Certainly in Baghdad, there were plenty [of Celtic fans]. I found them in Syria, on the front line, which was bizarre. You find them in Afghanistan. You stretch around the place and you end up with people like the President of Albania. Who is – it’s genuine, I have to tell you. It’s genuine. I was there on the night of the opening of the new Celtic Supporters’ Club in Tirana. His adulation, his feeling for the Celtic fans is absolutely real. He’s pretty serious.

About a week afterwards, I got a message from Kosovo, being told that the President of Kosovo was a bit miffed that I hadn’t come to interview him, because he sees himself as the biggest Celtic fan in the area. So you have this hilarious kind of competition between Presidents to see who’s the biggest [Celtic] fan.

How do you feel about the running of the club in 2021?

That’s a tough one. There really has been this gap building between the board and the fans. I find it quite ridiculous in this day and age that the club is actually owned by individuals rather than the fans. I remember back in Fergus’ day when the fans put in £15m, which at the time was a world record investment into a club. 

At that time we had the feeling that the club was going to be effectively owned by the fans at last. That all disappeared. I don’t know what percentage of Celtic is actually owned by fans. I’m a shareholder in Celtic, I was one of those fans back then in Fergus’ time to buy the shares. We know that many thousands of others did.

I often wonder about the dilution of their shares. I’m not suggesting any jiggery-pokery, I’m just saying it’s unfortunate that the fans who pay £20m+ every year in season tickets hold such small sway within the club. 

There seems to be something not quite working. I know the new Chief Executive will be coming in, they’re talking about a Director of Football, but they need to engage with the fans. The fans as I’ve said a million times, are the club. They’re also the biggest investor by far, don’t forget what I mentioned there- £20m+ a year, that’s just in season tickets, let alone merchandise.

It has to be appreciated how much the Celtic fans put into the club, and they cannot be ignored in the way they have been recently. It’s extraordinary.

Do you think the PLC is moving the club away from its roots?

I don’t believe that, because they’d have to be very poor financiers to do that. They must, deep in their brains, understand where the money is coming from, where the support comes from. If they want to continue playing in empty stadiums, I’d be astonished. As we all know, season tickets are coming up very soon and I’d be very careful. 

In the series, we cover a team called PSS Sleman in Indonesia. They’re an extraordinary team, you’d never heard of them. Women Ultras are leading the battle within the club. What happened here was fans decided that the only way to make the club listen to our demands was to withhold their money.

You’ll see it in the film; they ended up playing in an empty stadium before the pandemic. That meant there was zero money coming in and of course, at the very end of the film, there’s a marvellous moment where the club caves in and gives in to the demands.

I’m not suggesting that should happen at Celtic Park, but what I am saying is that no-one should forget the power of the fans.

A tribute at Paradise for the Lord of the Wing / (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

For our own indulgence: who is your favourite all-time Celtic player, other than Jimmy Johnstone? [Doran directed ‘Lord of the Wing’, a 2004 documentary series on the Celtic icon]

Well there’s Jinky and then… Jinky. He was marvellous. It was the greatest honour of my life. I was a tiny little boy in the Jungle, Gate 8, watching this God with a football at his feet. To have the honour of not just knowing him but becoming a very close friend of his, for the last three and a half years of his life, was quite extraordinary.

I got a call the morning after he died, about half-past midnight. One of his close friends, Ian Henderson, was with him. Jinky’s last words according to him were a very kind reference to me. I carry that with me forever.

My only heroes in life were Jimmy Johnstone and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. I made the film on Jimmy, and I wrote the book and made the biographical film on Yuri Gagarin. To know Jimmy for that period, to meet a man of the most immense character, who in three and a half years never said an unkind word about any other human being… he was a gentleman beyond belief. To meet a man like that was an honour.