This week, I caught up with Brian Toal, who has the honour of serving as president of the Kearny Celtic Supporters Club and, I must admit, I was blow away by his passion for Celtic and his hometown of Kearny.
The Kearny CSC was founded in 1963 and is recognised as the first overseas CSC. Christened “The Mother Club,” they were set up in a very unique part of New Jersey, which benefitted from the mass migration from Scotland and Ireland well over a century ago. Many of the Scots and Irish who chose to settle in Kearny were fortunate to find employment with Clark Thread Company, who themselves found their roots in Scotland. The settlers remained true to their homeland, retaining their cultural songs and stories and, just as importantly, their love of football and indeed Celtic.
Even today, Kearny is still very close to its historic roots with traditional fish & chip shops, kilt hire outlets, and a number of Scottish butchers. The town also boasts an Irish centre, Scots-American centre and the St. Columcille Pipe Band. A visitor to Kearny from Scotland or Ireland is most likely to feel very much at home.
Celtic fans visiting New Jersey are welcome to join over 65 members every matchday at The Donegal Saloon (337 Kearny Ave, Kearny, New Jersey), where you will hear the elder statesmen of the club reminisce about their trip to Lisbon to watch history unfolding in 1967, as well as the visits from Celtic legends Jimmy McGrory, Stevie Chalmers and iconic captain Billy McNeill when the club was managed by Jock Stein.
The early 7 a.m. kick-off doesn’t deter anyone, “In most cases the regulars just grab the seat they had left behind just a few hours earlier,” and get ready for another date with Celtic. A full breakfast or hot rolls are the staple for the fans in the bar and maybe just a strong coffee to help clear the head from the night before. For bigger matches you might be able to enjoy a barbecue while you watch (weather permitting), there is also traditional Celtic songs and Irish music to keep you entertained after the match has finished. Kearny CSC also keeps the ethos of Celtic at the heart of what they do, getting involved in fundraising events for local charities.
Unfortunately, in recent years the aeroplanes are not flying both ways as much as they used to. The last full trip to watch Celtic was just a two-hour bus trip to Philadelphia to see Celtic play Real Madrid in 2012. The club are eager to organise a journey to Glasgow to watch Celtic and perhaps rekindle the memories of the first voyage they made way back in the late ‘60s when the Celtic View captured much of their visit.
Brian’s family ties trace back to Belfast, where his grandfather was born, but his family moved to Scotland before later settling in New Jersey. Growing up in and around the Irish centre in Kearny meant Celtic were always a hot topic of conversation and he recalls his first time watching his team in the Scottish Cup final in 1989. That excitement and atmosphere sealed his love for Celtic and our history.
That love of the club drives Brian to be the first person at the supporters club on matchday, setting up the club banners and bunting before the day begins, because you never know who might pop in to watch the game, like a few years ago when Rod Stewart made the trip to The Mother Club to watch the hoops. “It was a chance for Rod to unwind, grab a beer and cheer on the team with other fans.”
With plans to visit Scotland next year, Brian is looking forward to savouring the atmosphere at Paradise once again, where he will hopefully watch Broony lead his team to victory, whilst maybe tormenting and antagonising opponents at the same time. But he also notes, “With the huge Celtic fanbase in and around NYC, Boston and Philly, it would be great to get Celtic back in the States for a match, maybe even a regular season game – so many other sports have tried it with a positive outcome.”
Even though Brian and the CSC are on the other side of the pond, Celtic is still very much a way of life for them. That love of Celtic and its culture, history and passion continues to be passed from one generation to the next and still burns brightly 3000 miles away.