Feature

Long read: Kieran Tierney on fans in football

Kieran Tierney

"It was seriously like an out of body experience"

With fewer than 100 first team appearances to his name, Kieran Tierney is already a firm fans' favourite at Arsenal. In this exclusive interview with the matchday programme, the left-back reveals how important that support is for his game, just as it was at boyhood club Celtic.

It's difficult to imagine a footballer who's had quite as close a relationship with his team's supporters than Kieran Tierney did at Celtic.

A boyhood Bhoy himself, the left back had no problem channelling the spirit of being a fan whenever he was on the pitch for Celtic, and the Parkhead faithful immediately took to him, from the moment he made his debut at the age of just 17.

And their affection for Kieran wasn't just because he had gone straight from the stands into the team, but also because of the commitment and pride he showed in every appearance.

And it's those qualities - among others - that mean Arsenal fans have also taken the Scotland defender to their hearts so quickly.

Quite simply he approaches the game like any fan likes to think they would, given the same opportunity. And it's not surprising that Kieran plays the game that way, having been brought up in a family of devoted football fans.

"The very earliest memory I have of being a fan was from when I was about three or four," he begins.

"I lived in a tower block in Muirhouse and I remember my dad telling me 'we are going to the Celtic game this week'. I remember watching them on TV before that, but that's my first memory of actually going there.

"I had the Celtic strip, I had the scarf and I remember how excited I was going to bed that night.

"Then I remember going in on the supporters' bus to the game. I couldn't tell you who it was against or the score or anything like that - it's the experience of going to the stadium that I remember. It was the first time I'd ever been to a football stadium."

Even before that moment, there was never any doubt he would grow up to be a huge Celtic fan. He was born into that way of life.

"Yeah my whole family are Celtic fans," he says, "they ran the supporters' buses as well. In fact they still go on the supporters' buses. There's actually a supporters' bus back home in the area I'm from called the Kieran Tierney Supporters Club.

"It's my area, so a lot of my friends go to the games and they have supported me as well, so to have something like that in my home town is just amazing. It's something I'm really proud of. It's crazy to think there's now a supporters' club and a bus named after me!"

Born in the Isle of Man but moving to Scotland as a baby, he joined Celtic when he was just seven years old, and was soon performing in front of a crowd, rather than just being part of one. He can still remember the sensation of having supporters there to see him play for the first time.

"It was when we were about eight or nine, at a tournament in Germany. It was indoors, five-a-side, but there was a seated area too and I remember people being at that game.

"There might have been a couple of hundred people there, it's my first memory of playing in front of a crowd. I was obviously quite nervous at the time, it was very different for me. In youth football there aren’t that many times when you play in a stadium or with a crowd until you get to about 16 or 17, so that stands out for me."

It was something the young KT would have to get used to quickly, as he steadily and swiftly rose through the ranks at Celtic. And he says that being part of a crowd himself, and knowing how much they can help influence games, actually made him more nervous when he started playing in front of them.

00:32

Tierney doubles our lead

"Yeah having been in a football crowd myself to that point, I knew what it could be like. But obviously you want to impress, you want to do well so that adds to your game. I was already really hungry to play well, but maybe having people there gives you a little bit extra motivation to go out there and prove to anyone watching that you are a good player.

"The games I remember in the youth team were obviously when we played Rangers. They allowed a certain number of fans to those games and as a young player that was always a great experience.

"But really nothing compares to Celtic v Rangers in the first team. Whether it was Celtic Park or Ibrox, the atmosphere was always great. When we played at Ibrox the Celtic fans always brought an amazing atmosphere to the game. It feels even better to beat your rivals away from home in a derby. Knowing there are so many of their fans there to watch it. Knowing that a little group of your own fans are there too and enjoying it is the best feeling. That's the most intense atmosphere I've known, or played in.

"But when you are at home, and you have sung all the songs yourself, you were there watching these types of games yourself – you know exactly what it means to the fans. Because not long ago you were there yourself, and yes that can make it a bit harder.

"It's a lot of pressure playing in a game like that, whoever you are, but when you are homegrown, and you have been there yourself in the stands, you are aware of how much it means. It does add some extra pressure."

The connection Kieran had with the Celtic fans was never better illustrated than when he led the crowd's chants, post-match in the stadium, using a megaphone.

Tierney with megaphone at Celtic

Kieran Tierney uses a megaphone to lead the chants while at Celtic

Celtic confirmed a seventh successive Scottish Premiership title with a 5-0 win over Rangers in April 2018, and shortly after the final whistle Kieran headed straight to the Green Brigade (Celtic ultras) section of Celtic Park to start the celebrations in earnest - borrowing a megaphone from the supporters to do so.

"Stuff like that was just… just wow," he says grinning. "You will never be able to compare that feeling to anything else in the world. It was seriously like an out of body experience.

"I've got the megaphone and I'm leading the chants with people I used to actually sit in the stands with. I was on the pitch, looking straight at my mates who I grew up with, who are down there at the front singing with you. Stuff like that is fairy-tale stuff. It's not until you talk about it afterwards, or watch it back that I realise how insane, how incredible it was."

Kieran reveals that it was a spur of the moment thing, rather than pre-planned, and it later became something of a trademark - he did it again following the League Cup final win over Aberdeen at the end of 2018.

"I knew the ultras," he explains. "I had grown up with them, so it was more a case of them asking me to come over after the game. Then they gave me the megaphone, gave me the scarf and then I just led the charts. It was crazy to see the whole stadium bouncing.

"You know what, I've never done an interview about this before, or really spoken about it much. People just assume it means a lot to me so don't ask about it, but when I think about it now, it really was incredible. What an experience that was. What a feeling it would be, for anyone.

"The only thing you could really liken it is being a singer, and having people sing your song back at you at a gig. It's like having a crowd at your gig and you're in charge of what song is coming up next!

"At the time I was just buzzing," he adds. "but it's when you look back on moments like that when you realise how much it actually means to you. It wasn't just the fact that I was singing with the crowd, it was also the fact that we were winning trophies at the time, winning trebles, winning huge games.

"The megaphone and that stuff wouldn't have happened if we weren't successful. You have to do all the stuff on the pitch first, the hard work to get you there. Then it was like a reward."

Kieran won four consecutive league titles with Celtic, including two domestic doubles and the treble, as well as winning Young Player of the Year three times. He had become a club icon by the age of 21.

He believes a huge part of his success was down to those fans that idolised him, and maybe saw a bit of themselves in him.

"There's no doubt at all that they made my career there, they really did. No doubt about it,' he reiterates. "The relationship I had with the fans was so important. To have that, to make me feel good all the time, to keep supporting me even if I played badly.

"After a bad result they were still always there and during the good times they could see how much it meant to me, how much I was enjoying it, and how much they all enjoyed it with me. But there's no doubt at all that the fans played a huge, huge part in my time at Celtic.

"They seemed to take to me straight away, and I really had a feeling that they all looked after me. They supported me, they sang for me and there was just an amazing feeling between us. I think it's because they knew my background, knew I was a working-class person who supported Celtic all his life and went to the games. Maybe they could relate to that a little bit. They were always a massive, massive help for me."

Which presumably made his decision to leave the club even more difficult. KT had just turned 22, with 12 Scotland caps already to his name, and was hot property in European football. It was Arsenal who won the race for his signature, when Unai Emery brought him to the club in the summer of 2019.

Until that moment, had Kieran presumed he would be a one-club man his whole career?

03:09

'Moving here has made me grow in every way' | Kieran Tierney

"I think you need to have your mind be prepared for anything," he says. "Of course there was a time when I thought I'll probably always be there, because I was so happy.

"But it could also go other ways, where you are not good enough to stay at Celtic and have to move on. Or you have managed to do well and you are earning a move that can better your career and make you a better player and person. You have to be prepared for all three of those options, but I never put great thought into any of it. I was more living in the moment and going day by day. It was never planned, it was just something that happened."

He says he had no doubts though, that he was making the right move when Arsenal came calling, and what made the transition much easier he believes, was the love he felt from the Arsenal fans from the moment he arrived.

The full back says the speed the bond grew with his new supporters took him by surprise. "One hundred per cent. The Arsenal fans, ever since I came here, have been amazing. I was injured when I came so for them to show love to an injured player, who they probably didn't know much about, speaks volumes for how good a set of fans that is.

"They could have been questioning why we signed someone who is injured, but the support they showed me gave me so much confidence, and then eventually when I made my debut, the reception I got was incredible. The feeling that gave me was amazing."

Naturally it's a different type of relationship to the one he had with the fans at Celtic Park, but he nevertheless feels very much a part of the Arsenal Family.

"Yes, I love the fans. London is different from Glasgow in terms of not getting recognised as much down here, and it's a bigger city, but when I do get recognised there's a lot of love and positive things. It makes you feel good about yourself.

"Maybe some people don't like it when people come up to you for a photo, but I welcome it. I love interacting with the fans and am always grateful whenever someone does want a picture or an autograph. Since I've been here, the Arsenal fans have helped me settle in a lot. It was a hard time for me, moving away from home, but the fans have eased that a lot."

It's easy to see why the fans have warmed to Kieran, even if you don't take in to account his consistency at left back over the past two and a half years.

Things like taking his boots to a game in a Tesco carrier bag, training and playing in short sleeves and shorts no matter what the weather, and generally displaying an incredible work ethic have all helped to endear him to the Emirates faithful. But why does KT himself think the bond is so strong?

"I hope it's just for being me. I'm not trying to be anyone else. I'm the same person I was growing up. Obviously life has changed a lot, times have changed, but I am still who I am and I hope people can see that. I'm a hard worker, I believe you need to work for what you want. When you grow up as a working-class person you need to work for everything you've got. My mum and dad drilled that into me.

"I hope people see that, and realise that I'm giving 100 per cent for the badge every single time. Whether I'm playing well or not, I'm still giving 100 per cent and I think that the Arsenal fans love to see that. Maybe that's why they have taken to me, but I'm very grateful for it because they have been patient with me, and whenever I've met them it's all been positive."

So where does all that leave his relationship with Celtic now? How does KT manage to follow and stay in touch with events at Parkhead from 400 miles away?

"I still speak to a lot of the players, obviously some of them are my Scotland team mates as well. I watch them all the time on TV. Obviously it's been hard to go back and watch them at Celtic Park, and I thought it probably wasn't the best idea to do that straight after leaving, then after that Covid has hit and there have not been many opportunities to go up there.

"Also I don't want to risk anything with Covid at the moment, but it's something I'd love to do at some point. I want to go back and watch them again. I will do it at some stage, for sure."

And the rest of the Tierney family? Is it a case of split loyalties now between their beloved son and their beloved football club?

"I know Celtic will always be their priority!" he laughs. "They love me, and they support me, but Celtic will always be their number one. There's been a few times when I've been playing for Arsenal and my dad has been at a Celtic game with my uncle, my cousins, my friends. But that's their life. They have always done that, and they always will.

"I don't blame them for that for a second, I think it's quite good actually. Their life hasn't changed, they still support Celtic. When they get the chance to come and watch me, they do. But they make sure it doesn't clash with a Celtic game, that's for sure!"

Player Profile

Name
Kieran Tierney
Squad number
3
Born
June 5, 1997/Isle of Man
National team
Scotland
Arsenal debut
v Nottingham Forest (h), League Cup, September 24, 2019 (won 5-0)
First goal
v Watford (h), Premier League, July 26, 2020 (won 3-2)
Previous clubs
Celtic
Twitter
@kierantierney1

 

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Premier League
Ticket Info