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More than a game: Jay Baruchel’s Celtic Soul explores passion for teams that ‘transcend sport’

Canadian actor Jay Baruchel is a lifelong Montreal Canadiens hockey fan, but the Habs are not his only team obsession: Celtic Football Club also owns a major chunk of his heart.

Some sports teams are just teams…Other teams transcend sport,” Baruchel told CBC News.

“It’s their history outside of their wins and losses; it’s the cultural, religious, linguistic, class ramifications to all of it. The Habs are more than just a hockey team and the Celtic are more than just a football club.”

Toronto-based Montrealer Baruchel — known for such movies as How to Train Your Dragon and This Is the End — shares his passion for sports and explores his Irish roots in the new documentary Celtic Soul.

Celtic Soul

Baruchel is seen interviewed during a visit to the Celtic F.C.’s stadium. The team boasts more than 9 million fans worldwide. (Markham Street Films)

Celtic F.C., part of the Scottish Premier League, has an extremely loyal fan base worldwide, with an estimated nine million fans around the globe, including 19 supporter clubs in Canada. The team was founded in 1887 by St. Mary’s church in Glasgow “to accommodate all the Irish Catholic immigrants who came over as a result of the potato famine,” Baruchel explained.

“It was a means of keeping poor kids out of trouble and giving them something to look forward to. So you gave a loaf of bread and a soccer ball.”

Joined by Irish sports journalist Eoin O’Callaghan, Baruchel created Celtic Soul from a trip to Ireland and Scotland, where the pair connected with players and fans.

“People can live out their dreams and aspirations — maybe unfulfilled ones — through a team,” O’Callaghan said, explaining the fandom for a team like Celtic F.C.

“There’s an element of childhood encapsulated in sports support, whatever your team is… and you can live vicariously through supporting a particular organization.”

Jay Baruchel and Eoin O’Callaghan sing Over and Over1:20

A budding bromance

The duo’s exchanges have obvious parallels to the witty banter between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the food-focused films The Trip and The Trip to Italy, but in this case Baruchel and O’Callaghan are fixated on sport.

With the two bonding over their mutual love of Celtic F.C., the doc becomes a sort of buddy movie; their bromance blossoming as Baruchel shows O’Callaghan the Bell Centre — where his beloved Habs play hockey — before they journey to Scotland to witness a Celtic practice, hang out with players and attend a game at the enormous soccer stadium fans have nicknamed Paradise.

Jay Baruchel in Celtic Soul

Baruchel, left, and Eoin O’Callaghan gaze in wonder at Celtic Park in Glasgow. Nicknamed “Paradise” by Celtic F.C. fans, it’s the largest soccer stadium in Scotland and has a capacity of more than 60,000. (Markham Street Films)

For Baruchel — who co-wrote the popular hockey movie Goon and makes his directorial debut with what promises to be a profanity-laced sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, in March — the desire to cheer for a particular team is deeply rooted in being human.

“When you watch two groups of people in two different outfits march out, one wearing the same outfit as you, tell me: what isn’t tribal and primal and ancient about that?” he asked.

“There’s just something awe-inspiring about watching an incredible feat of athleticism and you throw that into the cultural context of them being the representatives of your village and that’s a recipe for a lifelong addiction.”

Celtic Soul opens in Toronto on Friday at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in partnership with the Toronto Irish Film Festival. It plays the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 2.

Jay Baruchel in Celtic Soul

‘When you watch two groups of people in two different outfits march out, one wearing the same outfit as you, tell me: what isn’t tribal and primal and ancient about that?’ Baruchel said. (Markham Street Films)

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