Hugh Heron, president of Heathwood Homes and a principal in the Heron Group of Companies, has a profound love for Canada, his adopted country. But when it comes to soccer (or football, as Scots call it), his heart is in his native Glasgow with his beloved Celtic team.
Every year, Mr. Heron buys Celtic season tickets and flies to Scotland two or three times to see them in action. Since 1994, he’s been buying two ‘investor seats’ a year, which cost him $6,000 annually. Then there’s airfare that can cost him about $2,500 per roundtrip.
“I fly 6,000 miles to see a soccer game. It’s crazy that I buy season tickets I can only use three times a year,” he admits.
Mr. Heron has been a fan of the Celts since his father took him to a football game when Mr. Heron was five years old. When he lived in Scotland, “I went to every game there was.”
The Celtic Football Club has existed since 1887 when it was founded by Irish Marist Brother Walfrid, whose goal was to ease poverty in Glasgow’s East End by raising money for charity.
“You ask a football fan why they are so passionate about it, and it’s something about the game. It’s an amazing game. It has a tremendous pull on you and soccer fans are rabid all over the world,” says Mr. Heron. “Supporters are into it 24/7. You can go to Glasgow or London to a designated supporters’ club and it’s really a carnival atmosphere.”
In 1967, at the age of 29, Mr. Heron immigrated to Canada and got a job with Costain, an international construction company that he’d worked for in Scotland. He went on to found his own home building company in 1979.
“When I came to Canada in 1967, the news connections weren’t the same as they are now. I’d line up on a Sunday to wait for the Scottish newspapers to come in to read about the games,” Mr. Heron recalls.
In 1970, he travelled to Milan to watch the Celts play in the European Cup, where they were defeated in extra time by the Feyenoord team from the Netherlands.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Celts were one of the strongest clubs in Europe, but by 1994, the club was in dire financial difficulties and was bought by a Scottish-born Canadian, Fergus McCann. He turned it into a public company and Mr. Heron bought $10,000 worth of shares in his beloved club.
“I am a shareholder in the club, which is really exciting and I buy investor seats (season tickets) every year,” says Mr. Heron. “My family (in Glasgow) uses them when I am here in Canada. I pop over two or three times a year to go to games. I tell my family that if anyone I know from Canada goes to Glasgow, they get first chance to use the seats.”
Though thousands of miles and an ocean separate them, Mr. Heron says the shared love of soccer keeps him connected to his family in Scotland.
“All my family are crazy Celtic supporters,” says Mr. Heron. “For me, football brings my family together. I have lots of cousins and one brother in Scotland and we talk all the time about the Celts. Everything in the family we do comes back to the Celts.”
That goes for at least one family member in Canada too.
“One of my failures is that my son is into something called the Toronto Maple Leafs. My daughter’s pretty keen on soccer, though. She’s a big Celtic fan,” says Mr. Heron.
When he’s in Canada, Mr. Heron says his number one hobby is to search for football gossip online. He also chats online with other Celtic fans and goes to Aurora Celtic Supporters Club to watch games, sometimes as early 7 a.m. with other “daft Celtic supporters.”
Though the rivalry between Celtic supporters and fans of Glasgow’s other soccer club, the Rangers, is fierce, Mr. Heron says it’s less cut-throat than back in Scotland.
Mr. Heron, whose Heron Group formed the Mikey Network, a charity that places ‘Mikeys’ (public access defibrillators) in schools, workplaces and public access areas throughout Canada, gifted his own supporters’ club and the rival Rangers’ club in Toronto with defibrillators.
(The Mikey Network was established in memory of Michael Salem, a partner in the Heron Group of Companies, who died of cardiac arrest on a golf course in June 2002. )
“This might sound self-serving, but there’s such a rivalry between the Celtic and Ranger fans that just being able to give both clubs in Toronto a defibrillator is very satisfying,” says Mr. Heron. “That would not happen in Glasgow, but it’s the Canadian way and giving a defibrillator (to rival fans) is the right thing to do.”
If the Celts make it to the European Cup Final (they last won it in 1967 and were runners up in 1970), Mr. Heron will splurge again to watch his beloved club in action. Afterall, he points out, he’s not into another popular sport that has deep roots in Scotland.
“Everybody needs a hobby,” he says. “I don’t like golf and I’m a terrible golfer.”