The laughter and the songs
After yesterday’s cup final I stood on the Gallowgate waiting with thousands of others for the Celtic bus to make an appearance. As the minutes passed and the crowd got bigger it became apparent that it wouldn’t be possible to get a bike up the Gallowgate let alone a double decker bus. It was dreadfully organised and the Police on duty simply gave up trying to keep fans off the road. Pictures suggest it was the same on the Saltmarket and at Glasgow Cross. A bit of forethought and some barriers to keep folk on the pavement would have been useful but even the disappointment of the bus parade not happening and the rain pouring down couldn’t dampen the joy of the thousands of Celtic supporters who made their way to the east end after the match. As the younger element scaled the roofs of local bars or danced on top of worryingly high walls and those old enough to know better climbed onto traffic lights and other slippery looking vantage points, the overwhelming feeling was one of happiness.
As I looked around yesterday I could see wee ones in prams or on their father’s shoulders and older supporters who no doubt thought they had seen it all in their many years of watching Celtic. My old man was brought up a mere corner kick from where I stood. I recall as a child visiting my old Irish grandad’s house in Bain Square and the area has changed a fair bit since then. Conditions in Glasgow’s east end were a bit more Dickensian in those days. Life was tough for the people living there and my old man would tell us tales of his youth which had us shaking our heads. He recounted how the Calton boys had to sign on at Bridgeton dole office in times when the territorial disputes of the Glasgow gangs made this challenging. They’d head for the dole a hundred strong knowing what awaited them there. He’d get angry when he’d recount that hundreds of unemployed Glasgow men would be fighting each other rather than the forces in society which threw them all on the scrap heap.
Life was tough then; tougher than most of us experience now but they had strong communities and looked out for each other. If someone was struggling they knew they’d get half a loaf or a cup of sugar from next door. My old man told me of the time he was in a pub on the Gallowgate when the local Priest walked in and told a man beside him to stop drinking and get home and give his wife the money she needed to feed the kids. The man, the worse for drink, got stroppy and the Priest pulled off his collar and assured him he’d be leaving the pub to pay his wife of leaving it to fight him. The woman got her money.
In those times men like my dad would troop along the Gallowgate to Celtic Park and lose themselves for a few hours watching Celtic play. The bad times were endured, the good times celebrated loud and long. They’d introduce their children to all things Celtic and the rituals of following the team would be passed on. Like many Glasgow boys, my brothers and I would be hanging around outside pubs on match days waiting for our dads to appear; wondering when we’d be old enough to sneak inside the pub. Those noisy, smoke filled places looked quite exciting to our young eyes and we’d glimpse inside when the doors opened listening to the laughter and the songs. The men would appear, often the worse for wear, a few minutes before kick-off time and we’d head down to Celtic Park together.
The drinking culture at football then meant the party lasted throughout the match and alcohol was all around us. Some of us got a taste for it while others left it alone. We’d focus on the match and the players wearing those magnificent hooped shirts would transport us out of our ordinary lives for 90 minutes. The songs would pour from the terraces as we tried to drive the team on. Some days it was as if the whole Celtic end was trying to suck the ball into the opposition net. They were good times and I guess they helped form us into the people we became. They gave most of us a love for Celtic which lasted a lifetime and if life takes us far from the places we grew up, that affection for our team went with us.
Yesterday was a day of joy for all who follow the fortunes of Celtic as the team showed the resilience of champions to come back from a goal down against a stuffy Hearts side which in fairness gave Celtic a real game. To win a treble is a fine achievement but to do it in three successive seasons is astonishing. The team has stuttered at times and is in need of renewing and there will no doubt be a busy summer ahead but for now we can bask in the feel good factor and enjoy looking back on another successful season.
Neil Lennon looks like he’ll be the man to lead Celtic into the new campaign and if he wasn’t everyone’s first choice, he is at least deserving of our backing. Peter Lawwell was described in one Celtic blog as; ‘a third rate hack who’s offered the job to a third rate manager in a fourth rate manner.’ That opinion is a bit extreme and frankly insulting. We were, to a degree, spoiled by Brendan Rodgers taking the job in 2016. It is difficult to attract managers of his calibre to the Scottish league. Talk of the likes of Benitez or Mourinho coming to Celtic Park was always highly speculative and in truth it was unlikely they’d ever abandon the money and exposure they get in wealthier leagues for the SPFL. Whoever is sitting in the dugout next season should have the backing of the support. We are on the cusp of more remarkable times and need a united front to achieve them. There will be challenges in the coming season and we’ll need to stick together to overcome them. Like it or not, Lenny is the Boss and I for one will be behind him and the team 100%.
We didn’t get to see the open top bus make its triumphal procession along the Gallowgate last night but we did see the Celtic community celebrate a remarkable success in the very streets Brother Walfrid knew so well. His people have come a long way and the remarkable saga of his club still has many chapters waiting to be written.
Yesterday was a good day to be a Celtic fan. I get the feeling we’ll have more days like that in the future.