Sunday, 27 January 2013

Mixu, Albert and the Miracle of Love Street

Big Sean spotted Andy coming out of Mr Dormie, a shop specialising in Kilt hire and all manner of wedding clothes. ‘Andy ya big fud,’ he shouted with a smile across the busy City Centre street, ‘Is that you in ordering yer ball and chain?’ Andy crossed the street and sheepishly smiled at his best mate, ‘Trust you walking past at this time and aye, I was getting measured up for my wedding suit.’ The two friends strolled up Renfield Street in the bright April sunshine discussing the upcoming wedding. ‘Ye know if I didnae have three brothers you’d have been my best man Sean.’ Andy said. Sean smiled, ‘I know mate and don’t you worry wan wee bit about that, it’s cool. Having said that if you need any help siring your weans just let me know.’  Andy laughed out loud, ‘Ya cheeky bastard, I’ve had more birds than you’ve had hot dinners.’ Sean, quick as ever retorted, ‘I’m a vegetarian and never had a hot dinner so you’ve had wan burd then?’ The two friends continued the jokes and laughter all the way up Buchanan Street towards the bus station  and just before reaching it Andy led Sean into a betting shop. If Andy had one weakness it was gambling. Sean used to warn him about putting half his wages on some ‘hot tip’ which usually turned out to be a three legged donkey once the race had started. His mates called him ‘Mixu’ after the Dundee United footballer Mixu Paatelainen, not that he looked anything like the big Fin. Rather it was his gambling which had earned him the nickname  ‘Mixu Put-a-line-on.’ Less than 2 minutes later a lazy greyhound had cost ‘Mixu’ another ten pounds. ‘You want tae chuck this gambling lark,’ said Sean, ‘It’s a pure mugs game.’ Andy looked at his friend who had been by his side since Primary school. ‘Sean,’ he began in a halting voice, ‘I’ve done something really fuckin’ stupid, mate.’ Sean figured from his friends serious face that he wasn’t referring to losing a tenner on the dog.

The two friends sat in the café at Buchanan Street Bus Station nursing mugs of tea. ‘All of it?’ Sean asked incredulously, ‘four hundred and fifty quid?’ Andy nodded silently. ‘Fuck’s sake Andy, if Cathy finds out she might call the wedding off!’ Andy exhaled a long sigh, ‘They still might do it Sean eh?’ he said hopefully. Sean looked at his friend’s anxious face, ‘Andy there is no way you should be sticking your honeymoon money on Celtic winning the league. What the fuck were you thinking?’  Andy responded quietly, ‘They were four tae wan Sean, when do you ever see Celtic at four tae wan?’ Sean said louder than he should in the quiet café, ‘They’re four tae wan coz Hearts are five points clear and there’s only three fuckin’ games left. It’ll take a fuckin’ miracle for Celtic tae win this league!’  A few faces looked up from their tea cups to see where the raised voices were coming from. Sean shook his head and said in a quieter tone ‘Jesus Andy, you and your fuckin’ gambling. You’d better hope Hearts collapse.’

The prospect of Hearts collapsing seemed slim indeed that bright April as they had built up an impressive 24 match unbeaten run. They had also swept into the Scottish Cup final and seemed destined to be crowned champions for the first time since 1960. They were already being lauded as ‘Champions elect’ by some sportswriters. The following Saturday a distracted Andy joined Sean in the Jungle to watch Celtic defeat Hibs 2-0. Despite a solid win, the prospect of a Celtic title win still seemed distant. The following day, Hearts took on Aberdeen at Tynecastle and were held to a 1-1 draw. They were nervous and it showed. The gap was now 4 points with just 2 games left to play for Hearts and three for Celtic. Andy was a fit of nerves at the third last game of the season. Celtic pummeled a poor Dundee team 2-0 at Celtic Park but all ears were stuck to radios and they duly reported the bad news that a jittery Hearts had beaten Clydebank 1-0. Celtic then travelled to Fir Park on the last day of April 1986. Anything less than a win would mean that Hearts would be champions that night without kicking a ball. Celtic were not in the mood to give up on the title just yet and in a stirring display beat the home side 2-0. One game left and 2 points in it. Celtic and Andy still needed a miracle but at least it was going to the wire.

Saturday May 3rd 1986 dawned cloudy and dull. The weather seemed to bode ill but Andy had hardly slept a wink all night. He phoned Sean at 7am to make arrangements for the trip to Paisley. Celtic were travelling to play St Mirren and simply had to win by a few goals and hope somehow that the poor Dundee side Celtic had whipped a fortnight back would beat Hearts. The phone jarred Sean out of a beer induced sleep. ‘Andy? What time is it mate, have I slept in?’ ‘Naw Sean, listen bud, I want you to meet me at Clyde Street at quarter to ten. It’s important.’ With that he hung up. Sean looked at the clock by his bedside, ‘Seven in the morning!’ he cried, ‘I don’t fuckin’ believe it!’  He rolled out of bed and headed for the shower. By ten to ten a bleary Sean, wearing his beloved Hoops under his jacket, arrived at Clyde Street to meet Andy. He soon spotted him leaning on the railings by the river gazing at the grey waters of the Clyde which flowed through the heart of their home City. ‘Thinking of Jumping in mate?’ Sean said with a smile, placing a light hand on his friend’s shoulder. Andy smiled slightly, ‘I’ll tell ye at ten tae five tonight.’ Sean looked at him, ‘So why are we meeting so early mate, I’m no boozing at this time of day?’ Andy smiled, ‘I’m staying sober today, at least until after the match. I wanted to meet you early and ask you if you’d do me a wee favour?’  With that, Andy nodded across to the modest little Catholic Cathedral that sat on the opposite side of Clyde street.  ‘Mass starts in 5 minutes, I need all the help I can get today.’ Sean smiled a little, ‘It’s been a while while mate but hey, it can’t do any harm. Let’s go.’

The lunchtime train to Paisely from Glasgow Central was full of Celtic fans heading off to the deciding game of the season. Despite the majority feeling it was a long shot that they’d land the title, they were still in fine voice. Andy and Sean pushed into a carriage full of noisy fans who were already in full voice…

Will you stand in the band like a true Irishman?
We’re off to fight the forces of the crown
Will you March with O’Neil to an Irish Battlefield?
For tonight we’re off to free old Wexford town!’

Through the din Andy attracted Sean’s attention, ‘Sean. Hold this for me till after the game.’ He handed Sean a betting slip on which was written ‘Celtic to win the Premier Division.  £450.’  Sean exhaled and nodded folding the slip and putting it into the small pocked on the front of his jeans. ‘You never know Andy,’ he shouted through the noise, ‘you never know,’ Sean thought quietly to himself that it was a real long shot. Hearts were unlikely to lose to Dundee even if Celtic beat St Mirren by a bundle of goals. He hoped for the sake of his friend that the miracle might just happen.

A steady drizzle was falling on Love Street as they made their into the covered enclosure but the Celtic support were buzzing. They might not be able to control events in Dundee where Hearts were expected to beat the locals but they could damned well drive Celtic on and force Hearts to earn it. Celtic seemed up for it too and launched into St Mirren like men possessed from the start. In six minutes a corner was headed home by Brian McClair and the Hoops had the lead. Andy hugged Sean and jumped for joy but they needed more than a Celtic win today and inconsistent Dundee did not inspire confidence in Andy or Sean. In 32 minutes McStay sent Mo Johnstone clear on the right and he hammered home number two. Then came a goal of true beauty. A goal only teams like Celtic score…

Danny McGrain flicked a pass over his head on his own 18 yard line to Murdo McLeod. The tough little midfielder rolled it back to McGrain who passed to McStay and continued his run.  McStay turned a St Mirren Midfielder and rolled it to in the centre circle. Aitken immediately touched it back into the path of the overlapping McGrain who fed Brian McClair. A St Mirren defender rushed at McClair and seemed certain to dispossess him but the prolific striker nutmegged him to open the St Mirren defence. McClair then raced into the St Mirren box and squared the ball to the onrushing Mo Johnstone who smashed it home.  It was a goal of breathtaking skill, passing and movement.

It was one of the best team goals seen in Scottish football for years and had been crafted from beautiful one touch football played the Celtic way. It was 3-0! Celtic were making Hearts sweat but still the word from Dundee was 0-0.  As half-time approached McStay thundered in another and St Mirren were well beaten. As Celtic were cheered off at half time, Andy asked a nearby fan with a radio the score at Dundee. ‘Still 0-0 mate’ said the man with a wry smile. ‘Still 45 minutes to go though.’

The second half saw Celtic score again in the 50th minute then the team seemed to ease off the gas and toy with St Mirren waiting as the minutes ticked past for the news they so desperately wanted to hear from Dens Park. ‘How long to go now?’ Andy asked, Sean looked at his watch, ‘Fifteen minutes mate.’ Andy looked imploringly at the man with the radio pressed against his ear. He shrugged, ‘Still 0-0, Albert Kidd is on for McKinley.’  Andy could sense his hope slipping away. How would he tell Cathy he had lost the money they had both saved up over the last year to fund their Honeymoon? He became distracted as he watched the lime green shirted Celtic players knock the ball around but his mind was in Dundee. ‘Come on Dundee, for fuck’s sake get a goal’ he mumbled loud enough for Sean to hear. His friend smiled encouragingly, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over mate.’

The minutes dragged past and then, when Andy could almost feel tears welling inside of him, it happened.  65 miles away in Dundee in the 83rd minute of the game a corner was met by a Dundee attacker who headed it into a crowded box where substitute Albert Kidd blasted it high into the Hearts net. The roar in Dundee was loud but it was louder in Paisley. Andy and Sean hugged each other for sheer joy as the Celtic support exploded upon hearing the news from Dundee. A huge wave of euphoria and noise swept around  Love Street. But there was still six minutes left Hearts would surely throw everything at Dundee as they sought an equalizer. Then, with 3 agonizing minutes remaining in far off Dundee Albert Kidd picked up the ball on the half way line, raced past two Hearts players, played a one-two with a team mate and smashed home a second. Incredibly Dundee were 2-0 up! Love Street was euphoric and Andy stood with his hands covering his face unable to stop the tears flowing. Sean, delighted for Celtic but more delighted for his mate held him like a brother as they waited for the final whistle. Then it was over. Celtic were the Champions in an astonishing climax to the season. The two friends watched as a green wave of joy poured from the terraces and engulfed the Celtic players. Against all the odds they had triumphed. The serried ranks of Celtic fans, those who believed and those who didn’t think this was possible, sang their hearts out as the team reappeared for a lap of honour. The two friends who had grown up watching Celtic and shared in all their triumphs and disasters now stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders singing in unison with thousands of others... ‘Walk on, walk on, with hope in your hearts!’ Celtic had done it and in another way so had Andy.

As the delighted but emotionally and physically drained Celtic fans poured back onto the Glasgow train after the game, Andy pledged that he was finished with gambling forever.  His winnings would take him and Cathy on a far grander Honeymoon than she had dared hope for and Sean kept his secret about how close Andy had come to losing it all. Only a magnificent effort from his beloved Celtic and perhaps a small intervention from a certain Albert Kidd had made the miracle of Love Street possible. It had been quite a day.


No comments:

Post a Comment