‘He was a good old guy, yer Da’ said big Malky shaking me roughly by the hand, ‘Great Celtic man tae, never missed a game for years.’ Funny how most people associated my Da with his love for the Green and White Hoops of Celtic. He did a lot in his life, raised a clan of weans in the Garngad, worked for 50 years but, even at his funeral, it always came back to his relationship with Celtic for most people. The night before his funeral, as he was laid out in state in his best suit, folk had knocked the door to pay their respects. Some placed mementos in his coffin. Among them were a picture of Bobby Evans, a programme from Seville and an actual match ticket from Lisbon. On his lapel was a badge with the crest of the team which had played such a prominent role in his 75 years of life. His moods had been dictated by their results and his greatest moments of joy were those days when they brought more honours back to Celtic Park or skelped their biggest rivals. The drink flowed on those occasions, as did the stories and songs. Aunt Bernie led the Rosary by his coffin before the women filed into the living room for tea and a chat, leaving the men alone with Paddy. They stayed to pay their own tribute to Paddy Brennan, Celtic fan, father, grandfather and one of the good guys. My brother Joe gathered us around his coffin and said ‘Right men, let’s send Paddy off in the way he’d want’ To my surprise he began to sing…
‘Hail Hail, the Celts are here, what the hell do we care, what the hell do we care….’
Everyone joined in and the words of that familiar song echoed off the walls of the late Paddy Brennan’s home. He would have liked that. Later as we discussed what to do with his ashes following the cremation, my brother told us that he was going to sprinkle them over the pitch at Celtic Park. ‘I phoned them,’ he informed us, ‘and they said no chance. But just try and fucking stop me!’ he said emphatically. He filled us in on his plans and we listened carefully. When he finished speaking he looked at us and we nodded. ‘It might just work,’ I said.
The following day we gave Paddy a send of he’d have loved at a packed St Roch’s where he’d attended mass, man and boy. The funny stories of his adventures following Celtic brought laughter to many a tear stained face during a fitting celebration of his life. We sang the old hymns he loved so much and as the cortege headed for the crematorium a large crowd applauded him off on his last journey. Well, his second last journey if our plans for his ashes came to fruition. The brief service at Daldowie crematorium passed quickly and there were more tears but pride too in a life well lived. My brother returned to the funeral car with a box containing Paddy’s ashes. ‘Wednesday it is boys!’ he smiled ‘Let’s make it happen!’
The following week dragged past but eventually the appointed day arrived, the day Paddy’s ashes were returning to Paradise. Barcelona were in town on Champions League Business and it seemed a fitting occasion for our final tribute. It was also Celtic’s 125th Anniversary and things were set for a great night at Celtic Park. We gathered at a Bar in the Gallowgate, my brother clutching Paddy’s ashes to his chest and proposing toasts to his memory. The beer was flowing but as the designated driver, I was to remain sober. The bar rocked and seethed for 2 hours before the game as those in attendance drank and sang their hearts out. At 7pm we headed along the Gallowgate to Celtic Park. The crowds were packed around the turnstiles and this helped Joe smuggle the ashes into the Jock Stein stand under his coat. We took our seats and Joe, a bit the worse for drink, was actually talking to Paddy’s ashes, ‘See Da, nothing is gonnae stop us now, we’re on the road again!’ He scanned the yellow coated stewards who were lined up along the trackside. ‘Where is that big bastard,’ he said unkindly referring to a workmate who was on duty among the stewards that night of nights. ‘There he is!’ he pointed to a large, stout, red faced young man who was scanning the crowd apparently looking for Joe. ‘You blind ya fanny?’ Joe shouted with a smile on his face heading to the front of the stand to exchange a few words with his friend. They conspired for some minutes before parting with a handshake. Joe returned to his seat beside us, ‘On the final whistle he’s heading to the toilet at our block and I’m meeting him there. He’s lending me his big coat and I’m over the wall with the ashes when it’s quiet.’ A simple enough plan but would it work?
The festivities started with a huge display which covered the entire stadium in green and white. Joe was still talking to the ashes, ‘Ye see that Da? Fuckin magic eh?’ he shouted at the urn. It was indeed awe inspiring to behold such a sight. I hoped that wherever my Da was that he could see it. The game got underway as the atmosphere fair crackled in the chill November air. Then it happened. A Mulgrew corner at the opposite of the stadium end was met by the onrushing Wanyama and the ball nestled in the back of the Barcelona net. Parkhead erupted like a volcano! ‘Yaaasss!!’ roared Joe ‘Ya fuckin beauty!’ In his excitement he let the urn fly from his hand and it landed four rows down! ‘Daaa!’ he roared in horror climbing the seat to the row in front as he sought to retrieve it only to be hugged by a stout man still deliriously celebrating Victor’s goal. ‘Get yer hauns aff me fur fuck’s sake, I need tae get my Da!’ shouted Joe, stumbling over another row of seats. I watched as he disappeared from view scrabbling on the ground trying to retrieve the urn. Eventually as the crowd settled a little he reappeared. His coat was torn and he looked a little demented but he had the urn. He held it aloft like the European Cup, ‘Yaaaas! Got ye Da!’ The game ebbed and flowed to its frantic finale. The siege on Celtic’s goal was like the Alamo at times but the Bhoys held out and then it happened again! Tony Watt raced onto a long kick out from Forster and smashed it into the net. Joe was almost hysterical by now. ‘Ye see that Da, ye fuckin see that?, that wiz fur you!’ As full time, neared Joe headed for the toilet as planned. He missed Messi’s late goal and the heart stopping final moments of that epic game. It was probably for the best as he was a man on the edge by then! The final whistle came and was greeted by a huge roar. We sang and cheered for a while longer and eventually the elated home crowd began to depart. After 15 minutes the stadium was fairly empty apart from the Barcelona fans and a few tardy Hoops supporters. It was then Joe appeared in a yellow Steward’s coat 4 sizes too big for him. We watched him head down the stairs towards the pitch with our hearts in our mouths. Another Steward looked at him and was about to intercept him when I roared at him ‘Here you specky! Was that no brilliant tonight?’ The older Steward was momentarily distracted and that was all Joe needed. He hopped the barrier and was walking the hallowed turf towards the centre circle. I watched as he stopped near the centre spot. Just then the players and trainers of Barcelona returned to the field to begin their post-match warm down. Joe watched them approach as he unzipped his oversized coat and took out the urn. One of the players looked at him quizzically. Noticing his Celtic Scarf hanging under the coat. Joe unscrewed the urn and shouted to the player, pointing to the container ‘Here, Iniesta, this is wan of the best guys that ever walked the fuckin earth.’ The little midfielder looked at him and shrugged, not understanding. Joe began to shake the ashes onto the pitch and the little Catalan seemed to comprehend what was going on. Joe completed his task and looked at the small pile of ashes as they began to scatter in the chill November wind. ‘There ye go Da, I’ll see you in a better place,’ he said. He looked at the small footballer still watching him from 10 yards away. The little midfield general nodded knowingly and smiled slightly before blessing himself and jogging off to complete his warm down with his team mates. Paddy was home. Home in Paradise and Joe was a happy man.