Saturday, 30 March 2013

The More Things Change…

The League Cup Final of 2011 came soon after the so called ‘Shame game’ at Celtic Park during which three Rangers players were sent off and the away support indulged in an orgy of sectarian and racist singing. The media and Scottish Politicians went into mock-shock mode and bleated that something must be done about the big bad ‘Old Firm.’ This ‘Old Firm’ tag was used despite the fact that Celtic FC and their fans were guilty of nothing more than actually being at the ‘shame’ game. So we trotted along to Hampden safe in the knowledge that a posse of Politicians and churchmen were in the main stand to observe the game. What we witnessed that day was truly astonishing. Despite knowing they were under the spotlight, the Rangers (in Liquidation) fans treated them to bile such as the ‘Famine song’ and the ‘Billy Boys’ throughout the game and generally disgraced their club and the sport. Astonishingly, SNP Justice Minister, Kenny McAskill, stated after the game that it had been a great occasion and a credit to Scottish football. Those of us who follow Celtic were astounded at his apparent deafness to the sectarianism and racism which poured from the Rangers end for most of the game. The Police too had promised not to tolerate such vile behaviour that day and yet stood back and did nothing. They even praised the fans for their behaviour on the day!  Why are sections of Scottish society deaf to this dreadful racism and yet feel it appropriate to over react big time when the Green Brigade march to Celtic Park?

Let me take you back about 90 years. In 1924 Celtic were losing their way. Bill Struth was building a powerful and occasionally brutal team at Ibrox who were determined to dominate Scottish football. His tenure at Ibrox coincided with the Club’s decision to ban Roman Catholic players from representing the Club and is a major stain on his record. Rangers came to Celtic Park that year and beat Celtic 2-1 in a game described by the press of the day as being marked by Rangers decision to stop Celtic using any means necessary including the ‘most crude of tactics.’ What stuck in the throat of the Catholic Press of the time was the manner in which the Police stood and watched the away fans indulge in sectarian singing and made no attempt to intervene. To modern Celtic fans the language used in the press report from the Catholic Observer is as amusing as it is biased but the message, that the blue hordes seem to get away with anything, is clear. Consider this colourful description of the Rangers fans of 1924…

‘On the terraces at the Dalmarnock end on Saturday was congregated a gang, thousands strong, including the dregs and scourings of filthy slumdom, unwashed yahoos, jailbrirds, night hawks, won’t works, buroo barnacles and pavement pirates. All of them in the scarecrow stage of verminous trampdom. This ragged army of insanitary pests was lavishly provided with orange and blue remnants and these were flaunted in challenge as the football tide flowed this way and that. Practically without cessation for 90 minutes or more the vagabond scum kept up a strident howl of the  ‘Boyne water’ chorus. Nothing so designedly provoking, so maliciously insulting, or so bestially ignorant has ever been witnessed even in the wildest exhibitions of Glasgow Orange bigotry. Blatantly filthy language of the lowest criminal type assaulted and shocked ears of decent onlookers.  There was no getting away from it, chanted as it was by thousands of voices in bedlamite yells. The stentorian use of filthy language is a crime against the law of the land. Policemen lined the track and listened to the hooligan uproar, yet nothing was done to stop it. The Scandal was renewed with increased violence on London Road after the match. Is it possible that the blue mob can do just about anything and get away with it? Prompt official steps were taken to suppress and prosecute the Green Brake Club lads (Celtic fans) who dared sing ‘Dear little Shamrock’ in Paisley Road. Yet thousands of foul-mouthed and blasphemous Orange ruffians are free to run amok in the East end of Glasgow! How do you account for it?’

                          (Glasgow Observer, 1st November 1924)

Amid the hyperbole and insulting language used to describe the Rangers fans of the period there is an underlying feeling that  the ‘Blue Mob’ were allowed to sing their bigoted songs with impunity while the ‘Green Brake Club Lads’ were subject to harsher treatment if they sang Irish ballads.  Those of you who witnessed the last ever Old Firm game at Celtic Park in April 2012 when Celtic won 3-0 will recall the vile songs pouring from the Oldco Rangers end that day as the Police watched and did nothing. Compare this to the inexcusable denial of freedom to walk the streets the Green Brigade suffered at the Gallowgate and you would be tempted to ask if things have changed much since 1924? Why is a law which most people thought would target sectarian and racist behaviour at football being used to persecute fans guilty of nothing more than occasional expressions of Irishness or Republicanism? Neither is a crime yet the ‘Pest Control’ section of Strathclyde Police harass them vigorously. Simultaneously there seems to be little action when it comes to tackling the ongoing problem with the Newco away support who regularly treat us to songs that would not be out of place in the dark and ignorant days of 1924.

The 2011 League cup final and the 1924 Old Firm game had one thing in common. In both cases chanting of the vilest kind was ignored by the Police. The 1924 press report puts it like this, ‘Policemen lined the track and listened to the hooligan uproar, yet nothing was done to stop it.’ If laws designed to eradicate such chanting at football are to be worth the paper they’re written on then they must be applied fairly and aimed at the actual offences they seek to target. Expressions of Irishness are not sectarian despite some attempting to claim this. Criminalising any such expressions is in itself an act of intolerance.  In the case of the Green Brigade, it seems to me that Strathclyde Police are using a sledgehammer to crack at nut when it would be better aimed at the real bigotry which still hangs around sectors of Scottish society like a bad smell.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Gone but never forgotten

On a fairly bright spring evening in the early 90s, I travelled to Fir Park to watch Celtic take on Motherwell. Half an hour before the game got underway the two teams trotted out for their pre-match warm up and stretches. Davie Cooper was among the Motherwell players that day and he trotted to the end occupied by Celtic fans with the ball at his feet. A few shouted predictable abuse at the former Rangers player as he stopped the ball 25 yards from the empty goal. He chipped the ball towards the empty net and it struck the cross bar. Howls of derision came from some of the Celtic fans, ‘Ye couldny even score in an empty net ya tadger!’ one fan roared. Cooper re-spotted the ball, chipped it again and struck the cross bar again. He did this 5 times in succession. The derision stopped and if he didn’t receive any applause at least there was grudging respect for a player who could play the game with grace and skill.  Today, March 23rd is the anniversary of Cooper’s passing at the young age of 39.

You may wonder why a blogger who bleeds green and white is writing about Davie Cooper. I do this as a mark of respect to an excellent footballer and in doing so call to mind all of those great players we loved or loved to hate who died too soon. There was the elegance of Tommy Burns which is forever etched on the minds of those of us who saw him play. The box to box running of the tireless Phil O’Donnell inspired those around him to match his energy levels and commitment. The guts and sheer desire to do well for the club he loved marked out Johnny Doyle as a true Celt. The magic of Jimmy Johnstone, who on his game, was virtually unplayable. Then of course there was the great John Thompson, taken in such a tragic and public way. All of these Celtic men graced the Hoops and we are thankful for all they did for Celtic. We cherish memory and know that as long as there is a Celtic FC they will be honoured.

Of course every Club has had its share of tragedy. It is the nature of life. The Busby Babes were decimated in that awful air crash in Munich in 1958. The great Torino team which won the Italian title from 1945-1949 was completely wiped out when their plane crashed returning from a game in Lisbon. Among the dead was club captain Valentino Mazzola who left a young son Sandro, who later played for Inter Milan against Celtic in Lisbon 1967. We have also lost players such as Bobby McKean (Rangers), Mikhlos Ferer (Benfica), Marc Vivian Foe (Cameroon) and Antonio Puerta (Seville FC). I am sure you could all name more from the amateur and professional game.

All of this isn’t written to depress you, rather it is a reminder to cherish the memory of those we enjoyed watching play this great game of ours. If some choose to sing moronic songs about them then they are a disgrace to themselves and whatever team they follow. I never met Davie Cooper but I did admire his skill. If history had been different he could have been a Celtic great but he chose to play for the team he supported as a boy when he left Clydebank. In 1979 he scored perhaps the most skillful goal ever seen in an Old Firm game.  A sunny Hampden Park was the scene for the Dryborough Cup competition and 60,000 fans saw a game which in fairness Rangers deserved to win. Cooper was at his mesmeric best and in the second half controlled a pass at the edge of the Celtic box. As the nearest Celtic defender rushed at him he coolly lobbed the ball over him. A second defender raced to block the danger and without the ball touching the ground was also lobbed. Amazingly he did the same to a third Celtic defender before smashing the ball home. It was an amazing goal and should you doubt my description of it, it can still be seen on Youtube.

The point of this blog today is to point out that some things are bigger than our petty rivalries. Bill Shankley’s assertion that ‘Football was more important than life and death,’ was simply wrong. I’m sure the Hillsborough families would agree with me on that. Celtic fans are great at respecting the memory of players lost too soon. I know 99.9% of them would never indulge in tasteless singing about those lost. I’ve had the privilege to watch some great players over the years and have stood shoulder to shoulder with Celtic fans who on occasion have muttered things such , ‘That was bloody great play, pity he’s a hun!’  The rivalry was intense but the majority knew a player when they saw one. There may be one or two of you out there who disagree with what I’ve said today and that’s your choice but I’ll finish by saying a thank you to all the great players who entertained me over the years and especially to those who were taken too soon. We won't forget. God Bless you all.

Rest in Peace
Tommy Burns
Johnny Doyle
Jimmy Johnstone
John Thompson
Phil O’Donnell
Davie Cooper


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Semper Vigilo

Glasgow can be a rough town at times. Today I watched a video on YouTube which showed two burly men grab a teenager, who was doing nothing which could be construed as offensive, and wrestle him to the ground. If I had carried out such an unprovoked act, I would expect to be charged with common assault. The two burly men won’t be charged though with anything because they were dressed in the uniforms of Strathclyde Police. Watching this behaviour took me back to darker, less enlightened days when such occurrences were the norm…

Those of you of a certain vintage will well remember the days when football fans were treated like cattle. Policing of games in the era before all seated stadia was robust and occasionally brutal. I recall well the infamous ‘Janefield Street Riot’ of the 1980s when the crowd leaving a midweek Celtic v Rangers game was charged without any provocation I could see by mounted units of Strathclyde Police. Janefield Street had houses on both sides in those days and was a narrow funnel for Celtic fans leaving the old Celtic end. The sight of four huge horses charging through the densely packed crowd caused near panic and people were trampled by fellow fans as they scrambled to escape. Walls on one side of the street collapsed under the sheer weight of humanity trying to escape the horses. I saw one fan lying helpless on the ground as his wheelchair was overturned in the crush. Only timely and brave action by a few fans who dragged him to safety prevented him being seriously injured. By the time the Police reached the Stadium end of the street, the fear and panic had turned to anger. As the horses turned and began to charge again some of the younger element among the Celtic support prepared to meet them with bricks from the collapsed wall. A virtual riot ensued although in truth it was hard to decide who were the forces of law and order that night and who were the rioters, as the mounted Police, joined by colleagues on foot lashed out with their batons, feet and fists at anyone who crossed their path. On that evening some fought back, some watched in horror and some chanted ‘SS RUC’ at the Police. It was a shameful episode in the history of Policing in Scotland and despite protests from the Club and hundreds of letters to MPs and newspapers nothing was done.

These events occurred in an era when Judges, Magistrates and the press automatically believed Police versions of events without question. Football fans were thought of as unintelligent, drunken louts for the most part. One only has to read accounts from those days of the framing of the Guilford four, Birmingham six or Giuseppe Conlon to realize that some elements of the Police thought themselves above the law. It was an era when few working class communities assisted the police as they saw them as negative influences on their lives, enemies even. Policing has moved on since then and is more intelligent than it was. It is more rooted in communities and tries hard to engage with the people it serves, the people who pay their wages via their taxes. Strathclyde Police work under the motto ‘Keeping People Safe.’ Did they live up to that motto on the Gallowgate on Saturday?  Around 100 members of the Green Brigade were ‘Kettled’ and roughed up for nothing more than walking the Streets of their home city. Those who were not trapped in the ‘kettle’ (especially those filming events) were forced away from the incident by ‘Public Servants’ wielding batons and behaving in an aggressive manner. Enough video footage of these events appeared on YouTube to build up a clear picture of what occurred. Why are the police harassing the Green Brigade in this manner? They allowed 7000 fans of the now defunct Rangers FC to march unimpeded to Hampden last year with barely a Police officer in sight. They allow Fascist groups, Orange Parades, spontaneous ‘Union Fleg’ Demos at the City Chambers and yet feel obliged to call in 200 Officers, a helicopter, Police dogs and horses for 100 non-violent Celtic fans? It’s not as if Celtic fans marching along the Gallowgate to a home game is something unusual?
We live in a supposedly democratic country where the right to assemble, free speech and even the right to demonstrate are protected and viewed as pillars of a free society. Something more sinister is going on here as the treatment of the Green Brigade is not proportionate to the threat they pose. They have not been involved in any major disorder at football or on our streets yet a pattern of harassment is emerging which is at once worrying and puzzling.  The Green Brigade warned fans in advance about likely Police tactics and advised them not to react to provocation. Those of you who have read my blogs in the past know that I have not always agreed with the Green Brigade’s song book but I do admire the thunder they bring to games. As fellow Celtic fans we should all be asking what the hell our Police Force is doing. These are people paid and employed by the tax payer to uphold the law not to over react and treat football fans as potential rioters.  Our club should be pro-active too in protecting the interests of their fans.

It is to the Green Brigade’s credit that they didn’t take the bait and respond to this Police aggression with violence. That would be playing right into their hands and the Green Brigade need to be intelligent enough to see that. During the ‘Battle of Janefield Street’ in the 1980s, some fought back with bricks and fists. One has to worry that if this harassment and intimidation goes on some of this generation of Celtic fans will choose to fight back in such a manner. I would urge then not to use bricks or fists, but video cameras, lawyers and above all their brains. The forces of law and order cannot be above the law they claim to uphold. We have reached a stage where we need answers from the Police, the politicians and Celtic Football Club about what exactly is going on here.

The old motto on the cap badges of Strathclyde Police reads ‘Semper Vigilo.’ This translates from Latin as ‘Always  Vigilant.’ Perhaps the time has come for all Celtic fans to be vigilant and note the treatment of our fellow supporters by the Police Force we pay for.

Postscript: Statement by Celtic FC Monday 18th March:  

‘’The safety and well-being of Celtic supporters  is of paramount importance to the club. The club is very concerned to see imagery of Saturday’s march by members of the Green Brigade from Gallowgate to Celtic Park., and subsequent claims by supporters of police harassment and heavy-handed policing. This is an issue the club takes very seriously. Once again we would urge any supporter who feels they have been a victim of such harassment to contact the club with details by using the following email address:  in order that we can formally raise such matters with Strathclyde Police.

We should remind supporters that the club has set up a working group, which is independently chaired, to establish a complaints review panel to oversee the complaints process and improve transparency.

Any suggestion of collusion between the club and Strathclyde Police is frankly, ludicrous. The Celtic support has a long and well established reputation for good behaviour and everyone is very proud of that and keen that it continues. In the meantime we will be writing to the Chief Constable to ask for a full report on Saturday’s Events.’’ 

Celtic's statement is welcome if overdue. It's about time they stood up for their fans. They must never forget that it is the fans who make Celtic the club they are by giving so much of their time, money and affection to Celtic. The very least the Club can do is to ensure they are treated in the right manner and to be first in line asking why when they aren't.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Invisible People

The Invisible People

The harsh wind blown rain of the day had been replaced at dusk by a soft drizzle which floated lazily out of the brooding Glasgow sky. A thousand grey puddles reflected the lights of the night city in shades of orange and yellow. Someone had once joked that Glaswegians had a hundred names for rain, just as Eskimos supposedly had a hundred names for snow. Young Frankie McCarthy had no time for such thoughts though as he hurried home through the darkening streets. He was returning from an important errand and his feet splashed carelessly through the puddles. He didn’t want to miss any of the party and was a little disappointed that his father should have asked him to undertake such an errand on a wet, windy night like this, and more importantly a night when all the McCarthy clan were gathered.

 He could feel the slim, smooth outline of the long playing record which he had placed inside his coat to keep it dry.  He pressed his arm more tightly against his body lest the LP should slip from his grasp and increased his speed. He wanted to be home and he ran the last few yards into the dark close.  He quietly knocked the door and when it opened by his father, he was struck immediately by the blue pall of cigarette smoke which hung in the air like the aftermath of a gas attack in the trenches. A wave of noise and laughter assaulted his ears; it was a sound he always associated with such family gatherings. It surprised him that the big heavy front door kept most of this sound in so well. Indeed, from the close no one would have guessed that virtually the whole McCarthy family this side of the Irish Sea were gathered in the small tenement flat.

 His father, looking and sounding a little the worse for drink enquired earnestly, ‘Did ye get it?’ whilst simultaneously  scanning his first born like a store detective looking for stolen goods. Frankie smiled and like a clumsy magician opened his coat and produced a thin cardboard sleeve which contained a 12 inch vinyl LP.  His father reverently took the LP from him as if it were the host at communion and turning the sleeve scanned the back to see what songs were on it. Frankie noticed that, unlike before, his father’s tie was now hung loosely around his neck and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. He could also smell the unmistakable scent of whisky.  ‘When does Spud want it back?’ his father enquired in a low voice without taking his eyes from the precious album. ‘He said Monday’s fine,’ Frankie replied hanging his coat on the rail in the hallway. ‘Yer a wee star Frankie boy,’ his father said patting his son’s head and turning to enter the crowded, noisy living room.

Frankie followed his father into the smoky room in which more than 2 dozen of the McCarthy clan and their various in-laws were gathered for his parent’s anniversary party. They sat around the room on a bewildering variety of chairs, some smoking or laughing, others in seemingly deep, animated conversation. His mother, busy as always refilling glasses, distributing sandwiches and emptying the ashtrays, caught his eye and smiled at him. He implored her with his eyes, begging to be allowed to stay up a while and listen to the stories and legends of the McCarthy clan. She nodded and mouthed silently ’11 O’clock.’ Frankie smiled, nodded to her and scanned the room for his Grandfather.  At 13, he knew he was already up past his usual bedtime, but he loved talking to his Grandfather and besides hadn’t he gone all the way down to Spud Murphy’s to borrow the LP his Da had spoken about so much?

Old Pat McCarthy, the family patriarch, was in his early 70s and sat in a chair by the fire surveying the room and smoking an ancient black pipe that was, seemingly, always lit. He sported a thick head of carefully parted grey hair and a physique which suggested long years of hard manual work. He was still a strong man in every sense of the word but the self assurance this offered him allowed him to sport a calm, almost gentle demeanour. Even as a young child Frankie recognised the natural authority of his Grandfather and noticed how the other adults of the family sought his opinion and advice on matters of importance. Frankie wandered over and gently touched the old man’s hand. ‘Can ah get ye a drink Granda?’ The Old man looked fondly at his Grandson and without speaking, handed him a half pint tumbler with a small almost imperceptible smile. Frankie squeezed past his Father, who was carrying a small case which contained the family’s portable record player, to the erstwhile kitchen table which had, for tonight, been set up against one wall of the living room and seemed replete with all manner of bottles, cans and glasses. Frankie couldn’t help notice that his Mother had arranged the cans of lager in such a manner that the scantily clad young women adorning the cans were turned to face the wall. He asked his Mother to refill the old man’s glass. As she poured a rich, brown liquid into the glass and handed it back to her son she said, ‘Mind Frankie, 11 O’clock, no later.’ He nodded, turning away from her with the glass carefully held in his right hand, ‘Aye Ma.’

Frankie wandered back towards his Grandfather, careful not to kick over any of the drinks or bottles sitting at the feet of his various relatives. He gave the glass to the silver haired old man and was pleased when his Granddad patted the arm of his chair for Frankie to sit. ‘Whatever is your Father up to now?’ the old man said in his soft Irish accent. ‘He’s got an LP he wants us tae hear,’ Frankie replied, ‘I think he’s setting up the record player.’ The old man nodded and took a long sip at his drink.  At that point the somewhat slurred voice of his father cut above the chatter, ‘Right, a bit of order, noo.’ The room quietened as Frankie’s father went on, ‘See if yeez recognise any o’ these songs.’ He placed the arm of the record player carefully down on the spinning vinyl disk and sat smiling on a vacant chair beside the record player. A quiet scratching sound emitted from the front of the machine before an accordion was heard and then a melancholy Irish voice, filled the room with, what to Frankie’s young ears anyway, was an enchanting, almost mystical sound…

‘It was early, early, all in the spring
The small birds whistled and did sweetly sing
Changing their notes from tree to tree
And the song they sang was old Ireland free’

Frankie watched the faces of his relatives and noticed that, for the most part, their carefree chatter and laughter had given way to quiet reflection as they listened to the song. The music seemed to have transported them out of 1970s Glasgow to some other place. A few hummed or quietly joined in with the song and Frankie saw his mother whisper something in his father’s ear, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling. Frankie knew she was reminding him that the family upstairs were unlikely to appreciate his choice of music. Frankie saw his father nod and reaching towards the record player reduced the volume a little. Then, as she left the room laden with glasses, he returned the volume to its previous setting.

As the song flowed through the room like some melodic stream, Frankie turned and murmured quietly to his Grandfather, ‘What’s that song about Granda?’ The old man sucked on his pipe and blew some stale smelling smoke into the already heavy atmosphere of the room. ‘It’s about the sad times in the Old Country,’ he said. Frankie knew that his family originated in Donegal but, these gatherings apart, it was seldom obvious. He remembered once when his father had been involved in an altercation with a man in a bar who objected to him singing an Irish ballad. He had returned home with his clothes torn and blood on his face. His Grandfather had told him in quiet firm tones that Irishness in Scotland needed to be worn like a tattoo and not a badge; it needed to be hidden under your shirt. ‘Why?’ his Father had enquired, ‘It’s not a problem in America or Australia or even bloody England, is it?  The old man had looked at him sternly, ‘Well, it’s a bloody problem here son, remember that.’

Frankie watched and listened as the night wore on, he always felt as if something meaningful happened at these events. It was as if his family were being themselves for a few brief hours and that the people he saw and knew from their every day lives were more constrained, more controlled. Maybe that’s what alcohol did, maybe that was its function, helping people to be themselves? When the music stopped pouring out of the little record player on the table, his relatives began to sing. There was recognised etiquette, about such things. No one joined in unless the song specifically demanded it, no one sang a song they knew to be the favourite of another and each female singer was followed by a male until every adult in the room had sung. Proceedings were begun by his aunt Bernie, who sang in a clear and not unattractive voice…

‘Blow me a kiss from across the street
Tell me I’m nice when I’m not
A line a day, when you’re far away
Little things mean a lot’

Her attentive audience smiled and followed every word, some of the women quietly joining in at appropriate moments. Not too loudly though, as that might detract from the singer’s moment in the spotlight. She finished the song to rousing applause and someone shouted ‘Right, it’s a man’s turn noo.’ Frankie’s father needed no further invitation and closing his eyes began to sing…

‘A great crowd had gathered outside old Kilmainham
Their heads all uncovered, they knelt to the ground
For inside that grim prison, a true son of Erin
His life for his country about to lay down’

There was stony silence as he continued and unlike the previous song, this one seemed to touch a deeper chord for the listeners. Frankie noticed his Mother slip back into the room and looking at her husband, she raised her eyebrows in that warning fashion of hers. Frankie had learned that his mother could say much without words. She was in her own surreptitious way warning his father to keep it down and remember the neighbours. His father, eyes closed, continued the song seemingly oblivious to her warnings, though most of the other woman in the room recognised the signals. He went on…

‘God’s curse on you England, you’re a cruel hearted monster
Your deeds they would shame all the Devil’s in hell
There are no flowers growing but the Shamrock is Blooming
On the Grave of James Connolly, the Irish Rebel.’

When he had finished and Frankie’s cousin began a modern pop song, his mother caught his father’s eye mother nodded towards the kitchen, ‘Give me hand with this, Frank, will ye?’  Frankie watched his father resignedly followed her to the kitchen to receive his chastisement. Maybe he thought it was worth it? Frankie wondered sometimes about who they were. Were they Scottish or Irish or some mixture of both?

11 O’clock came and went and despite trying to avoid his Mother’s searching gaze, Frankie was ordered to bed. He hugged his grandfather and said goodnight to the assembled clan before slipping from the room. He lay, wide awake in the dark listening to the songs and laughter from the living room. Beside him, his younger brother Kevin snored soundly, oblivious to it all. Frankie looked around the dark room and discerned in the gloom the outline of his football posters, stuck in neat ordered rows on the bedroom walls. His father went to see Celtic most weeks and always bought the Citizen newspaper on a Saturday for the free posters of the players. Frankie quietly ran through the names of the players in the team group photo as if counting sheep, ‘Brogan, McNeill, Wallace, Murdoch, Johnston, Hood…’ The last thing he recalled before sleep took him was his Mother’s voice saying, ‘That’s yer taxi, Bernie.

The following afternoon the rain had relented and Frankie joined his friends playing football on a patch of grass opposite his tenement block. The scrubby grass was still wet and slippery but this enhanced rather than detracted from the game. The outline of a goal had been painted onto the gable end of the tenement adjoining the pitch and the artist who painted it had thoughtfully followed the line of bricks ensuring a fairly straight and accurate representation of a goal. Everyone wanted to shoot towards the ‘Gabie’ end because the ball rebounded back into play whereas at the opposite end, a shot at goal usually ended up on the road and the ball had to be fetched by whoever kicked it last. Frankie was joined by seven other boys including ‘Archie’ from upstairs. Archie wasn’t his real name though; he was nicknamed ‘Archie’ in honour of a well-known football commentator from the TV sports show because of his continual habit of commentating on games as he took part in them. His real name was Ian Campbell and Frankie liked him, he was funny and unaggressive, although he was less sure about his brusque father.

As the 4 a sided game was about to begin, Archie was already in full flow. ‘The teams are lined up ready for this cup final, Campbell the star player of the good looking team is sure to score a few today.’ As play began, Frankie raced towards ‘Archie’ but was easily fooled by some clever dribbling, ‘Campbell easily beats the flat footed Frankie from downstairs’ As Archie raced towards the painted goal he sidestepped another challenge, ‘He rounds specky Derek and is through on goal, what a player he is!’ Frankie watched amused as Archie slammed the ball into the goal past a startled and frightened looking goalkeeper and continued to commentate as he took his bow before an imaginary crowd. ‘Yes young Campbell has scored again, how long can the Scotland manager ignore this great talent?’  The game continued in this vein for a good half hour before a husky voice called from first floor tenement window, ‘Ian, get yer arse up here.’ It was his father.  The game was over for Archie for today, he knew better than to keep his father waiting. ‘See ye later, Frankie’ he said. Frankie smiled and nodded as Archie jogged across the street still commentating, ‘And as young Campbell is substituted he rightly receives the applause of this huge crowd…’ Frankie could hear him impersonate the roar of the crowd as he disappeared into the close.

Frankie and the others continued playing for a while minus their commentator. Derek, a nervous, skinny boy with round wire NHS spectacles and dark deep set eyes which made him look like a cross between John Lennon and the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, said with a nod towards the tenement behind them, ‘Check oot fuckin bonnie Prince Charlie.’ Frankie turned to see Archie and his father emerge from the close. His father, a tall red faced bull of a man, carried a plastic bag under his arm, while a clearly embarrassed Archie sported a royal blue suit with a double row of silver buttons on the jacket. The neatly pressed trousers were replete with a red stripe down the outside of each leg. On his head he wore a Glengarry cap topped off with a large feather. Frankie thought he looked like he was off to fight at Waterloo. In his hand he had a bright silver flute. ‘Aff tae the walk.’ Derek quietly said, ‘There’s a big parade in the toon the day.’ Frankie waved at Archie but his erstwhile football companion pretended not to see him and hurried after his farther.

Later that day Frankie and his mother walked down the hill past the hospital, past that last survivor of medieval Glasgow, the dirty old cathedral and on into the City centre. They could hear the shrill noise of flutes in the distance and the dull ‘thump, thump, thump’ of drums floated in the air like distant artillery on a First World War battlefield. They were going into town to buy Frankie new shoes and his mother’s tense, silent air suggested that she’d rather get it over with quickly. ‘Mind now, Frank’ she said, ‘Get a decent pair quickly and we’ll get the bus home before the Walk comes back.’ Frankie was unsure about how the big parade and his trip to a shoe shop were linked but he nodded anyway.

They crossed George Square and headed down towards Argyll Street. As they reached the busy thoroughfare, a noisy crowd of young men surged past them. They were drinking from large green bottles and sounded pretty drunk. They were singing a song Frankie didn’t know but it sounded aggressive and challenging, like some of the chants he heard at the football. His mother held his hand tightly and deftly stepped into the nearest shop, which Frankie was surprised to see, sold expensive men’s suits.  They gazed with a few other refugees from Argyle Street out of the shop window as a few Policemen attempted to herd the noisy group further along the street. One of the group, a tall gangling teenager draped in a union jack, struggled with two of the policemen before being dragged from Frankie’s sight. An elderly man with a walking stick and a distinct smell of beer about him watched the unruly scene from behind Frankie and his mother and mumbled, ‘Ought to ban the lot of these bloody Parades, nothing but drunken troublemakers.’ The shopkeeper, a dapper man in his 50s with a neat little moustache that would have suited Errol Flynn, ignored his rather coarse remark and attempted to return the day to some sort of normality, ‘Can I help you Sir?’ he enquired expectantly in a polite tone. The old man looked at him with a weary, bleary eye, ‘Aye,’ he replied, ‘you can phone me a fuckin’ taxi.’ It appeared that he too was merely sheltering from the storm outside and not looking for a new Italian suit.


Thursday, 7 March 2013


There is an old cricketing saying which runs…

’’And when that great marker comes to mark against your name, he cares not if you won or lost but how you played the game.’’

So how have Celtic played the game in Europe this year? Last night in Turin Celtic played a team which cost more than 10 times the  Celtic starting 11. The Hoops were brave, battling and created chances in an intimidating area where Juve are all but invincible. They lost but were not humbled, not humiliated and they looked a good team in parts. This wasn’t one of the feeble away performances we’ve seen in the days when we couldn’t buy a good result away from home in Europe. Our away form prior to this season was truly appalling. This season Lennon’s emerging young team won in Helsinki, Helsingborgs and Moscow. They also came close to an excellent result in Barcelona. A decent display in Turin was undone by the clinical finishing of Juventus when compared to the wastefulness of our strikers in front of goal. In their defence, Celtic faced a defence as formidable as any in Europe. Italian’s know how to defend. It could be argued that the only poor performance of this campaign was the defeat in Lisbon which had echoes of our old euro form. Our home form remained solid with good performances in all the games. Even the 0-3 scoreline against Juventus at Celtic Park disguised a decent display during which poor finishing and individual errors crucified us. Then there was Barcelona at Celtic Park. Anyone who witnessed that game will remember that magical evening all their lives.

Lennon’s tactical approach is more pragmatic at times and he  received undue flak for the possession stats against Barcelona. Stats which were mirrored at the Chelsea v Barcelona tie in London last season. Few UK based pundits moaned when Chelsea picked Barcelona’s pockets to knock them out. Lennon rightly says that he does set out to attack teams but the quality of the opposition in the Champions League often means that they deprive Celtic of possession for long periods and this can lead to spells of pressure for the opposition, even at Celtic Park. Celtic are unused to this in the SPL and adapted well in most games. All in all Europe has been brilliant for Celtic on many levels this season. It raised the club’s profile and enhanced our fans reputation. It earned the club at least £20m in much needed revenue. It showcased our players around Europe and increased the value of a few of them. To be honest it also kept a rather drab domestic season interesting through the long winter months. Imagine this season if we’d failed in the preliminary rounds and had no European games? Europe isn’t just important to Celtic now, it’s vital.  It is vital financially, vital to the fans and vital to our reputation. If we are stuck in Scottish football then Champions League football at least every other year is a must.

Lennon must now look to close out the SPL title and win the cup. If this is achieved then we’ll call 2012-13 a memorable season. He must also keep as many of his talented young players at Celtic Park as is possible. Wanyama, Matthews, Forster and Izaguire and especially Hooper are all likely to be tempted by better leagues and more money.  If some do go then Lennon must replace them with players of equal quality. That won’t be easy although the scouting network has been first class so far. The team and whole club must look to progress and make some of the memorable nights we’ve enjoyed in Europe this year a regular feature in the seasons ahead.

This young team has made excellent progress and we should continue to support them and the manager with the usual Celtic passion. We will certainly lose players in the summer but new heroes will emerge and earn  our appreciation too. It has been a very good year in Europe for Celtic despite the wreckage of the Sevco shambles. Let’s emerge from this turbulent period as a stronger, better club. Let’s re-establish ourselves as regulars in the Champions League and enjoy more great nights as we have this season. We are realists, we know the mega rich clubs will dominate the later stages of the ECL but sometimes, just sometimes, Walfrid’s team can still match the big boys and remind them that Glasgow Celtic should not be treated lightly. Well done to the team, manager and fans this season. We pulled together and showed that the Celtic family is alive and well and ready for the future.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Ally McCoist and the School of Bull

Ally McCoist has often been guilty of misrepresenting the facts over the demise of Rangers FC and the fallout it created in Scottish football. His  clever and I feel deliberate confusing of consequences and sanction at the time of the Newco’s entry to the SFL was a classic example of spin which would have Nazi Propaganda Minister, Dr Goebbles smiling. To claim that the footballing authorities had thrown Rangers out of the SPL, banned them from Europe, denied them a Champions League place and relegated them to Division three was bullshit of the breathtaking variety. All of these consequences befell the Newco because they were not the same club as Rangers FC which is in liquidation. This nonsense was pumped out to feed the persecution complex of Bears bewildered by the death of their club and looking for someone to blame. It also helped sell Green’s Newco to them as there is nothing which unifies more than having a common enemy to hate. We expect representatives of club’s to fight their corner but not to indulge in such transparent and easily disproved falsehoods.

This week we saw the long awaited Nimmo-Smith report into dual contracts at Oldco Rangers between 2000-2011.  The old Rangers had, according to Nimmo Smith, blocked and held up the investigation, hidden evidence, willfully held back information and signed in excess of 40 players using side letters which were not disclosed to the SFA as the rules stipulate. This was a massive abuse of the rules and there is little doubt that Nimmo Smith’s guilty verdict was fair and just. When one considers clubs like Spartans and East Stirling were thrown out of the Scottish cup by the SFA for each fielding an improperly registered player, it was astonishing that the Rangers Oldco wasn’t stripped of titles. This bizarre decision has led to Oldco followers punching the air as if they had won the case. The fact is they were guilty as sin of under the counter payments and only that travesty of justice by Nimmo-Smith stopped the right thing being done. It was a shameful decision made about a shameful episode in Scottish football.  The press today is full of quotes from McCoist who claimed (Conveniently after the decision) that he would have quit if titles were stripped. His Diploma from the School of Bull was in evidence as he stated…

“I would never have agreed to something like that.(title stripping) Why would you agree to something when you are 100 per cent certain in your own mind you have not committed any wrongdoing? There has been wrongdoing with respects to the oldco but in terms of stripping titles by effectively cheating that is what we were being accused of. Gaining a sporting advantage – or call it what you will – is cheating and that is the worst thing in the world to accuse any sportsman of.’’

Does McCoist really expect us to believe that players of the calibre of Kloss, Amoruso, Capucho, De Boer, etc would have come to play in the SPL without the inducement of  huge sums of tax free cash in the form of an EBT? It is estimated that almost £50m was paid out to over 40 players using this scheme. All of this information should have been reported to the SFA and was wilfully withheld by the Oldco. It took a raid by the City of London Police to uncover the hidden second contracts. This is no mere ‘Administrative error’ this was worse, much worse. It was a policy of concealment to ensure the footballing authorities had no idea what inducements Oldco Rangers were offering players to join the club or extend their stay in Scotland. If that isn’t seeking to gain an unfair sporting advantage then what is?

McCoist then goes on to make a statement which would be funny if it wasn’t so insulting to the intelligence of the fans of most other Scottish Clubs…

“I will not be holding my breath for an apology. Whether people will be held to account is not for me to say.’

Apology? For a decade of cheating and virtually wrecking Scottish football you feel that you and your club are due an apology? This stretches incredulity to breaking point. The very idea that anyone other than Rangers FC brought this disaster upon themselves is laughable. Only Lord Nimmo-Smith knows how he arrived at his ludicrous decision that no titles should be stripped. Everyone else in the country outside the Newco hordes are shaking their heads in disbelief. This report found Rangers FC guilty of breaching the rules of the SFA on scores of occasions and McCoist wants an apology? Do us a favour Ally, think carefully before you spout such nonsense in the press because most people out here can see through the spin. We’re not the ‘Semi literates’ your colleague Mr Traynor spoke of as he tried to backtrack and contradict opinions he gave when working for the mediocrity that is the Scottish Press. If you want to speak of apologies; how about one for 100 years of discrimination against Catholics? How about one for 100 years of disgusting bigoted songs from your support? How about one for the Deadco bringing chaos and shame to Scottish football? How about one for paying players under the counter and seeking to gain an unfair advantage? Because that’s what it was whatever Nimmo Smith said. No? Thought not.

I guess you didn’t hear the songs being sung when you were a player just as you didn’t hear them at Berwick last week.