Monday, 27 May 2013

The Field of Dreams

Tommy Devlin felt the cold March air caress his face as he pushed open the door of McChuills Bar and stepped out into the darkening High Street. He’d been on some binges in his life but tonight he was as drunk as he’d ever been in his life. ‘Want me tae call ye a taxi, Tam?’  He swung around barely able to focus his eyes on the concerned looking young barman who steadied him with a firm hand on his arm. ‘Naw Pal,‘ Tam drawled, ‘Am walking the night,’ He turned and staggered towards Glasgow cross waving his hand to the barman ‘Catch ye!’  He turned left at Glasgow Cross and headed along the Gallowgate. As he passed the Celtic Bars at the Barras he began to sing in a drunken, slurred voice…

‘Hail Hail, the Celts are here, what the hell do we care, what the hell do we care, Hail Hail, the Celts are here, what the hell do we care now!’

A few friendly faces smiled at him as he passed. A few more watched him pass with looks which could have been pity. Tommy had been a hard drinker since he first drank cheap wine in the graveyard as a 15 year old. In the 20 years since then his life had spiralled downwards. He was drunk most days and when he wasn’t drunk he was scrounging money to get drunk. Friends had melted away, even family had started to close their doors to him. He hadn’t worked in years and his health was deteriorating due his dependence on alcohol. He had lost any purpose in his life and drifted from one drinking session to the next. His one solace in life was his love of Celtic but he had drifted even from that as money got tighter and tickets got more expensive. He hadn’t been to a game in a long time and he missed it. Sometimes it was the only thing which kept him going. As he saw the dark shadow of Celtic Park in the distance, something in Tommy’s drunken head drove him to walk towards it. The brooding Glasgow sky began to shower cold rain on the deserted City as Tommy trudged on. He turned off London Road and staggered up a deserted Kerrydale Street towards the statue of Brother Walfrid. The Irish Priest, cast in bronze, sat silently watching over his flock as he always had. ‘Aw right Fadder,’ Tommy drawled, ‘You were wan ay the best guys who ever walked God’s green Earth, helped a lot ay folk but I’ll tell ye this, ye couldny help me, am past helpin noo.’ As Tommy regarded the silent statue a noise to his left made him turn. A large truck was easing out of the big double doors which opened into the stadium at the junction of main stand and the Jock Stein stand. As it swung past him and headed down Kerrydale Street Tommy wandered up to the still open doors and looked into the Stadium. All was still and quiet as he stood in the doorway taking in the view of the stadium in the dark. The restaurants were all closed and only a few lights illuminated the dark silent cavern of Celtic Park. Whoever was assigned to close the big doors was obviously elsewhere so Tommy wandered into the stadium, walked along the track, opened a small gate and sat in a seat at the front of the Jock Stein stand. It was for him a strangely spiritual moment sitting in the quiet, empty stadium.  It was like sitting in a deserted Cathedral. Tommy closed his eyes, a feeling of calm descending over him. He thought back to earlier times when he came here as a boy with his father. They had stood at the front of the old Celtic end through good times and bad and supported their team. But those days were gone thought Tommy, and so was his Da. ‘I miss ye Da,’ he mumbled to no one in particular as the dark veil of sleep covered him.

‘Are ye all right son?’ a voice with a hint of an Irish accent said as Tommy jolted his eyes open. For a long second his eyes focused as he tried to grasp where he was. He was lying on a grassy bank in the chill air of a bright but cold morning. He looked at the man who had woken him from his slumber, ‘Naw Pal, I’m cold, I need tae get hame.’ Tommy replied. ‘And where might home be young fella?’ the man asked. Tommy’s head was pounding with the mother of all hangovers, ‘I stay on the Gallowgate, near Abercrombie Street. ‘Ah, I know it, let me help you up and I’ll walk with you. I’m going that way myself.’ Tommy stood a little unsteadily and noticed men with shovels and wheelbarrows working away behind the man. ‘Where am I Pal?’ he asked, ‘What are they working on?’ He pointed towards the scores of quiet men beavering away. ‘They’re filling up the holes and old mine workings so the pitch is ready for the Team to play on.’ Tommy was more awake now and noticed the men were dressed in different garb from the norm. Even the kindly Irishman who was speaking to him had a style Tommy hadn’t seen before. He began to wonder where his drunken wanderings had taken him the night before. ‘What team is that?’ asked Tommy a little mystified. ‘My team son, good lads one and all. Now let’s get you home.’ They walked past some of stout labourers wheeling earth towards the uneven ground they were levelling. ‘Morning to ye Father,’ one of them said to Tommy’s companion. Was he a Priest?

As they passed through a wooden gate in the fencing that surrounded building site Tommy could see that he somewhere he hadn’t been before. Chimneys in the distance poured black smoke into the sky and the houses were a mixture of old cottage type dwellings and black decrepit tenements. He could smell bleach, acrid smoke and what he thought was sewage. It was not a pleasant place. Only a few people stirred and Tommy noticed that these people too were dressed in a strangely old fashioned manner. ‘Where are we?’ Tommy asked his newfound friend. ‘Glasgow son,’ he replied ‘I thought you’d know that being a Gallowgate man?’ Tommy looked at his companion, still confused ‘I didn’t catch your name?’ He smiled at Tommy, ‘You can call me Andrew.’ They walked along a straight road which seemed to be lined with sooty factories or equally sooty houses.

A few ragged and barefoot children ran towards them seemingly oblivious to the chill air or cold puddles. Ignoring Tommy they took the other man’s hand, ‘Father, me mum’s ill, can ye come?’ said one in an accent born somewhere in the Donegal hills. ‘Do you mind Tommy?’ he said, ‘Come with me if you like?’ Tommy nodded and they entered a close and followed the children into a foul smelling house which was cold and somewhat musty. The bare floor boards were damp and slippery as Tommy followed his friend into one of the rooms. There appeared to be a bundle of rags on the floor in the corner and nothing else in the room. The man knelt by the rags and began to speak in what Tommy thought was Gaelic. The bundle of rags was in fact an emaciated woman lying on some old blankets. Her pale face, waxen and weary stared out from the rags. Her eyes were bright, full of vitality but Tommy could see that she was very ill. A man’s voice interrupted Tommy thoughts, ‘Tis the fever that has my Molly,’ the man said. ‘God only knows how I’ll managed if I lose her.’ Tommy looked at the man, no doubting he had a stout labourer’s physique but his moist eyes suggested he was greatly concerned about his wife. The Priest said something in Gaelic and the man and four thin, barefoot children knelt by the woman as the Priest led them in prayer. He lit a small candle he had taken from the pocket of his long black coat. From another pocket he produced a small metal crucifix which he kissed before placing it on the bare floor beside the candle.  Tommy watched as they blessed themselves and despite misplacing his faith a long time before, felt an urge to join them. Together in that gloomy, damp room they asked God to spare the woman’s life. The long forgotten words came back to Tommy as he joined them…

‘Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee

Blessed art thou amongst women

And Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus…

When they had finished the Priest tactfully gave the man some coins and told him he would send a friend who was a Doctor to see her later in the day. ’ He knelt briefly by the woman, ‘I’ll return tonight Molly. He held her hand gently and smiled, ‘Beidh muid le chéile arís go luath, mo chara’ He nodded at the man and said quietly ‘I’ll return later Joseph.’ He asked Tommy to pick up his small metal cross from the floor and as Tommy did so, he locked eyes with the woman lying on the floor. She mumbled quietly to him, ‘Muinín sa Dia.’ Tommy smiled at her, unsure of what she had said. ‘You rest now, it’ll be alright.’

Tommy followed the Priest out the door. As they left the close he mumbled to Tommy, ‘If the fever’s back then God help us all.’ Tommy was utterly confused, ‘Father…Andrew, what’s going on here? Why are people living in this squalor?’ The Priest turned and regarded him. ‘Because no one cares Son, they’ve forgotten that we’re all brothers.’ Tommy replied ‘But you care don’t you?’ The Priest nodded, ‘I’m their Pastor, of course I care but we are few and there is so much need.’ As they stood in the dirty, damp street Tommy heard the clip clop of horses’ hooves and turned to see a large tram like vehicle being pulled up the street by two big shire horses. On the front of the tram was the destination board, it read ‘Parkhead.’  His head swam, ‘Where am I?’ he asked ‘What’s going on?’ The Priest regarded him with a patient smile. ‘You’re in the East of Glasgow young fella. My you’re a strange one!’ Tommy felt something click into place, a piece of the puzzle made the picture clearer. ‘Father, do you have another name that you’re known as in these parts?’ The Priest looked at him with a patient smile. ‘Yes Tommy, my name is Andrew Kerins but many call me by my chosen name in the order.’ Tommy knew what was coming but asked anyway, ‘What would that be?’ The Priest locked eyes with him, ‘Why Brother Walfrid of course.’ Tommy’s mind whirled, it all made sense now; the men working on the pitch, the strange clothes and the appalling squalor. Tommy felt as if he was going to faint. He felt something cold and metallic in his hand, ‘Father, I still have your cross.’ He held it out to the Priest but before Walfrid could take it Tommy felt his head swirl, his eyes close as darkness took him.

Tommy Devlin jolted out of his dream. He opened his eyes and looked around him. It was daylight and the sun slanted onto the big north stand of Celtic Park. It seemed to illuminate the huge white letters emblazoning the word ‘CELTIC’ onto the  bright emerald seats. ‘Walfrid, we made it,’ he cried out, his words echoing around the empty stadium, ‘Your people made it. Your team made it too.’ A groundsman working on the pitch at the halfway line turned startled to regard the man shouting in the empty stadium. ‘Here Pal, what are you doing here?’ He called.  He walked towards Tommy ‘How did you get in here Pal, the place is locked up?’ Tommy smiled and stood on rather shaky legs. ‘It should never be locked up mate, it belongs to us all.’  The man sensed Tommy wasn’t a threat but more likely a sobering up drunk and relaxed, ‘I’ll let you out the side door buddy. Don’t forget yer cross.’ He pointed at the seat beside Tommy on which lay a small metal crucifix. Tommy’s eyes widened as he reached for it. ‘Aye,’ he replied, ‘It belongs to a good friend.’ As Tommy left the stadium the groundsman smiled, ‘I’d go easy on the drink son, gets you into all sorts of scrapes.’ Tommy looked at him and nodded. ‘I’m done with it pal. It won’t pass my lips again.’ He had said those words before but this time he meant it.

As Tommy walked towards the statue of Brother Walfrid in the early morning sunshine, he saw a grey haired man and a child of five or six.  The Grandfather was pointing to the statue and telling the boy about the deeds of a good man who had wanted to help the poor and had started a football team to raise money for them. Tommy waited until they had finished and moved on to the statue of Jock Stein. He walked over to the statue of Walfrid. ‘I think this is yours Andrew,’ he said, taking the small metal crucifix from his pocket. Resting his foot on the marble plinth he pulled himself up and placed the small cross on the lap of the statue. ‘We were forgetting again weren’t we?’ he said to the still figure of the gently smiling statue. ‘Forgetting we’re all brothers. Well I won’t forget and I won’t let Celtic forget either.’  Tommy turned and headed down Kerrydale Street. He had found his purpose. Brother Walfrid’s work isn’t finished, there was much to do.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Just an Ordinary Man...

Their used to be a joke in Dublin which stated that if everyone who claimed their Grandad was in the Post Office with James Connolly in 1916 is telling the truth then there must have been 10,000 Rebels squeezed in there. Similarly, when Celtic fans took direct action to save their club in 1993-94 season, we had a few years of people laying claim to have been at every meeting of the Celts for Change group who led the grass roots Spartacus like revolt. What is not in doubt is that ordinary Celtic supporters saw their club heading for ruin and said enough is enough. The very people the Board thought most easy to control via the propaganda pumped out by the Celtic View in those days had had enough. Rangers were heading for five in a row and Celtic were heading for oblivion before ordinary, working class Celtic supporters, demonstrated the sort of tough love they have for their club. When the boycott of a Celtic home game was proposed  following a string of dismal results, the Board issued a statement which said with supreme irony ‘The vast majority of fans won’t back a boycott or be influenced by an unrepresentative minority.’ They still couldn’t see that they themselves were the unrepresentative minority slowly strangling Celtic with their incompetence and small mindedness.

 1993-94 was the season of Wayne Biggins and Carl Muggleton, of Lou Macari replacing Liam Brady of dreary defeats and falling attendances. Macari’s route one variety of football had many fans despairing about where Celtic were going. We had a dilapidated stadium, mountain of debt and a poor squad. We had a Board pelted with Mars Bars at home games and fans chanting ‘Sack the Board’ for 90 minutes at every match. Something had to give but the share-holding dynasty which controlled Celtic’s destiny were not going to budge. We were treated to the bizarre sight of  Director Kevin Kelly stepping between toxic puddles on a piece of industrial waste ground at Cambuslang holding aloft an artist’s impression of the super stadium Celtic were ready to build there. Bizarrely, he had even hired a horse which wandered about in the background trying to give the impression that the site was healthy and clean. It took the press less than an hour to phone the backers of this scheme and confirm that it was all a cruel fantasy. As Fergus McCann and Brian Dempsey sought out shareholders all over the UK and Ireland to gain support for a takeover bid, Celts for Change, spearheaded by Matt McGlone, Brendan Sweeney, Colin Duncan, David Cunningham and John Thompson were organising large and often bellicose meetings. One in the City Halls in Glasgow’s Merchant City was bursting at the seams as 2500 fans crammed in to hear the increasingly skilled and eloquent Celts for Change speakers demand change and warn the assembled fans that the club was in mortal danger. These weren’t middle class money men with an agenda to seize the club. They were ordinary working class Celtic fans   who saw the club they loved heading for administration or perhaps worse and got off their asses and did something about it. It’s hard not to contrast this determination to take direct action to save Celtic with the apathetic ‘something will turn up’ mentality of fans of the now dead Rangers FC who did nothing as their club died. Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that the establishment club’s fans were used to being guided through their history safe in the knowledge that their friends in powerful positions were looking after them. Celtic’s fan base however was more rebellious and used to struggling and fighting for what was right, even if it was with the custodians of the club.
Things came to a head in that traumatic season 20 years ago when many of the fans finally decided, amid much pain and soul searching, to boycott a game. It’s no easy matter for those who love Celtic to deliberately stay away from a game but it was the price of sending a clear signal to the board and perhaps even saving the club.  Knowing the club would inflate the gate in order to undermine the Celts for Change led boycott, the group stationed a member at every turnstile to count the fans going in. The attendance was less than 10,000 and this had alarm bells ringing in the board room. With the debt growing, the Stadium in need of rebuilding post Hillsborough Report and the fans in open rebellion the first cracks appeared. It would take several more months of pressure but by March 1994 Fergus McCann and his allies were able to buy enough shares to oust the old board and set Celtic onto a better path. It is a matter of some regret that some members of the old board walked away with a lot of money despite running Celtic into the ground. However, they were gone and the rebuilding could begin. It’s a matter of history how the Celtic fans rallied around and made McCann’s share issue a huge success. They bought season tickets in huge numbers and this helped rebuild the stadium and the team. At last there was hope and at last Celtic were ready to challenge for major honours again. When Brian Dempsey, flanked by Fergus McCann, stood outside Celtic Park on a wet March night to tell fans who had waited in the rain for hours the news they longed to hear, it was a victory for us all. Not least those who saw their Club in peril and decided to act. Dempsey told them the news that the old board was gone with the memorable phrase, ‘The Battle is over, the Rebels have won!’ Amid the raucous cheers and singing which followed this announcement, there was also quiet satisfaction from those in groups like Celts for Change who led from the front and were an important part of the revolution which ousted the old board. They would no doubt point to the Celtic support who read their leaflets, attended their monster rallies and in the end forced the board to act by voting with their feet. But any revolution needs leaders and those ordinary Celtic fans who had had enough of mismanagement and penny pinching at their beloved club provided leadership at a vital moment in Celtic’s history. They informed fans via leaflets and meeting about the real state of Celtic’s finances. They appeared regularly in the media, organised meetings and demonstrations outside Celtic Park and even at the HQ of the Bank who propped up the old board. In those pre-internet day their organisational skills and ability to   give a coherent and united voice to the fans concerns was vital. Fergus McCann and his financial acumen may have fostered the new Celtic in the years after 1994 and helped it grow and prosper. However, Celts for change under the guidance of Matt McGlone, Brendan Sweeney, Colin Duncan, David Cunningham and John Thompson were the catalysts who helped deliver the new Celtic into a brighter and more promising future. For that we owe them all a huge vote of thanks. They didn’t just talk the talk, these committed Celts walked the walk too.


Celtic Football Club recognised the role played by the Celts for Change organisation 20 years ago by unveiling a plaque recently at the foot of the Jimmy Johnstone statue. It was the Club’s way of thanking and honouring a bunch of ordinary Celtic fans who did extraordinary things to help save their club 20 years ago. Few back them could have envisaged the re-emergence of Celtic as the dominant club in Scotland nor the collapse of their main rivals. These modest guys will no doubt smile each time they pass the plaque but I suspect they’ll smile more as they see Celtic lifting honours and see the club in the best financial shape of its history. They may even echo the words of a Christy Moore song….’I’m an ordinary man, nothing special nothing grand’ But trust me lads, you did something very grand indeed, you fought for something you loved and for that we salute you.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Lurgan Jim and Neil Lennon

Lurgan in County Armagh is a town which had more than its share of problems over the years. Historically it was a ‘Plantation’ Town and its position in Mid Ulster made it in modern times an interface area between the Nationalist and Unionist populations. During the Troubles it was the scene of many violent incidents and was undoubtedly a tough place to raise a family. However, anyone who knows Lurgan folk will know how humorous and hardy they are. They are loyal to their own and value the bonds of family and friends highly. There are also many committed members of the Celtic family in the Town and surrounding areas.

Jim O’Hanlon was man who had his roots in Lurgan, although life and work  led him to Cheltenham in England. As always, Ireland’s greatest export seemed to be its people. Known a ‘Lurgan Jim’ in Cheltenham, this son of Erin loved Celtic with a passion and followed the club’s fortunes through thick and thin. In 2010 Jim’s health deteriorated following an aneurysm and even as he faced up to his final journey he worried about who would become Manager of his beloved Celtic. To his joy it was Neil Lennon, another son of Lurgan.  Jim O’Hanlon knew Lennon’s father from his days back home in County Armagh and was delighted when Neil got the Celtic job. His son Ryan said ‘Just before he died he gave me a small green, white and gold banner with the words ‘God Bless Neil Lennon’ on it. Those four words were repeated by ‘Lurgan Jim’ as he took his last breath this side of Paradise. His funeral was attended by members of the Irish Oak CSC in Cheltenham and strains of the ‘Fields of Athenry’ echoes around the Church of St Gregory as this fine Celtic man was laid to rest.

It probably comes as no surprise to Neil Lennon how dearly Celtic supporters like Jim O’Hanlon love the club given that he is a fan of Celtic himself. Had Neil been from any other background, few would have blamed him for walking away from the Celtic job after the assaults, racist and sectarian abuse, bullets in the post, bombs, death threats and the day to day low level abuse he takes in Scotland. That he has stayed and made such a success of his tenure at Celtic Park is to his credit. There will always be ups and downs as a manager but Lennon lives and breathes Celtic as much as any other fan of the Club. He wears the weighty responsibility of managing the club lightly although he no doubt deals with stresses we can’t begin to imagine. Gordon Strachan once said that when he was Manager of Celtic he couldn’t  even put petrol in his car without receiving verbal abuse. Imagine how much more vitriolic the abuse Neil Lennon receives will be as he ticks all the boxes for the bigoted haters in Scottish society?

I recall well Martin O’Neil’s press conference in Barcelona in 2004 which followed a game against the now defunct Rangers at Ibrox. Speaking of the vile racist and sectarian abuse he and Lennon put up with for all of that game O’Neil said…

’The abuse Neil Lennon was subjected to was as shameful as the Monkey noises aimed at black England players. He was abused in a racist and sectarian manner for the whole game and it reached an incredible crescendo near the end.’

Graham Spiers, one of the few journalists of the time who didn’t accuse O’Neil of over reacting or exhageration said at the time…

‘It was a rotten, ignorant and venom filled atmosphere from the start. From too many mouths to count, people like O’Neill and Neil Lennon, the Celtic midfielder, both Catholics from Northern Ireland, were subjected to sustained sectarian abuse throughout the match. It is worth actually citing these slogans. They ranged from “Fenian c***” to “Fenian scumbag” to – in the case of Lennon – “away and f*** yersel Lennon, ya Fenian bawbag”.

That Neil Lennon has endured such abuse in Scotland is a disgrace to this country. That Rangers FC (IL) tacitly approved of such behaviour for years by dint of their sectarian signing policy is a stain on the dead club’s reputation that even the sycophants of the laptop loyal can’t disguise. Some bleated that he ‘brings it on himself’ by his aggressive character. One must ask why other ‘aggressive characters’ like Graham Souness never received bombs, bullets and death threats during his time in Scotland. He was never assaulted in the street or on the touchline as Lennon was. Why is Lennon singled out for levels of abuse unique in the annals of Scottish football? The answer of course as we all know can be summed up in three words… Celtic, Irish & Catholic. Neil Lennon combines these three elements in a feisty package that refuses to bow or be cowed by the bigots. To add insult to injury in their twisted world view, he has also been successful in leading Celtic to honours while their disgraced and dishonourable club collapsed in debt, scandal and a complete lack of dignity.

I hope Neil Lennon sticks around for a few years yet at Celtic. He is an honest, hard-working and increasingly knowledgeable manager. He clearly loves Celtic as much as we do and takes great delight in the successes he brings to the club. Yes, he makes mistakes from time to time but he is still a young manager learning all the time. He had the courage to talk about his depression in public. He has also learned about the snakes and shit stirrers in the Scottish sporting media who sunk very low in their reporting of various incidents involving Lennon over the years. From the disproved and puerile ‘Thugs and Thieves’ headline to the astonishingly stupid image of the Taxman and Lennon on the back page of the Record beside a headline reading ‘Who is more hated at Ibrox.’ God only knows what the ‘Journalist’ who thought that up was thinking. Yet despite it all Neil Lennon carries on, pushes Celtic to more success and ignores the haters. He is an inspiration to many and a living example of courage and character which refuses to bend to the brainless unthinking bigotry which sadly still scars parts of Scottish society.

Lurgan Jim has gone to his rest happy that a fellow Lurgan man is at the helm of the club he loved all his life. A Lurgan man endowed with all the guts and character his pugnacious people are famous for.  Jim O'Hanlon spoke for us all and I for one would like to echo his words and say to one and all ‘God Bless Neil Lennon!’


RIP Jim O’Hanlon



Saturday, 11 May 2013

A Grand Old Team
So that was the SPL Trophy wrapped up in a big green ribbons and handed over to Neil Lennon today. The Boss of course heaped praise on the players, the magnificent support and all at the club who have striven to make this season a memorable one. There remains a cup to be won and our old comrades from Easter Road will fight tooth and nail to end their 112 year nightmare in that competition. As professionals Celtic won’t be feeling any pity for them and as a support we’ll be demanding 100% from the team. The loss of Wanyama and Kayal will be noticed but the return of Scott Brown is a major boost. The Cup Final will take care of itself and like all Celtic fans I hope Celtic can round off a good year by winning the Cup to add to their SPL crown. After Kilmarnock in the League Cup Final last season and St Mirren in the Semi Final this year there can be no complacency. Results are earned and Hibs will fight for every ball so the team had best be at 100% efficiency from the start.


Highlights this season were mostly in Europe although a few SPL games were good too. Our target last summer was to make the group stages of the Champions League and we achieved that and more. Beating Barcelona was a night few who witnessed will ever forget. The atmosphere during that game surpassed anything I can ever remember at Celtic Park. In the SPL beating Aberdeen 4-3 particularly when faced with a 1-3 deficit with 20 minutes to go, was amazing. The 6-2 game against Dundee United was excellent too. There were dips too, especially after European games but the team generally bossed the Division from Christmas onwards. Indeed today’s game was the 12th straight home win in the SPL. It was a season where most of the team contributed well to the title win without any individual being outstanding. Wanyama remains a huge asset and his strength and stamina would allow him to cope in any league in Europe. For me though, Joe Ledley was the best player overall this year. The Welshman was quietly effective throughout the season and was a real team player doing the hard shifts in midfield his manager used to do so well. Samaras remains a huge asset in Europe and is finally winning over the doubters.

There have been a few voices stating that without the Deadco the season would be a boring non-event. It’s hard to believe that it’s now getting on for 12 months since clubs and fans up and down Scotland demanded that justice be done and the new club start where all new clubs should; at the bottom. They bleated about being kicked when they were down and ranted about not walking away as a dozen internationals jogged smartly out the door. They wailed about being punished and listed things which weren’t punishments at all but the consequences of going into liquidation. Did we miss the blue clad hordes in the SPL? I for one didn’t and have always felt justice being done was well worth any damage it did to the league. The arrogance and hubris we saw at the Oldco was well and truly destroyed by the chastening experience of a disgraceful and very public collapse. Yes, the Newco will come back like a bad case of piles one day but they’ll never be the same. No matter what they say, they stood by and let their club die. Green bought the assets of a dead company and used a similar name but the Newco are not the Rangers we knew of old. I could buy a dead man’s car and house but I can’t then claim that I’m him and neither can The Rangers FC 2012 claim to be the Rangers of 1872. The chain is broken, the history interrupted.

Celtic clearly saw that people were struggling financially this season and that this was reflected in the crowds attending games. Yes you could have sold the Barcelona and Juventus games out twice over but there was less of an appetite for more mundane league cup ties and SPL fixtures. When things are tight people pick and choose what to spend their money on. Celtic Fc was wise to reduce prices for the coming season and to encourage families and younger fans to return to games. It is to be hoped this increases crowds next season but no one should be under any illusion. Crowds at Celtic home games in the last 15 years are the highest in the clubs history. In season 1966-67 Celtic’s average home league crowd was 36,000. So let’s not get carried away thinking we should have 60,000 at every game. We are now 5 years into the worst recession since the 1930s and many in work are poorly paid. Glasgow and its surrounding area is  among the poorest parts of the UK and yet still football is watched by more people per capita in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe.

Whatever the cup final brings, Celtic will have a very short summer break before the qualification rounds of the Champions League start again. The team must hit the ground running and strive to get into the group stages again. It is such a boost to the club financially and to the support in terms of morale and buzz about the place. If the SPL is our bread and butter, the Champions League is the caviar. We are a great club with and incredible tradition and history, We should be regularly among the elite of European football and continuing to add pages of glory to our story. We are financially strong and have a good young team. We will no doubt add some decent quality to the club in the summer and be ready for the tests ahead. Few clubs are as embedded in their community as Celtic is. We are more than mere consumers of football, mere customers buying a sporting product. We are the proud bearers of a tradition stretching back 125 unbroken years to our founding fathers. We, the Celtic supporters, are Celtic and it’s up to us all to drive the club on to new achievements, new successes and new adventures at home and abroad. Billy McNeil once said, ‘There’s a fairy tale aspect to this club which goes right back to its foundation.’ He was right as Celtic were founded on charitable principles and are continuing to help others at home and abroad. These are good times to be a Celtic fan but we enjoy the success all the more because we know well bitter taste of defeat too. But despite the hard years of the early 1990s, despite the old Board nearly killing the club, we stuck by the team Walfrid started, we fought for the club we loved and we emerged stronger.


In the Spring of 2011 when Celtic lost the SPL title by a point after looking certain to be crowned Champions, Neil Lennon stood on the pitch in front of 60,000 Celtic fans and told us in very honest language that this wasn’t the end, that it was just the beginning. How right he was. Keep the faith and we’ll enjoy many more days like today at this incredible football Club.


125 years of unbroken history and unbroken support from the best fans on the planet.


Hail Hail to the Champions

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Laughter of our Children

My Twitter timeline today was full of tweets about the anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands. It got me thinking about the place of politics in sport and in particular, the place of Republican sentiments being expressed at Celtic games. We can never undo the cords that bind Celtic FC to Ireland, nor should we seek to. Our history has its roots in the Irish diaspora and dreadful treatment the Irish faced which drove so many to leave their native land. Few can deny that the founding fathers of Celtic were generally Irish or Scots-Irish nationalists who saw some sort of home rule for Ireland as a desired outcome to the country’s tortured history. Early generations of Celtic fans were almost exclusively the children of the Irish exodus which saw literally hundreds of thousands of people leave Ireland to escape hunger, oppression and destitution. In the first successful decades of Celtic’s existence, contemporary newspaper reports often refer to them (and Hibs) as ‘The Irishmen’ and intimate that they’d like to see a ‘Good Scotch’ team put them in their place.

However, as time progressed and the Irish in Scotland became more assimilated, Celtic began to attract fans from other groups in Scottish society. The Stein years brought not only glory to Celtic FC but a sizable number of followers from out-with the traditional Scots-Irish community. I met a man from Fraserbrough at a game who recalled as a child watching Celtic play a benefit match for the families of a dreadful lifeboat disaster in 1970. He told me Celtic won many life-long fans by that kind gesture from a community which was hardly ‘Celtic minded’ before the game. Such stories illustrate that the appeal of Celtic has out-grown any easy stereotypes of our fan base. Yes, the majority are still the offspring of the Irish influx but you’ll also see Scots with no Irish blood, Scots-Asians, Afro-Caribeans, Poles and a host of others from Thailand to Catalonia tell you how they love the Hoops. There is no doubt the club and support try to be open and welcoming to all comers as the mission statement produced in the McCann years rightly states. So what place is there among this diverse and mixed support for the expression of political sentiments at Celtic games?

 I am not naïve enough to think politics and sport never mix as they often do. From Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the Black Panther Salutes of African American athletes in Mexico 1968, right through to South Africa’s ‘Rainbow nation’ winning the Rugby world cup in 1994, Politics has always been there. Mandela chose to wear Francois Pienaar’s shirt that day to send out a political message. The average Black South African normally wanted the all- white Springboks to lose every game but here was a change. Now they had some equality, now they all had a vote, now they were all equal before the law of  South Africa. Mandela’s actions were political but they were positive, aimed at uniting people. Can we say the same of political songs about the conflict in Ireland being sung at Scottish football games?

All my life I have abhorred the ‘FTP’ songs spewed out by unthinking followers of our erstwhile main rivals. I abhorred the casual anti Catholic bigotry I heard in the workplace, pubs, clubs and even on public transport. I recall stopping in a Lanarkshire town to ask directions to a RC Church where I was attending a wedding. The middle aged man in the smart suit I asked spat out, ‘It’s up by the abbatoir where it fucking should be!’ I also recall a workmate answer the phone one day and laugh out loud before informing his colleague’s, ‘That guy just asked if I was a catholic and before I could answer he shouted ‘Fuck the Pope.’ Not only was it sad that unintelligent people would make such a phone call, but also that more sane individuals think it’s funny. Another senior figure at work, ostensibly educated on anti-racism and sexism issues yet still casually says things like, ‘I knew I’d done something Irish’ when she makes an error. An Irish friend at work says nothing but I catch her eye and we quietly shake our heads.  That is the reality of 21st Century Scotland or at least sectors of it.

Celtic is a fantastic ideal. Never lose sight of why this club was born but also bear in mind that how we behave, the songs we choose to sing and the attitudes we espouse will all impact on how the club is perceived. I want Celtic to be open to all, a friend of the poor and oppressed, a club that values its history but is not held captive by it. I want people to point at Celtic and say ‘That’s how a football club should be, a positive force in society.’ We learn from the past but we live in the present and we plan for the future. There is nothing wrong with holding strong political views but please consider the damage which can be done to Celtic by airing them at games. We live in a country where sections of the media can’t wait to throw mud at Celtic. They love to portray the ‘Old Firm’ as two sides of the same coin, two cheeks of the same arse, when the reality is far different. Only one club barred players on religious grounds for decades, only one club’s fans sang disgraceful bigoted songs for generations while a compliant and shabby Media said nothing. Only one club operated a grubby ‘aparthied’ policy which was against every decent tenet of what sport is about while the SFA said and did nothing. We are not and never have been like them and I thank God for that.
Celtic belongs to us all. People of all faiths and none, people of all political hues, people from all ethnicities. The only qualification you need is a love of the Green. We don’t force our opinions on politics or anything else onto our fellow fans. We accept diversity as a strength and not a weakness. A long time ago Brother Walfrid had a dream that his club would be a force for good in society. Let’s continue to make that dream a reality.

 Bobby Sands and his comrades gave their lives trying to create what they thought would be a fairer society, a society where the curse of sectarianism was banished forever. A society where ordinary men and women all had a place regardless of their creed or colour. On that much we agree. He once said: ’Our revenge will be in the laughter of our children.’ I for one would much rather hear the laughter of our children than the banging drums of war. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

 The Fire Inside

Shug Collins thought he looked pretty sharp in his freshly polished Adidas Sambas, Levi jeans and of course his pristine, freshly ironed Celtic Top with its Centenary crest prominent. Early morning sun slanted in his bedroom window and promised a warm bright day ahead. Just as well, as it was Cup Final day and there are few places bleaker on a wet day than Hampden Park.  ‘Maw, gonie gee Paddy a phone, tell him I’ll be up in 10 minutes?’ he shouted through to the living room. ‘Wit did yer last slave die ae?’ she responded as she got up and headed for the quaint phone table that stood in her hall. Only she knew the combination which undid the small lock which stopped the dial turning. ‘Ye need tae dae it as I canny unlock that wee gadget ye stuck oan the phone. Like feckin Barlinie in here!’ Shug could hear her dialing the number in the hall and looked at himself one last time in the mirror. ‘Today’s the day Shuggy Bhoy, let’s bring that cup home!’ He often psyched himself up for big games. His mother once caught him roaring ‘Let’s do these Bastards’ at the mirror before he left for an Old Firm game and had commented dryly, ‘Daft as yer Da, Celtic oan the brain the pair o’ ye.’ He left the room, checking he had his ticket, money and scarf safely on his person. His mother was replacing the phone as he smiled at her, ‘Cup Final today Ma! Green and white ribbons on the cup again.’ She smiled as he grabbed her and began dancing her around the hall singing a rather jazzed up version of the old folk song… ‘North men, South men, comrades all, Dublin, Belfast, Cork or Donegal, we’re on the one road singing a song, singing a soldier’s song!’  She laughed, ‘Get aff me ya big eejit!’ He returned her smile, ‘Ye canny fool me Ma, I know yer a mad Reb at heart.’ His smile eased a little as he said, ‘How’s my Da, awake yet?’ She nodded, ‘Aye, go in and see him, he’d like that.’

Shug turned and entered the bedroom where his Father had lain since his stroke the year before. The curtains were drawn and in the darkened room he could see his Old man, a shadow of his former self on the bed. ‘Aw right Da, heading aff tae Hampden, thought I’d say hello before I go.’ He sat on the bed and looked at his father. Joe Collins lay still on the bed, face still a little contorted at the left hand side but his bright eyes alert and full of fire. The stroke had paralysed his left side and robbed him of speech but his strong right hand gripped Shug’s. ‘Heading tae Hampden wi Paddy and the bhoys shortly. I’ll make sure we do it for ye Da. It’s our Centenary season, we won’t let ye down.’ His father motioned to speak but his locked facial muscles wouldn’t respond. How frustrating it must be to lose the power of speech thought Shug. He recalled having to run as a child to keep up with his Da as he marched up the Gallowgate to Celtic Park. Old Joe released his grip on his son and his right hand moved slowly under the pillow beside him. He pressed his clenched fist into his son’s and Shug felt something metalic in his hand. Shug looked at the small metal circle in his hand. It was a shining badge showing an engraved European Cup and the words, ‘Glasgow Celtic Champions of Europe 1967’ circled the famous big trophy. ‘Da, this looks like solid gold, ye canny gie me this!’ His father grunted a little as if to say, ‘Don’t you dare say no!’ Shug relented, and pinned it onto his Celtic shirt just above the Celtic Cross of the centenary crest. ‘Thanks Da,’ he said feeling a little emotional, ‘I’ll keep it forever.’ He sat on the bed beside his father and hugged him, ‘I love ye Da,’ he said simply and truthfully. Old Joe tried to nod as a lazy tear ran down his cheek. With his still functioning right arm he hugged his son with an intensity Shug hadn’t felt before. As they parted, Joe clenched his fist into a salute of sorts which said ‘win it!’  ‘Don’t you worry Da, we’re no accepting second best today.’ Shug turned to leave the room and caught a glimpse of his mother in the doorway, handkerchief to her face, before she flitted from his sight.

The grass verges which ran alongside Aitkenhead Road were packed with Celtic fans lying on the grass enjoying the warm sun. The beer was flowing as were the songs. A few yards in front of them a river of humanity, mostly clad in green and white flowed towards the nearby stadium. The noise of laughter, songs being sung, the calls of flag sellers and programme venders, filled the warm May air. The place was buzzing, alive with excitement and possibilities. Shug lay on the grass, propped up on one elbow drinking a beer and talking to his long-time friend Paddy Neeson. ‘I just know we’re winning this today, Paddy. United are no bad but this is our year, I can feel it in my bones.’ Paddy, a little the worse for drink and not given to fanciful thinking smiled at him, ‘Right Mystic fuckin Meg, it’s hauf two, swally that can and we’ll head for the gem.’  They stood and joined the noisy green river which carried them to the turnstiles at the Celtic end of Hampden. As they joined the queue the crowd began to sing, ‘In the war against Rangers in the fight for the cup, when Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up, We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, On Erin’s Green Valleys look down in thy love.’ As Shug joined in he thought of all the times his Da and even his Grandad had come to this very stadium to see Celtic battle out finals and semi-finals. He was just the next generation in the unbroken line stretching back to 1888. He wondered if he’d have kids one day and bring them here as his Da had brought him and as his Grandad had brought his Da?

The great bowl of Hampden was stretched out before him as he topped the steps behind the Celtic end and looked on the sun drenched scene below. 74,000 packed the Stadium and Shug could see that 80% were here to support Celtic. Only the far away terracing behind the goal was covered in the tangerine of Dundee United. The rest was a sea of green. As they fought their way to a spot in the Centre of the Celtic end an enormous booing was emitted from all sides of Hampden. Mrs Thatcher, UK Prime Minister, and as popular in Scotland as Hitler was in Israel was taking her seat. Thousands of red cards were held up to show what the assembled fans though of her and her policies. ‘Ignore that auld cow,’ Shug shouted to Paddy, ‘Big Roy will bounce the cup aff her napper once she hauns it o’er.’ The game which followed was tense and hard fought. Dundee United and Celtic had met three times already that season with honours even at one win each and one draw. Miller miscued a header when it looked easier to score and Bowman did the same for the Dundee team. As the second half began the Celtic end belted out ‘You’ll never walk alone.’ It was an impressive sight but didn’t have the required effect as Kevin Gallagher raced onto a through ball to blast United into the lead. ‘Paddy held his head in his hands, ‘Aw naw, Patsy Gallagher’s grandson too!’ Shug put his arm around his friend, ‘It’s destiny Paddy, fate, whatever ye want tae call it we’re no losing this the day!’ Paddy looked at him doubtfully wishing he could share his confidence. Shug unconsciously held the gold badge pinned to his Celtic shirt as he watched a frantic Celtic side begin to besiege the increasingly desperate United defence.

Celtic were shooting towards the packed Celtic end which roared and and sang as if they wanted to suck the ball into the net. The clock had reached 75 minutes when Stark hit a cross into the box. It missed everyone and seemed certain to go out for a throw but the energetic Anton Rogan kept it in play and fired it back into the box where the ever alert McAvennie powered it into the net. The stadium exploded! ‘Yaaassss!’ roared Shug, ‘Come on Celtic!’ He and Paddy hugged and jumped as if they’d won the lottery. ‘Here we go!’ he roared as United kicked off again. The sun took its toll on players and fans alike but the pace of the game didn’t slacken as Celtic fought to meet their destiny. Then in the 89th minute the dreams of so many became a reality. A corner to Celtic was swung into the box, a Celtic player hit it goal-ward causing the keeper to dive but a defender blocked and amid frantic scenes the ball spun loose to McAvennie, who smashed it into the net. Joy unconfined erupted in the packed Celtic end and around the stadium. Shug and Paddy literally jumped for joy before grabbing each other, their primal roars merging into the deafening noise of 60,000 voices pouring a crescendo of joy onto the pitch! Shug could feel tears welling, ‘We’ve done it Paddy, we’ve done it! I telt ye we would!’  Paddy grinned at him, ecstatic, ‘Of course we have, this is Celtic we’re talking about Shuggy bhoy!’  The final whistle was greeted with tears and cheers. Celtic had done it, they had completed the league and cup double in their centenary season. Tommy Burns, a fan who got lucky, ran to the crowd, punching the air in delight. This was the stuff of legend, the days you tell your grandkids about.

Heraghty’s Bar was bouncing as the fans celebrated a famous Centenary double. Paddy and Shug were in the midst of it hoarse from singing, red from the sun but indescribably happy. A chorus started at the back of the Bar spread until the whole place was rocking with it…

‘Hail Hail the Celts are here, what the hell do we care, what the hell do we care, Hail Hail the Celts are here, what the hell do we care now…!’

It was late when Shug let himself in. The house was quiet and he slipped quietly into his Dad’s room. The old man was propped up on pillows but still awake. Shug sat on the bed. ‘We did it Da, we did it.’ He whispered before he hugged his old man for a long second before looking into his face. ‘I knew your badge would bring us luck Da. I knew the bhoys wouldn’t let us down.’ His old man clasped his hand in his and tried to smile. His face would not respond but his eyes were full of joy. He had given Shug the badge he had bought in 1967 but he had given him something more precious than that. He had passed on his love for Celtic and saw the same fire he felt as a lad burning in his son. He was happy.