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.

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