Thursday, 27 June 2013

More than a club…

Barry ran as fast as he could his sports bag swinging rhythmically in his right hand.  He had slept in on today of all days and it was touch and go whether he’d make the train. He swung right into Gordon Street, taxis tooting him as he sped across the road in a hurry and bolted into the cavernous space of Central Station. Sweat was dripping from him in the warm May air as the exertion and perhaps last night’s beer took its effect. Two jakies begging outside the Station watched him flash past and one called after him, ‘Aye ye better run ya Dick!’ Barry had no time to query what the random drunk was talking about; he had to make the London train. As he neared platform 1, he could see the doors being slammed shut by a short, stout railway employee. He was stopped short by another, ‘Haud oan Pal, need tae see yer ticket!’ Barry dropped his bag and fished his ticket out of his jeans pocket, ‘Hurry mate, I need tae be oan that train.’ As soon as the ticket inspector nodded him through he sprinted for the nearest carriage and jumping is, slammed the door behind him. A wave of relief swept over him, ‘Thank fuck fur that!’ he mumbled to himself. The train jolted into life and began to snake its way slowly out of Glasgow. He had made it.

He slung his holdall over his shoulder and began a slow walk through the creaking, swaying carriages to find Mick and Sniper. If Mick hadn’t phoned to ask where he was this morning he would still be sleeping. He knew they were on the train somewhere and wanted to reassure them that he had made it. The first two carriages were full of business people clicking away on their laptops or reading newspapers but as he slid the door to enter the third carriage he knew he’d found the right place. There were more than a few sets of Hoops among the passengers in this carriage and Barry could hear a voice he knew well as it drifted along the compartment towards him….

‘You are my Larsson, my Henrik Larsson,

You make me happy when skies are grey’

It was his friend Sniper, and he interrupted his song when he saw Barry walking towards him with a smile on his face, ‘Bazza ya big Dafty! I though you wurny making it mate!’ Barry smiled at him, ‘Somebody needs to look after you on this trip ya big plonker. Wiz that you singing there or wiz somebody skinnin’ a cat?’ Sniper patted the seat beside him, ‘Park yer arse there ya big fud and less ay yer shite patter or your cheenies will be rattled before we reach Carlisle’ Barry sat beside his friend of many years pleased to be in his company again. They had been through Primary and Secondary school together and had even worked for a while in the same sports shop before an incident involving Sniper and a fairly attractive but rather vacuous girl in the stock room had led to them both being sacked. A manager had caught them in a state of near undress on top of a pile of Adidas Samba trainers and had no option but to dismiss them both on the spot. Sniper had smiled at a bemused Barry on the way out of the store, ‘The baw was rolling along the goal line Mate, I had tae put it in. I mean ye canny say naw tae yer Nat King, can ye?’ Sniper was always using football analogies but that was one of his more memorable ones. ‘Where’s Mick?’ Barry enquired. ‘Toilet,’ replied Sniper. ‘Said he’s got the Garry Glitters but I think he’s choking the bishop.’ Barry laughed, ‘Yer a fuckin mad man Sniper.’  As if on cue Mick Devine appeared, ‘Ye made it then Barry boy!’ Barry smiled at his friend with genuine affection, ‘Hell yeh, you’ll need a sane, sober person on this trip. I mean Sniper’s coming wi us and folk will think we’re going tae Lourdes.’ Mick laughed, ‘We’d Need to throw that dick intae the fountain at Lourdes tae cure his bammy ways.’ Even Sniper laughed at that one. As Mick sat down, Sniper produced three cans of beer from a bag under the table and the pals talked about the trip ahead. Glasgow to London was to be followed by the Eurostar from London to Paris. Then it was Paris to Madrid and finally Madrid to Seville. When Celtic beat Boavista in that torturous semi-final, the three amigos were determined to make the final but as the flights were booked up so quickly there was little option but to use the trains. It would take almost two days but as Barry said, the journey would be a big part of the experience.

Six hours later the train arrived at Victoria Station in the centre of London. Sniper, Barry and Mick, bags in hand, headed for the underground as they were due on the Eurostar for Paris in 3 hours. The London underground was crammed as usual and Sniper decided to pass the time attempting to communicate with Londoners who appeared to think he was from Norway or some such place. He smiled at one smart looking chap in a suit and asked, ‘Aw right ma man, whit’s the crack wi that Tony Blair and yon Saddam clown eh?  Boot in the baws the two of them need eh?’ The man   looked at Sniper, bemused and mildly horrified before moving away from from him in silence. Mick smiled as Sniper, ‘You ever tried speaking English ya knob?’ ‘Only making friendly conversation’ replied sniper,  No way I’m fighting for Bush by the way.’ Mick smiled at him ‘ You fight for Bush up the dancing every week ya numpty!’ The three friends laughed as the train arrived at St Pancreas.  

The Eurostar sat like a futuristic spaceship waiting for them. They soon found their seats and as they shared an over-priced beer, raised the issue which had been quietly on all of their minds. Barry spoke first, ‘We’ve only got wan ticket for the game, how do we decide who gets it?’ Sniper produced a pack of cards. ‘We cut the cards in Seville, highest card goes tae the gem?’ Mick added, ‘Seems fair. I hear tickets are going for a grand so we won’t be able to afford any aff the touts.’ Sniper nodded, ‘We’ll do it in Seville oan the day of the game.’  Mick and Barry agreed. ‘We’ve got a few hours tae kill in Paris before the Madrid train, wit dae yeez want tae see?’ Sniper surprised them by suggesting Notre Dame Cathedral. ‘They might no let you oot Quasimodo!’ quipped Barry. ‘You saying I’m ugly ya humped backed Pollok Midget!’ said Sniper in mock shock. ‘I widnae say ugly,’ replied Barry ‘but ye dae have a face like a bag of rusty spanners.’ Sniper was having none of it, ‘Listen ya fuckin Ooompa-Loompa, I get mer burds in a week than you get in a year.’ Barry laughed, ‘It’s quality that counts Sniper, some of your burds look like guys!’  Sniper shook his head, ‘Jealousy is a terrible thing!’ Somewhere further down the train a guitar could be heard. No one was singing but the tune was familiar. Mick smiled, ‘That the grand Old Team I hear?’ Sniper nodded, ‘Aye, we Tims are fucking everywhere so we ur!’

It took precisely 2 hours and 15 minutes for the train to whiz under the channel and reach Paris. As the friends stepped out of the Gothic Gare du Nord station it was approaching 3pm. They decided that there was not enough time to visit the Cathedral and settled for some food and a few beers on the Avenue Napoleon III. As they sat at a pavement Café in the late afternoon sun watching the fashionable Parisians pass by Mick said quietly to his friends, ‘This place is another planet so it is.’ Barry agreed, ‘Makes the Gorbals look like Kabul.’ Sniper smiled at a statuesque blond woman who passed their table, ‘Aw right Doll?  Did I no nip you up the Garage last year?’  She smiled back at him and kept walking, ‘If ah could speak the lingo, I’d get some lovin in this toon aw right!’  Geez peace Sniper, I think you pay half yer burds,’ replied Mick with a smile.

It was dark as the Paris to Madrid train crawled out of the city of lights before speeding south across the flat French countryside towards the Pyranees. The three friends were settled into their seats for the 9 hour journey. They were joined by a few other Celtic fans making the pilgrimage to Seville. One produced a guitar and the songs were soon filling the air. Part of the pleasure of following Celtic abroad was this comradeship. If you were a Celt you were a friend. Barry took a turn a singing and the carriage was quiet as the guitar gently joined him in a familiar old song….

‘For those who are in love, there’s a song that’s warm and tender

For those who are oppressed, in song you can protest

So liberate your mind and give your soul expression

Open up your hearts and I’ll sing for you this song;

Let the people sing their stories and their songs

The music of their native lands

Their lullabies, their battle cries, their songs of hope and joy

So join us hand in hand, all across this ancient land

Throughout the tests of time, it was music that kept our spirits free

Those songs of yours and of mine...’


The songs went on into the wee small hours before one by one they succumbed to sleep. Dawn brought them to Madrid and they were a step closer to their destination. As they left the train they could feel the heat of a Spanish morning, even the smells were different .  In the centre of Atocha Station was what appeared to be a small rainforest. ‘Palm trees in the railway station?’ said Barry, ‘Ye won’t see that at Nitshill Station.’ Sniper yawned, ‘Naw, few cannabis plants mibey but nay palm trees.’ Mick hurried them along as the train to Seville was leaving in just 45 minutes. He was getting excited that they were now in Spain and said in a slightly elated voice, ‘We canny miss this yin guys, I can smell Seville noo!’ Sniper quipped, ‘That’ll be Barry’s cheesy underpants yer smellin Mick, no changed then since we left school.  Barry shook his head, ‘Shut it ya plamf!’ Mick hustled them through the station as Sniper asked, ‘Wit exactly is a plamf anyway? You made that word up didn’t ye?’

The packed Madrid to Seville high speed train seemed to whizz through the scorched Spanish countryside. An elderly Priest with a long grey beard and a black beret perched on his head squeezed in beside the three pale Glasgow boys who seemed to be the only Celtic fans in the carriage. ‘Aw right Fadder’ Sniper began, his friendly unshaven face smiling at the old Priest, ‘hoat yin the day eh?  He offered a can of San Miguel to the old man who surprisingly accepted it with a smile. To their further surprise the Priest also spoke excellent English. He introduced himself as Abbé Pierre and askedYou are travelling to football, no?’ He nodded towards Barry’s Celtic shirt. Barry spent the next ten minutes telling the old Priest the story of Celtic’s foundation and all about Brother Walfrid and his dream to feed the poor and give them some pride. The Priest listened, his blue eyes bright and smiling at Barry’s enthusiasm. ‘The Marists were a great teaching order in Spain,’ the Priest went on, ‘and in my country too. I am French. As is the Marist founder Marcellin Champagnat They listened as the Priest told them about his experiences as a young man in occupied France during world war 2. The three Scottish lads listened and learned about the good side as well as the bad side of human nature. ‘War brings out the best in some and the worst in others,’ the old man said.

Sniper then chatted excitedly about the game against Porto in Seville, ‘We’ve only got wan ticket Fadder but we widny miss this yin fur the world.’ The old Priest was surprised that they’d travel so far with just one ticket between three of them. ‘You must love your club very much.’ He commented. ‘It’s not just the Club Father,’ Mick responded, ‘it’s the people, the fans, we’re a real community.’ The old man nodded and smiled. They two and a half hour journey passed quickly as they discussed everything from football to politics and history. The train slowed down as it approached Seville railway station. Sniper, having polished of more than a few cans of San Miguel was in the mood to start a sing song. Mick wondered what the Spanish folk on the train and the old Priest made of the big Glaswegian as he began to sing in a not unpleasant voice…

‘Walk with me Oh my Lord

Through the darkest night and brightest day

Be with me Oh my Lord

Hold my hand and guide me on my way’

Barry glanced at Mick and smiled as Sniper, big, uncouth Sniper, had the reduced the whole carriage to a respectful silence as he sang a hymn learned at a Primary school a thousand miles away. The old Priest smiled and led a gentle applause as Sniper finished. ‘You know,’ he began in his gentle French accent, ‘John Paul says that to sing is to pray twice.’ The train stopped and they glanced out the window. Seville! They were here at last. They said their goodbyes to the elderly Priest with smiles and handshakes before exiting the station and joining the green and white army which swarmed all over the lovely, sun drenched city of Seville. Mick smiled as they heard a chant of ‘Over and over’ echo down the street! ‘We’re here boys, we made it!’  They deposited their bags in lockers at the station and headed for the toilets where locals were surprised to see them wash and shave at the sinks. They then headed into the town in a state of excitement to join in the friendly invasion.

The central square in Seville was full of Celtic fans and there was a carnival mood among them. Mick, Sniper and Barry sang and drank the day away and met friends old and new at every corner. ‘This if fuckin magic,’ Sniper smiled, ‘I love supporting the Hoops!’ No one disagreed and as darkness fell and the songs and laughter echoed around the old town. The local Police smiled at the fans, shook a thousand hands and posed for pictures with Celtic scarves draped over their shoulders. There would be no need to draw their batons with these fans. No tear gas tonight, just tears of joy as the green clad hordes sang, drank and laughed deep into the night. 80,000 Ambassadors of Glasgow Celtic were in town and they only had one thing in mind and that was to enjoy themselves. Barry, Sniper and Mick got gloriously drunk and ended the night drinking Spanish Brandy with a group of Celtic fans from Belfast. The last thing Sniper could remember was singing, ‘I’ll tell me Ma,’ and dancing with a flame haired Irish girl who could drink like a man.


Dawn came on the day of the game and it found the three Amigos waking up on a patch of grass in a small play park situated on a side street near the cathedral. Sniper stretched and yawned, his head pounding. He wandered to a nearby fountain and splashed some water on his face. He then poked Mick and Barry with his foot, ‘Here, you two bawbags better wake up afore the clenny come and sweep ye up wi the rest ay the trash.’ A dehydrated Barry opened his eyes, ‘Oh my mouth feels like the bottom of a bird’s cage!’ Sniper, quick as ever, replied, ‘Am no surprised, it had a cockatoo in it last night!’ His raucous laughter echoed around the small park where other Celtic fans were coming round after a long night on the drink. ‘Still think yer a comedian ya big fud eh? Yer patter's shite’ retorted Barry with a smile. The friends headed for a local café where long cool drinks of water and some local wine soon had them feeling better. Barry raised the tricky question of the ticket. ‘When will we cut the cards?’ Sniper suggested that they check out the Fanzone and cut the cards there. That way the lucky person going to the game would know exactly where to meet the other two after the game. It was agreed.

Later in the day they followed a large group of fans heading for Mass in the Cathedral. They decided to tag along. Only Mick went to church with any regularity but they were each, in their own way, respectful of people’s faith. Seville Cathedral stood like a huge gothic castle and streams of Celtic fans poured inside for the service. Some removed ridiculous sombreros before squeezing into the packed pews. Barry, Mick and Sniper found a spot fairly near the front and sat down. ‘Looks like the Celtic Rally in here,’ Mick whispered. The huge church was full of Celtic fans although a few blue specks here and there suggested a few Porto fans were also asking God to help their team. Five Priests appeared and a bell tinkled to begin the Mass. Mick nudged Barry, ‘check out the Priest on the right.’ It was the old Priest from the train. The Mass progressed in a solemn and dignified way and as the three friends joined the line for communion they were glad to note that they were in the line heading for the old French Priest. As Barry approached the old man said with just the hint of a smile, ‘Corps du Christ’ and placed the host on his tongue. Before Barry could turn away the old Priest said quietly in his heavily accented English, ‘Wait behind after Mass, please.’ Barry, a little puzzled, nodded and headed back to his seat to say a quiet prayer for Celtic and also for those less fortunate than he was in the world.

When Mass was over Barry told his mystified friends to wait behind. They watched as the huge number of Celtic fans departed the Church to join the gathering excitement of match day. After a few minutes the Church was quiet and Barry saw the old Priest wander towards him with a younger Spanish Priest. ‘Good day to you,’ he smiled at the three friends. ‘Howzit gone Fadder,’ replied Sniper in his inimitable way. Abbé Pierre introduced his fellow Priest as Father Ignatious before turning and talking to him in Spanish. He pointed once or twice at Sniper and smiled as the Spanish Priest nodded and returned his smiled. The three Glasgow Bhoys watched and wondered what was going on. After a few seconds Father Ignatious reached into his back pocket and produced a white envelope. ‘Thees eez for you’ he said in reasonable English. He handed the envelop to Barry before smiling and walking away. Barry looked mystified. Abbé Pierre smiled too, ‘God moves in mysterious ways.’ He said cryptically before turning and leaving the three confused Scots. ‘God be with you Walfrid’s boys,’ he added as he entered a door to the left of the altar and was lost to their sight.  Sniper was utterly confused, ‘did he just bung you Barry?’ Barry said nothing but carefully opened the envelope. Inside were three tickets to the FC Porto v Glasgow Celtic UEFA Cup Final. ‘Fuck me!’ said Sniper before remembering he was in a church and looking up to the large crucifix above the altar and adding, ‘Sorry, Jesus!’


Later, Barry, Sniper and Mick headed for the Stadium with tens of thousands of other Celtic fans. They now had four tickets for the match and were feeling an elation they had never felt before. They made another Celtic fan’s day by giving him the spare ticket free of charge. The man, who had travelled from San Francisco to see the game was almost in tears and hugged them like long lost brothers. ‘That’s why I love Celtic,’ he said emotionally, ‘Best fuckin fans in the world!’ Whatever the match itself held, nothing would make the three amigos ever forget their magical journey to Seville. Following Celtic was never easy, as Fergus McCann had once said, but it was always worthwhile. Tonight, they joined thousands in a football stadium to cheer on a team. Hundreds of thousands of other Celtic fans around the world were cheering them on too. But this more than a club, this was a way of life, a community. As they entered the stadium and saw the huge Celtic support spread out before them, Barry placed his arms over his friends shoulders, ‘Look at that boys! What a support.’ Mick nodded, ‘Makes ye proud tae be a Tim.’ Sniper said quietly, as if to himself, ‘I always have been and always will be proud to be a Tim.’ He meant it too.


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