Sunday, 7 July 2013

Unbroken Spirit

Unbroken Spirit
The game was over and the history books would record that Celtic had lost the 2003 UEFA cup final 2-3 to a talented but shamefully theatrical FC Porto team. To say the Celtic supporters leaving the stadium in Seville were disappointed is an understatement, they were hurting. Sniper trudged along beside his friends Mick and Barry still complaining about the diving, time wasting and what he called ‘bawbagery’ of the Porto players. ‘If I see yon Deco up the toon he’ll be getting my size tens up his diving arse!’ he declared. ‘Mer chance of seeing a handsome hun than seeing that wee dick up Sauchiehall Street,’ Barry responded. ‘Thing is,’ added Mick. ‘They were a good team. They didnae need tae dive aboot the place like that?’  As the the long throng of Celtic fans headed back towards the centre of Seville they saw and heard a group of hundreds of blue clad Porto fans celebrating their win. There was not a policeman in sight and the fans of many other clubs would have reacted differently to the Celtic fans that night on a bridge in Southern Spain. Incredibly, despite their crushing disappointment, they applauded the Porto fans who stopped singing for a moment and looked on in dumbstruck silence at the Celtic fans. They then applauded the Celtic fans in return and began to chant…’Cel-teek, Cel-teek.’ It was a moment which made Mick’s eyes moisten, ‘Fuck it,’ he said, ‘Let’s give them a song!’ As Mick started to sing, his song was taken up by dozens, then hundreds of Celtic fans. The dark Spanish sky echoed to the defiant chant of the unbowed and unbroken Celtic support…

 ‘For it’s a Grand old Team to play for

And it’s a grand old team to see!

And if ye know the history…’

 The next morning the three Amigo’s, hung over from another night’s drinking, headed for the train station and the long journey home. They stowed their bags and sat in the comfortable seats feeling a little revived. Barry produced a long baguette which had some sort of meat in it. ‘Fuck’s sake,’ said Sniper, ‘Ye buy that oot the Anne Summers shop? Looks like an edible dildo?’ It did look a little phallic but Barry shook his head, ‘Dae ye want a bit or no, ya big tube?’ Sniper relented and watched as Barry broke the baguette into three pieces and shared it with his friends. The Seville-Madrid train left the station and they watched out the window as the city they had looked forward so much to visiting slipped from view. ‘Tell ye whit,’ said Mick, ‘This year’s been great. Stuffing Blackburn, Liverpool, Stuggart and getting aw the way tae this final.’ Barry nodded, ‘I agree, we’re back on the map again. People know Celtic are a good team again.’ Sniper sighed, ‘Just wish we beat those diving clowns last night. It would have been perfect.’ The three friends were silent for a second. ‘I know,’ said Barry, ‘but it wasn’t to be, need tae take it on the chin and move on.’

 As always the journey home seemed shorter than the outward trip. They arrived at Madrid on a warm afternoon and headed for the Paris train. Mick had organised the trip with his usual efficiency and he guided his friends to the right platforms at the right times. As darkness fell they nodded off, helped in no small way by a bottle of Polish vodka Sniper had acquired in Seville.  Paris was a bit of a blur as a few too many beers were added to the vodka and again they slept as the Euro Star sped under the channel. As dawn broke, they walked through the quiet streets of London looking for a café and some decent breakfast. Someone banged the window of a passing red bus and gave them the thumbs up and a clenched fist salute, obviously a Celt living down south who had spotted their colours. Barry spoke first as they tucked into rolls and bacon and steaming mugs of tea in a deserted cafe. ‘Kilmarnock this weekend, we still have a chance of winning this league. I take it we’re all heading to Ayrshire?’ Sniper nodded, ‘Be great tae win the league doon there in mutant country!’  Mick smiled, ‘Dunfermline are heading tae Ibrox, canny see them putting up much resistance?’I know,’ said Barry, ‘Calderwood’s a bit of a hun eh?’ The three amigos then headed for King’s cross and the train back to Glasgow. Seville was now a memory. Perhaps in the future they’d appreciate how good the trip and the whole season had been but for now they just wanted to get home and win the SPL. It was the least the players and the magnificent fans deserved for giving so much that season.

 Barry’s mum woke him out of a deep sleep on a bright Sunday morning in that May of 2003. ‘Barry, it’s Sniper on the phone,’ she said handing him the telephone. Barry sat up in bed. His room was a shrine to Celtic with posters and flags celebrating great players and achievements adorning the walls. ‘Sniper ma man, whit ye up tae?’ he said. ‘Wit dae ye mean, wit um ah up tae ya dick? It’s an early kick off today, get yer arse in gear, I’ll be up in 5 minutes.’ Barry looked at his watch, ‘Shit! I’ll jump in the shower Sniper, see ye soon.’ ‘Aye, you dae that ya clatty fud,  am no sitting beside your boufin boady aw day. See ye soon ya minger!’ With that he hung up. Barry smiled. Sniper’s constant stream of good humoured abuse kept him going and always cheered him up.

 Sniper and Mick were at the door as Barry got dressed after his shower. He heard his mum show them into the living room. ‘Aw right Barry boy,’ said Sniper as Barry entered the room towelling dry his damp hair. Sniper was at the wind up again; ‘Wiz just tellin yer maw that it was brave of ye tae announce yer gay tae the world in Seville.’ Barry looked at him, ‘You talk such pish Sniper. Don’t you believe a word he says Ma,’ Sniper continued, ‘Noo don’t you be going back in the closet Barry, we all with you mate, this is 2003 no 1950! I figured it oot when ye started listening tae the Pet Shop Boys, mind ye’ Barry laughed, ‘Shut it ya mad dick, I’m no gay!’  He’s in denial Mrs M,’ said Sniper to Barry’s mum, ‘but his mates will be there for him as long as he disnea want us to walk at wan of them gay pride marches, I mean I’ve got nothing against the gay community but I’ve got my  reputation wi the ladies tae keep up.’ Barry’s Mum smiled at Sniper, ‘I know my boy Sniper and I know what end of the pool he swims at so I’m no falling for this yarn!’ Sniper grinned, ‘I think you’re in denial tae Mrs M.’  Mick stood as Barry shook his head smiling at Sniper’s cheek, ‘Right, enough of yer pish Sniper, time tae head tae the game.’ Sniper stood and headed for the door singing a Pet Shop Boys hit as he went…’I love you baby and if it’s quite all right I need you baby to warm the lonely nights…’ Barry followed him out with a grin on his face, ‘Daft as brush ya big fud.’

 As they left the house Barry saw Sniper’s dad’s small red Fiesta outside the close. ‘Ye sure that’ll make it tae Kilmarnock?’ he asked looking at the ancient vehicle. Sniper sneered, ‘This motor’s got a Fenian engine, it never gives up!’ Mick smiled at Barry, ‘Well that’s aw right then eh? Just hope you’ve no been oan the bevy.’ Sniper looked at Mick in shock horror, ‘Me? Drink Drive! I’ll lock you in the boot ya fanny if ye suggest such a thing again! I’m a model citizen so am ur.’ He burped loudly and jumped into the driver’s seat, ‘Get in ya pair of pricks or we’ll miss the gem.’ Barry joined Sniper in the front and Mick sat in the back as Sniper fired up the engine. They sped down the M77 with Sniper singing along to a mix tape he made for the occasion. His choice of music was somewhat eclectic as a bizarre techno version of the Fields of Athenry was followed by The Boys of the old Brigade. They joined a green stream of Celtic buses and cars all heading for Rugby Park on that warm May day. Kilmarnock’s ground was not an easy venue for Celtic. They went there knowing they had to better Rangers score against a weak Dunfermline team. 

 The three friends joined 4000 other Celtic fans crammed into the stand behind one of the goals at Rugby Park. Celtic fans occupied both stands behind the goals although it was obvious that thousands more of them had bought tickets from home fans and sat among the Killie support. Sniper looked at the hundreds of empty seats among the Killie support, ‘Whit’s up wi these clowns? They’d rather see empty seats than let Celtic fans in? Ye could sell this game oot twice over and these morons won’t do it?’ He had a point as the home side were also missing out on thousands of pounds by having empty seats.  All of this was forgotten as Celtic came out and the singing ramped up. ‘We’re Celtic Supporters, faithful through and through’ they roared out.  The game got underway and it was obvious from the tackling of Kilmarnock’s players that they were up for the battle. Maloney was scythed down by a nasty challenge after 14 minutes and stretchered off. Celtic would have to earn it today. Then after 16 minutes Chris Sutton scored. Mick, Sniper and Barry roared themselves hoarse as they celebrated and urged their team on. Kilmarnock were pushed back and reduced to smacking the ball anywhere. Larsson and Petrov went close and it looked as if Kilmarnock would hold out until half time when the ever alert Sutton bundled one home from close range. The away fans were ecstatic although some had one eye on events at Ibrox and a constant stream of updates kept the Hoops support informed. Half time came and the Hoops were hanging in the title race. There would be no giving up.

 Sniper disappeared at half time and returned with three Killie pies, ‘Get these inside ye boys, best pies in the country. At least the mini Huns got that right.’  Barry took one and told him that Dunfermline were losing 3-1 at Ibrox. ‘We’ll need tae hit 5 or 6 here tae win this title,’ replied Sniper, ‘Calderwood’s clowns are on the beach already and this mob here are time wasting when they’re losing?’ The second half began and the pattern of the first resumed with Celtic on top and pushing for more goals. They were shooting towards the end the three Amigos occupied. After 10 minutes of sustained pressure Sutton was wrestled to the ground in the box and Thompson slotted home the spot kick. The Celtic support were right behind the team and still they came forward looking for more. Then came one of those moments in football which can so cruelly alter a team’s fate. Sutton fed Larsson and the deadly Swede raced through on goal and prodded the ball past Marshall. The ball sped towards the bottom corned but to the three amigos horror it clipped the post and was cleared. Then Alan Thompson, so reliable from the spot, blasted another penalty high over the bar. It was heart-breaking stuff but Celtic refused to give up and Petrov added a fourth goal but it was to no avail. Dunfermline wilted at Ibrox and lost 6-1. Celtic, who had had such a great season ended it by winning nothing.

As the team walked around the field at the end of the game not a Celtic fan had left the ground. The stadium echoed to their songs as they cheered the team for all their efforts. Barry put his arms around his friends’ shoulders and looked skywards, emotions welling inside him as he sang with thousands of others….

‘We’re Celtic supporters

Faithful through and through

Over and over, we will follow you…’

Sniper too was feeling the emotion of the occasion, ‘How the fuck did we win nothing this season?’ he said to Mick. ‘Robbed in the League Cup, cheated in Seville and now these Bastards time wasting when they’re 4-0 down?’ His anger was understandable as Celtic had been incredibly unlucky that season but there was no changing history. As the exhausted Celtic players trooped off the pitch having given their all, the supporters stood as they had always done, and cheered them off. They had fought with pride and brought great distinction to those famous shirts. The three Amigos would be back for more, Celtic was a big part of their lives and as Sniper said to Mick on that hot May day so long ago, ‘The hard times make ye appreciate the good times mate and I’m proud of every wan o’ they guys this season. Ye cany give any more than 100%.’ Mick nodded, disappointment and pride written on his face in equal measure. ‘We’ll be back Sniper, just you fuckin watch, we’ll be back!’

Postscript: In season 2003-04 Celtic opened their campaign with a 0-0 draw at Dunfermline. They then won 25 consecutive league games and clinched the title without dropping another point. They also defeated Rangers in all 4 league matches that season. Seems Mick was right.


  1. Superb read again sir :-) @barrymcgonigle

  2. Glad you enjoyed it Sir. None of these tales of Barry, Sniper & Mick would have happened without your inspiration via the great away shirt you designed. I kid you not. Hail Hail