Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Promise
Mr McCandlish was droning on about the need to learn the nuances of Latin verbs but the thoughts of most of the boys in the second year class at St Roch’s Secondary school were far away in central Europe. ‘Are you listening to me Mr Callaghan?’  said the teacher in a much louder voice, startling young Cal from his daydream. ‘Eh, yes Sir,’ he said as the teacher shook his head and moved on to reading a passage from Pliny. Cal couldn’t wait for the lesson to end but it seemed to drag on forever. Then at last the bell sounded and the boys in the Latin class almost cheered! They all wanted to know one thing; what was happening in Prague? Cal gathered his books and jacket and headed for the school exit. He sped up the steep hill of Rhymer Street to his tenement home which stood across the road from the Convent at the top of the hill. He raced up to the first floor and burst in the door, ‘Get the radio on Ma!’ he called into living room as he dumped his bags in the hall. The old brown radio was soon tuned into Radio Scotland and a tinny voice, which seemed very far away was heard to say, ’68 minutes gone and still Dukla Prague press the Celtic defence!’ Cal’s face was at once a mixture of confusion and anxiety, ‘Whit’s the score ya fanny!’ Cal’s mother raised her eyebrows, ‘Language! Or that’s going off!  He exhaled, ‘Sorry Ma.’ The game dragged on with Celtic defending stoutly till at last the commentator said, ’80 minutes on the clock and still no scoring, Celtic are playing in an uncharacteristic defensive formation today with just Stevie Chalmers up front.’ Then after a few more scares and anxious moments came the sound Cal dreamed of hearing; the final whistle. ‘Celtic have done it!’ the commentator said in an excited voice, ‘They have become the first British team to reach the final of the European cup!’  The words echoed in his head, ‘Celtic have done it!’ He turned to his mother who regarded him with a smile on her face, ‘Did ye hear that Ma? They’ve done it!’ He embraced her for what seemed like an eternity. He had never felt happier in his life. ‘I need tae tell ma Da! Whit time does he finish?’ Cal’s mother looked at the clock which stood on the mantle-piece flanked by an image of the sacred heart and another of Big Frank and Kath on their wedding day. ‘In about 5 minutes son,’

Cal raced from the house. His father would be finishing his shift at the Caledonian Railway Works on Springburn Road and he wanted to meet him and tell him the news. He ran along the Royston Road past his school and then turned right up the Springburn Road. The day shift was already pouring out of the ‘Caley’ as the works were known locally and the street was already packed with men in overalls smoking and talking as they headed home. He scanned the faces looking for his father. Big Frank Callaghan was hard to miss as he stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and had the physique of a man used to hard labour. Cal soon spotted him and raced through the crowd of workers, bumping into some in his haste to reach his dad. His father saw him rushing towards him and was immediately worried that something had happened at home. ‘We’ve done it Da! We’ve done it!’ Cal shouted as he grabbed his father in an excited hug. ‘Done what, son?’ his father smiled, holding his son as the stream of workers flowed around them as a river flows around a rock. ‘We’ve knocked out Dukla! Celtic are going to Lisbon!’ There on that grimy industrial street in the north of Glasgow, father and son hugged for what seemed like a long time before a workmate of big Frank’s cut in, ‘Wife expecting again Frank?’ Big Frank stood up, ‘Naw Archie, Celtic made it tae the Final.’ Archie smiled, his team hailed from Govan but he wasn’t a man who allowed petty bigotry to affect him. ‘I hope you win it Frank, it’d be great for Scottish football. Frank smiled at him, ‘Maybe your lot can make it a double? Put Glasgow on the map eh?’ They headed home as young Cal reminded his dad of a promise made away back in September. They had stood together at the Celtic end as Hoops had overcome a physical and occasionally very cynical Zurich team 2-0. It had taken 65 minutes of pressure before Gemmell smashed a shot in off the bar. McBride sealed the game soon after and the home fans went home happy.

It was on the walk home through the dark streets of the east end that Cal had said to his Dad, ‘If we get tae the final can I go Da?’ His Dad had smiled a patient smile, the final was many months off and teams such as Real Madrid, Ajax, Inter Milan and Liverpool were all in that season’s competition. Big Frank had said, ‘Sure son,’ perhaps thinking to himself that it was a very long shot indeed that Celtic, first footers in the European Cup, would get to the final. Cal had took his Father’s hand and looked up at him, ‘promise Da?’ Big Frank looked down at his son who regarded him with earnest eyes, ‘Promise, son,’ he replied without really thinking but as Celtic eliminated Zurich, then Nantes of France to reach the Quarter finals, his son began to remind him of the promise. Then when they stood at the front of the Jungle as McNeil powered that last minute winner into the net against Vojvodina big Frank began to seriously think Celtic could make the final.

The Semi-final had paired Celtic with the tough Czech army team Dukla Prague who had already beaten the up and coming Ajax team which had in turn battered Bill Shankly’s Liverpool 5-1.  It was tough but not impossible. Cal, of course joined his father and 75,000 others at Celtic Park as battle commenced in the Semi-final. Dukla, as was obvious from the start, were no mugs. Johnstone put Celtic ahead in a hard fought first half but Strunc scored just before half time to level the match. Half time saw a lot of worried faces on the terraces. For once it was young Cal who buoyed his father up, ‘Don’t worry Da, we’ll beat this mob,’ he said with that naïve innocence his Father had lost long ago in the painful days of Celtic underachievement, ‘and when we do you’re taking me to the final!’ A man standing close to his father smiled, ‘Wee man’s got confidence eh? Hope he’s right.’ Cal was right, two second half goals by the marvellous and much under-rated Willie Wallace set up Celtic for the second leg with a two goal lead.  Were they on their way to Lisbon? It looked as if they might just have enough in the tank to make it but the second leg was still to come.

Unseen by Cal as he sat at School and by his father as he worked away in the Caley, Celtic fought like tigers in Prague.  The crowd, mostly made up of soldiers roared Dukla on but Celtic, much against Stein’s instincts, played defensively and held firm. Perhaps it was the memory of losing a 3-0 lead in the European Cup Winners cup Semi Final a couple of years earlier which had sown the seed of doubt in Celtic minds and made Stein more pragmatic. Celtic had gone to Budapest 3-0 ahead and attacked from the start. Jimmy McGrory’s side had lost 4-0 and were accused of being tactically naïve. Whatever the reason, Celtic defended for most of the game in Prague and made it through to their date with destiny. Stein said after the game that he would never ask his team to play that way again and that the final in Lisbon would see a return to the football which had made Celtic famous, pure, beautiful, attacking football.

Just 4 days after Celtic returned from Prague they faced Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final. Cal, his Uncle Tony and his Dad joined the huge crowd of 127,000 at Hampden to see if Celtic could add another trophy to their collection in what was turning out to be a remarkable season. Rangers had been beaten in the League Cup Final, the title was almost within Celtic’s grasp and now they faced a stubborn and resilient Aberdeen who seemed determined to stop Celtic playing their normal flowing game. They had held Celtic to a 0-0 draw 10 days earlier in the league, however a goal in each half by Wallace brought the Cup home to Paradise. Celtic’s first ever treble was on!

A shock defeat on a Wednesday night to Dundee United at Celtic Park set up the incredible prospect of Celtic winning the league at Ibrox! Celtic needed a draw to complete the treble and Cal joined his Dad on the crowded supporters bus as it rolled up the Paisley Road for the game in a downpour of dank Scottish rain. The open terrace behind the goal housed the bulk of the Celtic support that momentous day in May 1967. They were in fine voice throughout and when Jimmy Johnstone scrambled in the opening goal in the mud of the Rangers penalty box, the place exploded. Cal’s father hugged him half in celebration and half to keep him safe from the boisterous celebrations around him. The battle raged on in the rain and the key moment arrived in the second half. With the scores tied at 1-1, Cal watched Jimmy Johnstone pick up the ball and weave infield. His strikers pulled left and right looking for the pass but the flame haired, little Celt had other ideas. He blasted an unstoppable shot high into the Rangers net. Again there was pandemonium among the huge Celtic Support. A late Rangers equaliser saved some pride but Celtic had the point they needed to be Champions. The treble had been won now it was time to focus on Lisbon and the biggest prize of all. 

The Headmaster looked at the hundreds of young people in the hall of St Roch’s Secondary school. ‘Anyone who is thinking of travelling to foreign parts for a football game and missing school had better think again!’ Cal overheard one of the Maths Teachers whisper to a colleague, ‘Sick note ready, I’ll be in Lisbon, need the sun for my lumbago!’ His colleagues supressed a laugh as the head went on, ‘I expect full attendance at school on the day of the match although we may close early depending on the kick off time!’  Cal knew at least 20 boys from the school who were planning to go to Lisbon with their Fathers or uncles. His best friend Shuggy asked him in earnest tones, ‘Is yer Da taking ye tae the final Cal?’ Cal smiled, ‘He better because he promised and my Da keeps his promises!’ Shuggy smiled happy for his friend but envious too. There was no way Shuggy’s family could afford such a trip for him. He’d join the millions watching on TV.  Cal just hoped his Dad could arrange time off his work for the two day bus trip to Portugal. 

When he arrived home that day his Dad was up and about preparing for his late shift. ‘All right Son?’ Cal looked at him, expecting him to conform that they were going to Lisbon. His Dad put on a mock sad face and began, ‘You know it’s very hard for us to afford a trip to Lisbon on my wages son.’ Cal’s face fell but his father continued, ‘That’s why I’ve been to see the Provy cheque man today. Ever been on an aeroplane son?’ Cal face lit up, ‘We’re flying tae Portugal!’ tears welled in his eyes as he ran to his Dad and hugged him, ‘I thought we’d be going oan the bus and it’d take forever!’ His Dad smiled, ‘Me, you Uncle Tony and yer Granda Tam are all flying out on the Wednesday before the game.’  Cal’s Dad looked him, ‘The Callaghan’s go in style, wee man!’ His mum shook her head, ‘Be paying it up for the next two years mind ye,’ Cal’s Dad grabbed her, ‘Wheesht wumin, it’s no every day the Celts get tae the European cup final!’ He then began to dance her around the room singing, ‘We’re on our way to Lisbon, we shall not be moved! We’re on our way to Lisbon, we shall not be moved!’ Cal laughed and joined in the song, ‘Not by the Hearts, the Hibs or the Rangers, we shall not be moved!’

Friday the 19th of May was one of those bright and blustery Scottish days which threatened to be hot but never quite managed it. School was over and Cal walked up the hill towards home in buoyant mood. A few of his friends were going to Lisbon but none of them were flying. He arranged to meet a few of them for a game of football on the black ash pitches of Glenconnor Park after supper and entered the close. Even before he opened the front door of his house he could sense that all was not well. The house was silent apart from the low montone hum voices of people in the living room. He looked around the smoky room and saw that various relatives were there looking sombre and troubled. A confused look on his face, Cal turned to his mother who knelt in front of him and taking both his hands in his said, ‘Cal Son, yer Granda Tam died this morning.’ It seemed blunt to the point of cruelty putting it into such words but how else do you break such news? He closed his eyes and hugged his mother. Old Tam seemed such a fit and lively man and was barely 70. Cal felt a tinge of guilt when he thought of the possible effects of this news on his trip to Portugal the following week. He went to his room and left the adults to their chat. He lay on the bed and cried for his Grandfather but somewhere at the back of his mind he could see the silver haired old man smile at him and say in his usual blunt manner, ‘You get yer erse tae Lisbon son, don’t be greeting too long for me.’

Old Tam Callaghan’s funeral was held in St Alphonsus’ church by the Barras on the Monday of the week Celtic were due in Portugal to meet with their destiny. Old Tam had met his and the crowded church held tales of a man who had watched Maley’s great teams as a boy and who had witnessed the sad accident which ended John Thompson’s life. Yes, he was a proud family man and worked for years in the meat market but everyone knew his as ‘Celtic Tam’ as his conversations usually began by discussing his ‘Wee team fae the Gallowgate’ as he called them. Cal watched his grim faced father carry old Tam out of the Church with Uncle Tony and other relatives. The organist played ‘Faith of our Fathers’ and the congregation boomed it out. Cal hadn’t asked his father how his Grandfather’s death would affect their trip, he thought it selfish to do so at such a time. Perhaps he was right.

The following day his father called him into the kitchen, ‘Cal I want to talk to you about our trip tae Portugal, son. Things have changed wi yer Granda dying.’ Cal’s face remained unemotional, the trip must seem insignificant to adults in light of what had occurred but he wanted to go to Lisbon with all his heart. He wanted to see if Celtic could actually become the best team in Europe. He looked at his father waiting to hear that it was off. His old man continued, ‘Yer Grandad’s ticket was going spare so I asked Johnny McGonigal if he’d let us take yer pal Shuggy. Whit dae ye think?’   Cal’s eyes widened, ‘Wit dae a think? I think it’s  the best idea ever!’ His father smiled, ‘We haven’t told Shuggy yet, why don’t ye shoot roon and tell him?’ Cal sprinted from the house, his spirits soaring, he was going to Lisbon and so was his best pal!
Three days Cal walked down a long avenue lined with cypress trees towards the National Stadium in Lisbon. Thousands of pale Scots had made the pilgrimage and to Portugal, hundreds of thousands more were glued to TVs from Glasgow to Sydney to see if Jock Stein’s young team could overcome the cynical and worldly Italians of Inter Milan. As they entered the stadium Cal could hear singing from inside drift into the pale blue Portuguese sky…

Sure it’s a grand old team to play for

And it’s a grand old team to see

And if you know the history

It’s enough to make your heart go oh, oh, oh, oh!’

The throngs of Celtic supporters outside the stadium joined in the familiar song as they queued to enter. Cal smiled up at his Dad, ‘Grandad will be watching this today Dad.’ His father smiled, ‘I know he will son, and he’d be proud of Celtic and proud of all these fans tae.’ As they entered the Stadium and walked up the steep concrete stairs, the singing got even louder. They topped the rise and stood for a moment in the brilliant sunshine taking it all in. The pitch lay spread out before them like an emerald jewel in the bright Portuguese sun. This was it, this was where Celtic’s fate would be decided.  Cal felt a thrill go through his body, they were here, Celtic were here and the story started long ago in the Glasgow slums was about to record a new chapter. He took his father’s hand as the teams appeared at the far of the pitch and a huge roar went up. ‘Here we go son, let’s hope the boys do themselves justice and don’t freeze!’ Cal smiled, ‘Don’t you worry Da, we’re bringing that big cup home wi us!’ His father looked at him as Billy McNeil shook hands with the Inter Captain, ‘Why are you so sure about these things Cal?’  Cal spoke without taking his eyes from the pitch, ‘It’s meant to be Da, it’s just meant to be.’  Big Frank Callaghan refocused on the pitch as the game got under way and mumbled to himself. ‘I hope so Son, I really hope so.’




Saturday, 26 October 2013

The People's Game

                                                          The People’s Game
A rare rummage in the loft the other day led to the chance re-discovery of my childhood football scrapbooks. They fell out of an old box I hadn’t looked in for years. As a lad I’d clip pictures from the paper and paste them into big ledgers. As I looked through them, the years fell away and I smiled at the stars I loved to watch wearing the green back in the day, memories of great games and incidents flooded into my head. The routine of match day was always the same and became a part of our lives. Aberdeen away was always a favourite as it usually came in September and after the game we’d stop in Stonehaven till the pubs closed before heading home in the wee, small hours. The little market town was green and white for the night as 10 or 20 other supporters’ buses did the same. The banter was great and the pubs made a packet. I recall ‘Paddy wan eye’ from our bus putting his glass eye into a newly poured pint and complaining, ‘Here mate, there’s something in that beer!’ Win, lose or draw, the people sang there songs, drank their beer and had a good time. We travelled all over Scotland every other week and very often the trips were as much fun as the games. From swimming in the cold sea at Arbroath on a sunny August day, to missing the bus in Perth and skipping the train home, it was all part of the fun. I once lost a shoe in a crush outside Fir Park, Motherwell and went to the game with three plastic bags wrapped around my foot! I got home with my feet blistered but hey, Celtic won so who cares! These were the adventures of our youth and helped bond us to each other and to Celtic.
At the back of my scrapbooks I always stuck tickets from games. As I glanced at them I saw that Rangers v Celtic in 1983 cost £2.50. The last time Celtic were at Ibrox it was £42. Inflation in the UK since 1983 should price that ticket at around £8. So what the hell happened to the people’s game? How did Scottish football end up more expensive than most top European leagues while at the same time the standard had clearly diminished?  Firstly, we don’t operate in a vacuum. Events in England and elsewhere had a dramatic effect on our football. Players like Tommy Burns earned a basic of £300-400 per week back then. The Bosman ruling in the 1990s changed that forever. Jean Marc Bosman had completed his contract with FC Liege and wanted to move to Dunkirk FC in France. Liege refused and he was banished to the reserves on a diminishing salary. He sued under European employment legislation and won. Players could then go wherever they chose when their contracts were over. This had a profound effect on wages and the game in general.
The arrival of Sky TV bankrolled the EPL and revolutionised the game there as foreign mercenaries flooded in. In season 2012-13, 66% of EPL players were non UK citizens. The advent of the Champions League also brought more of the money the elite demanded to pay their increasingly huge salary bills. Corporate hospitality became important as companies spent money on football but they hardly brought the ordinary fans along to watch. The ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade had arrived and one of the last vestiges of working class culture was under threat. In 1990 I attended Bryan Robson’s testimonial at Old Trafford. I spoke to ordinary working class Manchester United fans then who could still afford to go watch their club. Many of them are now priced out as the EPL went global, the prices shot up and football tourism arrived. Manchester City fans organised a boycott of Arsenal away when they were offered tickets at £72!  Clubs may use the old adage ‘If the stadium is full then the price is right’ but many people who love football simply can’t afford to go to games. Even those who do go will pick and choose as the overall cost is seriously high.
The SPL, a minor league on the periphery of Europe couldn’t generate the TV or commercial revenue required to thrive and compete.  Hence Scottish clubs shoved ticket prices up. As far as Celtic was concerned, they followed the trend. My season book for the Hampden season in 1994-95 was £160 this season it was over £500. Again, inflation over the period suggests it should be around £280 today. Scottish football’s inability to raise sufficient revenue outside ticket sales has led to a spiral of increasing prices and falling attendances. Imagine paying £28 to watch Kilmarnock v Motherwell when German fans pay £15 to watch Dortmund?  Bayern Munich bring in so much money from TV rights and Commercial sponsorship they can freeze many season books at around £120! That is the big difference, the revenue raised from the non-ticketing part of the business in the big 5 European leagues (Spain, Italy, England, Germany & France) is a much higher percentage than it is in Scotland. This is directly related to population as the advertisers can reach so many more people in those countries. Hence Celtic make £2-3m from TV by winning the Scottish league while the relegated teams from the EPL can pick up 15 times this amount.
So what is to be done? How can the game we love become the people’s game again? It is a forlorn hope to think Uefa will try to spread the money the European competitions bring in more evenly as they are clearly seeking to appease the big clubs. The expansion of the Champion’s League to include 3 or 4 clubs from the big leagues was done under the threat of a breakaway European league and this frightens Uefa. Thus we see the ridiculous situation where Bayer Leverkusen play Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Glasgow when the German outfit have NEVER been Champions of Germany. The players and big clubs now hold all the aces and teams in smaller leagues are left at a huge disadvantage. They must sell their best players and hope to get into the Champions League in order to raise the money needed to build a decent team. Celtic raised £23m from the Champions League last season and a further 6 home games made up of 2 qualifiers, 3 group stages and last 16 game with Juventus saw over 330,000 fans pay top dollar to watch. Without these windfalls the big clubs in smaller leagues would really struggle. The obvious answer is for Clubs like Celtic to join a bigger league but this is currently not an option as the big teams simply don’t need us nor do they wish to share the wealth with others.
So Celtic is trapped and increasingly looking to maximise the financial return from their incredibly committed fan base. The Board can sometimes look calculating and money oriented when they sell players or set ticket prices but they really don’t have much option if they want to continue attracting decent players and at least competing in Europe. Last year’s heroics in the Champions League allowed them to cut prices of Season tickets by around £100 and that is to be welcomed but there are no guarantees this will continue. These are good days to be a Celtic fan as the club is successful on and off the pitch but Mr Lawwell knows well the drawbacks of being trapped in Scottish football. With access to the sort of money on offer in some leagues, Celtic could be truly huge! As it is we must accept that unless things change, the situation is intractable and we will not be able to fulfil our vast potential.
The future remains uncertain but the fans who make Celtic the team they are will continue to follow them. The level of support the club received is incredible given that Scotland has a similar population to Norway or Switzerland. We’ve been here for 125 years and helped the club thrive. No matter what the future holds we’ll stay with the Hoops and keep believing. My old scrap books may be full but there are many more adventures to be had following the bhoys in green. This has been an incredible story and I for one don’t want it ever to end.  
 Football has changed a lot since Paddy dropped his glass eye in his beer in that Stonehaven pub but the Celtic support still has the same passion and dedication. The direction the club takes in the future is uncertain but the status quo looks increasingly untenable. There may well be a European League at some stage in the future and by showcasing our club in the Champions League and letting the football world see those incredible fans will put us in a better position to be invited to that particular party.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Guys Like Joe...

                                                                 Guys like Joe…
Big Joe had seen a lot in his time. He grew up in the Calton in the days after World War 2 and it taught him much about the effects of poverty and deprivation as well as loyalty and human dignity. It was a tough environment for anyone to grow up in and the gang culture didn’t help. He told me once that the Calton boys had to go to Bridgeton unemployment office to sign on and get their money in the early 1950s. They did so 100 strong as they knew the Billy Boys were waiting for them and doing their best to see the ‘Micks’ didn’t get their money. Of course, a battle ensued involving knives, hammers and anything which came to hand. ‘Imagine the stupidity of that,’ he said to me one night, ‘two groups of unemployed men fighting each other instead of getting together to change the society which had thrown them all on the scrap heap?’ His Socialism grew out of that experience and out of his despair at witnessing the destructive and divisive power of sectarianism. Indeed, the experience of bigotry marked him in both a literal and figurative sense. His face bore the scars of those battles of his youth and he retained to his dying day a belief that intolerance of any sort was the single biggest evil afflicting society. ‘It divides the workers,’ he would say, ‘and that’s exactly what the bastards who foster it want.’ Perhaps he was right.

His upbringing, rough as it was, did foster in him the values and rough chivalry of the street. ‘You don’t take liberties, you fight man to man, you never hit woman and you don’t use a weapon unless the other guy has one.’  He told me once that a job at a carpet factory ended after 2 days when the foreman, a well-known Orangeman, realised that he’d lied on his application form. His sin was to state that he went to John Street School and not St Mungo’s. Such small lies were often the difference between getting a job and not getting a job in those days. The foreman had smirked as big Joe left the building but they met again some weeks later in a pub and he wasn’t smirking on that occasion.

Big Joe loved Celtic too. He could walk to the stadium from his home in the east end and rarely missed a game in those desperate days after the war. The team was struggling but still managed the occasional spectacular result. He recounted the tale of the season Celtic were almost relegated. He had travelled to Dundee with 20,000 other Celtic fans to cheer them on in a must win final game of the season. ‘A lot of the Dundee folk came out to see Celtic buried that day,’ he said, ‘But Celtic won 3-2 to beat the drop.’ His eyes would shine as he recounted the deeds of the players he admired. From Matt Lynch to Charlie Tully, from Evans to Stein, they were all his heroes. He recalled the day Celtic beat Rangers 7-1 and his supporters’ bus had gone around the Umbrella in at Bridgeton Cross six times as the fans chanted relentlessly ‘Seven! Seven! Seven!’ They lost a few windows of their bus that night but it was worth it he would say. A school friend of his had played for Aberdeen and had rattled in a hat trick against Rangers in a cup semi-final as the Dons destroyed them 6-1. After the game, a mob appeared outside his friend’s house on the London Road and smashed his windows as his terrified Mother cowered inside. Such ‘Liberty taking’ was considered bad form and a response was required. News got back to Joe about this poor behaviour and he rallied the Calton boys and led the counter attack. He had finished the night in the cells of Tobago Street Police station but considered it worth it as a sense of fair play had been maintained.

If he had a fault, it was undoubtedly his affection for the drink. He’d argue incessantly about football when he was on the bevvy and thought nothing of settling disputes with a few well-placed hooks. This usually involved ‘that mob’ as he called Rangers fans. ‘You just canny staun there an take their pish can ye?’ He’d say.  He would set off for a few beers in his suit, shirt and tie and often return with them ripped or blood stained. His volatile reputation was well known and some would avoid arguing with him while others, eager to test themselves, pushed the buttons and got the desired outcome.

On one occasion, as he sped along Duke Street in a Taxi, he couldn’t resist giving the V sign to a group of Rangers fans outside a bar. His luck was not in as the Taxi stopped at the lights and ten of them ran along and dragged him out. He gave as good as he could but 10 against 1 is poor odds. I met him shortly afterwards as he nursed his injuries, ‘Liberty taking bastards, ‘ he said, ‘Ye wouldny catch a Tim behaving like that!  On another occasion he met a Rangers player from the 1950s as he waited at the lights at George Square. They looked at each other and the former player smiled at him. He replied, ‘Think I’m gonny ask ye fur yer autograph ya fat bastard?’ Not exactly sporting but memories are long and football is a serious business in Glasgow. The former Rangers player shook his head and sped off as the lights changed.

Big Joe was in his early sixties when he passed on. Like so many of his generation, poverty, alcohol, cigarettes and poor housing ended their lives early. His hearse, bedecked in green and white flowers, was instructed by his family to route itself past Celtic Park on its way to Dalbeth cemetery. As it slowed outside the stadium, a few supporters wandering around could see it was an old Tim’s final farewell. Some removed their head gear in respect others blessed themselves. Dear old Paradise had meant so much to him in life. Since he could walk he had stood in the old Jungle, rain dripping on his head. From the struggles of the post war years to the glory of Stein’s great side, he had witnessed it all and never lost his hunger for the Celts. It was strange to think that he used sing when he was drunk a version of ‘Faith of our Father’s’ which had been changed to include the words, ‘We will be buried in Dalbeth,’ because that is exactly where he was buried that day.  For him the glory and despair which comes from following Celtic was over. The struggle to survive and feed his family was over too. He had lived his life in the way he saw fit and tried to be decent. It wasn’t always easy in the society he lived in.
There were thousands of guys like Joe who followed the Hoops in the old days and grew up in a very different society from the one we see today. I’m sure there are some of you reading this who will see flashes of a father, grandfather or uncle in your mind. The old brigade had to fight for everything they had in life and often their one true pleasure was watching Celtic. It kept them going in hard times, offered them the comradeship of the terraces and gave their hard lives some brightness. If you see the old Timers around Celtic Park, always give them the respect they are due. They supported the team when they won nothing for years. They stood on the open terraces in all weathers and kept the flame alive through the lean years. We owe a lot to guys like Joe.


Friday, 18 October 2013


The Gift of Celtic

Today’s article is on a subject very close to my heart and I suspect many of you will feel the same. I have always written about the unique founding traditions of Celtic Football Club and that tradition is as alive today as it was when Brother Walfrid founded his club ‘To maintain dinner tables for the children and unemployed.’ Since November 1887, through to this day Celtic folk the world over have sought to maintain the charitable ethos of the club and extend it well beyond these shores. We no longer just seek to help the poor in our midst, although they are still here and in need of our support. From Africa to Thailand, from Belfast to Bolivia, the Celtic family has dug deep to keep alive the spirit of Brother Walfrid. I ask your help today to help maintain that spirit.

I have been very blessed that so many of my fellow Celtic fans have read and for the most part, enjoyed my articles and stories. From ‘Paddy’s Ashes’ and the ‘Celtic Spirit’ to ‘Does he take Sugar’ and ‘the Gift of Celtic’ the feedback was always very positive and inspiring. We’ve laughed, occasionally argued, shared our memories and of course confirmed that the club we all love is deeply embedded in all our hearts. Recently a couple of good Twitter Tims said we should publish a book with the best of the articles brought together in one place. We have worked away for the past few months to make it happen and I’ve also written a few new stories for the book which you’ll find nowhere else. The book is a 142 page homage to Celtic FC and the club’s incredible supporters. It represents our stories and our songs, our triumphs and our tragedies. From John Thompson to Lisbon, from Jimmy McGrory to Henrik Larsson and Seville, it weaves the legends and glory of Glasgow Celtic into a wonderful and very readable book. It also recognises that Celtic would not have been born nor would the club have thrived without their wonderful supporters. So this is also our story too, in a very real way we are all Celtic.

Of course, being true children of Walfrid, every penny we raise from sales of the book will be going to charity. We chose the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) to benefit from any money we raise. The links below will explain the wonderful work CHAS does in providing the only existing hospice service in Scotland to children and young people with life shortening conditions. It also provides a tremendous service for their families and it is absolutely fitting that the Celtic family support this vital and worthy work.

Should you wish to buy a copy of the book or indeed an e-book simply click the link below and register. Cost is expected to be around £5 and every penny made will go to CHAS. It would make a great Christmas stocking filler for any Celt and it comes with the added bonus that buying it is helping to continue the charitable work our great club was founded to do. I’ll be buying a good few for family, friends and workmates and I ask you to do the same. We are still Walfrid’s children and there are few better causes to support than the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland.

Thank you very much. I know the good men and women who follow this remarkable football club of ours will support this very worthy cause.
Hail Hail. Tirnaog

 To register for a copy of the book please visit...
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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A Matter of Respect

For a couple of years now we have watched tasteless and jingoistic displays of ‘Britishness’ going on under the guise of ‘Armed Forces day’ or ‘Remembrance’ events at Ibrox stadium. The hijacking of these events by the loyalist fringe has taken place under the noses of the watching media and senior military personnel. This tacky exhibition reached a crescendo recently when we were treated to the disgraceful sight of uniformed soldiers singing along enthusiastically with blatantly sectarian songs. All of this has hardened the opinion of some who follow Celtic that they want nothing to do with the upcoming Poppy day and remembrance ceremonies. That is a right they chose to exercise and I understand why they feel that way. Similarly I can fully understand why Irish people may have similar feelings, given the behaviour of the British army in their country over the centuries. Today I ask simply that whatever you choose to do during remembrance week, you do so recognising the right of others to follow their own conscience. It is a matter of respect.

A while back I wrote an article about the display at a Celtic v Aberdeen match urging the club not to put a poppy onto our team’s shirts.  The main point I made was that wearing a poppy in no way demonstrates support for the UK’s current military adventures or its bloody imperialist past. Rather, it recognises the charitable choice made by an individual to support former military personnel of all creeds and ethnicities who often had no choice but to serve in the forces. We are a pretty intermingled group of nations on these islands and loyalties are often mixed and boundaries blurred by the sheer complexity of our history.  Never forget the Celtic players and supporters who served in a variety of conflicts and often made the supreme sacrifice. It is also right that we also remember the victims of British armed forces, be they Indian, Kenyan, Iraqis, Afghanis or Irish. Remembrance Day is about recalling them too.

I invite you to read the article I wrote a year back and ask you to respect the choices made by your fellow fans this November whether they choose to wear a poppy or not. The right to make an informed choice is available to us all and that is only right.

Poppy Protests and the bigger picture…
In the early years of the 20th Century the demands for home rule in Ireland intensified. In the North of Ireland the Ulster Volunteers were formed to resist this movement, violently if necessary. In response to this the nationalist Irish Volunteers began to recruit, train and arm themselves. The possibility of Civil war in Ireland was high. In August 1914 World War one began and the British Government promoted it as a fight for ‘The Freedom of small nations’ the majority of the Irish Volunteers, under John Redmond, decided to fight on the allied side. They did this on the understanding that Home Rule would be granted after the war.  So it was that the Irish 16th & 10th Irish Divisions joined the 36th Ulster Division on the Western front. At the Somme in 1916 they were slaughtered in huge numbers. Indeed the war memorial at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Flanders states their casualties as follows: 10th (Irish) Division - 9,363 casualties, 16th (Irish) Division - 28,398 casualties and 36th (Ulster) Division - 32,186 casualties.  That’s almost 70,000 Irishmen of all faiths killed or maimed.  Of course the Easter Rising took place that same year and the brutal British suppression of it caused great consternation among Irish soldiers serving in France, India and many other places and led, eventually to full blown rebellion.

 Selling Poppies to raise funds to support wounded service personnel and the widows and children of those lost began in 1921. It was inspired by John McCrea’s poem which began: ‘In Flanders Fields the Poppy’s blow, between the crosses row on row.’  At least seven former Celtic players died in the conflict including the excellent Peter Johnston, star of the six in a row team. Willie Maley, a former soldier himself, is said to have cried upon hearing the news of his death. Countless supporters of the club were maimed and killed in the war too. Others achieved distinction for acts of heroism up to and including winning the Victoria Cross. In World War 2 as Britain fought Fascism, 43,000 ‘Free State’ Irishmen fought for the UK as did hundreds of thousands of Irish and their descendants in Britain. This continued to be the case in every conflict Britain has rightly or wrongly become involved in. The poppy was the symbol of remembrance for all who suffered and died in these wars. It was, as far as these things can be, a non-political gesture by people choosing to show their gratitude for the sacrifices made.  It raised few gripes for decades and I would wear a poppy to Celtic park with no comment being made about it at all.

That changed at an Aberdeen game at Celtic Park in November 2010. The much publicised banner display that day read: ‘Your Deeds Would Shame All the Devils in Hell – Afghanistan, Iraq, Ireland – No Blood Stained Poppy on our Hoops’   I am not for a moment defending the UK’s record in the countries mentioned. I know enough about history to know the sins of British Imperialism but in my opinion, this display targeted the wrong symbol. Wearing the Poppy demonstrates an awareness of the suffering of all involved in war, it is not a recognition that we agree with any war. It represents and commemorates all faiths and ethnicities, all social classes and political persuasions. My own Grandfather, a native of County Clare in Ireland, was injured by shell fire in World War 1 fighting on the Western front as part of Redmond’s Irish Volunteers. He was invalided out of the Army and put his military training to use in the war of Irish Independence fighting against the Army he once belonged to. He knew the suffering endured by all the men who slogged it out on the killing fields of France. He also saw the brutality of the British and their cohorts in Ireland but he wore his poppy every year to remember his lost comrades.

I’m not arguing that Celtic fans should wear a poppy. That is rightly an individual’s choice. What I am asking for is respect for those of us who do choose to wear one and of course for those who choose not to. That does not make us any less committed to Celtic or less proud of the club’s Irish heritage. Nor does it signify that we agree with any of the conflicts the UK has been involved in. On the contrary it will help us recall with pride and respect the countless Celtic men who gave their lives in wars throughout the Club’s 125 years of existence.  You may disagree with every word I’ve written here and that is your right but I ask you all to accept that every person has the fundamental right to choose how to commemorate the lost souls of war.

 Celtic fans were vilified in the national press for the banner display of 2010 and people the length of the UK associated Celtic FC with militant Republicanism and disrespect for the memory of the war dead. That was unfair because the supporters who organized the banner display are part of the Celtic Family, not its entirety. They do not speak for us all. Perhaps the most important words of this blog are to be found on the memorial at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Flanders. An Irish round tower made from the stones of a demolished workhouse in County Westmeath, commemorates the Irish dead of the Great War. On stone plaques beneath the tower are inscribed the following words…

’As Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness. From this sacred shrine of remembrance, where soldiers of all nationalities, creeds and political allegiances were united in death, we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society. Let us remember the solidarity and trust that developed between Protestant and Catholic Soldiers when they served together in these trenches. As we jointly thank the armistice of 11 November 1918 – when the guns fell silent along this western front - we affirm that a fitting tribute to the principles for which men and women from the Island of Ireland died in both World Wars would be permanent peace.”

That is the message I take from the sufferings of all sides in wars. That message goes to the heart of the Celtic philosophy and is why the Club chose to play players of all faiths and none when other clubs were openly sectarian. It is why I hope all are welcome in the Celtic family irrespective of their political views, religious philosophy or ethnicity. We are a diverse bunch we Celtic fans but that is not a weakness, it is our greatest strength. 




Sunday, 13 October 2013

Hidden Agenda



Hidden Agenda


My mind can sometimes wander off the beaten path when I write so bear with me today…


In Brian P Murphy’s interesting and informative book The Origins and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland 1920’  he exposes the dark goings on at the heart of the British effort to defeat the IRA led insurgency. The use of lies, torture, disinformation and a host of other ‘black-ops’ techniques will surprise few students of Irish-British history. What is surprising though is how a compliant press and many mainstream historians are still allowing views contaminated and warped by propaganda to pass as serious history. Murphy puts this down to many having ‘ideological filters’ and leanings towards the British objectives. They could never admit that the objectives of the rising, the foundation of an Irish Republic, were supported by 75% of the population as shown in the 1918 election results. It had to be portrayed as assassins and unreasonable bigots bent on some huge criminal enterprise. A similar approach was used in the more recent conflict in the north when the Army’s ‘Psy-ops’ unit beavered away to discredit, blacken and undermine those they saw as the enemy. The public were led to believe that their sons were merely keeping two warring tribes apart and not, as was the case, actively taking sides.  Gerry Adams commented that photographs of bruised, beaten and humiliated prisoners in Iraq made to pose with smiling soldiers brought back painful memories of his treatment in the early 1970s. None of this reached the press of the time though and they continued to push the party line. Such is the way of propaganda. Today, a new player has entered the game and it makes propaganda a more challenging and confusing art to succeed at. It is of course the internet.  


From Wikileaks to Charlotte fakes the game has changed. If knowledge is power them the democratising aspect of the internet has spread a little of that power to the masses kept in the dark and treated like children by the governing elites. The mask slips now and then and we are given a glimpse of how the machine actually works. Vested interests, secret meetings, hidden agreements are the order of the day. It reads like a cold war novel but it’s actually the tale of Scottish Football over the last few years and many are heartily sick of it. The establishment club, Titanic like, had steamed towards the iceberg of debt and been fatally holed. Even as it sunk and the players jumped ship, the propaganda war began. ‘Too big to fail’ we were told. ‘Death of Scottish football’ they said. ‘Armageddon and civil unrest’ they screamed. Of course, all of this was patent nonsense peddled by the laptop loyal. A good example of how it all works was demonstrated in a leaked email from Ibrox PR department which stated; ‘Spoke to Daryl, he’ll fight Rangers corner on SSB tonight.’ Is that how our radio sports shows work, people doing a PR job disguised as impartial journalists? Then, when the dinosaur of Edmiston Drive finally died, we were treated to the tawdry attempts to shoe horn the new club into the SPL. However, when the peasants from Aberdeen to Annan rightly revolted at that unfair prospect the sporting authorities went for a first division slot. Again the Spartacists’ rose up, using the power of the new technologies to coordinate their arguments for decency, fairness and sporting integrity. Again the powers that be wilted before admitting the new club to the fourth tier of Scottish football. Can you imagine the scenario if the calamity which destroyed Rangers had happened to Celtic? I can.  


We have seen since then the lie that the club didn’t actually die peddled almost daily in the media. We have seen the incredible decision of the Nimmo-Smith Report find that millions of pounds paid to players of the old club in undisclosed EBT’s did not give them an unfair sporting advantage. Of course the good Judge is a man of integrity who can only make adjudications on the evidence provided to him. They key witness here being the SFA contracts manager who astonishingly told him there were no improperly registered players representing Rangers in the EBT years. Fining the dead club for the breach of the rules was a bit like fining the Romans for destroying Carthage. That no titles were expunged from the record remains a stain on Scottish Sporting integrity.


We now see the unedifying sight of the new club clawing its way up the leagues and its support feasting on empty victories against part timers and tales of how they were poorly treated by the rest of Scottish football. The collapse of the old club in debt ridden shame was, apparently, all caused by those who hate Rangers. This revisionism has filled the less intelligent sector of their fan base with a twisted and vengeful self-righteousness which will no doubt lead to problems when they once again appear in the top flight like a drunken gate-crasher at a wedding. For the time being we watch them wander around the lower leagues like a heavyweight boxer in a Primary school playground boasting he’s the best fighter in the school. They have learned nothing from their disgrace, if anything they are more arrogant than before.


What then has been Celtic’s role in all of this? I read with interest a letter to Peter Lawwell from a lifelong Celtic fan, Alzipratu, who returned the Celtic scarf he has worn to games since the 1970s.  Alzipratu argued that Celtic had been far too inactive over the whole Rangers debacle and that the corruption of Scottish football by the governing bodies and its tacit support from sections of a compliant media meant he could no longer pay to watch our national game. It was a powerful restating of opinions many in Scottish football hold about the tawdry going on over the past 2 years. We’ve watched with growing unease the re-writing of history to suit the agenda that Rangers never died. Alizipratu says sadly at the end of his eloquent letter…


‘As of today, I give up on Celtic because I will not participate in this sham.  I have better things to spend my time, emotions and money on.  I will not purchase any merchandise.  I will not renew my season ticket.  I will not attend any games.  I will not encourage my children to watch or support Celtic.  It breaks my heart but the bond is broken.’


Whether you agree with his decision to quit the ‘sham’ of Scottish football or not, it is worth reading his letter in full and seeing his utter disdain for what has gone on in our national sport in the last few years. He is not alone in his disgust at the way the whole Rangers debacle has been handled. For many it confirmed their view that our national game is riven with bias and even corruption. Celtic fans are called paranoid when they raise issues such as poor refereeing or the George Cadete affair, when it took the SFA 6 weeks to send a fax. This time there is a consensus among most fans in Scottish football that the whole Rangers fiasco was dreadfully handled by the authorities and made our game a laughing stock. I won’t be abandoning football because Celtic means more to me than the whole rotten gang running our game. However, I foresee troubled times ahead for the game and the blame for that lies squarely with the apologists who bent over backwards to accommodate the new club.