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.