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.’




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