Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Postcard from Lisbon
A shrill whistle from German referee Kurt Tschenscher pierced Cal’s heart like an arrow. It was a penalty. A penalty to Inter Milan after Jim Craig had tackled an Italian in the box and he’d tumbled to the lush, emerald turf. Cal felt like crying, was his dream falling apart? Would the street wise Italians mug Celtic like they had so many other teams over the past few seasons. He buried his face in his Dad’s chest as Sandro Mazzola placed the ball on the spot and stepped back to take the kick. ‘Miss it, miss it, miss it!’ Cal prayed to himself with eyes closed. A roar announced that Mazzola had buried the ball in the net behind Ronnie Simpson. Celtic were a goal down to the most accomplished defensive side in European football. Cal looked up at his Dad who smiled encouragingly at him, ‘Nothing worth having comes easily son, we’ll have tae attack now like never before.’

Celtic did indeed attack. They attacked as if their lives depended on it. Shot after shot rained in on the excellent goalkeeper Sarti who parried, punched and clutched everything Celtic threw at him. ‘Come on Celtic!’ roared Cal as Murdoch fired in a shot which the swarthy keeper tipped over the bar. Hope was springing anew in the youngster as he saw how determined Celtic were to get back in this game. It was relentless attacking, Johnstone jinked and swerved past bewildered Italians, stretching and pulling the defence all over the pitch. Full backs Craig and Gemmell joined in the attack as the siege on the Inter goal continued. Murdoch and Auld probed and passed, seeking that chink in the armour which would give Celtic the precious goal they needed. They played football with a style and verve which Patsy Gallagher, Maley, Tully or Dan Doyle would have recognised as the Celtic way. The Inter goal lived a charmed life in that first 45 minutes and most would say Celtic were unlucky not to be level or ahead. Only the excellent Sarti combined with the woodwork kept these hungry Celts at bay as the Celtic players lived up to their history as a positive attacking side Cal watched as wave after wave of Celtic attacks broke on the finest defence in Europe. It was to no avail as half time arrived and the Italians headed for the dressing room ahead and seemingly good enough, or at least lucky enough, to withstand the Celtic onslaught.
Cal’s Dad passed him a bottle of water as the hot Portuguese sun beat down on him and the thousands of pale Scots who had come so far to see their team on its date with destiny. They had travelled the physical miles from Scotland and other places but in another sense they had travelled out of a past which so shaped them all and now they stood at the gates of glory. Brother Walfrid could never have imagined that the club he formed to feed the poor would one day play a game to decide if they were the greatest team in Europe. Nor could he have foreseen that, in many cases, the grandchildren of those same poor would go on a thousand mile pilgrimage to roar them on. ‘We’ll score Da,’ said Cal hopefully, ‘They can’t be that lucky in the second half, we should be 3 or 4 ahead on chances.’ His Dad nodded, ‘I know Cal but sometimes you don’t get what you deserve out of life.’ Cal took his hand, ‘Jock will tell them what to do, he always has the answers.’ Big Frank Callaghan nodded, looking around the stadium at the thousands of hope filled Celtic fans who had made the long trip, ‘I hope so son, I really do.’ In his mind he replayed games Celtic had dominated and lost in his time following the club. It was a long list.
As the teams came out for the second half a man lost somewhere in the crowd began slow, one word chant well known on the terraces of Parkhead, ‘Cellllll-tiiic’ Within seconds, dozens, hundreds and then thousands joined his as the words flowed onto the pitch to reassure the players that the fans still believed….’Cellll-tic, Celll-tic, Celltic, Celtic!’ The game got underway and the players in green and white hooped shirts moved the ball quickly and confidently, the siege resumed. The songs continued from the packed terracing behind the goal. Cal’s father roared at the field as if his voice could change events there. A further 15 minutes of relentless pressure and still Inter held out. Then came a moment which would live with Cal all of his life. Bobby Murdoch clipped a pass wide to Jim Craig on the right hand side of the Inter box. The Italians scampered towards him as he drove into the penalty area. The full back hesitated as if unsure who to pass to but it was a feint, he was waiting for Gemmell who was driving towards the Inter box like a runaway train. Craig cushioned the ball along the 18 yard line as the Italians suddenly realised that they had been outflanked. One of them desperately rushed at Gemmell as his mighty right foot crashed the ball towards goal. It flashed through the air in the bright Lisbon sunshine….

Cal watched that thunderous shot fly towards the Inter goal as if in slow motion. The massed ranks of Celtic fans behind the goal saw it streak towards Sarti’s goal, willing it into the net. Surely this was it, surely now they’d get the goal their play deserved? The Italian keeper barely saw it as it exploded behind him! ‘Yeeesssss!’ roared Cal hugging Shug and dancing a jig of delight, ‘We’ve done it!’ His father’s strong arms swept both boys up in a joyous embrace born somewhere in the hungry years when Celtic were winning nothing and heartbreak and humiliation were commonplace. The crowd were ecstatic. Surely Inter who had staked all on being able to keep Celtic at bay couldn’t recover from this hammer blow?  Again the Celtic players drove forward. Murdoch brought out a great save from Sarti and the shots continued to fly towards the inspired keeper who seemed now to be the only thing standing between Celtic and their destiny. Cal asked his father, ‘How long to go Da?’ Big Frank grimaced, ‘Five or six minutes, let’s hope it doesn’t need a replay.’ The fans began to sing again, ‘For it’s a grand old team to play for…’ as Murdoch picked up a pass at the edge of the box. The midfielder fired a low shot towards goal. Cal watched, riveted by the sheer spectacle and the battle of wills between Stein’s determined team and the black clad Sarti. As Murdoch’s shot flew towards the six yard box, Sarti waited to claim it, however the ever alert Chalmers stuck out a glorious right foot and diverted it past the keeper and into the net.

Cal’s reaction to that goal mirrored that of his Father, they embraced in silence as thousands went mad with joy around them. Tears flowed from both their eyes. There were tears of joy that they could be here together to share this magical moment when Celtic finally grasped the greatness that was their destiny. There were also bittersweet tears too for old Tam whom they had buried a few days earlier. How the old fella would have loved this, seeing his ‘Wee team from the Gallowgate’ becoming the greatest side in Europe. Cal smiled at his father, face wet with tears and nodded. No words were needed, they both knew what the other was thinking. The remaining minutes of the game were a blur to Cal and played out amid scenes of undiminished bedlam among the Celtic support. Not only had they mastered the best defensive team in Europe, they had done so playing the brand of football they were famous for…and then it was over. The club with roots in the poor community of Glasgow’s east end had risen to defeat the aristocrats of European football. Not only that, they had played the game with a smile on their faces, they had entertained and attacked from the outset. They were champions of Europe and all the struggles, all the pain and all the false dawns were in this past.
From behind them Celtic fans rushed towards the pitch in their hundreds. Cal looked at his father who smiled through his tears, ‘Go on son, I’ll get ye back here when it’s over.’ Cal and Shug clambered over the low fence at the front of the terracing and joined hundreds of Celtic fans who swept towards the field, a tsunami of joy, to embrace their team. He fought his way through the joyous throng to the centre circle where Shug stopped him, a huge grin on his face and pointing away to his left said, ‘Look Cal, wid ye just look at that!’ Cal turned in time to see Billy McNeil standing high above the pitch on a marble podium like some Roman Emperor looking down on the Coliseum. In the brightness of a Portuguese summer day the colours seemed more vivid. They could see McNeil’s green and white shirt and then a glint of silver as he took possession of the big cup. Then in a moment Cal would remember every day of his life, the Celtic skipper held the big cup above his head. ‘That’s for you, Granda!’ Cal roared as the fans cheered themselves hoarse. Of course it was for him, and every Celtic fan like him who had laughed, cried, suffered and been made proud by this incredible football club since Neil McCallum scored the very first goal for Walfrid’s team 79 years earlier.
 The following day thousands of delirious and in many cases, still drunk, Celtic fans were leaving Lisbon, smiles etched onto their faces. Cal had got to bed long after midnight after hours of singing and celebrating in the bars of Lisbon. As a youngster he didn’t touch the drink which flowed in fountains among the fans. He awoke in his hotel bed with the sun already high in the sky. For a horrible moment he thought he was home in Glasgow and it’d all been a glorious dream. He sat up and saw Shuggy looking at a Portuguese newspaper. ‘Look at that mate,’ he smiled turning the paper so Cal could see the front page. It showed a picture of Billy McNeil holding aloft the big cup. Cal grinned, ‘What a day eh? Glad we missed school for this!’ Later, Cal’s Father wrote out a quick postcard in the foyer of his hotel as he waited for the taxi which would whisk them to the airport. He addressed it to his wife back home and although he’d probably arrive home before it, it’d be still nice to receive a card from the scene of Celtic’s greatest triumph. On the postcard he wrote just one word… ‘Easy!’



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