Friday, 27 December 2013


When you see it…
Peter looked out of the dusty window at the dark street below where the orange glow of the street lights was reflected in the many puddles. The shadowy, decrepit tenements of Glasgow’s east end looked grim and unwelcoming in the late December sleet. A few Christmas trees dotted here and there twinkled behind net curtains brightening the scene, if only slightly. ‘When’s my Da coming?’ Peter said impatiently. His mother stopped clearing the ashes of yesterday’s fire from the grate and turned to regard her son. ‘Peter, if this is about this football thing, I wouldn’t build your hopes up. You know you can’t get a wheelchair intae Celtic Park.’ Peter replied with his usual spirit, ‘but my Da said he’d fix it! I’ve never been to a game against Rangers before!He said when I was 10 I could go, well I'm 10 noo.' She shook her head, ‘Son, these big games are too full, the Polis won’t let you in and the drinking that goes on makes it too dangerous.’ Peter said nothing and wheeled his chair back around to face the window, a determined look on his face. His Da had never let him down in all his 10 years of life, if it could be done, he’d do it.

As Peter’s bed time neared he heard a familiar song outside in the street below. ‘The Rangers are up the greasy Pole, Parlez-vous, the Rangers are up the greasy Pole, Parlez-vous!’’ It was his Father and Uncle Tommy, the worse for drink but seemingly happy nonetheless. Peter’s mother heaved a sigh, ‘That’ll be yer Da no doubt, letting the whole street know he’s drunk!’  Peter wheeled himself into the middle of the room as his mother opened the front door. ‘There’s ma darling there!’ he heard his old man say, ‘Get the records oan doll!’ The tell tale clink of bottles told Peter the drinking wasn’t over just yet. As Peter’s mother headed for the kitchen to resurrect the meal she’d prepared hours ago, Peter’s dad bumbled into the living room, Uncle Tommy in tow. ‘There’s ma wee Petesy boy!’ Peter smiled, his father was happy on drink, more loud than dangerous. In fact he didn’t have violent bone in his body. ‘Did ye get me a ticket Da?’ Peter said anxiously, still determined to see an Old Firm game. His father held his index finger to his lips like a bad actor, ‘Shhhh, Yer auld Da’s got everything under control.

Large brown beer bottles were placed on the coffee table and his Mother placed two plates of warm food in front of the two animated men. Peter knew it was bed time. His Dad hugged him and slurred in his ear, ‘My New Year’s resolution is tae get you intae that gem son!’ Peter smiled, ‘Night Da.’ He wheeled himself into his room and as he was lifted from his chair by his mother and placed on his bed she smiled at him, ‘Don’t listen to yer Da making promises he can’t keep. You’ll only be disappointed.’ As she helped him into his pyjamas she frowned at the large scars on his young body caused by a coal lorry slipping its handbrake and careering into him as he played football in the street. That was two years ago and the surgeons had all told her the same thing. He wouldn’t walk again. She had cried for a week but at least she still had her boy. She kissed him goodnight and left, leaving the lamp on. Young Peter looked at the posters on the wall of his bedroom. Fallon, Young, Gemmell, Murdoch, Johnstone, Auld and of course, his favourite player of all, the speedy Steve Chalmers, smiled back encouragingly at him. ‘Only a week till we play Rangers,’ he said quietly to himself, ‘I hope my Da remembers.’ Sleep slowly took him as he imagined himself diving for a Johnstone cross and burying it in the Rangers net. He wanted to go to his first Old Firm game so badly.
The 3rd of January 1966 dawned cold and foggy. As Peter’s mother helped him dress he could hear his father fiddling with the radio, trying to find out if the game was on or not. ‘Come oan!’ he said to the radio, ‘get tae the sports!’ As Peter entered the living room the radio announcer said in quaint clipped BBC English, ‘Today’s big football match between Celtic and Rangers goes ahead despite the fog. Fans are urged to arrive early for the match.’ His Dad winked at him as he switched the radio back to a music station, ‘Game’s oan, wee man!’ Peter smiled back, ‘Are ye taking me Da, are ye really taking me?  As the Beatles began singing, ‘We can work it out,’ Peter’s Father smiled at him, ‘Just let anybody try and stop me!’  At that point Peter’s mother came into the living room, ‘Yer no planning tae take that boy to the match are ye John? I mean get real, he canny walk for God’s sake!’ Young Peter’s father looked at his wife, ‘Agnes, I’ve got it all worked oot, we get there nice and early, I stick his chair in wee Matt’s hoose on the London Road and carry Peter up tae the Park.’ She shook her head, ‘Carry him? He’s 10 years old John, he’s heavy and you plan to carry him, and haud him up for two hours in the freezing cauld tae?’ John Muldoon lost most arguments to his wife but he wasn’t giving this one up, ‘Tommy will be there tae help and so will Paddy Tonner, Agnes the boy is desperate tae see Celtic play that mob, ur ye gonny tell him he can never dae it? Wit dae we teach him? That ye just gie up in life?’ Agnes Muldoon frowned, ‘On your heed be it, you get that boy back here in wan piece, ye hear me?’ John stood and placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders, ‘Agnes, he’ll be fine, it’s the boy's dream, can we deny him that?’

John Muldoon wrapped his son up well that cold January day. He had two pairs of socks on and layers of clothing beneath his heavy duffle coat. John   carried Peter down from the first floor tenement flat, noticing that the boy was indeed getting heavy. Peter’s Uncle Tommy carried his chair down the close stairs and placed it on the damp pavement outside. Once Peter was lifted into it, his father pushed him along the Gallowgate before cutting down to the London Road. There were already many fans milling around the area in front of Celtic Park. They entered the close of John Muldoon’s former workmate wee Matt Clark. Matt had retired a few years before and his lung problems meant he couldn’t walk far or get to see Celtic much despite living within a few hundred yards of the stadium. ‘Stick the chair in the lobby, John, ye can get it after the gem,’ Matt wheezed.  John Muldoon picked up his son as Tommy rolled the chair into Matt’s hall. The little man smiled at Peter, ‘Hope we get a good result for ye the day son.’ Peter smiled, excitement written all over his face, ‘Jock has got them playing good fitbaw, we should do well.’ Wee Matt grinned, 'McGrory scored in my first Old Firm game, ye never forget these things.' They said their cheerio’s to a smiling wee Matt and headed out of the close to the London Road.

Peter, arms around his father’s neck as he was carried across the road, looked up Kerrydale Street. Thousands of people were milling around, talking, laughing, smoking. There was an excitement in the air and the first throbbing songs could be heard from inside the stadium. ‘Celtic know all about their troubles…’  This was greeted with loud jeers from the Celtic end who responded with a growing chorus of….’In the war against Rangers, in the fight for the cup, when Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up, We've done it before and we'll do it again…’ Peter’s eyes were shining as he took it all in. They met John’s friend Paddy Tonner near the turnstiles at the Celtic end. ‘Aw right, wee Peter, gon tae yer first big gem the day eh?’ Peter’s dad, still carrying him in that upright in the manner people usually carry small children, grinned, ‘Less gabbing you, let’s get in and get a good spot near the front before it's too crowded.’  They joined the growing queue at the turnstiles to the left of the red brick fa├žade of the main stand. A burly Policeman looked a John carrying his son, ‘He awright?’ the Policeman enquired, ‘Aye, he’s fine, Pal. Just hurt his knee playing fitbaw this mornin,’ lied John Muldoon. The policeman was distracted by a dispute further down the queue and ignored John and Peter. John clicked through the familiar turnstile with his son and smiled at him as he saw the familiar concrete steps in front of him, ‘Made it Peter!’ Peter was grinning for ear to ear, ‘I knew ye’d dae it Da.’ As they reached the top of the stairs and saw the stadium spread out before them John saw the same wonder in his son’s face that he had known as a boy when he watched Tully, Stein and Evans.

They found a spot at the front of the Celtic end and John Muldoon placed his son’s legs carefully over the wall and stood close behind him. Peter had a great view and his Father, Uncle and big Paddy Tonner formed a protective screen around him. Peter watched Celtic Park slowly fill and the decibel level rise. Behind him the packed Celtic end roared out, ‘I’ve played the wild rover for many a year and I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and beer…’ As the teams came out the roar reached a crescendo, three sides of the stadium echoed to ‘Celtic, Celtic, Celtic…’ Peter turned briefly and looked at his Father, eyes moist, ‘Thanks Da, just thanks.’ His old man nodded, a lump in his throat ‘No problem Peter.’ The game thundered to life as Peter glanced across to the tunnel area where the unmistakable figure of Jock Stein limped into the home dugout. Peter glanced back to the play just in time to see Wilson hammer a loose ball past Ronnie Simpson. It was a jolt to them all, Celtic were a goal behind after less than two minutes. From the far end Peter could hear a familiar chorus…. ‘And its colours they are fine, it was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne…’  Celtic restarted the game and pressed Rangers back. Shots flew wide and Rangers clung on desperately as the magical Jimmy Johnstone danced past defenders and crossed into the box time and time again. Murdoch and Auld were beginning to pull the strings in midfield and Rangers, through luck more than skill, held on till the half time whistle brought them some temporary relief. Peter looked at his father, ‘We’ll score Da, don’t worry.’ His father returned his smile, ‘I know son, big Jock will change things a wee bit, tell them how to unlock this defence.’

The second half began and Celtic laid siege to the Rangers goal again. The powerful Hughes on one side and the mesmeric Johnstone on the other stretched their defence. Gallagher, Chalmers and McBride were increasingly threatening the Rangers goal, something had to give…and it did. Steve Chalmers headed the equaliser on 49 minutes and the old stadium rocked and roared as never before. Celtic’s days of being soft touches, hard luck stories were over. They ripped Rangers apart on that foggy winter’s day. Young Peter Muldoon watched stunned as Chalmers put Celtic ahead before Charlie Gallagher made it three! Then as Peter watched through the misty January air, Bobby Murdoch bulleted an unstoppable shot high into the Rangers net. The Celtic end was in raptures, it was 4-1! But they weren’t finished yet. Chalmers completed his hat trick just before Referee, Tiny Wharton, blew for full time to being the rout to a halt. As the teams’ trooped of, Celtic received a standing ovation from the huge home support. Peter and his Dad joined in as the fans roared out, ‘Sure it’s a grand old team to play for, sure it’s a grand old team to see….’ As the players vanished from sight, Peter turned to his father and said just one word... ‘Magic!

They waited patiently until the happy home crowd began to depart. Eventually they were left on the huge terracing with the last few happy Celtic fans. Around them the empty bottles, cans and litter of a big game. John Muldoon picked his son up and carried him up the terracing steps and back towards the exit. Paddy Tonner looked at John, ‘Big Jock is building quite a team here, John.’ John nodded, ‘Who knows what they can achieve?  The big Glaswegian looked at Peter, ‘Well, whit did ye make of yer first Old Firm game, wee man?’ Peter beamed back at him, ‘I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.’  His father hugged him. ‘Neither will I Peter, neither will I.’

Sleep came slowly to Peter Muldoon that night. He lay in his bed reliving every moment of Celtic’s incredible destruction of Rangers on that foggy day. He could hear the roars of the huge crowd, feel the songs vibrate in the cold air. Smell the smoke, the stale sweat, the beer but most of all he could see in his mind Celtic playing with such power, skill and pace.  They were destined for great things this side Stein was building. As Peter drifted off to sleep his father slipped into the room and sat on his bed watching him. ‘Glad ye came today, Peter’ he whispered to the sleeping boy. ‘Glad you could see whit I saw when I was your age. That wis Celtic fitbaw we saw the day, you’ll recognise it noo when ye see it’ He stroked his sleeping son’s hair and walked from the room wiping a tear from his eye.

 

 

 

2 comments:

  1. This evokes lovely memories of a very different time. The best team in the world on the park, the best band of all time on the radio and a touching appreciation of the best of human values on the terracings.
    Delightful storytelling.

    ReplyDelete