Friday, 31 January 2014

Now and again someone out there in the wide world of football has a go at Celtic or their fans in a manner which disturbs my sense of fair play. It happened a week or so back when author Irvine Welsh fired off some ill-advised tweets in the wake of Hibs 4-0 drubbing from Celtic at Easter Road.

As a child of the housing schemes of Glasgow, many of the scenes described in Irvine Welsh’s darkly comic novel ‘Trainspotting’ were worryingly familiar. Like many city dwellers I know of many who succumbed to drugs, alcohol, violence and the sort of despair that life at the bottom of the pile can engender in some. Welsh’s book was moulded into an exceptional movie by the excellent director Danny Boyle. That thumping soundtrack set against the grim reality of the drug culture at its seamiest worst was always going to make for compulsive viewing. Whether you like Welsh’s work or not he certainly caused ripples in the calm pond of the British cultural scene. His exposure of the underbelly of society and earthy use of vernacular Scottish dialect led to him being hailed as a genius by some and damned by others as a foul mouthed scheme boy who should know his place. I liked much of his output and still have a few books on the shelves which had their genesis in his interesting mind. It’s never cosy or comfortable reading with Welsh but it’s seldom boring either. Welsh gave a voice to people who usually go unheard in our literary tradition and demonstrated again that ordinary working class folk are as capable artistically as any of the Ox-Bridge crowd. He didn’t do easy stereotypes, or so I thought until his utterances online after the recent Hibs v Celtic match. He tweeted…

‘Tough one for Hibs but we were always going to find it hard against the financially/sectarian doped club with our makeshift defence.’

When challenged about this by a few Celtic supporters he responded by tweeting the following…

‘However we have the satisfaction of being the first to wear the proud green of beautiful Ireland, so ram that right up your sectarian holes.’

These strange utterances left many bemused. Financially doped? Sectarian?  Welsh seems to imply that Celtic (and Rangers) played the ‘sectarian card’ to gain financially and become more powerful in Scottish football. It is undeniable that Rangers pandered to base sectarianism for a large part of their history, but Celtic? Look at any dictionary for a definition of ‘Sectarian’ and you’ll find it says something like…

A person strongly supporting a particular religious group, especially in such a way as not to be willing to accept other beliefs.’

Does that definition describe Celtic or the vast majority of their fans? Hell no! Anyone who reads a history of Celtic will know that our sides have been mixed from the start. Given that the club was founded by a committee formed by a Marist Brother in the hall of a Catholic church, it is laudable that they refused to go down the exclusive route which other clubs, such as Hibs, did in late Victorian Scotland. That Welsh is a Hibs fan makes his utterances even more odd as he must know that his club’s roots were in Catholic Young Men’s Society at St Patrick’s Church in Edinburgh and that players in the club’s first years were members of the CYMS and all Catholics. Indeed Hibs exclusivity meant that they were initially refused entry to the Scottish game on the grounds that they weren’t a Scottish club but an Irish one! Welsh must also know that many of the Glasgow Irish saw Hibs as their team in the days before Celtic were founded. Many of the Glasgow Irish attended their appearance in the cup final of 1887 and celebrated their success in great style. Indeed it was at a celebration dinner to mark Hibs Cup Final victory of 1887 which first gave inspiration to the Glasgow Irish to form their own side. This celebration in St Mary’s Hall in the Calton district of Glasgow saw Hibs players and officials invited as honoured guests to share their triumph with their compatriots in the west. Indeed they urged their Glasgow Irish community to ‘do the same and found a club in the west.’ Brother Walfrid heard their call and did just that.

Welsh’s boast that Hibs were…‘first to wear the proud green of beautiful Ireland,’ may or may not be true given the large number of clubs using names such as ‘Harp’ or ‘Emerald’ which were founded and then vanished in the early days of Scottish football. It is of course true that Hibs pre-date Celtic but Welsh misses the crucial fact that they were the proud representatives of all the central belt Irish community, east and west in the days before 1888. Their ‘wearing of the green’ in many a triumph in the early days of Scottish football was as much a cause of  celebration in the east end of Glasgow as it was in Leith. Of course, Celtic’s poaching of their best players led to bad feeling between the clubs which lingered long. The West of Scotland’s huge Irish population always meant that Celtic would grow to be a bigger club than Hibs. His casual labelling of Celtic fans who challenged his tweets as ‘Sectarian’ demonstrates a lazy stereotyping which goes against the grain of so much of his work. Celtic, like every club, has fans of all shades of opinion. A few idiots follow Celtic as they do all clubs but sectarian? It’s bad enough that we live in a society which seeks to ‘sectarianize’ any display of Irishness without his thoughtless waffling adding to the demonization of an authentic and keenly held identity. Anyone who has read my ramblings will know I don’t appreciate the singing of Political songs at football but I will never accept that Irish nationalist songs are any more sectarian than Scottish ones.  So where is this ‘sectarian doping’ Mr Welsh?

Of course some of Welsh’s more sycophantic followers commended him for ‘slinging out a hook’ and watching the ‘fish bite’ as if it were all a big joke. This is the standard online reaction when you realise you’ve tweeted a lot of nonsense; it was all to get the dafties to bite. The tiresome and puerile ‘bad old Glasgow Bigots’ line was trotted out as if it were true. They even trotted out statistics on domestic violence after ‘Old Firm’ (remember them) games as if this were proof that all fans of Celtic were pond life. Utter  tosh which displayed the sort of myopic intolerance they claimed to be attacking. But maybe I’m reading too much into Welsh’s comments. Perhaps he was just a disappointed fan with a few beers in him blowing off steam? But then as this wealthy man sits in Miami pontificating on Scottish football and society perhaps he should consider the fact that in recent years I’ve been on the receiving end of sectarian abuse at St Mirren, Hearts, Dundee, Aberdeen, Rangers, Kilmarnock and yes even Hibs. That blows the myth that it’s all a ‘Weegie’ problem eh? Thought you were better than that Irvine but then maybe your books are more interesting than you.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Stopping the Ten

Stopping the Ten
‘Yer joking!’ said Matt incredulous but the stone face of his boss told him he wasn’t. ‘I’m not Joking Matt, you’ll be at your work next Saturday or don’t bother coming back.’ Matt held his tongue and watched as his rotund, red faced boss waddled off towards his office, he knew he’d have his usual sneer on his face as there was nothing Billy Weir liked more than annoying those he described to his bigoted friends as ‘Tattie munchers.’ Scott turned and looked around the warehouse shaking his head slowly. Tate knew the last game of the season was next week and that Celtic might just finally win the league after ten long, bitter years. He could have scheduled anyone to work the Saturday shift and he’d picked Matt. ‘Bastard,’ Matt thought to himself, ‘you know exactly what you’re doing ya rotten bigoted prick! His work colleague and fellow Celtic fan Tony McGee stopped his forklift truck in front of Matt and jumped out, ‘You’ll get yerself knocked doon standing there in like a spare prick at a wedding! Whits up wi ye anyway, yer dug died?’ Matt liked Tony, he was one of those guys who always saw the bright side of things but as Tony learned that Tait was making Matt work the Saturday shift the following week, he frowned, ‘That’s no fair,’ he said, ‘any number of guys would do that shift. He knows how wound up you are about stopping that mob winning ten in a row.’ Matt nodded, ‘Hopefully we’ll get a wee miracle and the Celts will win it this weekend then?’ Tony shook his head, ‘They’ve got Kilmarnock at Ibrox Matt. They clowns win there every time Haley’s comet comes round so I wouldn’t build up yer hopes.’ Matt shrugged, ‘Anyway, nothing we can do, back to work eh?’ Tony clambered back into his forklift and glanced back at Matt, ‘Still, we’re going tae Dunfermline on Sunday eh?’ Matt nodded, ‘Defo mate, you never know what will happen in fitbaw!’
The following day, Saturday 3rd May 1998, a stressed Matt McVie found himself in the crowded car park outside the Asda listening to the radio in his battered old Fiesta. Radio Scotland’s live commentary on the Rangers v Kilmarnock game was torture to him. Kilmarnock had, through luck and sheer persistence, got through the 90 minutes at 0-0 and now an unending period of injury time stretched Matt’s nerves to breaking point, ‘Blow the whistle ya prick!’ he shouted at the radio but Referee Bobby Tait seemed determined to let the game run on interminably. Matt’s wife appeared with a trolley full of groceries and tapped on the window momentarily distracting him from the game. It was as if he had been startled out of a trance so wrapped up had he been in the game on the radio. He jumped from the car and opened the boot and began loading the shopping straining to hear the commentary from Ibrox. His wife was about to speak to him but  he cut her short as he heard the near hysterical commentary from the radio proclaim…’It’s a goal, the ball is in the net….’ He held his head in his hand, ‘I knew it!’ he roared’ Jammy bastards!’ 95 fuckin minutes and they score!’ His wife’s faced changed to that ‘I think you better calm down’ look she did so well but as the commentator on the radio continued his excited babbling Matt’s face changed….’In an astonishing finale to this vital game, Ally Mitchell has blown Rangers title hopes apart, and there’s the whistle, it’s all over, Kilmarnock have beaten Rangers by one goal to nil!’ Matt dropped the Asda bag he was holding as the reality sunk in, Kilmarnock had scored not Rangers! The game was over and incredibly Celtic were now in pole position to win the league. As the bag, containing among other things eggs, crashed to the tarmac Matt let put a roar and punched the sky, ‘Yeeessss! Ya fuckin dancer!’ His wife looked at him as flash of anger crossing her face, ‘You’ve broken the eggs ya big…’ But before she could finish her sentence he grabbed her, kissed her full on the lips and began to dance a clumsy jig in the busy Asda car park singing loudly…’Not by the Hearts, the Hibs or the Rangers, we shall not be moved!’ As passing shoppers looked at the odd sight of a man dancing and singing in the supermarket car park, his rather embarrassed wife couldn’t help but smile a little, ‘Yer aff yer bloody hied Matt McVie!’ Matt loaded the rest of the shopping into the car a smile etched onto his face. Celtic could now clinch the league the following day at Dunfermline perhaps missing the final game with St Johnstone wouldn’t be the blow he thought it would be? It all rested on Sunday’s game in Fife.

The following day Matt picked up Tony and his brother Frank and joined the long green and white convoy snaking its way across Scotland to Fife. The mood on the buses and cars was excitable and tense in equal measure. After a decade of misery Celtic simply had to win this game to spark the mother of all parties. Some of the younger fans could barely remember when Celtic had last won the league but now they were here to see their own little piece of history. Dunfermline’s little stadium was full to capacity and it seemed Celtic fans had somehow bought 90% of the tickets. The team came out to a deafening roar and seemed to respond to the backing of the huge away support. Matt stood behind the goal on the sun kissed open terrace as Simon Donnelly latched onto a through ball and slammed it past the keeper. The Celtic support exploded and Matt, Frank and Tony formed their own joyous huddle as they celebrated the goal. Celtic seemed comfortable in the game but 1-0 is never a secure lead and as the game wore on that nervousness which seemed to afflict their play so often this season returned. ‘Just hold on!’ Matt mumbled to himself as Dunfermline grew more confident. Then, late in that second half, as Dunfermline prepared to take a free kick tall, gangling centre-half Craig Falconbridge trotted into the Celtic box to support the forwards. As the ball was whipped into the box he made his move. The static Celtic defence failed to mark him as he met the ball and headed it towards goal. As Matt and thousands of other green clad fans watched in horror, it looped high into the air, over the despairing fingers of Jonathan Gould and into the Celtic net. Matt closed his eyes and exhaled, they weren’t going to blow it were they? They weren’t going to throw the title away when it was within touching distance? The game limped on to its inevitable conclusion. Celtic had failed to clinch the title they and their supporters craved so much. Matt saw a boy of about ten dressed in a Celtic shirt openly crying as they left East End Park. His green and white face paint was streaked with tears as his grim faced father tried to comfort him with the words, ‘We’ll do it next week son, don’t worry.’ Matt hoped they would indeed do it next week because after a decade of failure, Celtic owed it to these fans to finally deliver the goods. Everything would now be decided the following week when Celtic hosted St Johnstone and Rangers travelled to Tannadice. The stress was almost unbearable in this remarkable season.

The following week at work dragged past in a blur of tension and occasional ill-tempered exchanges at work. Most of the guys in the warehouse were followers of Glasgow’s big two although only one or two were of the extreme type who allowed the rivalry to fill them with hate. Matt passed the week as tense as the rest but an underlying disappointment filled him as he wouldn’t be able to go to the game. Tony spoke quietly to him the Friday before the deciding league match. ‘I’m really sorry ye canny make the game the morra mate, I wish there was something we could dae aboot it.’  Matt was philosophical, ‘Just win the game mate and stop that mob making it ten and I’ll be happy.’ Tony could sense his friend’s disappointment but a plan was forming in his mind. ‘I’m in till lunchtime on Saturday mate, we’ll see what happens.’ Matt looked at him, ‘Don’t dae anything stupid Tony, we both need our jobs here.’ Tony smiled, ‘Me? You know I’m Mr Sensible!’ Just then Archie Lennox an older man with no interest in football approached. ‘I hear you’re looking for me, Tony?’ Tony nodded, ‘Aye Archie, mon we’ll take a stroll tae a tell ye whit’s oan my mind.’ Matt watched them stroll off no doubt discussing work or some related issue and turned back to his own task. He’d be here tomorrow working from 8 till 4.30 and there was no way around that fact. He’d resigned himself to missing the most important game for a decade.

Saturday dawned bright on that May morning and Matt clocked in under the beady eye of Foreman, Billy Weir who wasted no time in listing all his duties for the day. He’d be busy completing the list of jobs before finishing time and figured Weir was making sure there was no chance Matt would be able to get away early to the game. ‘See that it’s all done now Matt.’ Matt nodded, a little smile on his face ensuring that Weir didn’t think he was winning. Tony appeared by his side as his boss wandered off to his office. ‘Aw right Matt boy!  Baw jaws rattling your cage already?’ Matt smiled, ‘He disny have the intelligence to get under my skin, just another daftie.’ Tony’s eyes seemed full off mischief as he grinned, ‘Off to make our wonderful Boss his hot chocolate, he likes a wee cup in the morning.’ Matt watched Tony head for the small kitchen which was situated at the far corner of the huge shed. ‘No wonder he’s happy,’ Matt thought, ‘he’ll be off to the match at lunchtime and I’ll be stuck here.’ He turned and began the long list of tasks Weir had set for him.

At the morning break, as the few men working on the Saturday shift enjoyed their tea and the usual banter about the footy, Weir appeared at the canteen door, ‘Tony, that hot chocolate was top notch this morning, any more of it left?’ Tony got up immediately, ‘No probs Boss, I’ll bring you a mug in 2 minutes.’ Matt looked at Tony as Weir left, ‘You buying him hot chocolate noo ya sook?’ Tony smiled, ‘Oh ye of little faith!’ he said mysteriously as he left to prepare Weir’s favourite drink. Matt looked on confused as his friend disappeared, mug in hand. Later as the clock ticked near to midday Weir appeared at his office door looking deeply concerned about something. Tony looked up and smiled at Matt, ‘Operation Skid Mark is about to begin!’ As Weir ran to the toilet, his hand attempting to cover a damp brown patch at the back of his light coloured trousers, Matt looked at Tony, ‘What the f…’ Tony held up his hand, ‘Haud oan tae I see if the Boss is O.K.’ With that, Tony disappeared into the toilet and was gone for a full five minutes. He emerged helping his Boss, who was now wearing a spare set of works overalls, towards the side door to the parking area. Weir, true to form looked over his shoulder and shouted, ‘No one clocks out till all the jobs are complete, I’ll be checking on Monday!’ When he was gone, Tony reappeared. ‘Poor Mr Weir, really bad dose of the Gary Glitters! Matt looked on incredulously, ‘And operation skid mark?’ Tony smiled, ‘Easy mistake to make, I thought I could melt this chocolate intae a nice wee drink for the Boss?’ He handed Matt the wrappers which Matt looked at carefully. He almost choked when he saw the word ‘Laxative’ on the side of each wrapper. ‘Tony fur fuck’s sake, whit have ye done?’ Tony smiled, ‘He’ll be fine, smell like a sewer for a while but he’ll be fine.’ Matt was utterly confused, ‘Why would ye dae that tae Weir, I mean he’s a grade A prat but laxatives?’  At that point the side door of the shed opened and old Archie entered. Matt looked on as Tony waved him over. ‘Right Matt, here’s the deal. Archie finishes your shift and you square him up on pay day wi thirty bar. He finishes your jobs and clocks you out at half four. You get tae the gem and Weir’s none the wiser. Got it?’ Matt looked at Archie who smiled, ‘Wish I could have seen Weir wi his troosers streaked wi keech! Hahaha’  Tony laughed too, ‘Operation skid mark was a complete success!’ As they howled with laughter, Matt laughed too, it was perfect. Weir was gone and he could leave for the game with no worries about being caught.

A stressful, tetchy game entered its last 15 minutes with Celtic just one goal ahead of a useful St Johnstone side. Rangers were winning at Dundee United and any slips meant that Celtic would throw the title away. Tom Boyd picked up the ball by the big north stand and clipped it up the line to McNamara. As Matt and Tony watched from their seats near the 18 yard line, McNamara raced up the line and glancing inside saw the pacey Brattbakk arriving in the box like a greyhound. The stand stood as McNamara cut a low ball across the six yard line where the Norwegian striker was arriving at full speed. ‘Shooooot!’ shouted Matt as Brattbakk adjusted his feet and slammed the ball past Alan Main and into the net. In that instant, the stress, the anxiety and hurt of nine barren years melted away as Celtic and their fans celebrated as never before. They were Champions at last and had stopped the dreaded ‘Ten.’ All the anguish and waiting was over, they had at last risen from their slumber to become the Champions their fans knew they were. Matt and Tony, arms around each other’s shoulders sang their hearts out, team captain Tom Boyd hoisted the trophy aloft into the bright May sky. Matt shouted, ‘Thanks Tony’ to his friend who had made it possible for him to witness this moment. Tony hugged him and then turning to the pitch sang with all the rest….’Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain….’ Then as the players left the field, the supporters flooded onto the hallowed turf of their Paradise. This was their sacred space, their cathedral of football where John Thomson, McGrory, Tully, the Lions and Dalglish had all made their mark. Now it was submerged beneath a green and white wave of joy. It was a moment of sublime beauty to Matt and Tony as they stood on the halfway line drinking in the wild scenes of joy all around them. Matt smiled at his friend again, ‘God, it’s great being a Celt, Tony!’ His friend grinned back at him. He didn’t need to answer, of course it was great being a Celt.




Monday, 13 January 2014

Where the sun never shines
Photographer, Thomas Annan’s task was a simple one. He was commissioned by the City Fathers of Glasgow to enter the disease ridden slums which had grown up in what today roughly equates to the High Street and Saltmarket district and record in photographs what he found there. Between the years 1868-72 Annan photographed a world of poverty, disease and despair in the maze like Closes and Wynds of that other Glasgow, a crime ridden cesspit where the sun never shone and a world away from the leafy mansions of the west end. In those days it was called District 14 and was notorious for crime, vice and all the ailments which deprivation brings. The world Annan photographed was inhabited in the main, though not exclusively, by Irish migrants and their offspring who had fled famine and oppression at home to come and look for work and bread in the industrial heartlands of Scotland.  John Burrowes in his excellent history of the Irish in Glasgow; Irish: The Remarkable Saga of a Nation and a City,’ states that…‘District 14 was a human cesspit, a concentration camp of filth and disease.’ Into this ‘cesspit’ poured more migrant Irish in the late Victorian era. There was no welcoming committee, no welfare state or NHS, no council housing and precious little sympathy for the new arrivals who poured off cattle boats at the Broomielaw. Rapacious landlords threw up slums to accommodate them and then, eyeing even more profit, sub divided them until several families were inhabiting the same tenement flat. In some closes the inhabitants slept on every available foot of floor space.

Fredrich Engels, German social theorist and writer said of the slums of Glasgow…

"I have seen human degradation in some of its worst phases, both in England and abroad, but I can advisedly say, that I did not believe, until I visited the wynds of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery, and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country. The wynds consist of long lanes, so narrow that a cart could with difficulty pass along them; out of these open the 'closes', which are courts about fifteen or twenty feet square, round which the houses, mostly three or four storeys high, are built; the centre of the court is the dunghill, which probably is the most lucrative part of the estate to the laird in most instances, and which it would consequently be esteemed an invasion of the rights of property to remove. In the lower lodging houses, ten, twelve, or sometimes twenty persons, of both sexes and all ages, sleep promiscuously on the floor in different degrees of nakedness. These places are generally, as regards dirt, damp, and decay, such as no person of common humanity would stable his horse in."

The experience of the Glasgow Irish was mirrored in other major British cities of the industrial revolution. Indeed London and Liverpool had larger Irish communities than Glasgow. Engels had also lived for some years in Manchester and noted there too that the Irish Immigrant community were stuck on the lowest rung of the social ladder, trapped by poverty, prejudice and lack of education. He said of the 40,000 Manchester Irish who lived in squalor off the Oxford Road…

 "The race that lives in these ruinous cottages, behind broken windows, mended with oilskin, sprung doors, and rotten door-posts, or in dark, wet cellars, in measureless filth and stench, in this atmosphere penned in as if with a purpose, this race must really have reached the lowest stage of humanity."

It is difficult for the modern reader to comprehend the harshness of life in Victorian Glasgow for the poorer sections of society. Of course they were not all Irish and many indigenous Scots suffered too in those times of heartless exploitation. The 1872 Education Act saw some hope as all children of Primary age were required to attend school. The teaching orders of the Catholic Church fought valiantly to educate and in some cases civilise the children of these ghettoes.  The Marists, Notre Dame Sisters and others often paid a high price for choosing to do their work in the squalid conditions they found in Glasgow. The diseases which plagued their people often debilitated or even killed them too. Indeed the crypt of St Mary’s Church in the Calton contains the remains of Marist brothers who often died in their 30s or 40s due to disease and chronic overwork.

In the mid 1850s, long before Thomas Annan  photographed and recorded the squalor of District 14, a coal ship docked at the Broomielaw. From that ship stepped an Irish lad by the name of Andrew Kerins. After some years in Glasgow he was determined to become a Marist Brother and try to help those he saw suffering around him in poor districts such as area 14. Education was the weapon he would bring to help fight poverty and ignorance among the poor of Glasgow.  After his training in Scotland and France, he took up a position in St Mary’s School in the Calton district of Glasgow and within a few years was Head Master of Sacred Heart. The magnitude of the task faced by the Church in those days was huge. Their flock was growing rapidly and it was in need of education, food and some hope for their children. Some of the soup kitchens set up among the poor by evangelical groups sought to entice them away from the faith of their fathers. Others, to their credit, simply helped their fellow citizens and asked nothing in return. Andrew Kerins, or Brother Walfrid as he was known better, saw this need all around him and used various tactics to try to make life more bearable for his flock. It is of course a matter of historical record that one of Walfrid’s great schemes for aiding the poor and giving them positive role models was the founding of the Celtic Football Club in November 1887 with the immortal words…

‘A Football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and the unemployed’

The club began life in that late Victorian era when many football clubs were being founded only to disappear with a year or two. Football was growing in popularity and some could see its potential to raise funds. Walfrid saw his club not only as a charity and a beacon of hope, but also as a vehicle to help the Irish community better assimilate into Scottish life. He rejected the more exclusive and insular model the Edinburgh Irish had adopted for Hibernian FC and this caused a small and unhappy minority to form  Glasgow Hibernian,’ a club which lasted little more than a year. Celtic, however began their inexorable climb to dominance in the Scottish game playing a brand of quick passing, attacking football which quickly became known as the ‘Celtic way.’

The club did indeed live up to Walfrid’s hopes in the early years and much was gifted to the poor particularly through the Penny Dinner Tables. Moreover, their success on the field also gave huge pride to the community which gave the club birth and sustained it. The rise of Celtic mirrored and continues to mirror, the rise of those impoverished migrants who started life in a new country with nothing. Today we see their progeny rightly take their place in every sector of Scottish society. The poverty of Glasgow lingers yet but the utter degradation of District 14 is gone forever. Celtic Football Club though remains. It is a living monument, a memorial to those of that first generation who struggled against prejudice and poverty and in the end succeeded in making a better life, if not for them, then for their children and grandchildren.

Walfrid was sent to work in the slums of the East end of London in the early 1890s and the Club he founded became a limited company. There was, for a while a shameful forgetting of why the club was founded in the first place as professionalism and profit blinded some for a while. However, their charitable ethos was restored and remains strong to this day. There was a poignant episode when Walfrid met a Celtic party in London as they returned from a foreign tour. Tom Maley recounted that Walfrid was very pleased to see some of his old Glasgow friends again. He accepted the direction Celtic were going in was probably necessary if the club was to grow and thrive in the professional era. As he left Maley and the rest of the party to continue the journey north to Glasgow, he said wistfully to him…

Well, well, Time has brought changes. Outside ourselves there are few of the old brigade left. It’s good to see you all so well and I feel younger with meeting you. Goodbye and God Bless you.’

The photographs of Thomas Annan remain and show the ghosts of things past in stark reality. They remain as a condemnation of the type of social system which saw people as mere factory fodder to be used and discarded as the owners saw fit. It is hard to view those pictures with modern eyes and not condemn the ‘elite’ of a society which allowed so many to live and die in such misery. Brother Walfrid and his kind did not stand idly by and for that we all owe him our thanks. We who follow Celtic continue to keep his spirit alive today by continuing his good work. District 14 may be long gone but there are many who need our assistance still.

Victor Hugo wrote in his masterpiece ‘Les Miserables,’ these withering words….

The guilty one is not the one who commits the sin but the one who creates the darkness, there is always more misery among the poorer class than there is humanity among the higher classes.’

That remains as true today as it did when Thomas Annan was asked to go photograph the misery of District 14.






Sunday, 12 January 2014

Remembering a fine Celt

                                               Remembering a fine Celt
Celtic football club has known its share of joys and anguish over the past 126 years.  From the joy of Lisbon and the Stein era to the despair of losing much loved sons before their time. John Thomson, Johnny Doyle and of course the wonderful Tommy Burns spring to mind when one contemplates such things. In the early 1930s the Club was stunned by the tragic accidental death of John Thomson, who in defending his goal in a match at Ibrox paid the ultimate price. In grainy newsreel footage we can see the Prince of goalkeepers lying prostrate on the Ibrox turf as team mates and opposition players, realising the seriousness of his injuries, frantically call for help. Among his team mates on that lamentable day in 1931 was an up and coming inside-forward with a powerful running style and an eye for goal. His name was Peter Scarff. Willie Maley had high hopes that the lad from Linwood would be a star and a replacement for the excellent Jimmy McMenemy.
Peter had burst into the team in 1929 and as a direct running inside forward soon had the fans buzzing. His contribution in the Glasgow Cup Final victory over Rangers was said to be crucial and as the Celts fought their way to the 1931 Cup final, Scarff was again a vital component of the team. The powerful Motherwell team of the era awaited Celtic in the final. They had put together a very strong side which would be champions the following season and finish second in the league on 4 further occasions between 1927-34. It would be no easy task for Celtic to win the cup. 104,000 crowded into Hampden to watch Motherwell have the better of a physical and bruising first half. Celtic were 2-0 down and Maley told his players in no uncertain terms at half time that they must match Motherwell’s effort and physicality as well as playing their own passing game. The second half saw Celtic more dangerous but the clock showed 82 minutes and still it was 0-2. Then the talismanic McGrory scored and belief surged through Celtic’s ranks and the support became more voiciferous. Scarff, Nappier and McGrory stretched the Motherwell defence in desperate attempts to force an equaliser. Scarff’s ability to go past defenders and either shoot or cross was causing Motherwell problems. However, as the clock reached 89 minutes and the Motherwell fans roared in anticipation of a famous victory, fate finally intervened. Motherwell defender, Craig chased a through ball towards his own goal as the keeper advanced to deal with it. Craig headed it back towards the keeper and to his horror it flew past him and into the empty net. Celtic had got out of jail in the very last minute, it was 2-2 and how their fans roared at their narrow escape!
In the replay of that final of 1931 Celtic played with a vigour and zest missing from the first match. McGrory and R Thompson hitting two goals each in an entertaining match as Celtic won 4-2 to claim their record thirteenth Cup victory. Peter Scarff played his part and as he celebrated with McGrory, John Thomson and the rest of the side he could never have envisaged the tragedies which lay ahead. Less than 5 months after that cup final victory, John Thompson was dead and within 7 months Peter had coughed up blood during a match with Edinburgh side Leith Athletic. In 1930s Glasgow, a city of crowded, damp, rat infested tenements, coughing up blood was more often than not a sign of the deadly disease tuberculosis. Peter Scarff was a fit young man on the cusp of a great career with Celtic. His 55 goals in 112 games over less than 3 seasons testified to his footballing ability. It is recorded that Willie Maley was distraught at the news of Peter’s illness. He had cried when Peter Johnstone was killed in World War 1 and was stunned when John Thomson was taken so tragically a few months earlier. Now he and Celtic faced the agonising wait to see if Peter Scarff would recover from what was at the time a cruel and often fatal disease. His fitness and fighting spirit saw his struggle on for another two years but on December 9th 1933, Peter Scarff died at the tragically young age of 24  Twice in just two years the Celtic support mourned for a lost son. Who knows the heights Peter would have attained with Celtic? He was capped by Scotland who recognised him as a rising star of the game when his illness had intervened and cut short not just his career but also his life.
Peter Scarff was remembered at his funeral in his home town of Linwood as a decent and loving young man and an excellent footballer. A tearful Willie Maley placed a Celtic shirt on his coffin as he was taken to his final resting place. Newspaper reports of the day speak of a dense crowd lining the streets as he was taken from the church. Stunned looking team mates who had attended John Thomson’s funeral 2 years earlier could have been forgiven for thinking that life could be unfair and cruel at times. Celtic had lost another bright young prospect but of course, much more tragically his family had lost a much loved son.
The Celtic supporters club in Linwood today is named in honour of  local boy  Peter Scarff. Time may have flowed on but the Celtic family remember and respect those who gave their all in that hooped shirt. Peter showed in just three short seasons that he was the real deal, a strong running inside forward with pace and goals aplenty. He did not get to fulfil  his promise in a Celtic shirt as his time at the club he held dear was cut so tragically short but he is rightly remembered as a fine Celt and a great talent.
Rest in peace Peter. We who never saw you play thank you for all you did for Celtic.  Hail Hail.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Tar them all...
In recent months I’ve started avoiding writing about contentious or political issues as I try to focus on why I began writing here a year ago, my love of Celtic. However, I take such exception to the tone and content of Alex Thompson’s blog that I feel the need to exercise the right to reply to it.

Few decent people will have anything other than disgust for the vile minority who use the internet to abuse others. Sadly, the new technologies allow even the most ignorant of individuals to post their moronic opinions in public forums for all to see. The abuse suffered by Angela Haggerty and others such as Louise Mensch demonstrated clearly that a there exists a thick minority who do not possess the wit or intelligence to debate points of contention but would rather resort to the language of the gutter. Thompson is quite right to lambast this idiotic minority which sadly attaches itself to every big club. His point on the need for the police to act against these cowards is correct and I hope they are driven from the internet until they learn some sense. However he then states….

‘The Celtic of today is rightly gaining a reputation for the most consistently violent fans in the UK who attack stadiums as if we’re living in 1974. They are Scotland’s modern Millwall: an underclass of extreme politics and mindless violence – the same old toxic brew. That’s the Celtic Underclass on tour.’

When did this ‘mindless violence’ take place? Who holds ‘extreme political views?’ By what measure do you declare Celtic fans ‘the most consistently violent in the UK?’ Celtic do have an issue with an element of fans who in aping European Ultras culture indulged in pyrotechnics, political and other banner displays and occasional vandalism. Some sing, as they always have, Irish political songs which are no worse in content than the Irish national anthem. However to equate all of this to the goings on of the serious football hooligan ‘firms’ of the UK is simply nonsense. Anyone with any knowledge of British football will point to a dozen clubs who are streets ahead of Celtic in the Hooligan department. A cursory search on YouTube will lead you to scenes of serious violent disorder occurring from Cardiff to Newcastle. All of it on a scale unknown at Celtic games for decades. Thompson may even have unwittingly put Celtic fans in danger as some serious English ‘firms’ will perhaps take note of his ridiculous claims.

Thompson also seems to wrongly assume that the Moderators on the Huddle-board chat site are representative of the West of Scotland. He states …

‘I refer to Glasgow’s bizarre blindness to racism, bigotry and all manner of criminal activity which would scarcely be tolerated in any other British city outside N Ireland. Yet, in and around Glasgow it’s scarcely noticed,’

This is simply wrong. Who ignores this poison? Does he refer to the media who failed to report the abuse of Angela Haggerty? By talking of ‘Glasgow’s bizarre blindness’ he seems to imply it’s wider than this. The Scottish media may have liked to ignore such goings on but decent fans of all clubs, Churchmen, educationalists, Journalists, bloggers, fanzines and a host of other commentators have spoken out against the poison of bigotry and racism loudly and often. There is a clear feeling that Thompson, in jumping to the defence of a fellow journalist, is being less than objective. His article is a poorly written, poorly researched piece of work which gratuitously insults Celtic FC and their fans.  I thought he was a better journalist than that. It seems I was wrong.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

When we were Kings...

When we were Kings...
1962 was a year of uncertainty at Celtic Park. The team had talent, lots of it but was brittle and lacked the belief necessary to master the dominant Scottish teams of the era; Rangers, Hearts and Dundee. Their brief inaugural appearance in Europe that season saw Valencia knock them out of the Fairs Cup after a spirited display in both legs. (2-4, 2-2)However the event which got Celtic fans excited came in September 1962 when Real Madrid were enticed over to play a friendly match. The game was the idea of businessman and Celtic fan Max Benjamin who wanted to raise money for the Jewish National Fund Charitable Trust and the rehabilitation of refugee woman and children. Real Madrid had an aura of invincibility, especially in Glasgow where they had destroyed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 European Cup Final. The magnitude of that victory and the manner in which it was achieved stunned the soccer world. Eintracht were no mugs having disposed of a good Rangers team 12-4 on aggregate in the Semi Final. However the Germans could have lost 10 at Hampden as 127,000 watched Real rip them apart with clever passing football and deadly finishing. Names such as Gento, Puskas, Santa Maria and Di Stefano entered Scottish folklore. Young Dunfermline manager Jock Stein watched the game with interest. He had seen the brilliant Hungarians destroy England in the mid-fifties (6-3 & 7-1) and now he saw Madrid play with the same brilliance. The shrewd former miner noted that this is how football should be played.

As McGrory’s young team trotted out to face the mighty Madrid on a bright September evening in 1962, few gave them a hope of upsetting the magnificent side which had won 5 of the previous 7 European cup finals. To their credit, Celtic went for Madrid from the start, Hughes, Lennox, Higgins and Chalmers gave Madrid’s defence some testing times in the first 10 minutes as 72,000 fans roared them on. Then, with virtually their first real attack of the game, Madrid carved Celtic open and Puskas slotted in the first goal. The Parkhead crowd applauded the incisive passing and clinical finishing, which so often seemed to be missing from their own side in that troubled era. When Amancio made it 2-0 mid way through the first half, some feared Celtic might crumble and take a severe beating. However, with spirit and enthusiasm they continued to attack their illustrious visitors and Chalmers pulled one back. They eventually lost 3-1 but such was the spirit and flair the young Celts displayed, the huge crowd demanded they appear back on the pitch and complete a lap of honour. They had lost but hadn’t been disgraced. They had given one of the best teams in the world a tough game and this filled the long suffering fans with hope for the future.

Madrid were polite and stated they were impressed by Celtic and their supporters but the gulf in class and organisation was still there for all to see. Celtic were for all their enthusiasm, a work in progress. There were more miserable days ahead as their potential remained unfulfilled. They were miles off in the League campaigns of the early 1960s and took some morale damaging defeats from their great Glasgow Rivals in those years. The promise of the Madrid game faded as their barren spell stretched from the legendary 7-1 game in 1957 into early 1965. Some wondered if the good days would ever return until in the early spring of that year a new Manager was appointed. The new man wasn’t one to accept any interference in team matters from Directors. It was his team, his way or he wouldn’t take the job. The autocratic Bob Kelly did what was best for the club and agreed.  Jock Stein set about organising this bunch of talented but under achieving young players into a formidable team. The sort of skilful, pacey, passing game he had seen from Hungary and Real Madrid was blended with traditional Scottish traits such as grit and determination and it produced a team of awesome attacking prowess. Celtic won the cup in 1965 and belief spread throughout the club like a virus. The title was won in 1966 and the team took part in its first European Cup campaign in 1966-67 season.

Anyone who saw Celtic dismantle Inter Milan and their suffocating ‘catenaccio’ style of play can be in no doubt they were watching one of the best club side’s ever to play the beautiful game. If somehow those green hoops fell away from the strips in Lisbon that hot May day, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching the Real Madrid of old. The passing, movement and aggression were a joy to watch as the much vaunted Inter defensive system was stretched to breaking point beneath the Portuguese sun. Of course, Celtic won a great victory for themselves that day but they also won a great victory for football. Stein’s team played the game as it should be played with flair, skill and imagination. Even Inter coach, Herrera accepted that the days of defensive football were over. Celtic had seen to that.
As if it was pre-ordained, Celtic, newly crowned Champions of Europe travelled to Madrid to compete in the Alfredo Di Stefano Testimonial match in June 1967. Madrid were still a formidable team having narrowly lost to Inter in that season’s European Cup. This would be the test of how far Celtic had travelled in the 5 years since McGrory’s brave young side had been beaten by Madrid. The game was played in front of 117,000 fans and it was obvious that both sides wanted to win. For Stein and men like Chalmers, McNeil and Lennox this was the testing ground. Madrid had been the masters in 1962 now Celtic sought their crown. It is a matter of historical record that Celtic defeated Real Madrid 1-0 that night. That score line barely describes how they dominated the game. Jimmy Johnstone was at his mesmeric best and drew applause and chants of ‘Ole’ from the knowledgeable Spanish fans as he jinked past demoralised defenders time and time again. On one occasion two defenders had him trapped on the byeline and when it appeared he must lose possession, he flicked the ball elegantly over their heads to a team mate. It was the stuff of dreams, Celtic were mastering the mighty Madrid in their own stadium.   Lennox, of course, flashed into action and scored a goal of clinical excellence following a slide rule pass from unplayable Johnstone. In every department Celtic were superior to Madrid and the game ended with a storm of applause for the magnificent team from Scotland who had demonstrated beyond any doubt that they were the greatest side in Europe. Stein looked on in satisfaction. He had learned from the best and had made his team the best.

As Di Stefano took his applause at the final whistle he glanced at the pale Scots who had outplayed his side so comprehensively. He may have been thinking that the crown had passed to a new generation, a team who played the game as it should be played. Jock was the king maker and that incredible season demonstrated his genius for blending together the various skills and talents of 11 Scottish lads and making them a powerful and elegant football team. His team can rightly be regarded as being among the vanguard of total football, a system of open attractive play so brilliantly expounded by the Dutch in the years ahead. Attacking play has always been at the core of the Celtic philosophy but it reached its zenith in that remarkable year. As for the stifling Catenaccio system, its days of influence were well and truly over. There were new Kings in football and they wore green and white hooped shirts.



Thursday, 2 January 2014

Did they believe?


Did they believe?
Old Dan Hogan sat up in his bed when he saw his son and grandson enter the room. ‘Ye made it!’ His son, Tommy, shook his father’s hand and gave him a hug, ‘Happy new year, Da.’ The old man smiled, ‘and tae you son,’ He nodded towards 12 year old Charlie who stood a little shyly by the bed, hooped shirt under his jacket, ‘I see you’re taking the young fellah tae the game.’ Tommy nodded, ‘Aye, he’s never seen Celtic beat Rangers and by Christ if they ever needed tae beat them it’s today.’ Old Dan patted a spot the bed. ‘Sit here son and I’ll tell ye a story.’ Charlie Hogan sat on the bed beside his Grandfather as his father looked on. No doubt Tommy had heard many of his father’s tales when he was a boy now another generation was hearing them. The old man smiled, ‘Went along to Ibrox in the late 50s wi ma da, that’ll be you’re great granddad, you never met him, died young. Anyway, I saw Celtic win 3-2 that day. We played well, deserved tae win but after that I never saw Celtic beat that mob in a league game again for mer than 6 years. Losing kills confidence and gives the team the feeling that they’ll never beat the other lot. But in the end they did beat them, just before Stein arrived. Then in came big Jock and he put the shoe oan the other feet, gave them the inferiority complex. The thing is, ye need tae believe ye can win. Jock instilled that in his teams. Stopped them going in tae a game already beat. Ye win the game in yer hied then oan the pitch. Jock knew that. Charlie nodded, ‘We huvny beat Rangers for ages Granda, if we lose today they’ll dae ten in a row.’ The old man nodded, ‘Aye, that’s true but the team are improving and if they ever needed tae get a result then it’s in this game. Every day the players walk intae Celtic Park, they’ll know what stopping them beating Jock’s record means. Every fan they meet on the street  will remind them of it. They’ll fight like tigers today, don’t you worry aboot that son.’

Young Charlie Hogan listened as his Grandad told him of the matches, players and incidents of long gone games noticing the glint in the old man’s eyes. ‘When Cox kicked Tully in the RS McCall’s, aw hell broke loose in the Celtic end,’ he laughed, ‘Ref claimed he never saw it, he was the only man in Ibrox who missed it if that’s true!’ There were tales of games where bad luck, odd refereeing decision had played their part but the old man was adamant that the secret of success was attitude and confidence. Celtic meant a lot to him and he had stored all of these memories, good and bad, in his head from a lifetime of following Celtic. Charlie listened spellbound to names of players he had never seen play, Matt Lynch, Tully, Stein, Collins, Evans and Crerand. ‘Thing is,’ the old man concluded, ‘even the longest losing run comes to an end. Might as well happen today?’ Charlie nodded, ‘I hope so Grandad.’ The old man coughed, a loud, rasping cough, ‘Pass me that medicine Tommy,’ he spluttered, pointing to a brown bottle on the stand beside his bed. Charlie watched his father frown as he helped the old man take his medication. Old Dan lay, head on the pillow, ‘Need tae rest noo, come back and see me efter the game if ye huv time.  Tommy Hogan patted his father’s hand, ‘Will do Da, take it easy noo.’

Tommy and young Charlie walked down Millerston Street on what was a rather gloomy January day. ‘What’s wrong wi Granda?’ Charlie asked looking at his old man. ‘He used to work in a factory making fire proof boards, he breathed in the dust for years and it’s ruined his lungs, son.’ Young Charlie thought for a moment, digesting this information. ‘Will he get better?’ Tommy shook his head, ‘We’ll do all we can for him Charlie but there’s no cure. He’ll be ill for the rest of his life.’ With that they reached the Gallowgate and Charlie looked along in the direction of the Barras. Thousands of Celtic fans were flowing along the road like a vast living river of green and white. Their songs were already booming out into the chilly Glasgow air, ’North men, south men comrades all, Dublin, Belfast, Cork or Donegal, we’re on the one road singing a song….’ The butterflies in Charlie’s stomach began to flutter as the magnitude of the game was hitting home. Celtic were 4 points behind Rangers, lose today and 10 in a row was almost certain. Stein’s record would be smashed and men like his old Grandad would be downcast. He hoped Celtic believed they could win today… they had to.

Charlie and his Dad passed under the strange looking scaffolding which supported the temporary stand in what was the Celtic end. The huge bulk of the new north stand loomed over them and this was already full of supporters who had come to see if Celtic could save a proud old record. They had suffered so much pain and disappointment in the last decade. Should they lose today, it would be the final capitulation, the greatest humiliation of all. As they sat on the quaint little stand, open to the elements, a great roar announced that the teams were emerging from the tunnel. The Celtic fans in the temporary stand stamped their feet making a loud drumming noise as Celtic entered their pre match huddle. ‘This is it,’ Charlie’s Dad shouted at him through the din, ‘do or die today, son!’ The huge north stand reverberated to strains of ‘You’ll never walk alone,’ and the patrons of the temporary stand raised their colours and joined them. Celtic were receiving magnificent support, it was up to the players now to have faith enough to slay the dragon which had tormented them for so long.

As the game got underway Charlie unconsciously took his father’s hand. Celtic were nervous early on and Rangers probed the Celtic goal without any real threat. Stubbs made a clumsy tackle on Laudrup at the edge of the box and he tumbled to the turf. Charlie’s eyes immediately flashed to the Referee who was thankfully unimpressed and waved play on. The crowd growled and roared as Celtic slowly took charge and began to force Rangers back. Brattbakk forced good saves from Goram but still Celtic couldn’t find a way through. Goram, who so often saved Rangers against Celtic was at it again.  As the teams trooped off for half time the Celtic support cheered and sang their hearts out. Their bhoys were giving their all, if only they could make the breakthrough and score.

The second half saw Celtic shooting towards the temporary stand which thundered and roared with every Celtic attack. Rangers were looking rattled as Lambert and Burley bossed the midfield and drove the back. Brattbakk, Stubs and Larsson all came close but still they couldn’t score. Charlie screamed his young head off, ‘Come on Celtic! Let’s start believing! Then midway through that tempestuous second half McNamara picked up a ball in midfield and raced past a defender, the Centre half, seeing the danger left Burley to close McNamara down. Jackie saw the gap and switched a beautiful reverse pass into Burley’s path. The Celtic midfielder let the perfectly cushioned ball cross his body before unleashing a thumping low shot. For Charlie, behind that goal, time seemed to slow as the ball headed towards the goal. Goram dived desperately to his right but the ball evaded him and exploded in the net behind his despairing grasp. The roar which greeted the goal pieced the dark Glasgow sky. Charlie and his Dad hugged and roared, ‘Yaaaas! Mon the Celtic!’  They had made the crucial breakthrough but there was still time for Rangers to respond. As Rangers kicked off the stadium rocked and seethed as the Celtic fans roared out their songs. Surely they wouldn’t blow it now?

Young Charlie Hogan looked at his watch as the game entered its closing phase. ‘Come on Ref, blow yer effin whistle.’ His father smiled, ignoring his son’s language given the stress of the situation. Then as the game edged near its conclusion, a ball was flicked into the Rangers box and headed clear by a defender. Paul Lambert raced onto it as defenders closed on him. With no time to think he thrashed the ball goal-wards. It whizzed through the cold air as Goram dived to his left, clawing at the ball which sped past his forlorn hand and crashed into the top right hand corner of the net. It was a stunning goal, a goal of skill and beauty. Celtic were 2-0 ahead and the title race was back on. The remaining moments were played out amid a crescendo of noise as the Celtic support celebrated a famous win. Behind the goal, in the rickety temporary stand, a father and son, arms around each other, shared the joy of the moment. The whistle sounded and it was over. Charlie had at last seen his team win against their ancient rivals. He was utterly exhausted but also utterly overjoyed.

It was a dark Scottish winter’s night when he reached his Granfather’s house. His father agreed that Charlie could pop into the old man’s room to bring him the news that Celtic had won. He opened the door and stepped into the dimly lit bedroom. His grandfather lay on the bed, seemingly asleep, an oxygen mask covering his mouth. Charlie approached the bed and gently took the old fella’s hand. ‘Granda,’ he said quietly, ‘are you awake?’ The old man opened his eyes, his breathing forced and shallow, ‘Charlie,’ he whispered, ‘how did the boys do, did they believe?’ Charlie smiled, ‘We won 2-0, Burley and Lambert scored, they believed all right.’ The old man grasped his grandson’s hand. ‘They’ll stop the ten now Charlie, just you wait and see. Jock’s record will be safe.’ Charlie nodded, ‘I think they will granddad, I think they will.’ His grandfather closed his eyes, a small smile on his face. They believed.