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.


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