Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Bhoy called Joseph…

The Doctor exhaled and turned to the exhausted looking teenager who sat waiting patiently for his verdict. ‘Joseph, I’ll be straight with you,’ the Doctor said quietly, placing a manila folder on the desk in front of him, ‘Your illness hasn’t responded to the treatments we’ve tried here. We only really have one more avenue to explore.’  Young Joe McColgan breathed in deeply, he’d been through so much already. The Doctor continued, ‘There’s a hospital in Glasgow which is leading the way with stem cell and bone marrow transplantation. It may well be your best hope as they can move quickly.’  Then, almost as an afterthought he added… ‘and we do need to move quickly.’  The journey to Glasgow was nothing new to the young Derry boy as it was home to his beloved Celtic Football Club. He had managed over to a few games and felt at home in the city. What lay ahead for him though was a difficult and painful course of treatment for his illness. His relapse back into the grip of Leukaemia was a crushing burden to bear but Joe faced it with that stoic courage the Irish are famous for.

The Beatson and Yorkhill… Yorkhill and the Beatson, back and forward he’d go as his treatment went into full swing in Glasgow. On a bright afternoon as he lay on his bed exhausted by it all his duty nurse entered the room. ‘I hear you’re a Celtic man?’ she smiled. ‘I am indeed,’ said Joseph, ‘Best club on the planet.’ She regarded him, ‘My husband is Celtic daft too. He knows one of the old players. I’ll ask him to get the ex-Celtic player to give you a call.’ Joseph nodded a bit mystified about who the former Celtic player could be. ‘That’ll be good, thank you very much,’ he smiled. He was shown much kindness in Hospital and came to see his key staff as friends. Over the next few days the nurse’s husband would pop in and have a chat with Joseph as he tried to regain his strength from the debilitating effects of his treatment. On a rainy Tuesday he took out his mobile phone and answered a call. He spoke for a few moments before handing the phone to Joseph. ‘Someone wants to speak to you.’ Joseph took the phone, nervously and glancing at the name of the caller on the display screen was taken aback. It read: Bertie Auld.’   He put the phone to his ear, his nerves jangling, wondering what you say to a Lisbon Lion! ‘Eh, hello?’ he mumbled in his Derry accent. The Celtic Legend replied in that cheerful Glaswegian tone of his, ‘Hello Joe, this is Bertie, Just letting you know I’ll be up to see you tomorrow afternoon. I hope you’re keeping well pal.’ Joseph was in  shock, he was absolutely flabbergasted, a Lisbon Lion had just called him paI! Bertie then joked in that typical way of his, ‘Oh and another thing; I’m gonna break yer bloody legs when I’m up.’ Joe laughed, well aware of the tigerish midfielder’s reputation from his playing days. ‘That’ll be great, Bertie!’

The following day Bertie Auld did indeed come to see Joseph in the hospital. Joseph had butterflies in his stomach all day waiting for him to appear. He entered with Chic Charnley who introduced himself to Joseph as ‘The man who ruined Henrik Larsson’s debut for Celtic!’ Joseph was elated as Bertie Auld sat by him and told him tales of his playing days with the magical Lisbon Lions. Joe listened spellbound to tales of the legends all Celtic fans learn from their fathers and grandfathers. Now here he was listening to a Celtic great who was there through all the glory years. For the young Derry bhoy this was the stuff of dreams. Bertie presented him with the Lisbon 40th anniversary pin which was given to the players to mark the great occasion.  His final gift was a replica Lisbon shirt on which he had written…’To a Bhoy called Joseph. from Bertie Auld.’ Joseph couldn’t believe his eyes, A Celtic legend had taken the time and energy required to organise all of this for an ordinary Celtic supporter. After they’d gone he felt a warm glow. He looked again at the signed shirt and pin badge Bertie Auld had given him and smiled. God how he loved being a Celt!

The courageous Joseph McColgan endured the bone marrow stem cell treatment in Glasgow and I am happy to report has made a full recovery from the illness which threatened him. The operation and other treatments took its toll on this brave young man but he is a fighter. The sheer joy he felt when Bertie Auld and Chic Charnley visited him in hospital gave him a much needed boost at a time when he needed it most. It is to their eternal credit that the Celtic family from Joe’s nurse and her husband through to Bertie and Chic were willing to go out of their way to help a fellow Celt. The Derry bhoy has been through much but has come out the other side stronger and more convinced than ever that Celtic is indeed; A Club Like No Other.

  You can follow Joseph on Twitter by going to.... @joemccolgan88            


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Bringing Back The Thunder
Every Manager has his life span at a club and generally knows when their time is drawing to a close. Most are shown the door without the opportunity to make a dignified exit. A lucky few get to choose the time of their departure and leave with their head held high. Football can be a ruthless business and if the rewards are great at the big clubs, so too are the pressures. Neil Lennon has decided that his tenure at Celtic is over and his four years have been to say the least interesting. He has decided his future lies elsewhere and we must accept that gracefully and reflect on what he achieved at the club.

Never in the history of Scottish football has a Manager had to endure the sort of abuse Lennon has endured. From physical assaults, threats, sectarian graffiti, bombs and bullets in the post, God knows how he dealt with those pressures and still functioned as a successful and driven manager. Take it from me there were other incidents which never made the media involving Neil which were and remain a stain on this country. The media portrayal of him was at times unhelpful and on other occasions disgraceful. We all recall the ’Who is more hated at Ibrox’ or ‘Thugs and Thieves’ headlines in our more moronic tabloids. Whenever it was raised that his treatment in Scotland was influenced by the fact that he was a feisty, Irish Catholic we were treated to the usual ‘He brings it on himself’ nonsense. I’ve said it before and I’ll restate it; if Neil Lennon was receiving this abuse as a Jew, Muslim or black man there would be huge outcry. However, our jaundiced media simply imply that it’s just the silly ‘Old Firm’ at it again and the nation rests easy. Instead of reporting the sad truth that virulent anti-Irish racism still exists in this land.
Neil Lennon’s legacy at Celtic is that the Team he inherited from Tony Mowbray following a 4-0 defeat at St Mirren has been completely transformed. Consider the starting 11 at Paisley on that bitter night in March 2010: Zaluska, Wilson, Braafheid, Thompson, O’Dea, N’Guemo, Ki Sung Yeung, McGeady, Keane, Samaras and McGowan. No doubt that side should have had enough to win at St Mirren but they let themselves down and signalled the end of Mowbray’s tenure as boss. Only Samaras had a long term future at the club following Mowbray’s departure. We saw the huge change in Celtic’s league form when Lennon came in as interim boss that spring and 7 straight League wins, including beating Rangers, boded well for the future. Although the sub-standard display in the cup semi-final with Ross County was not one to remember with pride, most Celtic fans were happy when he was appointed boss for the season ahead. The title of 2010-11 was thrown away on a bright spring evening at Inverness. The team had played some excellent football that season and none more so than Kris Commons, surely the best £300,000 Celtic have spent in recent years? The Cup victory of Motherwell that season helped us endure the boasting from Govan but Rangers were about to implode and the smiles were soon wiped from their faces.

Neil Lennon led us to 3 successive titles from 2012-14 as well as reaching the last 16 of the Champions League. The defeat of Barcelona was a night I’ll never forget and we owe such successes to Neil. He signed Hooper, Wanyama, Ledley, Stokes, Mulgrew, Commons and Forster as he built a team to dominate in Scotland and at least get us involved in Europe’s top competition again. Yes there have been disappointments along the way, not least the relatively poor showing in domestic cup competitions and the odd hiding in Europe but overall he has presided over an era when Celtic has thrived on and off the field. He was in charge of Celtic for 228 games and won 159 of them. (70%)  Not a bad return in any era.

The death of Rangers has been trotted out as a mitigating factor in his success but don’t forget how he overturned a huge Rangers lead to win his first title in 2011-12. Equally he could argue that the club’s policy of selling his top players for big bucks and expecting him to replace them with a fraction of the money has held him back. We shall see in the days ahead if this was a factor in his decision to leave. My abiding memories Neil Lennon will be of a man who gave his all for Celtic and stood up to the bigotry which still skulks in the dark corners of our society. As a player he was fearless and dedicated. Others may have shone brighter but the team ethic build on the graft of men like Lennon gave them the chance to do so. Frank Rijkaard former Barcelona coach said of him…’Lennon is a dog, all teams need dogs.’ The Dutchman was referring to Lennon’s unceasing harrying of opponents and tireless tracking back.

When Neil Lennon became Celtic Boss in 2010 he stated at his first press conference….

"What I want to do is bring is the thunder back. I want this place rocking again. I want the passion, I want the noise. I want the fans to be able to walk to the ground ready for it. I want the players to go to war every time they go on the pitch. All those things will be in-built before the season starts. We’ve got to put up a really stronger challenge to Rangers and try to wrest the title away from them.’’

In a very real sense he achieved that. It remains to be seen if the board can build on his legacy by investing in the side and re-uniting a fractious support, some of whom are openly critical of some of the club’s policies. Celtic has always been at its strongest when the fans and team unite in the common cause of making the club successful. Lennon was a unifying factor at times and his absence will mean the board must plan their future strategy very carefully. If top stars such as Forster or Van Dijk are sold then the new man must get that all of cash to rebuild. Anything less will continue the disillusionment of a significant number of fans.

Whoever takes over from Lennon will inherit a far healthier squad than Lennon did in 2010 but that discussion is for another day. For now I’d simply like to thank Neil Lennon for all he has done and all he has endured during his time at Celtic. He is very much one of us and suffered the disappointments with us as well as celebrating our successes. He brought honour and success to Celtic as a player, captain and manager and for that we owe him our thanks.

Neil Francis Lennon:
Thank you and God Bless.
Hail Hail



Wednesday, 21 May 2014


A friend from the fine town of Dunkeld required some directions when attending the recent Scottish Cup Final at Celtic Park. A lifelong fan of St Johnstone who once said to me that his proudest moments were watching that fine St Johnstone side of the late 60s and early 70s beat Everton and Hamburg in Europe. He hoped they’d make history in Glasgow on cup final day by winning their first ever major trophy. I gave him precise directions to Glasgow’s east end and he made it most of the way before straying a little off course a mile or so from Celtic park.  I called him after the game to congratulate him and ask how his day had gone and he told me of a rather surreal experience he had in dear old Glasgow town.

He parked his car and was taken by surprise by what he thought was the sound of other fans drifting on the Glasgow breeze. It turned out he had stumbled into a small Orange Parade which some wise person had decided to allow on Cup Final day. As he and his son watched, some folk he described as ‘grim faced fellas’ passed; it seemed were following the bands. One of them noticed his St Johnstone shirt and said, ‘Make sure ye beat they Micky bastards today.’ My friend being a stranger to Glasgow’s slang terms required a translation. The sectarian assignation the marcher had ascribed to Dundee United (Formerly Dundee Hibernian) was as out of date as the battles these marches commemorate. It was a reminder of how out of touch with modern Scotland such people are.  The tide of history has moved on but some it appears are stuck in a time capsule. Do they really think ordinary Scots are in the least concerned with their petty prejudices? My friend was somewhat bemused by the parade he ran into as he had never witnessed anything like it. He did make a telling remark though when he said, ‘Imagine if all the energy and time people spend on such things was put into making Scotland a better place for us all to live in?’ He had a point.

On the field a workmanlike St Johnstone team overcame the more skilful but I thought physically weak Dundee United team to win their first ever major trophy. Part of me said ‘Well done’ and wished them well as the spread of trophies in recent seasons has been good for Scottish football. Another part of me was a little peeved as Celtic would have beaten both those sides on the day. The fact we didn’t get there was a source of annoyance to many as the teams cup record in recent years has been poor by our high standards. Teams such as Morton, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Hearts and St Mirren have beaten Celtic in cup ties and those loses were more to do with Celtic deficiencies on the day rather than brilliance from the opposition. The great sides are always relentless in their pursuit of victory and Celtic must learn to be ruthless in the future if they are to win the honours their play often merits but attitude often throws away. Henrik Larsson once said, ‘Before I go out there I tell myself that it’s going to hurt and so it should but I’m bloody stronger than them.’ That is the voice of a winner and the attitude our players need against Morton as well as Milan.

So we face the summer and the silly season in the press. They’ll no doubt have half our team sold with little evidence to back it up. What remains important is that we have the team we need sharp and fit for the Champions League qualifiers. Make no mistake about it our victory over Shakhtar Karagandy last summer was the most important win of the season. Not just in terms of the financial boost it gives to Celtic or the morale boost it gives the game here. It is vital to spicing up our season in the absence of those big derby games we enjoyed before the oldco collapsed in debt and disgrace. Lennon or whoever is in charge by then needs to get the ins and outs sorted quickly so we can go forward with confidence. We may lose a player like Forster but must have the ambition to bring in a bit of class. Our relatively poor performance in the group stages last season was down to the fact we sold good players in Hooper, Wanyama and even Joe Ledley and replaced them with others not of the same standard. That decline has to stop. I’m all for sourcing good young players but there comes a time to invest in a ready-made and experienced player who can slot straight into the team. Martin O’Neil knew this and took Celtic from a 21 point deficit in the SPL in season 1999-2000 to a treble and European final within 3 years. Of course the level of finance available to O’Neil won’t be there for the Manager this summer but the case for adding some real experience and class to the squad is overwhelming. We don’t want a squad to win the SPL, we want a first 11 who can compete with the best in Europe and give us more nights like the one we enjoyed when Barcelona came to town in 2012.

Of course we also want more success in the domestic cup competitions even if the spread of trophies around clubs like Kilmarnock. St Mirren, Aberdeen and St Johnstone has given fans of those clubs memories to cherish forever. To hear the excitement and real joy in my old friend’s voice after he returned from the cup final was a wonderful thing but like many of you I’d rather have been out at the game on Cup Final day watching Celtic challenging for glory instead of watching it on TV. I’d even run the risk of bumping into those medieval bandsmen for that kind of action. It may have gave them some strange pleasure that St Johnstone did indeed defeat Dundee United but those ‘Micky bastards’ are in fact a multi-racial, multi-faith football team who see the strengths of different people working together. For some that sadly still seems to be an alien idea.


Monday, 12 May 2014

Big Green Tractor

Big Green Tractor
Sunday was a fairly emotional day for those of us who love the green. For me it began at 10am at Celtic Park as I met up with those other hardy souls you saw shaking Celtic Charity Foundation buckets at you as you entered the stadium. I finally got to meet a few of my Twitter friends in the flesh and the passion they have for Celtic and its traditions exudes from every pore. Collecting at the Lisbon Lions Stand was a lovely experience too. I heard accents from every corner of these islands and a few from further afield. The generosity of the Celtic support never fails to amaze me and I can report that Walfrid’s spirit is alive and well.

The game itself was one of those matches were my eyes drifted from my unusual seat in section 111 to the massed banks of Celtic fans in the great north stand. It was a thing of beauty to see those thousands of green flags fluttering in the breeze of victory. For those of us who suffered through the 1990s it is a sight we will never tire of. Then the whole stadium reverberated to ‘Let’s all do the Huddle’ and I once more felt that bond, that comradeship I have felt so often down the years with Celtic supporters from all over.  As the fireworks boomed and the ticker-tape and confetti exploded into the sky, my thoughts turned to other occasions in the old stadium with family and friends long gone. Down through all those years we saw every victory as a joy, every championship as a vindication that our club and our community was here to stay and proud of who we are.  On days such as Sunday it was simply great being a Celt but then it usually is.

As I exited the stadium through the throngs of happy adults and laughing children, I came to the statue of our founder by the front entrance of Celtic Park. Fans were laying tributes around Walfrid’s statue to honour the memory of a brave wee lad who had finally lost his valiant fight. One of the most beautiful moments I have ever had as a Celtic supporter occurred last summer when Celtic played Cliftonville in the Champions League Qualifying round. As I took my seat in the Jock Stein stand a figure running across the pitch caught my eye. This pint sized pitch invader raced straight for Celtic mascot Hoopy who swept him up in a warm embrace. It was of course the wonderful Oscar Knox. Just about everyone at Celtic Park was aware of this courageous wee lad’s struggle with Neuroblastoma, a cruel and aggressive form of cancer, and more than a few had a tear in their eye as they watched him cavort with Hoopy.

The distance between Glengormley in County Antrim and Celtic Park is around 120 miles as the crow flies but on Sunday last those miles shrunk away as the two places united to remember a brave and inspirational wee boy. Like most of you reading this, I never met Oscar Knox but I felt I did as his very human struggle was shared via the wonders of social media. His mother spoke so beautifully about the beautiful child who brought so much joy into the lives of all Oscar touched with his magic. She said….

"We talked to him a few weeks ago about going on a journey to Neverland. We explained in Neverland there are no sore knees, no sore heads and no sore tummies. Oscar had always told us that when he grew up he wanted to drive a big green tractor instead of a car and he was so excited to hear that Old McDonald lives in Neverland and allowed people to drive his big green tractor if they were five and a half.’

So my Sunday was one of mixed emotion. From the generosity of the Celtic support in filling the buckets of the charity Foundation we then had the team and support bonding in their moment of triumph. In the midst of the celebration there were tears too as we remembered one of our own who had inspired us so much with his courage. Being part of the Celtic family is like that, they make you laugh, they make you cry but they make you so proud too.

God bless you Oscar, I hope you’re riding that big green tractor now and smiling down on us all.

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Celtic Way

Big Rab eased the steering wheel carefully around as he turned the corner into Gordon Street and his usual pitch outside Central Station. The fog was really thickening and he doubted he’d get many passengers tonight. He glided slowly into the taxi bay and parked behind another of the many black cabs struggling to find customers on this foggy Tuesday night. He stepped out of his cab and wiped down his windscreen with a cloth noticing how quiet it was in the centre of Glasgow. Even the normally busy station seemed deserted. The driver in front stepped out of his cab and stretched in the cool night air. He turned, noticing Rab and called to him, ‘Alright Rab, no much happenin’ the night eh? I’m givin’ it 2 minutes and then heading hame.’  Rab smiled at his fellow driver, ‘No many folk oot in this fog, Tony, worst I’ve seen in years.’  His friend nodded, ‘No safe oan the roads the night mate, you’d be best tae head up the road yerself, big man.’  Rab looked around at the gathering gloom shrouding the city centre, ‘I’ll give it another couple of minutes Tony, see if any punters turn up.’  His friend headed back to his cab, ‘Good luck wi that pal, I’m off to see if I can catch a pint afore they shut.’  Rab watched him pull out into the empty street and turned back to his own vehicle. He was a little startled to see a man sitting in the back of his cab. He didn’t see him enter much less hear the door close.  ‘Jeez, that punter must be wearing slippers, never heard him at all there.’ he mumbled to himself getting into the driver’s seat and slamming the door against the chill evening air.

He revved the engine and glancing in the mirror asked, ‘Where to, pal?’ The man, collar of his long dark coat turned up against the chill and wearing a black fedora style hat answered in a quiet voice with just the hint of an Irish accent, ‘Kerrydale Street.’ Rab nodded, ‘A lot of changes there Pal, Kerrydale Street is part of the new Celtic Way. I can take you there nae problem though.’ With that he pulled out into the murky fog and headed for the east end of the city. The man in the back of the cab remained quiet as the taxi headed through the Merchant City and on to Glasgow cross before swinging left along the Gallowgate. It was Rab who broke the silence, ‘You heading up to one of those restaurants at the stadium Pal because they aw shut aboot an hour back?’  The man answered in a quiet voice, ‘No, I just wanted to look around. I used to live in the area.’ Rab nodded, ‘A lot of changes around here in recent years, the place looks a lot better.’ The taxi turned down the new road before turning again and heading slowly along the London Road, stopping at the kerb in front of the new Celtic Way. The fog swirled in the headlights and the the few lights on in the stadium were only just visible through the gloom. ‘You’ll no see much the night, wi aw this fog aboot. Might be better coming back the morra?’  The man regarded Rab, ‘It’s fine, I can get close to the things I want to see. Will you walk with me, I could use someone with good local knowledge? I’ll pay you for your time.’ Rab was a little taken aback by this odd request but answered. ‘Aye, why not? I’ll be heading up the road after this fare anyway.’

Rab turned off the engine and stepped from the cab, reaching back for his fleece which he pulled on and zipped up to his neck. He then turned to the passenger door of the cab and opened it. ‘Right Pal, will we go look at the Velodrome or start wi Celtic Park?’  The man stepped from the cab and looked around him, ‘I’d like to see the stadium first,’ he said, ‘where’s the old school?’ Rab smiled, ‘They knocked it down this year, I think they’re gonny build the Celtic ticket office and museum on that site.’ They stepped forward onto the Celtic way, the bulk of the stadium looming within the fog like a shadowy mountain. A few lights on the stadium twinkled through the grey mist as Rab stopped and looked down at his feet. ‘They put this Celtic crest here when they built the way.’ The man looked at the large four leafed clover emblazoned on the slabs at his feet. ‘My, that is very impressive.’ He looked at Rab, his pale blue eyes scanning his, ‘Tell me, do you follow the Celtic?’  Rab nodded, ‘Season ticket holder like my Da before me.’ There was something familiar about this man but Rab couldn’t quite put his finger on it. ‘Can we get closer to the stadium?’ They walked between the rows of white poles with their green and white flags hanging limply in the still, misty air.

They stopped before the impressive statue of Jock Stein, ‘That’s big Jock,’ smiled Rab, ‘A better man never drew breath.’ The man smiled a little, reading what it said on the plinth of the statue out loud, ‘Football without fans is nothing. How true those words are.’ The man’s eyes scanned the fa├žade of the stadium, ‘It has changed so much since I was last here. Can we go inside?’ Rab shook his head, ‘Shut noo pal,  ye might get on the tour in the morning but it’s too late tonight.’ The man, seemingly deaf to what Rab had just said walked up the steps towards the front entrance, pausing only briefly at the metal plaque on the wall commemorating Tommy Burns. He stared at it a long moment, nodding and mumbling something quietly under his breath. Rab followed him, a little unsure of what the quietly spoken and, if he was honest, slightly odd man was going to do. When the man reached the glass door at the top of the stairs he stopped, reached for the handle and pushed gently. Much to Rab’s surprise the door opened. ‘Listen Pal,’ Rab began, ‘we canny go in at this time of night.’ The man ignored him and stepped into the foyer, ‘Of course we can it’s our club after all isn’t it?’ As the man walked on Rab had to make a snap decision; wait or follow? He glanced around him at the fog shrouded and deserted Celtic way, he couldn’t even see his cab on the London Road so thick was the mist.  He exhaled and pushed the door and followed the man into the stadium. Security would no doubt show up and throw them out but what the heck?

The man seemed to know his way around and Rab followed, noticing how he stopped momentarily to look at images of the many great Celts adorning the walls, nodding occasionally. He followed him with a slight sense of foreboding but also a little elation that he was deep inside the stadium of the team he had followed all his life. The man turned sharply left and walked down what Rab knew must be the tunnel leading to the pitch. A cold draft of air hit him as he followed him out the tunnel and onto the track beside the pitch. The cavernous stadium stood, still and silent as the man stopped by the touchline and slowly scanned the huge, empty stands of Celtic Park. ‘My, this is a grand stadium indeed,’ he said to no one in particular. Rab stood a couple of metres behind him not really sure what to say or do. The man turned, ‘Tell me, do they still give money to the needy?’ It was an odd question and Rab was slightly taken aback. ‘Eh, aye they have a foundation. I think it helps a load of charities.’ The man continued, ‘How much do they give compared to how much they take in?’ Rab had no idea but spluttered out, ‘I know the turnover was about £75 million last year wi the Champions League money. I read that the Foundation has raised over seven million since wee Fergus set it up twenty years back. They have a collection among the fans once a year.’ The man thought for a moment. ‘It doesn’t seem much compared to their income does it?’ Rab said nothing but he had to admit the man was right. ‘How much do they pay the players these days?’ Rab found these questions a little strange but answered as best he could. ‘Top guys like Commons get about twenty grand a week. Up and coming lads get less.’ The man pursed his lips. ’They must always remember the poor.

A voice somewhere off towards the Jock Stein stand broke the momentary silence and Rab turned, ‘Here Pal, whit ye doing?’ Two yellow coated men appeared out of the mist, walking towards him. As they approached Rab could see their bemused faces and the word ‘Security’ on the breast of their florescent jackets. The bigger of the two, a stout, red faced man with a serious expression and the physique of a nightclub bouncer who has let it go a bit regarded Rab suspiciously as if trying to assess if he presented any danger. ‘How did ye get down here? The restaurants shut ages ago?’ Rab, feeling a little worried, replied, ‘I’m a taxi driver. My fare kinda invited me in, seems tae know the place.’ Rab realised how silly his words must have sounded as soon as he said them. The big man looked sceptical, ‘Yer fare?’ Rab turned, ‘Aye, him…’ He was about to point at the quiet spoken man with the soft Irish accent but he was nowhere in sight. Only the silent stadium with its garland of swirling fog could be seen. ‘Well you need tae leave, we’re locking the place for the night.’ Rab nodded and silently followed the smaller of the two security men towards the junction of South Stand and Celtic end where the big metal doors which were designed to allow emergency vehicle access were closed and locked.  The security man unbolted a small inset door and opened it, ‘There ye go mate, if yer fare is still around we’ll find him and send him on his way.’ The door closed with a metallic clang and Rab heard a bolt inside slide into place. He stood for a second in the cold, foggy air unsure what to do next.  At last he turned and headed back towards the Celtic way.

Rab stopped by the statue of Brother Walfrid and looked at the front entrance of Celtic Park as if he expected the man to wander out at any moment but all was still. A flickering to his left caught his eye and he turned to see a small candle on the side plinth of the Brother Walfrid statue. Beside it was a small white card on which someone had written in a very neat, old fashioned hand…’Always remember the poor.’ Rab glanced up at the statue’s face with its fixed paternal stare. It seemed to be looking down the Celtic Way, still watching out for those who needed help. Something gnawed away deep inside Rab. The man who’d led him here tonight looked a little similar to the good brother. ‘Don’t be daft, Rab,’ he told himself, ‘This foggy night making ye believe in ghosts noo is it?’ he mumbled to himself. He shook his head and walked between the flag poles of the Celtic Way listening to the click of his shoes on the flagstones. He could have been the last man on Earth so deserted and quiet was the street. He reached the London Road and his cab sat reassuringly where he’d left it. He unlocked it with a click of his keypad and opened the door. A white envelope was on the driver’s seat. He opened it, mystified. In it was £50 and a short note written in the same neat hand as the card he had just seen on the plinth of the Walfrid Statue. It read…

‘I trust this is enough for your time. Thank you kindly for guiding me around my old haunts. Things have changed so much.  Tell them not to forget the poor.’

The note was unsigned. Rab sat in the cab and slammed the door shut, unconsciously clicking the central locking button. He suddenly felt cold and a shiver ran up his spine. He glanced up at the fog shrouded stadium, wondering what exactly had occurred this night.  He started the engine and mumbled to himself, ‘Stop it Rab, it was just a guy, that’s aw, just a punter.’ He flicked on the lights and glided silently along the London Road knowing in his heart that he didn’t believe that.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Being Irish Means You're Guilty...
The recent Glasgow Cup final between Celtic under 17 side and the newco colts was an eye opener. Approaching the stadium it was obvious that there was tension in the air. Strains of the ‘Famine Song’ drifted up from the London Road and huge numbers of Police officers were on duty apparently determined to ignore such violations of the law. The atmosphere inside the stadium was awful and in truth the away support were the chief culprits in terms of the vile repertoire of songs they sung. From the ‘Billy Boys’ to songs about paedophilia and of course the aforementioned famine song, they left no depth unplumbed. It was a demonstration of utter hatred which was as depressing as it was predictable.  I recall saying to a friend, ‘No doubt the press will write about the ‘Old Firm’ bigots tomorrow and ignore the fact that most of the poison came from one side.’ I was right.

Old Firm Shame blights showcase for young talent’ said one paper and the rest of the tabloids ran with that general theme. The facts never seem to get in the way of a good story with our friends in the tabloids. ‘Seats damaged by Old Firm thugs’ we were told despite the fact that all the damaged seats, said to be £10,000 worth, were all in the away end. Compare this reporting to the front page slating of the ‘Green Brigade’ for damaged seats at Motherwell a few months back. There was no evidence at Motherwell that any members of the Green Brigade had broken seats by hey, why let that spoil a good mud throwing story. Most of us began ignoring the tabloid trash years ago when it was obvious that some so called ‘Journalists’ were more interested in levelling up the old firm score than in reporting the truth. This season we have had sectarian singing at Ibrox on numerous occasions which passed with little or no comment. We saw frankly disgraceful scenes of serving British military personnel joining in songs of a very dubious nature at Ibrox and now the Famine Song returns only to be greeted with the usual ‘Old Firm’ naughty boys at it again from the press.  Perhaps they are unaware that the ‘Old Firm’ ended in 2012 when Rangers were liquidated but they are surely not deaf to the vile songs being sung with impunity by a large minority among the new club’s fans?

Today Anthony Stokes was again the target of sections of our media. He was, according to the Daily Record…’Caught’ on stage with a ‘Pro-IRA’ singer at the ‘Notorious’ Rock Bar in the Falls Road. Is this an even handed portrayal of events? The ‘Journalist’ then states that a few days previously the Bar had hosted the ‘Notorious’ singer Bik McFarlane. Interesting but absolutely nothing to do with Stokes visit there. This attempted demonization of all things Republican is extremely poor journalism as well as morally dubious in a so called democracy. Nationalist songs are part of the heritage and folk memory of the Irish people and they need feel no shame in singing them. Stokes is a Dubliner and that city is Capital of a Republic because men fought and died for their independence against great odds. The underlying message of the Daily Record’s article is that an Irish man, singing Irish songs in Ireland is somehow offensive. Utter nonsense, within the bounds of the law and common decency, any of us should be free to sing whatever we want. This isn’t Nazi Germany or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. By the Tabloids putrid standards anyone who has gone to a Wolfe Tones or Christy Moore concert should in some way be ashamed. Well sorry chums, I’m not and many thousands of others who refuse to buy your simplistic and rather crude world view aren’t either.  This trial by media reminds me of the lyric of an old Irish song:
’Not for them a judge nor jury
Nor indeed a crime at all
If being Irish means we’re guilty,
So we’re guilty one and all.’  
I would no more condemn a man for singing an Irish historical song than I would for singing a Scottish one. The Green Brigade made that very point succinctly with their Sands/Wallace banners. Of course Stokes as a Celtic player needs to think before he acts but for the press to ignore literally hundreds singing the Famine Song on their doorstep then run a huge piece on one man singing a song in Belfast, if indeed he did, is scurrilous reporting.

I have been quick to state in the past that I disagree with the singing of political songs at football. That remains my position but I am becoming heartily sick of the biased, inaccurate reporting of events surrounding Celtic supporters. For instance, the Sun reported on the Glasgow Cup Final with a picture labelled ‘Celtic fan with a flare.’ The picture attached to the report of the game was over 5 years old!  They were quick to put a small, almost invisible apology on their website when angry Celtic fans challenged them but the picture had gone out and the ‘they’re all the same’ message had been foisted on anyone stupid enough to read that rag. It was passed off as an ‘error by a junior reporter’ but this sort of thing happens to often to be accidental.

The best defence we can have against such reporting is to be united as a support to challenge and ridicule the distortions. We also need our club to listen to the fans and back them publicly on occasion. Without the fans the club is nothing but far too often they have remained silent when some of our fans need their support. That needs to change.