Friday, 27 June 2014


The Emerald Scots

The founding generation of Celtic FC, as is the way of migrant communities, was undoubtedly more concerned with the politics and events in the ‘old country’ than they were about goings on in their adoptive land. It was no accident that Land League activist and Fenian, Michael Davitt was invited to lay the first sod of turf at the second Celtic Park in 1892. The fact that the man who railed against the Landlords who so cruelly upped rents and evicted poor tenants in Ireland was invited by the Irish-Scottish community to lay that first sod at their new stadium was deeply symbolic. Celtic were forced to move from their original home on what is today Springfield Road to the current site after the landlord demanded a huge rise in rent from the infant Club. Michael Davitt was one of the new breed of activists who saw the common suffering of working people everywhere and travelled extensively lecturing, organising and trying to instil in the working class a solidarity which was often absent due to lack of education and artificially fostered divisions. Davitt urged the Irish-Scottish community in Glasgow to engage with the political scene in Scotland and to support the infant Labour movement which would eventually give birth to the Labour Party. There could be no lingering in the narrow confines of migrant politics, the Irish-Scots would soon take a full and active part in the political life of Scotland and the wider UK. Some, such as Edinburgh born Socialist James Connolly, would take the struggle for workers’ rights and Irish self-determination all the way to the execution yard in Kilmainham Jail. Connolly’s nationalism was always secondary to his Socialism and he saw the struggle for working class advancement as a world-wide issue. He wrote in 1897…

‘’If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.’’

John Wheatley, son of County Wexford and ardent Celtic fan became an important figure in the Independent Labour Party in Scotland and served as both a Councillor and MP for Glasgow constituencies between the wars. He is best remembered for his time as Health Secretary during which he enacted the Rent Act which greatly increased the availability of affordable housing and took many out of the clutches of unscrupulous landlords. Of course many who are children of the Irish diaspora still have an interest in Irish affairs and that is to be expected. The Troubles reawakened in many latent feelings of solidarity with the embattled nationalists of the six counties and this found expression in many forms, not least in the chants heard on the terraces in those days. Thankfully the north of Ireland is currently experiencing less troubling times.

In the 126 years since that founding generation of Celtic FC the club has expanded way beyond the Irish diaspora community upon which it was built. The club now attracts supporters from all walks of life but is rightly proud of what those early pioneers achieved. Today Celtic supporters rightly take their place in all sectors of Scottish life and have been very vociferous in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence. My experience online suggests a majority are in the ‘Yes’ camp but as always the silent majority will decide. It is however pleasing to see so many, particularly the younger generation, engaging in the political process as Scotland makes the most important decision in over 300 years. For too long politics has been viewed as boring by too many and thankfully there has been a huge re-engagement of interest as September’s poll draws nearer. Scotland will make a decision with huge consequences for future generations. This time all the people will decide and not just a narrow aristocratic elite who once ruled in their own selfish interests.

It is interesting that Celtic fan George Galloway, himself a son of Dundee’s ‘Little Ireland’ community is throwing his weight behind the ‘No’ campaign. It  amuses many to see him aligned with UKIP, the Orange Order and the Tories on the issue but he sees working class solidarity across the UK as being ill served by Scottish independence. I happen to disagree with him and told him so at the City Halls in Glasgow but I respect his right to put his case and make us all justify our choices. It is a healthy sign that the once marginalised Irish community in Scotland are now fully engaged and assimilated into Scottish society. Yes, they retain their distinctive attitudes and traditions and chief among these is their continuing love of one of their greatest achievements; Celtic Football Club. They journey of Celtic from the impoverished back streets of the migrant quarter to the sunlit uplands of Lisbon, mirrors that of the community which created the club. Celtic, the source of pride to so many people who struggled through life since 1888, sits proudly today as Scotland’s most successful Club. That in itself is an immense achievement and the people most responsible for it are those wonderful supporters who stuck by their team in lean years as well as in successful times.

The club has come a long way since Michael Davitt laid the first sod at the new Celtic Park in 1892. So too have the Community which gave birth to and still sustains Celtic. They are proud Scots for the most part now but just as proud of their emerald roots. There is no contradiction in that as the Celtic peoples of Scotland and Ireland share a common heritage. It’s no mere accident that the good Brother chose the name ‘Celtic’ for his club all those years ago. He believed that his people would have to engage with the society they found themselves in and saw football as one vehicle to help achieve this. His club and his people have succeeded and he would be proud of that.


Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Bridge of Sighs
It’s strange how long dormant memories can reappear in one’s consciousness if the right stimulus is applied. I recently walked down Wishart Street which, those of you familiar with Glasgow will know lies between the rocky hills of the Necropolis cemetery and Glasgow Cathedral. There is a tall bridge there which as kids we called the ‘Echo Bridge.’ We would often stop under it and yell out some visceral noise and listen to the sound waves bounce off the ancient stones to create an echo. My recent trip under the bridge coincided with a couple of young boys doing exactly as I did many years ago and I had to smile that youngsters are still amused by such simple things in this electronic age. Watching them triggered a memory of walking down Wishart street as a lad myself on a fine summer day long ago. My friend Michael and I both about 14 at the time, reached the bridge and I shouted ‘Celtic’ grinning as it echoed off the stones. My grin faded though as I noticed a group of men and teenagers heading up from John Knox Street towards us. A couple of them were dressed in quaint blue suits and wore Glengarry style caps replete with some sort of feather. They were unmistakably returning from an Orange Parade and some of them were the worse for drink. I don’t suppose they appreciated me yelling ‘Celtic’ under the echo bridge and may even have thought it was aimed at them. In any event a few of the younger men among the group raced towards us with ill intent. I recall one yelling the depressingly familiar, ‘Fenian Bastards’ as Michael and I instantly assessed the odds as pretty hopeless and decided that discretion was the better part of valour and turned on our heels and bolted for safety. Thankfully our pursuers didn’t fancy a protracted chase up the steep incline of Wishart Street and we made good our escape.
I pondered this long dormant memory as it resurfaced recently and the irony of those events of long ago was not lost on me. The area around the Glasgow Cathedral is awash with history. Wishart Street was named after the Protestant Reformer George Wishart who was burned at the stake in 1546. It joins John Knox Street named after another reformer of the time. The High Street is of course nearby too and here William Wallace led a force of 300 Scots who defeated an English force of a thousand in 1297. Nearby is Ladywell Street named after the medieval well named in honour of Our Lady in the days when Scotland was a Catholic country. The well was used until the nineteenth Century when the influx of displaced Highlanders and Irish migrants to the area led to serious overcrowding and insanitary conditions. Outbreaks of cholera and other illnesses were linked to contamination of the water supply and some of the old wells were sealed off. Loch Katrine would, from the 1860s onward, supply fresh water to the growing city of Glasgow and not the ancient wells. With all of this history swirling around the Cathedral it seemed to me to be rather sad that in the late twentieth century some Glaswegians would contemplate violence on others based on a word innocently shouted under the echo bridge. But of course the word ‘Celtic’ has an effect on some which can rouse them to anger or even violence. Why should that be?

Of course the answer to that question lies in the very history which binds Scotland and Ireland so intimately. The Irish who flooded into Glasgow in the 19th Century fleeing hunger and injustice were arriving into the very land which supplied the majority of those ‘Planters’ sent to colonise Ulster by King James 1 in the 17th Century. For some, though by no means all Scots, the growth in the Irish population coming as it did at a time of great social change was threatening and disturbing. The widespread prejudice the Irish migrants faced was given an extra dimension by the fact the majority of them were Catholics. Of course that community in time gave birth to Celtic Football Club and the club is still seen by some more misguided individuals as a symbol of all they despise. The mere act of shouting ‘Celtic’ by a young lad, at a certain time and place became as a red rag to a bull to those trapped in a warped mind set.
The tragedy of course is that none of us need be bound by the prejudice of the past but some lack the will or the wit to see that and repeat the same old mistakes. We are all of us imbued with certain attitudes and values in our formative years and if we were lucky and had decent parents they will be the right ones. A minority are sadly taught that others are different and to be hated and that conditioning can, in some cases, last a lifetime. It may be hard to accept for those of you who have experienced bigotry’s poisonous legacy but those who perpetrate it are in some ways victims too. No child is born hating. Someone taught them by word or deed that the ‘other’ is not like them. Of course that doesn’t make bigotry any less unpalatable or obnoxious but it does at least remind us that if we teach the up and coming generation a better way, then things can indeed change for the better.

Many years have passed since that incident under the echo bridge and I wonder if those young men intent on violence that day have changed in the intervening years. I hope they have.

High above the Cathedral, on one of those ragged, rocky hills of the Necropolis cemetery sits a monumental stone Angel. She gazes eastwards towards Celtic Park as if watching over it. For me the symbolism is clear. No matter where our roots are, be they in Ireland, Pakistan or a hundred other places the new Glaswegians come from, we all belong here. The old cry of ‘We are the people’ is increasingly being replaced by ‘We are all the people’ and that is only right.


Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Green Mile

The Green Mile
Paul Sullivan stood with the twenty six thousand other Celtic fans in the huge north stand as the final act of a tumultuous Old Firm game was about to be played out. Despite dominating the game for long spells and missing a penalty Celtic were being held 1-1 and the Referee was glancing at his watch. ‘Last chance saloon,’ he mumbled to his brother Tony as Gary Caldwell picked up a loose ball in the midfield. ‘Sling it in the box ya numpty’ roared a man behind him. Caldwell couldn’t have heard him but he knew time was almost up and if Celtic were to have any chance of winning the title they needed to win this game. He clipped a ball to the back post where Scott McDonald was waiting with the Rangers full back. Paul looked on barely breathing as the ball arced towards the little Australian. McDonald was up early and, given the angle, wisely chose to head the ball back across the six yard box. Paul unconsciously gripped his brother’s shoulder as the ball flashed across the box where a green and white blur in the shape of Jan Venegoor of Hesselink arrived like an express train to bullet a header behind the forlorn and startled Rangers goalkeeper. The roar of utter relief which greeted the goal swept around Celtic Park like a tsunami of joy. Paul grabbed his brother in sheer ecstasy, ‘We’ve done it! We’ve done it!’ he roared, ‘We’re gonny win this fuckin league!’  He and 53,000 other joyous Celtic fans crammed into Celtic Park on that warm April night felt the same at that moment.

The two brothers headed back to the ‘Green Mile’ as some wag had christened the area of Pollokshaws Road which seemed to have a Celtic bar on every corner. The mood in Heraghty’s was euphoric as the brothers entered. There was a cheer from a group near the bar who welcomed the brothers as if they had played in the game. Backs were slapped, hands shaken and pints handed over. Paul’s Uncle John grinned at them, ‘What a way tae win a match! That’ll sicken that mob aw right.’ Paul grinned, ‘I didnae think it was coming John, I thought we’d blown it.’ Before they could continue the conversation a familiar refrain swirled around the packed Bar, ‘We’re Celtic supporters, faithful through and through, over and over we will follow you!’ They joined in with gusto and the song spilled out of the doors of the bar and ghosted along Alison Street to the tenement building where the two brothers had been born and raised. Old Frank Sullivan lay on his bed on the second floor of that tenement, his window slightly ajar to allow the cool spring breeze to air his room. There was no more the Doctors could do for him and he had come home to spend his last days with those he loved. Despite breathing heavily and having his oxygen mask on he could hear the strains of ‘Over and over’ drifting up from the street.  ‘Good,’ he said wearily to himself as he drifted into that half sleep the pain relief drugs allowed him, ‘The Bhoys must have won!’ God, how he missed going to see Celtic! If he could just visit Celtic Park once more, just to say his farewells...

He didn’t know if it was possible to dream with your eyes open but as he lay in the darkness listening to the distant laughter from the street below he could see as clear as day his own father, wearing his familiar long coat and bunnet and holding onto a child’s hand as they waited in a long queue at the turnstile of the old Celtic Park. He knew the child was him and that he had gone with his old man to see Celtic for the first time on a bright August day in 1954. He could smell the tobacco in the air and glancing up saw old Irish flag fluttering above the old enclosure that would one day be called the Jungle. As old Frank lay on his bed he could plainly see his father’s familiar face smiling down at him, ‘Wait till ye see Tully and Evans, Frankie!’  In the darkness, old Frank reached forward as if to touch his father’s face. The man in the bunnet smiled at him, his familiar blue eyes sparkling.

From the street below a lone voice echoed off the sand stone walls of the tenements, ‘and if ye know the history…’ Old Frank glanced around the room, all was dark and still. He drifted off again for what could have been a second or an hour. There was no way to measure time in the world he inhabited. He thought his wife had put the bedside lamp on and turned to his left. Instead of her care worn face he saw another familiar scene. Two young boys stood at the opening of the close on Alison Street, each wearing a Celtic shirt with the Celtic cross badge of the centenary season. They were both around 8 or 9 years old. He knew it was Paul and Tony when they were young and that they were waiting for him. His vision took a strange turn when he saw himself emerge from the close or rather a young and vigorous version of himself emerged into the bright May sunshine. ‘Right lads, let’s get tae Hampden and get this cup won!’ Old Frank Sullivan smiled as he saw his younger self take the boys by the hand and head towards Pollokshaws Road where the supporters bus would be waiting. ‘That was some day,’ he breathed to himself. ‘McAvennie had saved the day and made the centenary miracle real.’

Old Frank was vaguely aware that someone had entered the room. He could feel the weight of another person sitting on the bed and tried to focus his eyes. He heard Paul’s voice speaking in a low tone, ‘We did it Da, we beat them. I’m certain we’ll win this title now.’ Old Frank reached out in the darkness and found his son’s hand. The same hand he had held 30 years earlier as they headed to Hampden in Celtic’s centenary year. He breathed hard, trying to speak but the words wouldn’t come. They held each other’s hand in the darkness and old Frank drifted to sleep as his son told him of the dramatic goings on at Celtic Park that night. His sleep was deeper now, deeper than any sleep he had had before....

When he opened his eyes he was standing in bright sunshine on Allison Street. A tram car rattled past and he could see his father approaching him. ‘Come on Frankie, we’re off tae see the Celts!’ Frankie ran towards his father in a state of excitement. At last he was old enough to go to Celtic Park. He threw himself into his father’s arms, his eyes wet with tears, ‘Are we really going, Da, nae kidding?’ His old man smiled that familiar smile, ‘Of course we are son, wait till ye see Tully and Evans!’ 

At last Frankie was going to Paradise...


Saturday, 14 June 2014

An honour
The Police car slowed to a crawl as the young officer scanned the nearby cars for the one they were looking for. ‘Nothing’ he said to his colleague as they turned and headed for the Linthouse area which borders the huge Southern General hospital complex. Again the same pattern was repeated; check the parked cars in the area for a colour and model match, then move on to the licence plate. Just as they were thinking of moving on they spotted a likely car. ‘Colour matches…checking the plate.’ The driver slowed to a halt. There was soon no doubt that this was the car they were looking for. As they stepped from the vehicle they could plainly see a familiar figure slumped over the steering wheel. ‘That’s him, quick get the door opened.’ The door was thankfully unlocked but even if it had been locked they would not have hesitated to break in. This was an emergency. One of the officers quickly assessed the situation and used the sort of common sense long experience had endowed him with, ‘He’s hypoglycaemic, but still with us.’ He produced a soft, sugary sweet from his pocket and eased it into the man’s mouth. As life-saving procedures go it was undramatic and inexpensive but to a diabetic whose brain has been drained of sugar it was manna from heaven. It saved his life.

The man in the car was of course Celtic legend Danny McGrain. He had failed to show up at home after attending a meeting and his wife had the wisdom to quickly call the Police when her calls to his mobile went unanswered. Skipping a meal had meant Danny’s body was seriously low on sugar and in such circumstances the brain’s reaction is to close the non-vital bodily systems down and conserve what little sugar there was in his system. He had lost consciousness shortly after having the presence of mind to park by the side of the road and it then became a race against the clock to find him. Thankfully the Police did find Danny’s car and knew what to do to revive him.

Danny McGrain had to battle to overcome setbacks in his professional life which would have made a lesser man give up. He joined Celtic as a skinny teenager in the pivotal month of May 1967. He would have watched the Lisbon side rip the opposition apart at home and abroad and wonder if he had what it took to break into such a side. It says much for Celtic that the boyhood Rangers fan was welcomed by the club which was building a formidable reserve side to replace the Lions when time and injury deemed it necessary. Jock Stein, in his wisdom, allowed Danny and other up and coming youngsters like Davidson, Macari, Dalglish and Hay to train with the first team. They could hardly fail to learn the tricks of the trade watching the Lions in action every day. McGrain, it could be argued was the best servant Celtic gained from the ‘Quality Street’ group of youngsters. He served Celtic with distinction for 20 years and in that time dealt with a fractured skull, a serious ankle injury and a broken leg. On top of this he was managing his diabetes and still managing to be consistently excellent for Celtic season after season. His tally of 661 first team games has him fourth in Celtic’s all time appearances list with only McNeil, (790)  McStay, (678) and Aitken (669) ahead of him. That tally of games doesn’t begin to hint at just how excellent Danny was in his prime. He was blessed with great pace before injury and age took their toll and had the skill of a winger when it came to getting past opposing defenders. It would be interesting to see how many assists he had in Celtic goals in that era as he was constantly overlapping and supporting the attack. Younger fans at least have video footage to judge Danny but those of us who saw him will testify that this was indeed the real deal. Danny was a world class player at his peak and a man who grew to be a 100% Celt despite being raised as a Rangers fan. Indeed Celtic Historian David Potter recalls an incident with one of our less intelligent fellow Scots….

‘He was attending a reserve football match and was spotted and recognised by a Rangers fan. The bluenose was about to launch into a tirade about the Pope, Fenians etc. before he remembered that this was not appropriate for the Protestant Danny. Danny then says, "He searched what there was of a brain before shouting 'McGrain, you diabetic bastard!"

Danny became a quintessential Celtic player, combining tremendous skill with what Billy McNeil called ‘a cruel tackle.’ Among the plethora of cup and league wins, my memories of Danny return to that amazing night in 1979 when Celtic faced Rangers in a win or bust league match at Celtic Park. He and Roy Aitken drove Celtic on that incredible night despite setbacks in the game and won the Championship for their beloved Hoops. Danny won 62 caps, appeared in the World Cup Finals and had a career of great distinction. Despite this he remained the ordinary lad from Drumchapel who was welcomed into Celtic Park in 1967 by the best team in Europe. Few would have predicted then that the nervous 17 year old would in due course be voted into Celtic’s greatest ever side by the supporters who came to regard him as an all-time great.
I only met Danny McGrain on one occasion. He was signing autographs in the car park of the old Celtic Park. He signed my programme and I thanked him for all he did for Celtic. He smiled at me and said, ‘It’s been an honour playing here.’ I got the impression he meant it. He may have felt it was an honour to play for Celtic but we who saw Danny play with such flair and distinction know that it was we who were honoured to watch a footballing great wear those famous hoops. I’ll leave the last word on Danny to that brilliant sports writer, Hugh McIlvanney…

‘Anybody who saw him at his best had the unmistakable impression of watching a great player, probably one who had no superior anywhere in the world.’’

Again, I thank you again for all you’ve done for Celtic. You were some player.

Daniel Fergus McGrain. Celtic Legend.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Best of All
All of the TV coverage of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings got me thinking about old Tommy. One of seven children brought up in a tenement in the Gorbals he was, like so many from that district, Celtic through and through. He told me one time that much as he loved the Lisbon Lions and the teams Stein built, he thought the team being built by Maley in the late thirties could have been the greatest of all if the war hadn’t interrupted its development. I can still see his gnarled old face crease into a smile when he recalled a game in September 1938 when Rangers came calling. ‘Delaney ripped them apart,’ he said to me his blue eyes gleaming like a boy again. He could even recount the names of the entire team who thumped their rivals 6-2 on that September day long ago…. ‘Kennaway, Hogg, Morrison, Geatons, Lyon, Paterson, Delaney, McDonald, Crum, Divers and Murphy.’ Delaney, McDonald and Johnny Crum ran the show and but for a great display from Rangers keeper Dawson, Celtic could have hit double figures. That excellent team were to be scattered as the war clouds gathered over Europe. Celtic wouldn’t build another truly great side till Stein arrived in 1965. For Tommy too, extraordinary times lay ahead.

With two of his brothers on active service for the invasion of Europe in 1944, Tommy found himself half the world away in Burma with the Fourteenth Army. With the Japanese intent on invading India, the Fourteenth Army had the job of stopping them. The fighting was some of the bloodiest and most brutal of the war around the towns of Kohima and Imphal. Tommy seldom spoke of his experiences during his time in the far-east but opened up a little to me one evening as I visited him in hospital. He told me his mother would send him cuttings from the newspapers so he could read about Celtic’s progress or lack of progress in those war years. Dismal as Celtic’s form was, he still felt the connection to the team he supported all his days. There were to be no letters for weeks however when the Japanese offensive of 1944 saw Tommy on the Kohima ridge fighting off attacks by what he called ‘those mad screaming wee men.’ As the British and Indian soldiers, greatly outnumbered, held on grimly the psychological and physical pressure took its toll. Tommy recounted one Japanese raid which over ran a trench and led to the capture of one of his comrades. ‘We could hear him calling for his mother as they did God knows what to him and we just had to sit there and take it. Some of us wanted to go and try to rescue him but the officers told us to sit tight, as the Japanese wanted us to try and were waiting for us’. It was a long night for Tommy and he shut out the horrors by reliving in his head Celtic’s smashing of Rangers in that 1938 game. ‘It might sound daft, callous even’ he told me, ‘but I could escape into my memories when things were hardest and many of my best memories were of Celtic.’ The following day the Japanese attacked again and Tommy and his comrades took a terrible toll on them. ‘Their tactic backfired,’ he told me, ‘We were so angry about what they did the night before. When they attacked the next day we just said, aye, come on then you bastards.’

Tommy returned safely from the far-east but one of his brothers was lost in Holland in the later stages of the war. He moved back to the Gorbals and eventually on to Castlemilk as the old neighbourhood was demolished. He saw Celtic brief successes of the fifties and of course Stein’s dominance in the 60s and 70s. The last time I spoke to him was in hospital the week Celtic played Hibs in the cup final of 2001 as O'Neil's fine side moved relentlessly towards the treble. By that stage Tommy was a very old man in the final stages of his life. He pressed an old Celtic hand book into my hand and rasped in a tired, wheezing voice, ‘They would have been the best of all.’ It was from season 1938-39.
Guys like Tommy lived simple and often tough lives. Their standard of living was, by modern measures, poor but they were proud and independent. He loved Celtic with a passion but not in that zealous manner that leads some to hate. His pride in them was as standard bearers of his community. Celtic gave them something to look forward to at the end of a long and arduous working week and in Tommy’s case, somewhere to shelter, however briefly from the horrors of war. To his dying day he swore Maley’s team of the late thirties would have been the best in Celtic’s history had they been given time to mature together. ‘The war changed it all, broke up a great team,’ he would tell me. We who never saw them play are not best placed to judge but if Tommy said they were that good, then I for one believe him.

Maley’s team of the late thirties may have been one of the best but so were you Tommy. Sleep well old fella. Hail Hail

                                                      The Kohima Epitaph


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Magic Zurawski and the Jimmy Final
The 7000 Celtic fans in the Broomloan Road stand held their breath as Chris Burke hared up the right wing unchallenged. The Rangers winger glanced into the box to see Prso bursting beyond the Celtic defence. He flashed a cross along the six yard line and Prso looked favourite to meet it and break the deadlock. As Sniper gripped Barry’s shoulder in the packed stand behind the goal a flash of yellow, in the shape of Artur Boruc, intercepted the cross and in an instant sent the ball downfield. ‘Yaaasss! Gon the Holy Goalie’ yelled Sniper from the fourth row of the stand. The play raged to the other end of the field and a high ball caused chaos in the centre of the Rangers defence. The ball broke to Zurawski, Celtic’s Polish striker and he flashed a low shot into the corner of the net. A hundred yards away the massed ranks of green clad supporters exploded. Barry, Mick and Sniper grabbed each other in a euphoric huddle. They jumped and roared as they celebrated the goal with all the zest they could muster. Celtic were miles ahead in the league but that didn’t matter. All they cared about in that instant was sharing together that moment of triumph at the home of their greatest rivals.
As the game progressed it was clear that Neil Lennon and Roy Keane were bossing the midfield. They snarled and flew into tackles leaving Ferguson and Malcolm looking outclassed and outfought. The home support were subdued but Sniper was in his element taunting the nearest Rangers fans with his usual crude wit. ‘Here you ya mad walloper, how ur ye liking it?’ Then the away fans started a familiar song which echoed around Ibrox..’Hail Hail the Celts are here, what the hell do we care, we the hell do we care…’ The three friends, arms draped around each other’s shoulders joined in as 7000 voices roared out in unison... ‘For it’s a grand old team to play for, for it’s a grand old team to see…’ Celtic were looking in control and dominant and the fans were loving it.  Later in the game as Prso looked set to break, Keane nailed him with a professional body check and took the yellow card. No one was going to stop Celtic winning today. It was a solid professional display and the fans left Ibrox in good voice. Somewhere in the happy crowd Sniper was separated from his two friends as the crowd swept towards the buses. Barry scanned the masses of green clad supporters but there was no sign of his tall friend. ‘Where’s that dick got to?’ enquired Barry. ‘We’ll get him up the pub later,’ Mick replied ‘I’m sure he can find his way up the road without us.’ 
Two hours later a call from Govan Police office to Mick’s phone alerted him to the fact that Sniper was in jail. ‘Big man’s been lifted’ he said to Barry. Barry looked at him in surprise, ‘What for, possession of a peanut shaped head?’ Mick’s serious face told him it was true. ‘Boxing wi the bammy brigade.’  Barry shook his head, ‘The big man isny a trouble maker?’ Mick added, ‘But if anybody starts he won’t back doon either.’ The two friends finished their beer and headed over to Govan Police station to pick up their friend who was being released later that evening. They sat in the waiting room among the friends and relatives of those who had stepped over the line that day. A drunk started singing ‘Follow Follow we will follow Rangers,’ as Mick and Barry looked on a burly Policeman showed him the door. After what seemed an eternity Sniper appeared. His Celtic shirt was ripped and the area below his left eye was bruised. ‘Awright fannybaws!’ he grinned at his friends, ‘I’m feelin like Lee Harvey Oswald in here.’ Barry shook his head, ‘Mer like Lee Harvey oddball.’ As they headed for the exit Mick asked, ‘So whit happened anyway Sniper?’  The big man replied, ‘Bit of boxing wi the goons, nae big deal, starting their usual  pish.’ Mick looked at him, ‘So ur ye being charged?’ Sniper nodded, ‘Aye, assault and breach. Nae worries but I’ll be walking wance they hear my side of things in court.’Aye,’ said Barry, ‘That’s what Lee Harvey Oswald said.’ As they headed along the Paisley Road heading for the bus stop the drunk who was thrown out of the Police Station shouted at Sniper, ‘We arra Peepo!’ Sniper refused to take the bait, ‘Still trying tae be a Wit eh? Well yer hauf way there.’
The gallery of Court one was busy as Sniper took the stand. Barry and Mick sat near the front offering their moral support to their good friend who stood charged with assault and threatening behaviour. The Prosecuting Lawyer looked at Sniper with some disdain as he stood dressed in jeans and a green T-shirt which allowed the court to see his tattoo covered arms. After the preliminary questions establishing who he was and where he lived the Prosecutor got to the meat of the trial. ‘Where were you on Sunday the twelth of February?  Sniper looked at him, ‘I was at the fitbaw.’ The lawyer continued, ‘You attended a football match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Stadium, is that correct?’ Sniper, showing no sign of nerves, nodded, ‘Correct Chief.  The Lawyer leaned on the podium in front of him, ‘After the game did anything unusual occur?’  Sniper shrugged, ‘Naw.’ The Lawyer’s eyebrows were raised a little as he looked at his notes, ‘Are you sure of that, because I have been led to believe that you were involved in a fracas on Paisley Road West. Was this the case?’ Sniper looked at him a mystified look on his face, ‘Whit’s a frak-arse?’ There was a mild murmur of laughter from the gallery as the lawyer looking a little irritated continued, ‘A fracas could be said to be a physical confrontation, a fight if you will?’ Sniper nodded, ‘Goat ye noo boss. aye there wiz a wee bit of boxing but that’s no unusual wi that mob.’  The Prosecution lawyer went on, ‘In your own words tell the court what occurred.’ Sniper looked at him in a relaxed matter of fact way, ‘A few o’ us were heading up the road after the gem when a mob appeared fae wan o’ yon mad pubs oan Paisley Road. Fired a few bottles at us but shat it when we stood wur ground. Then the Polis showed up and that wiz that, the game’s a bogie.’ The little lawyer removed his glasses, ‘So you claim that you were accosted by a group of opposition supporters who exited a public house with the express intent of attacking you, is that what you’re telling the court?’ Sniper nodded, ‘Aye.’  Did you see my client Mr McWilliams among the group from the pub?  ‘Oh Aye,’ replied Sniper, ‘Ye couldny miss him.’  ‘What do you mean by that?’ asked the Lawyer. Sniper went on, ‘He’s a big guy, know wit ah mean, mer chins than a Chinese phone book.’ There was another ripple of laughter in the court. The Lawyer pressed on with a more strident tone of voice, ‘I put it to you that your group were in fact the aggressors that day and that you did in fact assault Mr McWilliams with no provocation whatsoever!’ Sniper shook his head, ‘Naw Pal, fat boy wis mad wi it and looking for a Tim tae batter. Canny just staun and take it can ye?’ The Lawyer raised his voice a little more, ‘I also put it to you that you did in fact strike Mr McWilliams with a pole of some sort to his actually bodily harm?’ Sniper didn’t take the bait and remained calm as Barry had warned him to, ‘Naw mate, him and his cronies came roarin’ oot the pub swinging hooks and I hud tae I gave him a swift boot in the hawmaws, tae put his gas oan a peep, know wit ah mean?’  As Barry and Mick tried hard not to laugh in the gallery, the Judge intervened, ‘Can we try to speak Standard English gentlemen as I’m having trouble following this?  The lawyer nodded and turned back to Sniper, ‘by ‘hamaws’ you mean what exactly?’ Sniper looked at him, ‘Baws mate.’You mean testicles am I correct?’ the lawyer enquired wearily, ‘Aye’ responded Sniper his expression betraying no emotion. ‘So you admit to assaulting Mr McWillians by kicking him in the groin area, is that correct?’ the lawyer asked. Sniper shook his head, ‘Listen Pal, he wis oot for taking a liberty, it wis self-defence. If I didny rattle his cheenies I’d still be in the Southern General the noo, ye catch ma drift?’ The Judge shook his head, a mystified look on his face as the prosecuting lawyer continued, ‘So you’re claiming that you assaulted Mr McWillians, a man going about his lawful business, in self-defence?’ Sniper looked a little annoyed for the first time, ‘Goin’ aboot his lawful business? He was pished an trying tae rip ma heed aff, wit ye want me tae dae? Staun there like a bam and take it?’ The exchanges continued in this vein for another 10 minutes before the exasperated lawyer, realising that Sniper was not going to be trapped into saying anything incriminating, gave up. At this point the Judge, who appeared to have given up trying to follow Sniper’s slang filled language decided to call an adjournment and Sniper was excused for the day.
In the Empire bar, which was situated under a bridge in the Saltmarket the friends shared a pint and chatted over the day’s events in the court. ‘Reckon I’m on tae a not guilty,’ Sniper began ‘as most of that Jury are Tims.’ Mick looked at him incredulously, ‘And how do you work that wan oot?  Sniper looked at him with that pitying look he reserved for crying children and lunatics, ’Look at their faces Mick, too good looking tae be currant buns.’ Barry cut in at this point, ‘So your theory is that Tims are better looking? Have you looked in the mirror recently? Yer nae Brad Pitt yerself big man.’ Sniper was having none of it, ‘You’ve always been a bit jealous of me Barry, is it coz I nipped yer burd when we wur at High School?’ Barry laughed, ‘Nipped my burd? Big Lynne wiz everybody’s burd, mer fingerprints on her drawers than Scotland Yard has oan their files!’ Sniper smiled, ‘I heard you and her wur engaged?’ Barry was incredulous at this claim, ‘Engaged! I was 15 ya walloper, you talk some shite so ye dae!’  Mick interjected at this point, ‘Never mind big Lynne, are we going tae the footy on Sunday?  Barry looked at him, ‘Only if this big eejit fae fantasy island remembered tae get the tickets.’ Sniper smiled and withdrew a white envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket. ‘When did yer yer big mucker ever let yeez doon?’ Mick grinned, ‘When ye pumped Bary’s fiancĂ©?’ They all laughed at that, even Barry.
A few days later they returned to the court for the jury’s verdict. Sniper stood in the dock trying had to look like an innocent man in his best jacket. Mick whispered to Barry, ‘Looks like a feckin Pollok pimp in that coat.’ Barry smiled. The Judge turned to the Jury, ‘Could your foreman stand.’ There was a mood of anticipation in the court as they awaited the verdict. ‘Do you find the accused guilty or not-guilty of assault?’ The tall, middle aged man in the jury box replied with the hint of a smile, ‘Not guilty.’ Sniper grinned like a three year old on his birthday, ‘Yasss, cheers ma man!’  The Judge scowled at him before turning back to the Jury, ‘and on the second charge of breach of the peace?’ Again the man replied not guilty. The judge turned to Sniper, ‘Thank you, you’re free to go.’ They met outside the court and slapped their friend on the back, ‘Let’s get a pint Sniper.’ Sniper smiled before replying in a mock Martin Luther King voice, ‘Free at last, free at last!’ Mick pushed him towards the Saltmarket, ‘Right, move it ya plonker or we’ll miss the pub.’ As they sat in the Tollbooth Bar enjoying the cool pint, Sniper’s phoned buzzed. ‘Awright Uncle James? Good man, I’ll see ye later.’ He hung up. ‘Uncle James? I never knew ye had an uncle James,’ said Barry. Sniper nodded with a small smile on his face, ‘Aye, ma maw’s big brother. you’ve seen him ye know.’ Mick looked mystified, ‘Seen him? Naw Sniper I don’t think I’ve seen him.’ Sniper looked like a bad comedian holding back a punchline, ‘Ye saw him today,’ He was enjoying his friends confusion and hesitated a moment before blurting out, ‘He wiz the foreman of the Jury.’   There was a stunned moment’s silence before the three friends erupted into laughter. ‘Sniper, yer a fuckin madman!’ said Barry.
The League cup final that season was a poignant one for all the Celtic family. Jimmy Johnstone had finally lost his courageous fight with motor neurone disease and the loss was on every Celts mind. As Celtic and Dunfermline came out to a huge roar, Sniper shouted, ‘Look Barry, they’re aw wearing number seven!’ The entire Celtic squad did indeed have number seven on their shorts as a tribute to their greatest ever player and there were a few moist eyes among the huge Celtic support crowded around most of the stadium. As the teams prepared to kick of a roar emanated from the Celtic end of Hampden which spread around the old stadium. The three friends joined tens of thousands of others in an old chant which their father’s and even grandfather’s would have known… ‘Jimmy oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing.’  Barry looked around Hampden at the sea of faces, he couldn’t imagine not following Celtic. It was as natural as breathing. ‘Here we go boys,’ he shouted as Maloney sped down the wing. This would be the Jimmy Johnstone final to them all when they spoke of it in the future and there was no way Celtic were going to lose this one.