Friday, 1 August 2014

Bring it home Bhoys....

Bring it home Bhoys
Matt McGrath swung the heavy hammer above his head and brought it crashing down onto the huge slab of rock in front of him. Slithers of rock whizzed past his face as he mumbled quietly to his fellow prisoner, Tony Daly, a serial housebreaker with eight months left to serve of his 4 year sentence. ‘I’ve got tae get oot of this place Tony, it’s driving me mad.’ Tony glanced up at the guards who stood on top of the quarry with rifles in hand and then at his friend who sported a painful looking black eye. ‘Easier said than done Pal. That bastard McEwan oan yer case again?’ Matt nodded as he lifted the hammer again, ‘When that man takes a dislike tae ye he can make yer life a misery.’ Tony nodded, ‘King Rat, right enough, but he’s a dangerous man Matt, the guards get a few quid and turn a blind eye to his bullying.’ They two men continued their quiet conversation as they broke stones in the Quarry near Peterhead Prison. Matt mulled over his options and they weren’t many. He could continue his sentence and put up with the increasingly severe treatment he was receiving from McEwan and his thugs or look for a way out.

He had arrived in the prison four months earlier in the chilly January of 1967 after a gang fight between the Cumbie and the Bridgeton Derry left one participant on life support and a few others in casualty. The judge had listened to the distortions of the policemen who arrived on the scene long after the events occurred but nonetheless concocted a tale which painted them as courageous gang busters. It was all lies of course, but Matt was portrayed as a vicious gang leader instead of the minor player he was and got three years nonetheless. He recalled sourly his first sight of Peterhead Prison, a windswept and God-forsaken, Victorian relic set on a bleak peninsular which jutted out into the cold North Sea. The guards at reception had joked that there were two seasons at Peterhead; winter and July. Nearby was the quarry where Prisoners were expected to work under the supervision of guards who watched over them while cradling rifles in their arms. Jimmy McEwan was the resident big mouth which all Prisons have. He used violence and intimidation to get what he wanted and had picked on Matt in the first week without any real reason. Matt figured that the scar faced bully wasn’t so tough on his own but he did command the allegiance of a nasty group of minions who, for whatever reason, did his bidding. When Matt had refused to hand over his tobacco allowance a couple of heavies had cornered him in a quiet corner of the laundry room and taken what they wanted. He had tried to fight back but a snooker ball in a sock had knocked him senseless and the fight was a one sided beating after that. The old lags looked the other way and the guard had conveniently had left the room. McEwan, it seemed, had decided to make Matt’s life a misery and he was succeeding. The fact Matt had the word ‘Celtic’ tattooed onto his forearm added a little sauce to McEwan’s persecution and he referred to Matt as ‘Mick’ any time they interacted. McEwan himself sported a poorly etched tattoo which showed a Dutchman on a white horse and Matt knew well the attitude people with such illustrations often had in 1960s Scotland. It was as depressing as it was predictable.

As the weeks passed it seemed that McEwan’s treatment of Matt had taken on the air of a hobby and he indulged it at every opportunity. From hot tea dropped in his lap, trips on the rough iron stairs and the odd cigarette end in his food, Matt endured much in his first few weeks in the jail. Verbal aggression and threats were a daily occurrence and, difficult as it was in the confines of the prison, Matt tried hard to avoid McEwan and his moronic cohorts. On one bleak and windy day at the quarry, a 10 pound breaking hammer ‘fell’ from one of the higher work areas and slammed into the ground just feet from where Matt was working. It had buried itself 18 inches into the ground such was its velocity. The way Matt saw it, it was a warning that he needed to get out of this place or things would only get worse. It seemed a forlorn hope as the austere Prison was over 175 miles from his home town of Glasgow and getting out of the actual building would only be the start of his problems as, Peterhead town apart, there was a virtual wilderness for miles around it.

On one of those rare April days when it wasn’t raining or threatening to rain, Matt and Tony Daly were working in the Prison Garden listening carefully as  Kenneth Wolstenholme’s dulcet BBC tones drifted from a nearby window... ‘Seven minutes to go here in Prague and it’s still goalless, some of the home fans are drifting away. Celtic are looking comfortable…’ Celtic, Matt’s team since he was old enough to walk, were playing away to Dukla Prague in the European Cup Semi-Final and the game was drifting towards a 0-0 draw. Tony smiled. ‘Jeez, it’ll be some party back home if Celtic win that thing!’ Matt nodded, ‘The Gorbals will be amazing and we’re stuck in here! We might as well be on the moon.’  Matt added, ‘Half my family will be going to the final. I hear it’s in Portugal this year.’ Tony laughed, ‘My old man has never been further than Blackpool and he’s off tae Portugal as well. I’ll be surprised if he makes it, he’d get lost in the Barras.’ Matt stopped working and looked at the truck delivering vegetables to the back door of the prison kitchen. He knelt to his task again but this time muttered to Tony, ‘See that truck, Tony?’ Tony glanced briefly at the truck and reading his friends thoughts, replied. ‘No chance mate, it’s well searched on the way out, so you can forget that as a taxi out of here.’ Matt looked at him, ‘It’s searched inside by two screws, I know that, been watching it for a few weeks, but they don’t search underneath it.’ Tony glanced at the truck, ‘That’s a dangerous game Matt, fall off and you’re a dead man besides it probably only goes to a local farm, then what?’ Matt nodded, ‘Can I borrow yer belt Tony, I need it for next Tuesday and I need another wee favour off ye tae?’

The next few days limped past like old soldiers as Matt counted down the time until the vegetable truck once more entered the prison. He kept a low profile and stayed away from McEwan and his hangers on. He had explained to Tony that he had to create a brief diversion so that he could get under the truck and secure himself to it using three, sturdy leather belts he’d collected. Tony, with only 3 months of his sentence left was not planning on joining him but was willing to help Matt out. At last they were escorted into the yard behind the kitchen and ordered to weed the borders. Matt, who had the two spare belts beneath his shirt, set to work with an air of resigned normality. The guard left them in the secure yard and wandered off for a cup of tea. Matt went over the plan again with Tony in whispered tones. ‘When the truck arrives and the driver checks in with the kitchen staff you have yer wee accident. While they’re distracted by you I’ll get under the truck. Get me sixty seconds, that’s all I need.’ Matt had thought things through carefully and had even sat with an old lag who’d been a mechanic in his time and discussed the Leyland Austin truck which came to the prison each week. He knew the moving parts of the underbelly of the truck which were to be avoided and those which would hold his weight. Everything was set.

At 2pm the large wooden gates to the courtyard opened and the truck carrying that week’s supply of vegetables drew to a halt at the back door of the kitchen. Matt made a point of weeding the garden at the closest point to the truck he could. Tony was working from a short step ladder on some hanging baskets and quietly waiting for his cue. As the delivery man entered the kitchen with a clipboard one of the guards wandered out and stood by the truck. Matt nodded towards Tony and he lifted a rake and stood on the top step of the small step ladder. With a theatrical cry he tipped the ladder, ensuring the rake smashed noisily through the window closest to him, and crashed onto the soft earth of the flower bed. ‘Jesus,’ said the guard who pushed past Matt and raced to Tony’s aid. In an instant Matt moved in the opposite direction and rolled under the truck. He pulled himself off the ground and linked the belts before fastening his mid-rift to the underside of the chasis. He lifted his legs up rested his feet on the bulk of the old truck’s fuel tank. It had taken under twenty seconds and as he held on he hoped that no one had spotted him. He listened as the truck driver appeared from the kitchen with two trustee prisoners to unload the vegetables. Tony was groaning away on the grass and it seemed as if no one had noticed he was gone. After an what seemed an eternity he heard one of the guards search the driver’s cab and back of the empty truck before he gave the driver’s door a couple of slaps, ‘Right Tam. See ye next week.’ The truck began to move.

The acrid smoke and smell of oil nauseated Matt slightly as the truck rumbled out of the prison and onto the hard tarmac of the roadway. He held on for dear life, his eyes closed. He knew that time was his enemy now. He’d soon be missed and an alert put out. Roads would be sealed, checkpoints set up and search parties sent out. The truck turned off the road after about 15 minutes and Matt was splashed with mud as it bounced along a single track road for a while before stopping. He heard the engine being switched off and the driver’s door slamming as the man left the truck and headed off. Matt undid the oil grimed belt and fell clumsily to the ground. He glanced around him from under the truck and saw a farmhouse with a large barn nearby. There was no sign of the driver. He rolled out from under the truck and used it to shield him from the house. Glancing around him, he saw no sign of a telephone wire attached to the house and that was a good sign. All was still as Matt gently opened the passenger door of the truck and slid across onto the driver’s seat. He hoped with all his heart that the keys would still be in the ignition. They were. Easing off the handbrake he allowed the truck to slowly roll back down the track for some distance before he stated the engine. As he swung the truck around and sped down the track he heard a voice somewhere behind him shouting, ‘Come back wi ma truck ya bastard!’

Matt sped south knowing that sooner or later the truck would be reported stolen and linked to his disappearance from the prison. He figured if he could make it to Aberdeen he had a chance of getting home to Glasgow. The journey down the A90 was surprisingly uneventful and he glided into the Granite city as darkness was falling. He parked the truck in a quiet industrial area and walked towards the city centre. His gardening overalls giving him the appearance of a man heading home after a day’s work. He headed for a bright red phone box and called his brother’s number. Paddy answered almost right away and Matt could hear the surprise in his voice. ‘Matt, do they allow ye tae phone folk fae jail these days?’ Matt quickly explained that he wasn’t in jail and asked Paddy to pop across Crown Street to his friend Danny Barclay’s house and fetch him to the phone. Danny was one of the few people he knew in the Gorbals who owned a car. Matt wondered if he’d fancy a wee trip to Aberdeen.

Danny set off late that night and took over four hours to reach Aberdeen. He picked up Matt by Seaton Park as the sun was rising the following morning. He had brought a change of clothes and food for his friend and he changed in the car as they headed down the east coast together in Danny’s Ford Anglia. Matt dumped his Prison clothes in a ditch by the road and felt like a different man. He advised Danny to head for Perth and then use smaller roads for the final run in to Glasgow. They spent that long journey discussing Matt’s reasons for escaping and what he intended to do next. He had an uncle in London and could lose himself in the big smoke. Others had done it and perhaps he’d be better out of Glasgow. They listened carefully to the tinny car radio broadcasting the news that Enoch Powell had called Britain the ‘sick man of Europe,’ the navy launched 2 new ships and Celtic were preparing for the biggest game in their history. There was no mention of a break out at Peterhead. ‘Jesus, the final’s today. I forgot. How could I forget that?’ Said Matt. Danny grinned, ‘Ye had a few other things on yer mind Matt. We should be back in Glasgow in time tae catch the game anyway so no worries there.’

Danny drove carefully into Glasgow and guided his car towards his Uncle Tommy’s house in Govan. There was no way Matt could go home as the cops would show up there sooner or later. They got out of the car and headed for a decrepit tenement building which had clearly seen better days. ‘Welcome tae the Wine Alley, Matt.’ Grinned Danny, ‘Uncle Tam will let us stay a few days till things quieten down and we can get you tae London.’  They climbed the grimy stairs to the second floor. The close smelled vaguely of dampness, grease and urine, it was a familiar smell, the smell of poverty perhaps. Danny knocked a dark coloured door and a dog barked somewhere inside. They heard a man’s voice call out, ‘Get doon ya bastard and wrap that yappin or you’ll feel ma boot up yer arse.’ The door opened and a grey haired man wearing thick framed  glasses, one leg held on by white tape, peered out, ‘How ye doin’ Danny! Haud oan and I’ll shove that dug in the room.’ The door was closed on them momentarily as the bemused dog was half dragged and half battered with a rolled up newspaper until it was safely behind the bedroom door. ‘Good guard dug but aff his fuckin nut,’ Old Tam said as he ushered the two younger men up the dark hall and into the living room. An ancient couch sat in front of a coffee table marked with what seemed like a million cup rings. On it sat cans of McEwan’s Pale Ale and a half bottle of whisky which was already missing most of its contents. ‘This is Matt, Uncle Tam. He needs a bed for a couple of days.’ The old man scrutinised him, ‘Nae bother son, as long don’t mind that bammy dug. Game’s oan shortly so settle doon.’ They sat facing the fairly modern hired TV which stood on spindly legs waiting to show them the most important game in Celtic’s 79 year history. Beer cans were pierced and passed around as the old man clicked the TV on. ‘Hope tae God the boys get a result,’ muttered the older man taking a long draught on his beer. Matt did too, his time in Peterhead had made the importance of Celtic in his life recede into the background a little but he knew the importance of this game. They could become the first British team to win the European cup if they could just raise their game one last time and defeat Inter Milan…

As the teams came out of the quaint underground tunnel and stepped into the bright Portuguese sunshine, Matt was seized by a nervousness in his stomach, the magnitude of the match was hitting home. To win this cup would be incredible for Celtic. As the grainy black and white images flickered across the TV screen he leaned forward in his seat. ‘Come on Celtic, let’s do this,’ he mumbled to himself. As the game kicked of the the TV suddenly emitted an odd clicking sound and switched off. ‘What the f…?’ Danny blurted as his Uncle cut in, ‘Aw fur fuck’s sake, the money’s run oot. Anybody got a two bob bit?’ It was a coin slot TV and the game would not be reappearing until someone fed a shiny silver two shilling coin into the box at the rear. They each searched their pockets and gathered together enough loose coins to exchange for a two shilling coin at the local shop and Danny darted from the house into the eerily quiet street outside. He returned a few minutes later and inserted the coin into the back of the TV which flickered back to life. The first sound they heard was the commentator saying…’So it’s one nil to Inter Milan and Celtic will now have to break the finest defence in Europe if they want to win this Cup.’ Danny closed his eyes and exhaled, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph…’

Less than two hours later, three men in a decrepit house on the banks of the Clyde were celebrating an unlikely but thoroughly deserved victory. Celtic had done it. They had swept Inter Milan aside with a display of attacking football that anyone who knew the game would admire. As Matt and Danny embraced, they could hear the dog barking frantically in the room as if it sensed something big was going on. They could also hear old Tam shouting at the animal, ‘That’s right, you shout it out, we’re Champions of Europe, ya hairy faced bastard!’ And so they were.

Matt planned one last visit to Celtic Park to see the team bring the cup home before he went to London. His contacts had warned him to stay clear of the Gorbals as the Police had already visited his family home and the homes of other relatives and friends. He was clearly a hunted man now. Danny supplied Matt with a woollen Celtic tammy which he pulled on to disguise himself a little for the trip to Celtic Park to see the bhoys returning with the cup. As they travelled over to the east end of Glasgow there seemed to be a buzz in the air. Everyone seemed to be smiling and all roads led to Kerrydale Street. As they headed along London Road, the stream of people became a river and songs filled the air. Flag sellers did a roaring trade and Matt felt almost tearful as he watched fathers carrying sons on their shoulders to see this historic sight. They clicked through the turnstile at the Celtic end and squeezed close to the front in time to hear the thump of a drum announce that Celtic were here. An accordion band began to play and marched jauntily at the front of a green and white covered truck on which stood the champions of Europe. A huge roar went up as the crowd embraced their homecoming heroes. Matt could see the silver glint of the huge trophy sparkling in the sunshine and felt tears welling. Danny put his arm around his shoulder as they belted out with thousands of others their song of victory….’For it’s a grand old team to play for… for it’s a grand old team to see….’ He was going to miss all of this but at least he could look back and say he was there the day the Bhoys brought the big cup home.



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