The phone jarred Paul out of sleep. He looked at the clock by his bed blinking in the darkness. It read 2.17am. He lifted the phone and pressed it to his ear, ‘Hello?’ It was the hospital who said simply that it was time and he’d best get there quickly if he wanted to say his goodbyes. He knew the call must come one day but still it hit him like a slap in the face. He hung up and quickly got dressed. The drive to the Victoria Infirmary was straightforward in the deserted Glasgow streets and he absentmindedly pushed the radio button as he waited at the lights on Pollokshaws Road. There were no cars on the road, no one crossing but he obeyed the traffic lights nonetheless, even in the middle of the night. The radio came quietly to life and an old song floated through the car… ‘But I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you…’ Paul Hanlon guided the car to the parking bay near the hospital and only as he pulled on the hand break did he realise that he was crying.
He composed himself before stepping into the chill of a wet winter’s night in Glasgow. The orange glow of streetlights was reflected in the puddles as he splashed through them on his way to the entrance of the old hospital, the automatic doors swished open and he quickly ascended the stairs to the second floor. The duty nurse saw him approach and smiled an understanding smile. ‘He’s in here Mr Hanlon, the Doctor has taken steps to ensure he’s pain free, it won’t be long now.’ Paul nodded and gently opened the door of the small room where his brother Vinnie lay. The light was low but he could see the familiar shape of his brother under the white linen sheets. The nurse closed the door and left them alone. He sat by the side of the bed and took his brother’s hand. ‘Vinnie, it’s me, Paul.’ He said quietly. He felt his brother’s hand grip his gently but his eyes remained closed. Paul let his mind drift back to happier times with his brother. They had been inseparable all their lives and he knew that Vinnie was not just his brother but also his best friend. They used to joke at school that if you fought one Hanlon you had to fight the other soon afterwards. They had gone everywhere together, followed Celtic all over the place and even lived a couple of streets apart as adults. Paul glanced at his brother’s face, made thin and haggard by his illness but still in its own way peaceful and familiar. He began to speak gently in the darkness.
‘Hey Vinnie, do ye remember that old Firm game when McStay played that pass to Morris and he squared it to McAvennie? Whit a goal that was. That was the day you met Maureen in that Irish Pub in St Vincent Street. Some day that was, beat the Gers and meet your wife all in wan day.’ Paul smiled a little thinking of the times he and his brother had shared. ‘Then when we went tae Seville and that big Geordie Celtic fan gave you his spare ticket and refused to take a coin for it. He could have got £500 easy but he did the decent thing. Then we met those Porto fans on the train and you borrowed a guitar aff wan of them and sang, ‘The Fields of Athenry.’ Coulda heard a pin drop mate, what a voice you had, standing ovation on that train. Dae ye mind that time we went tae Ibrox that year and covered the pitch in beach baws. That cop wouldny let ye in with yer lilo so you deflated it and spent 20 minutes blowing it up inside!’ Paul grinned, ’Then there wiz the time wee Bellamy scored and ye fell o’er the wall onto the track! You had some bevvy in ye that day Bro.’ Paul glanced at his brother’s sleeping face, he felt a warmth inside when he thought of the good times they'd shared, ‘Do ye mind up at Tannadice when we waited outside the Dundee United end wi nae tickets until the final whistle? Thousands of us were goin’ in while the Dundee boys were comin’ oot. A few even said ‘well done.’ We sang long and loud for Tommy Burns that night, Vinnie. Great days bro, great days.’ Vincent Hanlon exhaled deeply and with considerable effort, opened his eyes. Paul stood and leaned close to his brother, ‘Take it easy Vincent, don’t strain yourself.’ Vincent gripped his brother’s hand a little tighter and formed a word with great difficulty, in a weak hoarse voice he rasped… ‘Anfield.’ Paul smiled, tears dripping from his face. ‘Aw how could I forget Anfield Vinnie! You remember when big Hartson battered in the second and we lost our balance celebrating? We ended up on the deck wi everybody jumping all over us. But if was worth, by God it was worth it.’ Vincent Hanlon seemed to sink into his pillow a little and his grip weakened. ‘I’m gonny miss you Vinnie,’ his brother whispered, ‘I’m gonny miss you so much. You say hello tae my Da, tae big Jock, Tommy and Jimmy for me, ye hear?’ Paul glanced at the screen of the machine to his left and noticed that the lines were flat. Vincent Hanlon was at peace and a gentle smile seemed to crease his face.
Three months later Paul Halnon stood by the statue of Brother Walfrid looking down at the engraved names of all those Celtic supporters who had followed the club down the years. Hundreds of carved names covered the walkway around the statue and one of the newer ones said simply: ‘Vincent Hanlon, Son, Brother, Celtic Fan.’ Paul smiled, Vinnie would like that. He thought of the countless thousands who had walked up Kerrydale street to support Celtic since its inception in 1888. Most of them couldn’t afford a carved stone in the walkway but they were part of the story too, part of the lifeblood which still flowed in Celtic today. He began to read a few of the stones…
‘Matty Little, Gorbals Ghirl, Jim McBride, Patrick Charles Bonnar, Dennis Kennedy, Emilie Rose McNamara, John Aird, Ned Donaldson. Billy Hand, Seamus Traynor-Newry Bhoy, Michal McGrory, Ged Barber, Peter Docherty 1948-2012, Thomas McKay St Mary’s, Calton…’
There were so many names ranging from those still proudly following the Celts to those like Vincent whose season was over. There were foreign names as well as those Scottish and Irish names common among those who had supported the club down the years. Every passing Celtic fan knew someone who had followed the club, who had endured the bad days as well as the good, who had passed their love of the green on to the next generation. Paul smiled at his brother’s stone, ‘There ye go Vinnie, I’ll say hello every time I’m up at Celtic Park. Hail Hail Bro!’ A roar behind him announced that the teams were entering the field and he turned and headed for the Jock Stein stand. Vincent and hundreds of thousands like him were part of Celtic forever. They needed no stone in the walkway to make that a reality. Rather they had filled Celtic Park with their dreams, their songs and their hopes since 1888. Their spirits filled the place still and nothing could change that. They were Celtic and Celtic was them.