Friday, 10 October 2014



Andy McDonald pushed open the door of the rather jaded looking Celtic Shop adjacent to Queen Street Station. All was quiet and still inside the modest little shop and he wondered for a moment if the staff were on lunch break. A voice from somewhere broke into his thoughts, ‘Be with you in a minute.’  Andy stood by the counter and looked around at the Celtic souvenirs which lined the walls. From strips, pennants, footballs, scarves and even teddies, it seemed there was nothing they wouldn’t stick the club badge on to make a profit. A middle aged woman with badly dyed blonde hair appeared from a back room, ‘Wit can I dae for ye Son?’ Andy tried to sound confident as he replied, ‘Just popping in tae see if you’ve any Cup Final tickets left,’ She regarded him suspiciously, ‘You a Pools agent?’ Andy nodded and lied, ‘Aye, 54 customers a week.’ She wandered into the back shop again and returned with a white envelope. ‘Limit is 2 per agent, that’s £8.’ Andy handed over the money and tried to control his heart pounding in his chest as she laid two of the precious tickets on the counter. The transaction complete he turned and headed for the door. Once into the fresh air outside the shop he could no longer control his emotions and roared, ‘Yes! Ya Beauty!’ From behind the window of the Celtic shop the woman who served him peered out with a rather bemused look on her face.

On the bus back to Springburn he looked at the tickets with a smile on his face. He read one to himself; ‘Scottish Cup Final Tie, Hampden Park, Saturday 20th May 1989.’ Andy was elated that he was going to the Cup final the following day and having two tickets meant he could take Brendan too. He couldn’t wait to tell his brother. As the number 37 bus trundled up the Springburn Road he thought of his own first cup final in 1980. Celtic had won but the ensuing riot was all people remembered from that day despite the fact it had actually been a fairly good game. Andy had been 10 in 1980 and by coincidence his wee brother Brendan was 10 this year. Brendan had been a late arrival for his mother and had been born with Cerebral Palsy. The family had rallied around and Brendan never lacked for love and encouragement. As he grew, his spirit and amazing determination made them love ‘Wee Bren’ all the more. His physiotherapy was often hard and tiring but he did it all and then some more. He still dragged his left leg behind him at times and still had an odd gait when walking but he never felt sorry for himself. His speech was slurred but improving as he got older and the therapists did their work. Andy had got into a few scraps over the years when some loudmouth would call Brendan a spastic or some equally moronic name. If only these idiots could see the funny, brave and determined wee boy who lived out his life with a smile despite his problems. In some ways Brendan was an example to them all in perseverance and guts. ‘Yeh’ thought Andy, ‘if anyone deserves to go to the cup final it’s Brendan.’ He got off the bus and headed for home.

Andy’s mother shook her head, ‘No way Andy, no tae a Celtic–Rangers match. If it was another team, maybe I’d think aboot it, but no against them.’ Andy frowned at her, ‘But Ma, Eddie and big Joe are coming tae, we’ll look after Bren, he’ll be fine. I was his age when I went tae my first cup final!’ His mother wouldn’t relent, ‘Aye and that ended up a riot! Forget it son, Brendan’s no going!’ Andy tried hard to make his mother see reason but she was adamant that Brendan wasn’t going to the cup final. His euphoria dissipated as he left the house and wandered up Springburn Road to his friend Eddie's house. ‘Whit’s up wi you?’ Eddie said at the door, ‘Yer cat die or something?’ Andy explained the situation as Eddie listened sympathetically. ‘I can see her point but he’d be oan the supporter’s bus there and back and we’d be right beside him, what could go wrong?’ Andy decided there and then that he’d do something he’d seldom done in his life; defy his mother’s wishes. He looked at Eddie with a determined look, ‘Fuck it Eddie, we’re taking him.’ Eddie said nothing, he simply nodded.

Late on Friday night, Eddie quietly opened the door of the bedroom he shared with his younger brother. Brendan was sleeping as Andy sat beside him on the bed, gazing at his peaceful face and his tousled blonde hair. Andy glanced for a moment at the wall above his bed. On it were posters and pennants, mostly from Celtic’s euphoric centenary year the year before. He looked at the familiar faces; Burns, McStay, McCarthy, Rogan, Bonnar and Bren’s favourite player the mercurial Joe Miller.  Brendan would be overjoyed to be going to such an important game and Andy would see it went without a hitch., ‘Brendan’ he whispered shaking his brother’s shoulder gently, ‘wake up.’ Brendan stirred and his pale blue eyes opened, focussing on his older brother. ‘What is it Andy, ah wis sleepin there!’ Andy smiled, ‘I’ve got ye a wee present.’ He held the cup final ticket in front of his younger brother’s eyes, ‘This is for you.’ He smiled as Brenden’s eyes widened, ‘Wit? Ye mean I’m going tae the cup final!’ he exclaimed in an excited voice, ‘Andy you’re the best brother in the whole wide world!’ Brendan sat up and hugged Andy who suddenly felt a little emotional. ‘No I’m not Brendan… you are.’ They parted and Andy explained how things had to be in the morning if Brendan was to make it to his first cup final.

Saturday May 20th dawned clear and sunny. A stream of bright early light slanted into Andy’s bedroom as he slowly opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was his brother’s smiling face gazing at him from the bed opposite his. ‘I’ve been awake ages, I canny wait tae get tae Hampden. Whit’s it like Andy?’ Andy raised himself up a little on his bed and told Brendan of a few of the games and incidents he’d been part of at Hampden, ‘Beating Dundee United tae dae the double last year was the best. What a way tae celebrate Celtic’s centenary!’ Brenden listened to his brother, totally absorbed. It was as if he was storing all of these stories, using them to set the context for today’s cup final. ‘So it’s win or bust today, they want the treble and no way Celtic want to end the season with nothing. We’ve got tae stop them Brendan.’ Brenden smiled, ‘We will Andy, I know it!’ With that Brendan got up as Andy watched him force his unwilling limbs to obey him. The boy had guts all right.

A few hours later Andy McKay was saying his goodbye’s to his mum, ‘I’ll drop Brendan off at Peter’s hoose and I’ll pick him up when I get back from Hampden.’ His mum nodded, ‘Mind, nae drinking son and get Brendan home for half six. You know that lot cause trouble whether they win or not.’ Andy nodded, ‘I’ll be careful Ma.’ He then turned to his little brother, Right, c’mon you and I’ll get you tae wee Peter’s, I’ve got a game tae go to.’ They left the house together and turned left up Springburn Road. They bypassed Atlas Street where Brendan’s friend Peter lived and headed for a bar near the railway station outside which stood two large coaches. Joe Toner and Eddie Hamill were standing by the first coach, ‘Look who it is, wee Bren and his bammy brother!’ Brendan smiled, he knew Andy’s friends well and liked them. ‘Yer first cup final I hear wee man?’ grinned Eddie. Brendan grinned like a Cheshire cat, ‘Aye Eddie, ah canny wait.’ They helped Brendan up the steep steps of the coach and found him a seat beside his brother on the already packed coach. As the engine revved the coach resonated with song…

‘Hail Hail, the Celts are here, what the hell do we care, what the hell do we care? Hail Hail the Celts are here, what the hell do we care now?’

Andy felt his brother’s hand slip into his as he grinned up at him. ‘Thanks.’ Andy smiled,’Nae bother wee man. Just stick close tae me and we’ll be ok.  Eddie, sitting in the seat opposite them nodded, ‘Aye, don’t leave our side for the whole game.’  As the bus travelled through the sunny streets of Glasgow the excitement built. Other Celtic supporter’s buses passed them and friendly faces smiled at them. On one occasion as the bus waited at the lights a bus load of Rangers fans drew up in the lane opposite. Insults were exchanged from the safety of the coaches and windows banged as the songs boomed out. Andy was glad when the lights changed and they turned left towards the stadium. He disliked the aggression and venom the rivalry brought out in some. He wanted Brendan to have a memorable first cup final and remember it for all the right reasons.

The bus parked and they set off on a long walk along Aitkenhead Road towards Hampden. Celtic fans were everywhere, singing, drinking and the mood was positive. As they neared the stadium, line of Policemen kept the rival fans apart. They lined up at the north enclosure which was split 50-50 for the cup final in scorching weather. Andy stood with Brendan in front of him, both hands on his shoulders. From inside the stadium they could hear the songs already throbbing and pulsing around the old bowl of Hampden. They finally reached the turnstile and clicked in. Andy, Joe and Eddie flanked Brendan as if they were his bodyguards. In a way they were. They made their way to a spot in the centre of the Celtic part of the north enclosure. The place was already packed as Brendan looked around him in awe at the sea of faces, the colours and the gladiatorial spectacle of it all.  Andy recognised that look, he’d had it himself in 1980.

The teams appeared amid an incredible cacophony of noise and Celtic began the match in a resolute and determined mood. Rangers had drubbed them 5-1 and 4-1 in the league matches at Ibrox earlier in the season and few outside the Celtic support felt the Hoops would win. The raucous atmosphere seemed to affect the players as they thundered into tackles and cleared their lines with hefty clearances up the field. Both sides had half chances but as half time neared, a goal looked a remote possibility… and then it happened. Roy Aitken grabbed the ball for a throw in which should clearly have been awarded to Rangers. He launched the ball towards Peter Grant who hit a high pass towards Joe Miller. A Rangers defender headed it back but an alert Celtic player in turn nodded it forward again. English international full back Gary Stevens was first to the ball but miscued badly with the predatory Joe Miller on his shoulder. In the packed enclosure Andy watched as if in slow motion as Miller reached the ball and slammed an unstoppable low shot past the startled Rangers goalkeeper and into the net.

The packed terraces holding the Celtic fans exploded! A huge wave of sound greeted the goal as the green clad hordes roared and jumped for joy. In the midst of this throng there was a crowd surge and Andy was grabbed by huge man who smelled like a brewery and who roared at him in a broad Belfast accent, ‘Yaaas! We’re gonna beat these bastards!’ As the crowd settled a little Andy’s grin left his face. Brendan was nowhere to be seen. His heart sank as he desperately looked around him, ‘Eddie,’ he roared, ‘Where the fuck’s Brendan?’ Eddie Hamill looked at him dumbstruck, shaking his head. As the Celtic fans began to bounce in unison singing ‘Can you hear the Rangers sing? No-oh no-oh’ Andy, Eddie and Joe scoured the terracing looking for Brendan but there was no sign of him. As the game halted for half time they took advantage of the calmer mood to split up continue the search, ‘He canny be far,’ Andy said, sounding braver than he was feeling, ‘Find him for God’s sake.’ As the three friends looked in every direction and asked anyone who would listen if they’d seen a ten year old, blonde boy Andy was quietly praying to himself. Just as a feeling of terror was grabbing at his heart he heard a voice calling to him, ‘Andy, Andy!’ he spun around to see a smiling Brendan being helped up the stairway towards them by a middle aged Celtic fan who was dressed in Celtic shirt, ‘This your wee brother?’ he asked. Andy didn’t reply but swept Brenden up in his arms, ‘Jesus, I thought I’d lost you Bren.’ The man smiled, ‘I’ll take that as a Yes.’

Andy held his brother close as the titanic struggle for the cup resumed. Both sides had chances in a dramatic second half but Celtic held firm and won the cup. Again the Celtic end danced with joy but this time Andy held tightly onto his wee brother. ‘Brendan sang his heart out in the blazing sunshine as Celtic paraded the cup they had fought so hard to win. As the songs flowed from the terraces onto the pitch Andy looked at his Brendan and smiled, ‘How was yer first cup final bro?’ Brendan, eyes shining, beamed back at him, ‘Magic!’  It was a perfect day, a great first cup final for Brendan. It was a game he’d remember all his life.

Late that night as Brendan lay asleep in his bed, Andy bumped into the room. He’d dropped his brother off at home as agreed with his mum and headed out for a drink at Eddie’s house. As far as he knew his mother suspected nothing of Brendan’s adventures at Hampden. She had asked him how he’d enjoyed playing at his friend Peter’s house and what they’d done. Brendan stuck to the story well and she seemed content. He lay on his bed feeling that happy, tired feeling which follows an epic Celtic victory. On such days the fans went home as tired as the players. It had been a good day. As he settled to sleep the room door opened and his mother quietly entered. ‘Andy, I taped the game for you today.’ Andy pushed himself up on one elbow, ‘Thanks Ma, I’ll watch it tomorrow.’ She turned to leave the room and stopped at the door, ‘Oh, did I mention I saw you on the telly?’ Andy’s eyes opened wider, ‘Did ye Ma?’ She smiled, ‘Aye, you looked as if ye were enjoying yourself.’ As she closed the door he thought he heard her say, ‘So did Brendan,’ but he might have misheard that part.

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