Saturday, 27 December 2014

Time to go home

Time to go home…

Just try to rest and I’ll be back soon,’ she smiled as she tucked the blankets carefully under him. He smiled as best he could although any movement was difficult for him now. She had nursed him with such gentleness and love and he just wished he could somehow repay her. She ensured his medication was administered and saw to all his needs with quiet patience. In his wilder days he had caused her much pain but she had always been there for him. Was it really over forty years ago when she’d taken him round to meet her parents? He remembered being nervous and how they’d looked at him, a pint sized, red haired wee lad who spoke with such enthusiasm about football. He watched her quietly close the door and closed his eyes. His sleep was intermittent and dream-filled, his breathing ragged and difficult.

After what could have a moment or an hour he was aware of someone in the room and his eyes flickered open. ‘Jimmy, are you awake?’ a familiar voice said. He focussed on the burly figure in the dark suit and tried to reply but could only breathe a weak word… ‘Boss?’ The bigger man moved closer, ‘Take it easy wee man.’ He sat on the bed and took the smaller man’s hand. ‘I’ve come for a chat, I hope you don’t mind. Do ye remember that time I subbed you and you threw the shirt into the dugout as you ran past?’ The bigger man smiled, ‘I chased ye up the tunnel and ye refused to open the dressing room door. Said ye were scared I would hit ye.’ He laughed gently. ‘Then there was the time you begged me not to take you to Belgrade because you were scared of flying. I said you could stay home only if we beat Red Star by four clear goals and you utterly destroyed them. God Jimmy, you were the best ball player I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a few, but ye drove me mad wee man. Too fond of a pint at times but you know what; I loved ye like a son.’ The smaller man could feel his firm grip on his hand as he recalled those days long gone when all things seemed possible. ‘I knew you’d be a handful off the park but on it you were a genius.’ The bigger man leaned close to him, ‘We wouldn’t have won half the things we did without you in the team, I hope you know that.’ The little man tried to smile and weakly squeezed his former Manager’s hand.  

The big man went on, ‘You took some punishment too, those thugs of Atletico kicked ye all over the park but you were like a lion, always back for more. Racing Club too and God knows how many home grown hammer throwers had a kick at ye but none of them defeated ye, none of them broke your spirit. You had the heart of a Lion and I’m proud you were in my team.’ He paused before continuing, ‘You were the bravest wee guy I’ve ever seen Jimmy and I need ye too be brave one last time.’ He leaned close and whispered in his old friend’s ear.

Jimmy heard footsteps on the stairs, Agnes was returning. He quietly asked his God to allow him just three more words to her. She opened the door and walked towards the bed and said in a quiet voice, ‘That was Willie Henderson on the phone, told me to tell you that you were the best player he’d ever played against.’ Jimmy waited till she was sitting on the bed beside him, cupping his face gently in her hands and looking into his eyes. ‘Agnes,’ he mumbled almost incoherently. She smiled at him, ‘I’m here Jimmy.’ He made one last supreme effort to make his body obey him and said quietly, ‘I love you.’  She smiled, her eyes wet with tears, ’I know you do Jimmy, I know.’

He could see it as if someone had painted the air in front of his eyes; a flame haired wee winger in a baggy green and white hooped shirt twisting and turning, leaving the hulking defenders in his wake. A familiar commentator was speaking in that clipped BBC English of the time, ‘Now you can see why Celtic decided to play this little boy….’ Then he was in the bright Portuguese sunshine, God they looked so young, so fit as they swept Inter aside. He smiled as he saw Bobby, Bertie, Tam, Billy and all those great friends and comrades. Then it was Hampden, goals scored, cups raised, smiles and embraces from those who had fought a hundred battles with him. Then he was a young lad again, dribbling a tennis ball around milk bottles. Practicing again and again until it was as if the ball was tied to his toe. ‘I’m goin’ tae play for Celtic one day,’ he smiled at his girlfriend. She looked back at him and nodded, ‘I know you are.’

He closed his eyes, he was tired, so tired. He heard a sound like traffic far away in the distance. It seemed to be getting closer as he strained to listen. Only then he could make out what it was, it was them, of course it was, they were always there. The sound he now knew was that of thousands of ordinary Celtic fans chanting as one, words so familiar to him. The song seemed to swirl around him, to caress him and raise him up, it had been so long since he had heard them and now they embraced him like a long lost brother...

‘Jimmy oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing

‘Jimmy oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing

‘Jimmy oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing..’

He knew then it was time to go home. The big man would be waiting, there was nothing to fear.

 Motor Neurone Disease  and a Celtic Legend


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