I hurried out the back door on a blustery April day in 1987 and made my way to the small garage at the bottom of the garden. This was my wee refuge and Celtic shrine in a far-away place. Celtic were taking on Rangers and I was late for the kick off. Alas the game was 375 miles to the north and in those pre Sky TV days the only way to keep up with events at Celtic Park was to tune in to Radio Scotland and hope the signal was not breaking up. The old, paint spattered radio crackled into life and I heard a familiar Scottish voice shout excitedly, ‘It’s a penalty, no doubt about it!’ The radio then infuriatingly lost the signal as I roared at it, ‘A penalty tae who?’ My English neighbour Martin was cutting his grass and well used to hearing my voice groaning or cheering from the garage, looked up from his labour with a smile. I had to explain to him after one particular family gathering at my house what a bunch of Scotsmen were doing in England singing Irish songs! ‘It’s a long story,’ I told him but he listened with interest and was glad of the little piece of education he received that day. I turned the tuning wheel, ‘Come on! Who’s got the feckin penalty?’ At last, after repositioning the radio a dozen times, I got the signal back and could hear the play raging on, ‘Souness clashing with Mo Johnston, the referee waves play on….’ By this time I was in despair, ‘The penalty-what happened to the penalty, what’s the bloody score ya numpty!’ Then as I was nearing desperation another penalty was awarded! Terry Butcher upended Mo Johnston and Brian McClair stepped forward. I was still unsure of the score or what had occurred with the first penalty as McClair waited to take the second kick. The commentator was fraught with excitement and as McClair began his run said; ‘McClair steps forward and he blasts the ball to the Keeper’s right for the second time! It’s 2-0 to Celtic!’ 375 miles away a roar split the English air! ‘Yaaaassss! Mon the Celtic!’
That roar would no doubt have been repeated from Donegal to Derby, from Aberdeen to Abu Dhabi as Celts the world over tuned in to try and hear what was going on at dear old paradise. The exiles may not be able to make many games due to work, family commitments or a hundred other things which crop up but the fire still burns bright, the love of Celtic endures the miles. As I listened to that game unfold in a small garage in the middle of England, I still went through all the emotions I would have if I was standing in the Jungle with my old man and brothers. Every near miss, every song I heard pour from the radio was lived with added anguish because I wasn’t there and couldn’t see the game. Celtic won 3-1 that day long after Owen Archdeacon decided the matter in the last minute. Souness and his expensive side had lost again at Celtic Park and I wandered up the path towards the house with a broad smile on my face. ‘Good game?’ asked my neighbour. I grinned at him, ‘Always good when we stuff that lot Martin.’
The evening arrived and the few Celts in the small town I called home then gathered in a pub to chat over the match and share a few laughs and beers. The following week would see the newspaper cuttings being sent down along with the Celtic view. My old man’s letters were usually about 90% Celtic related and I have most of them still up in the loft. He’s gone to his rest but I know he’d be happy to know he’d kept the fire burning. Just as his old man told him of McGrory and Quinn; he told me of Fernie and Tully. We pass it down the generations like an heirloom to be handled with care. Celtic is so interwoven into the lives of so many people that they will always care, always share every joy and pain no matter how far they are from Celtic Park.
Today in Boston and in Brisbane, in Los Angeles and London they gather despite the time zones and watch the Celts. Whether it is midnight or dawn, they pull on their Hooped shirts and travel to homes and bars showing the game. Old songs are sung, the old bonds strengthened. They are the exiles and they love the green as much as any man or woman. Distance doesn’t lead to a fading of their love for Celtic rather it kindles the fire inside. The green threads stretch all over the globe and they are as yet unbroken.