Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Soul of Celtic

The Soul of Celtic
We were standing outside the old Celtic end at Celtic Park in the 1990s as a slow drizzle fell. A roar announced that Celtic and Rangers were entering the field and kick off was just moments away. The trouble was we were a ticket short and hollering the popular ‘Any spare tickets’ into the air was not having much success. As the game began and the racket inside the stadium increased, a tall chap with an English accent and a Celtic shirt on stopped beside us and looked at his watch, ‘I’ll give my mate 2 more minutes, then you can have his ticket.’ We waited quietly hoping his mate was stuck on the M8 or still in the pub. ‘Nah, he’s not coming,’ the chap said and handed over the ticket. I offered him a fiver and he shook his head, ‘Keep it mate, a Celts gain is no loss to me.’ That snippet from 20 years back shows the spirit I’ve seen so often from Celtic fans and exemplifies just why Celtic will always be my team.

Of course my family had a role in handing their affection for the club on to me like their most treasured possession. Uncles, brothers, Grandfather’s and my old man filled my head at an early age with tales of great players, goals, incidents and legends of Celtic’s unique story. They also spoke of the comradeship they found travelling all over the country watching the Hoops play. Win, lose or draw there were songs on the supporters’ bus and laughter to raise the spirits. As a young lad taking my first steps in supporting the hoops, I recall well gripping my Da’s hand as we struggled through the crowds at the turnstiles. I recall too waiting outside Pubs from Parkhead Cross to Pittodrie waiting for the adults to emerge and take us kids to the game. Occasionally the doors would open and we’d sneak a glimpse into the mysterious world of men, the noisy, smoky bar with its raucous laughter and echoing songs. When the men had their fill they’d spill out onto the street and head for the stadium. The beer had loosened the tongues and the songs filled the air and the stream of fans joined the river around the ground….

‘We don’t need your Colin Stein, Eusebio or Alan Gilzean,

We’ve got someone twice as good, we’ve got Harry Hood

Oh Harry, Harry, Lou Macari, Kevin Barry , oh Harry Hood’

The chants echoes around the streets and backs were patted, hands shook as old friends met up again. We boys were lifted over the turnstile and headed to the usual spot near the front a few yards from the adults. Looking around the stadium was awe inspiring to a young mind. All of those faces, young and old had gathered with a common purpose; to cheer the Celts on to another victory. For many, life was hard but for those magical 90 minutes we could be transported into another world as the Hoops swept forward looking for a goal. Sometimes I’d gaze around me at the thousands of faces so mesmerised, so involved in what was happening on the field. It was as if they were using their collective will to drive the ball into the opposition net. Then when it happened, when the net rippled, the joy on those same faces was unrestrained. Strangers hugged and cheered like men possessed, except they weren’t strangers, they were all Celts sharing a small part of the club’s incredible story.

So many incidents fill my head when I think of those formative years following the Hoops. Like the time John Doyle accidently hit the Ref with the ball at Somerset Park and was cruelly sent off. Then there was the time I attempted to open a bottle of cheap ‘Pomagne’ after Celtic Scored against Rangers. Rangers equalised in a minute and I put the bottle back into my jacket pocket not realising the cork was ready to blow. Much to the amusement of those around me it exploded all over me and the cork nearly took my ear off! On another occasion a Police horse trod on my foot at Motherwell and the crowd swept me away from my shoe! I spend 90 minutes watching the game with one foot wrapped in plastic bags! I never did find the shoe and got back to Glasgow with just the one.  Then there were those big European nights under the lights. I recall being in the Jungle as we beat Real Madrid one magical night and the place was just swaying and singing for the whole game. To see the support so at one with the team, so committed to the cause was just incredible. You arrived home from such games as tired as the players. All of these experiences and hundreds more make up my own little ‘Celtic story.’  

All of you will be able to relate similar anecdotes from days gone by, from times shared with family and friends. Like me you’ll no doubt see pictures of older relatives, some perhaps passed on now, and smile when you recall some incident involving them and their beloved Celtic. You may even have the pleasure of taking younger family members to their first big game and smile at the wonder in their eyes. The same wonder you had a long time ago when you looked around the stadium and thought, ‘Yep, this is for me. This is my team.’ After the recent Inter Milan at Celtic Park, I exited the stadium behind two excited boys of 8 or 9, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders. To listen to their chatter just gladdened the heart, ‘Did ye see Guidetti’s goal, man I thought he was gonnae miss it,’ one said, high as a kite, his young eyes shining. His friend laughed, ‘I know, my Da nearly fell, he wiz screaming his head off!’  I remember smiling and thinking; ‘That was me once upon a time.’

Even when the old Brigade said their farewells, their last journey would usually include a slow drive past Celtic Park as if they needed a chance to bid it one last adieu. Celtic had been with them from their earliest days and they had gifted Celtic their support, their hard earned money and often their love. Their lives were brightened by Celtic victories and of course they endured the hard days too with stoic determination. Faithful through and through was their mantra and not just an empty phrase. I like to think their spirit still lives on at Celtic Park and that they’d be happy to see us still following in their footsteps, still supporting the Bhoys. I can still hear their voices, their laughter, their songs. The thousand arguments they had about players, referees, incidents now long forgotten. In some ways their lives were intertwined with Celtic to such a degree that it’s not wrong to say that they were and indeed remain, the soul of Celtic.




Sunday, 22 February 2015

None so blind

None so blind

I really must stop listening to Radio Clyde’s football phone in as the show often leaves me perplexed. The quality of callers is usually pretty dire and the so called ‘Pundits’ have no more in depth knowledge about Scottish football than the average fan. This weekend a caller raised the issue of the fairly obvious sectarian singing from supporters of the new club at Kirkcaldy. The knee jerk reaction of the panel kicked in right away and Celtic were duly dragged into a debate about the racist and sectarian songs aired by the knuckle dragging element at Starks Park. Mr Keevins’ informed the listening public that ‘The Soldier’s Song has no place at Celtic Park.’  He failed to correct a caller who phoned in to complain that Hibs fans had showed up at Ibrox with ‘an IRA flag’ which was in fact an Irish tricolour. The panel then informed us with a straight face and quivering tone that Celtic were the ‘Catholic club’ of Glasgow.  I’m sure that’s news to the thousands of non-Catholic Celtic fans, many of whom I know personally. I’m sure the many non-Catholic players and officials who have served Celtic with such distinction from 1888 to the present day would raise their eyebrows at such patent nonsense. No one can deny Celtic’s Irish and Catholic roots and they are a source of pride not shame. The Club was basically founded by the teaching arm of the church to provide material aid for hungry and impoverished children in Glasgow’s east end but as Willie Maley was quick to point out in his book ‘The story of Celtic’ (1938)…

"Much has been made in certain quarters about our religion, but for forty-eight years we have played a mixed team, and some of the greatest Celts we have had did not agree with us in our religious beliefs, although we have never at any time hidden what these are. Men of the type of McNair, Hay, Lyon, Buchan, Cringan, the Thomspons, or Paterson soon found out that broadmindedness which is the real stamp of the good Christian existed to its fullest at Celtic Park, where a man was judged by his football alone."

This clear signal that the club was open to all has been reiterated down the decades by Celtic time and time again. In 1894 a motion to set a quota on the number of non-Catholic players in the Celtic side was thrown out with considerable scorn by the club. In the early days more strident men took the huff at Celtic’s openness and formed the short lived ‘Glasgow Hibernians’ which aped the Irish and Catholic ethos of the Edinburgh’s Hibs side of the time. Glasgow Hibernians folded due to lack of support and Celtic rose to greatness with a mixed team and, as the years advanced, an increasingly mixed support. To claim that Celtic is a ‘Catholic club’ is simply wrong. They are an inclusive organisation rightly proud of their heritage and no amount of sanctimonious drivel from radio pundits should or could change that. To try and seek moral equivalence between the racist ‘Famine song,’ the fascist ‘Billy Boys,’ bigoted trash like ‘No Pope of Rome’ and a song such as the Irish national anthem is not only insulting, it is repugnant.

I wish to God Scotland had moved on from this tedious and embarrassing situation. It seems somehow to suits elements in the media to promote the narrative of the bad ‘Old Firm’ to portray the two clubs and their supporters as two sides of the same coin, or as one Aberdeen fan put it ‘two cheeks of the same arse’ but closer scrutiny shows this not to be the case. Yes, a minority of Celtic supporters have a fondness for singing the odd Rebel song at matches, a practice which I personally find outdated and counter-productive but such songs are not, as they are often portrayed in the Scottish media, ‘songs of hate.’ I have stated before that it would be fairly straightforward for Celtic’s support to simply leave the ‘Rebs’ at home and sing the many great Celtic songs we have in our repertoire.  For fans of the Govan club this is more problematic as it seems the majority of their songs have little to do with their club or football. There is also a worrying silence from their board over events at Raith Rovers perhaps they feel they are unpopular enough without adding to it.

When we see the ugly incident on the Paris Metro involving Chelsea fans turning into a media feeding frenzy, one has to wonder why very little is said nationally about the songs heard with regularity at Rangers games this season. Perhaps it is the target group being abused which holds them back. If they were singing about being ‘up to their knees’ in Muslim or Jewish blood, things might be different? This is where the Scottish media fails so badly. By portraying it as an ‘Old firm’ problem where both sides are locked in some mythical historical feud, it deflects and dilutes the impact of what is in reality old fashioned racism.  The lumpen group of racist bigots which attaches itself to Rangers FC has no equivalent at Celtic Park no matter how the tawdry and dishonourable hacks try to spin it.  

There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.




Friday, 20 February 2015

Smells like Team spirit...

Smells like Team Spirit

Usually the aftermath of a European home game where Celtic have lost 3 cheap goals in the first 45 minutes is frosty to say the least but there was a strange air of defiance about Celtic Park last night as the fans exited the stadium after a pulsating encounter with Inter Milan. Yes, Celtic’s young side gave away goals of the softest variety you’ll find at this level but there was no disguising the spirit Deila’s team showed in adversity. This developing young team refused to buckle when we all feared the worst after 13 minutes and two eminently preventable goals. I believe the rudderless team which started against Legia Warsaw in August at Murrayfield would not have fought back in the manner Celtic did last night. This Celtic team has certainly improved since then and while there is a long way to go before they are again Champions League quality, there are clear signs that they are on the right road.

Deila’s training methods and demands that players be fit enough to play the high tempo modern game are paying dividends. Possession of the ball is improving and most reports suggested it was around 50-50 last night. This was against a useful if not brilliant Serie A side who demonstrated instant control, accurate passing and a refreshing attacking approach to the game. Celtic had impressive displays from Brown and the maturing Biton in midfield but the whole side was full of running and energy. Gary MacKay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong ran to the point of being out on their feet and must be wondering about the changes that have occurred in their careers this last month. Just four weeks ago they appeared for Dundee United away to St Mirren in front of 2511 fans. Last night they ran out to a wall of noise from 60,000 inside Celtic Park. They did not look out of place and it may be that the signing of these two talented young Scots will be an excellent piece of business for Celtic.

Celtic fans know that Europe in the harshest testing ground and we don’t fool ourselves that our team is as yet the finished article. We expect effort and spirit from all who wear the green and white shirts and we got it last night. That’s why the fans were buoyant leaving the stadium, they know this tie is not yet settled and Deila will motivate the team to try and get at Inter again. It is no exaggeration to say that Celtic had the Italians on the ropes at times last night and only poor finishing and suicidal defending stopped the team claiming a famous victory. If the team can eliminate these self-inflicted wounds they will take a fair bit of stopping. Roberto Mancini was polite and measured as always with his remarks about the game stating that Inter now had ‘just a small advantage’ and it’s clear he knows there is work to be done in the San Siro. Deila on the other hand recognises the task facing Celtic but also has some hope:

“It’s going to be very tough. We have to be a little bit lucky and we have to put together the best team performance we have done so far under my command but it is possible and we are looking forward to the game. I believe we can score in the San Siro but we can’t concede as many as we did tonight. We will have chances to score but defensively we have to be much better than we were here.’

Whatever happens in Italy next week, Celtic Park was again shown all over Europe as a venue which matches the best around for atmosphere, passion and drama. The noise from the Celtic supporters was incredible last night and they didn’t desert the team when things started so bleakly. From that magnificent display by the Bhoys of Section 111 to that rousing chorus of ‘You’ll never walk alone;’ from the chanting of Craig Gordon’s name at his moment of despair to that thunderous ovation for the team at the end of the game, the Celtic supporters were once again magnificent. That bonding with the team is helping the players on the park progress and the pattern of play we are seeing is now more effective and sustained than was the case. I have some optimism for the game in Italy but I’m realistic to know that it remains a country in which Celtic have never won a competitive game despite playing there 10 times in our history. Of course records are made to be broken and we’re overdue some luck there but it will be a big ask. That said the thousands of Celtic fans heading to Milan do so with some hope but equally Inter will feel that 3-3 away from home was a good result and will be confident of completing the job at home.

Ronny Deila is correct to state that Celtic need luck and a complete absence of the horrendous defending we saw at times last night to stand a chance of progressing. Red Bull, Zagreb, Maribor and Astra have all benefitted from poor Celtic defending in a season which must surely be a record for European goals conceded? (I make it 22) Mancini’s Inter side are not the best Italian side we’ve faced in recent years but they created a few good chances at Celtic Park and are a capable team on their day. They do however look brittle in defence and one wonders how they’d react to Celtic scoring first. The Inter supporters are known for getting on their own team’s back when things are not going well.  Celtic should to go to the San Siro with no fear and play their game. We remain big underdogs but if they can eliminate the unforced errors from their game they will have a fighting chance. 

Meanwhile, the feeling that Ronny Deila is creating something good at Celtic Park is growing.  There were some who wanted him out back in the dog days of Summer but all managers deserve a year at least to create their own team and pattern of play. Ronny is winning over the doubters and developing a feeling for Celtic which we see in his post victory ‘roars.’ Didier Agathe was once asked about some Celtic fans shouting at him to get forward more in certain games. He responded much to the surprise of the reporter who asked the question by saying, ‘Sometimes it is because they care too much about their club.’ Deila understands more now about what Celtic means to so many and perhaps it’s rubbing off on him.

All good teams are imbued with the sort of spirit we saw last night and it’s an encouraging sign that the team refused to give up despite that appalling start. When we lose 3 dreadful goals at home and the fans go home singing, something must be going right.

Smells like team spirit.


Monday, 16 February 2015

The Black Beast

The Black Beast

Inter Milan arrive in Glasgow this week bringing with them the whiff of glamour and history lacking at times in the bread and butter games of the SPFL. The draw which paired two of Europe’s best known sides was greeted with cautious optimism at the San Siro. Inter CEO Marco Farssone said of the tie with Celtic…

 ‘It is certainly a Classic, all Inter fans remember the European cup final and the glorious team of the 60s. It’s a fantastic tie there are great emotions about playing at Celtic Park, it will be fantastic. Both clubs have a strong history and are well known not just domestically but internationally.’

Indeed the spectre of Lisbon in 1967 is one which still haunts Inter Milan. Celtic’s great side were of course named the Lisbon Lions after their great feat but one popular Italian football website calls Stein’s side the ‘Bestia Nera’ (the black beast- or nightmare) which brought to an end the golden era of Herrera and his fine Inter side. They recall the salient fact that while Celtic may not be the most difficult tie that Inter could have been landed with in the Europa League, historically the Hoops remain a tough nut for them to crack…

Celtic is definitely not the most tricky team to face that it was a few years ago but it is historically indigestible to Inter. The Nerazurri in the previous three meetings have never been able to beat the Scots.’

Indeed the victory Inter secured on penalties in the 1972 European Cup Semi Final was only partial revenge for Inter’s destruction and humiliation in Lisbon. Gazetta Della Sport stated recently…

La parziale rivincita col Celtic arrivò pochi anni dopo nella Coppa dei Campioni 1971/72 quando Inter e Celtic si ritrovarono in semifinale e fu l'Inter a spuntarla, imponendosi ai rigori nel ritorno in Scozia dopo un doppio 0-0, conquistando così il biglietto per la finale di Rotterdam persa contro l'Ajax del calcio totale.The partial rematch with Celtic came a few years later in the 1971/72 European Cup when Inter and Celtic found themselves in the semi-finals. Inter was dull but won on penalties in the return to Scotland after a double 0-0, thus winning the ticket for the final in Rotterdam where they lost against Ajax. Fu una parziale rivincita, ma quella finale di Lisbona fa ancora male dopo tanti anni: la storia non si può cambiare, ma Roberto Mancini ei suoi ragazzi possono dare un piccolo contributo a renderla meno amara. It was a partial revenge, but the final in Lisbon still hurts even after all these years: that story cannot be changed, but Roberto Mancini and his boys can make a small contribution to making it less bitter. Ci vediamo in primavera, Celtic. See you soon Celtic!’

Inter arrive in Glasgow sitting in mid table after a poor start to the season. They have however won their last 2 games well and confidence is higher than it was. Celtic fans will know to expect a tactically aware, street wise team who will use every trick in the book to get a result and it has not gone unnoticed that the Hoops have failed to beat Italian opposition on the last 7 occasions they have met. (D2 L5) Mancini, like Ronny Deila, is in the middle of reforming the team and with tight finances is relying on loans, free transfers and developing what he has to achieve this. He knows the British game well after his years at Manchester City and is a sharp coach who will examine Celtic with forensic scrutiny looking for weaknesses. Make no mistake about it despite Inter’s average form in Serie A, this is a huge task for Celtic. Inter can field players of genuine quality such as Argentinian striker Mauro Icardi and Italian midfielder Dani Osvaldo. They also have our old adversary Nenanja Vidic, who played at Celtic Park with Manchester United, and others such as Palacio, Mauro, Guarin and Kovacic who have much experience at international level.

After Inter’s impressive 4-1 victory away to Atalanta, one scorer, Rodrigo Palacio said:

“Ini selalu menjadi pertandingan yang sangat sulit bagi kami. "It has always been a very difficult match for us. Ini pertandingan yang berat, namun tim bermain sangat baik hari ini. It's a tough game, but the team played very well today. Kami bermain baik pada dua pertandingan terakhir. We played well in the last two games. Icardi absen? Icardi absent? Mauro sangat penting bagi tim karena dia yang mencetak banyak gol di tim kami, tapi hari ini semua pemain bermain luar biasa.” Mauro is very important for the team because he scored a lot of goals, but today all the players played unbelievable. "

Palacio lalu berbicara tentang pertandingan berikutnya menghadapi Celtic diajang Europa League: Palacio then talked about the next game when Inter face Celtic in the Europa League:

“Meraih kemenangan tandang selalu penting. "Winning away is always important. Sekarang kami masih punya tiga hari untuk persiapan.Now we still have three days to prepare. Kami akan pergi kesana untuk meraih kemenangan.” We will go there to win. "

That being said, Celtic are on a good run of form and have nothing to lose as few expect this team in transition to knock an outfit such as Inter out of Europe. That is how Celtic like it and it is often when they are at their dangerous best. If Deila comes up with a game plan which subdues Inter and that fantastic home support raises the roof then one never knows what might happen. Celtic Park on European nights has a quality which is often hard to define. The fans drive the team to unexpected feats and Inter will have to fight for every ball on Thursday. This match is a real test of how far Celtic has come since the shambolic exit from the Champions League in the summer. It will take a performance of great courage and concentration to get a result in this game. The fast, fluid play Celtic are showing in phases of games at the moment will need to be present throughout and there can be no silly errors at the back. The few chances that will come along must also be taken with a ruthlessness we don’t see enough of in the SPFL.

Inter have come to lay the ghost of Lisbon but if they fail to play to their best and Celtic have one of their inspired evenings, they may find the ‘Black Beast’ haunting their dreams again

We are Celtic supporters and we always have hope in our hearts.

Bring it on.

Friday, 13 February 2015

With hope in your heart

With hope in your heart

Paul Bradley stepped from the car, the November chill hitting him like a slap in the face. He entered St Peter’s cemetery by the gate on the London Road and zipping his jacket against the chill headed down among the rows of grey tombstones which stood like forgotten memories in the gathering gloom. Kindly stone Angels regarded him as he passed and a Madonna who had lost her praying hands to thoughtless vandalism looked down from her plinth a little forlornly at the modern world and all its Godless ways. ‘What possesses these idiots who vandalise graveyards?’ Paul mused to himself as he walked a couple of hundred yards along the rutted track to the spot the gravestone he was looking for. He exhaled nervously, still feeling the pang of loss.  It read: ‘John Bradley 1952-2005 Loving Husband and father.’ He tidied the flowers and small plastic containers around the headstone which had been scattered by the careless Glasgow wind.  Hi Da,’ he began, not feeling at all uncomfortable about conversing with those beyond hearing in any conventional sense of the word. This was his old man, his friend, his ally throughout his life and the teacher of a thousand lessons large and small that made Paul the man he was today. He spoke to him as if he was standing in front of him ready to dispense his wisdom and advice as he had so often in the past. ‘Hardly seems a year since you’ve been gone. My Ma’s still missing you. I sometimes hear her crying at night; it’s hard for her not having you around. Tam started work in the Post Office, he always wanted to be a postie eh?’ He smiled, ‘I blame you buying him that Postman Pat van when he was six.’ Paul tilted his head slightly as he struggled with his emotions, ‘Celts are going well, Strachan is a good motivator. We play Man United this week. You’d have loved going tae that gem eh?’ A slight movement to Paul’s left caused him to turn his head in time to see a rabbit scurry off into the long grass unconcerned by the human world. He refocused on his father’s grave, ‘I miss you Da, why did you have to go so soon?’ Far away on the London Road a car tooted as if calling Paul back into that other world. ‘Right, I’ll head now Da, I’ll be back next week. Hopefully we can get a result against Man United. Won’t be easy wi Ronaldo and Giggs, no tae mention Rooney but ye never know wi the Celts. See ye soon. Hail Hail big man.’ He turned and headed back towards the London Road. On his way up the rutted path he noticed a woman of about 60 sorting flowers by a grave and muttering quietly. She glanced up as he passed and they exchanged an almost imperceptible smile. No need for words, they both understood the toll loss could exact on people. He reached the exit and jumped into his car glad of the respite from the cold. 

The Bradley brothers and their long-time friend Terry McCabe took their usual seats in the throbbing North Stand at Celtic Park as the Champions League anthem boomed around the stadium. A great roar split the dark November sky as 60,000 fans growled out their defiance. If Manchester United and their superstars were going to win here, they were going to have to damn well earn it.  As the teams shook hand the great light filled bowl in Glasgow’s dark east end transformed itself into a sea of green and white as a familiar song was screamed from thousands of lungs… ‘

Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown, walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!’

Terry, Tam and Peter belted it out with all the rest. On nights like this it was a religious experience being a Celtic fan. It was as if the collective will of tens of thousands of supporters could imbue the Celtic players with extra drive, pace and energy. It was when the hopes and dreams of these people didn’t weigh the players down but gave them wings to fly.  As the song ended there was another almighty roar as the game commenced. Peter roared through the din, ‘Right Celtic, let’s do this!’ The noise cascading from the stands onto the pitch in those opening minutes was incredible and Celtic, rushed and harried their more fancied opponents.  Ronaldo was finding Balde and surprisingly Lee Naylor utterly relentless in their defending. For all the slick passing in midfield the much vaunted English side appear toothless up front. Celtic contained United in a frantic first half but the home fans knew if they were to snatch anything from the game then they’d need to cut loose in attack at some point. As they applauded Celtic off at half time Paul looked at his brother, ‘It’s wan thing stopping them scoring but we need to work Van der Sar.’ Tam nodded, ‘I’m realistic Paul, we have the likes Telfer, Naylor, Sno and Gravesen playing Ronaldo, Rooney, Ferdinand and Giggs. If it stays 0-0 and we sneak a wee deflected last minute winner I’d be delighted.’  Hope was growing in more than a few Celtic hearts that the easy victory the English press predicted for United might not materialise after all.

The second half saw both teams look more dangerous and only some last gasp defending saw the score remain goalless.  Tony looked at his watch, ‘Ten minutes, might sneak a wee draw here.’ No sooner had he spoken when Jarosik went down under a challenge from Vidic. ‘Soft wan that,’ said Terry ‘but I’ll take it.’  Paul Bradley watched as Shunsuke Nakamura carefully placed the ball on the lush, green turf and glanced up at the wall of red defenders United had set facing him. He was almost 30 yards from goal and even if he got it past the wall the formidable figure of 6 feet 4 Edwin Van der Sar was waiting: it was a big ask. The three friends watched spellbound, their concentration total as around them swirled an incessant and growing roar… ‘Celtic, Celtic, Celtic….’. The Japanese midfielder strode forward a curled a beautifully flighted left footed shot over the wall. Paul followed the white blur as it sped towards goal. Van der Sar flew across to his left but was clutching at air as the ball exploded behind him in the United net! Celtic Park roared as only Celtic Park can on such occasions. ‘Yaaasssss!’ shouted Paul Bradley with every fibre of his being as he hugged his brother Tam. In that moment his father’s face flashed into his mind, he was smiling, nodding, happy. ‘That’s for you Da! That’s for you!’ The noise around them was incredible as the game thundered on. Could Celtic hold out? United as expected committed more men forward and pushed the Hooped Heroes back. Scholes drove towards the box and dived over Lennon’s outstretched leg to win a free kick 22 yards from goal. Giggs, often so deadly in such situations placed the ball as Celtic Park watched mesmerised by the unfolding drama. Giggs struck the ball well but the wall blocked it. The cheers of Celtic supporters stuck in their throats as the Spanish referee booked Maloney and pointed to the spot. It was a penalty. Paul couldn’t take it. He turned away from the play, his hand on his brothers shoulder, and closed his eyes. Surely victory wasn’t going to be snatched away from Celtic in such cruel fashion?  Deafening jeers and whistles assaulted his ears as he awaited the inevitable roar from the small band of Manchester United fans. Instead, Celtic Park erupted again as his brother and friend Terry hugged him screaming in his ears, ‘He’s saved it! He’s saved it! He’s only fuckin saved it!’

The game ended amid ecstatic scenes and another Celtic legend was born. The team few thought could match the silky skills of Fergie’s Manchester United had triumphed. It had been a gutsy, determined display from Celtic and the whole stadium stood to cheer the team from the field. Far to Paul’s right the green clad fans took up their old anthem again and ‘You’ll never walk alone’ echoed around Celtic Park, screaming into the dark winter sky that money wasn’t everything. That sometimes, just sometimes when you believe, when you fight and when you have that fantastic support behind you, incredible things can happen. The three friends left the stadium with tens of thousands of other Celtic supporters utterly elated.  The songs of victory followed the joyous green army as it dispersed all over Glasgow, Scotland and beyond. It was another one of those magical Celtic nights under the lights and few who witnessed it would ever forget it.


A few days later Paul Bradley stood over his father’s grave as a gentle drizzled drifted through the cold air. ‘You’d have loved it Da, The fighting spirit, the atmosphere. It was pure Celtic.’ He knelt on the damp grass and touched his father’s stone, tracing his name with his index finger. ‘God, how I wish you were beside me the other night, wish you could have felt it again, that emotion that feeling only Celtic can bring. It’s hard tae put it into words.‘ He stood, a lazy tear rolling down his cheek, ‘Right, I’m off big man, working in an hour. I’ll be back in a few days.’ As he turned and walked towards the exit he noticed the older woman he had seen the week before. She walked a little of the way with him and smiled, ‘Your Father?’ Paul nodded, ‘Aye, miss his loads.’ She tilted her head a little, wistful look on her face, ‘You’ll always miss him but it does get easier as time passes. Paul nodded, ‘I hope so.’ As they reached the gates of the cemetery she turned towards him, ‘You know they never really leave us son, they’re always with us.’ Paul nodded, not sure if he really believed that but it was a nice thought.



Monday, 9 February 2015

You'll know us by our noise

You’ll know us by our noise

 ‘Much blood has been spilt over words and a great deal of it over the word ‘God.’ said French writer Jean Yves Leloup. He may have been thinking about the clashes between and within religions over semantic differences of belief but there is truth in his assertion that words can be powerful weapons. They can also morph and mutate as the years advance and subtle changes in meaning can be adopted. In the fish bowl of Scottish football with all its rivalries and petty hatreds, words can be deliberately misconstrued or even mean different things to different people.

Many years ago, my old man turned to me as the final whistle blew at Celtic Park on a wet and windy day, ‘Good win that, did you hear how the Huns got on?’  In those times there was no mistaking what the word meant. The ‘Huns’ were Rangers Fc and/or their supporters. In recent years that term has become less of a petty insult and more of a political football. In some senses the current floundering of the ill-conceived ‘Offensive Behaviour at football Act’ is partly based on there being no clear and accepted definition of what constitutes ‘Sectarian’ language. Defendants have claimed with some success that terms such as Fenian, Hun or Orange have no religious connotation. Therein lies the difficulty for Judges as word meanings can change with time or have different meanings in particular cultures using them. Consider the much debated term ‘Hun.’ There was a song once sung by Rangers fans which contained the following lyric:

‘If I had a Tommy gun

I’d shoot every Fenian Hun

Just for walking on the Queen’s Highway’

Not particularly poetic but you get the gist that the term ‘Hun’ is being used in a pejorative way to describe those of Celtic/Irish/Catholic persuasion. The meaning of the word in that context is bound up with propaganda from both World Wars about the bad old ‘Huns’ (Germans) and their uncivilised ways.  My Father recalled a game played on a wet day where the Rangers fans chanted ‘The Huns are getting wet’ at Celtic fans. Around that time Rangers fans were involved in serious disturbances in Wolverhampton, Leeds and Newcastle. It was widely quoted that one English newspaper stated that Rangers wilder fans had ‘Crossed Hadrian’s wall like marauding Huns.’ The term was of course a reference to the Asiatic hordes, led by their leader Attila, which ravaged the Roman Empire. In the imagination of the average football fan in Scotland, the perception of Rangers fans as drunken and violent had found a suitable name. The term ‘Hun’ migrated and settled for decades as a descriptor used by many for Rangers and/or their fans. It may have been reinforced by the Ibrox fans’ seeming devotion to the Germanic House of ‘Windsor.’ The British Royal family adopted the name ‘Windsor’ during World War One as the house of ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ was considered by some as sounding too German.

The term ‘Hun’ was not, in the Scottish context, a word used to describe Protestants in general despite claims to the contrary. One Celtic fan explained this to me during a half time chat by saying simply and with a certain rough logic: ‘Look Big man, let me explain, Amoruso-Hun, Jock Stein- No a Hun! Novo – Hun, Kenny Dalglish - No a Hun.’ It’s clear from that line of thought that the term is certainly not thought of by that particular chap as sectarian but merely a derogatory term for Rangers or their fans. It may hold different connotations in the North of Ireland but in Scotland it traditionally meant Rangers and/or their fans.

On occasion a minority fans from clubs such as Hearts or Motherwell have aped Rangers fans by singing loyalist songs and have been referred to by Celtic supporters as ‘Huns without the bus fare’ (to get to Ibrox) or ‘Diet Huns.’  Few among their respective supports would want such songs to be aired at all their games and it is, as is the norm in football, an attempt at winding up the opposing Celtic support.

Much of the ‘mock-shock’ over the use of the ‘H’ word is, in my humble opinion,  a reflex action by elements among the Rangers support who, no doubt weary of being labelled bigots, naturally sought some mud to throw at Celtic fans in return. That is not to say that Celtic fans are all angels or that some of them don’t harbour unhealthy prejudice but in many years of watching Celtic, I have not discerned any noteworthy anti-protestant chanting or opinions. How could supporters hold such views when so many of our greatest heroes are not from the founding Irish-Catholic community and likewise so many of the club’s supporters? Would we have it any other way? Of course not, from Sunny Jim young to John Thomson, from Jock Stein to Henrik Larsson, we have had heroes of all faiths and none. Of course, you will always get the odd ill-educated idiot mouthing off but they represent no one but themselves and the vast majority of Celtic fans are proud of the club’s inclusiveness.

That being said, I choose not to use the ‘H’ word these days. Not because I think it’s sectarian but because it’s derogatory and a little outdated. It is also being hijacked by mostly well-meaning but ill-informed Politicians and others and used as a counter balance to the bile we hear so regularly from a sizable proportion of the Rangers support. This portrayal of the ‘Old Firm’ as two sides of the same coin is grossly unfair. We could easily deny them the ammunition to fire at our support by simply not using the term. Many who follow the blue side of Glasgow call Celtic and their supporters much worse but it’s best to rise above it and not descend to their level. Often the terminology people use about others tells us more about them than it does about the target group. You’ll ‘know them by their noise’ right enough. We need to be better than that.

It’s a long time since my old man asked me how the ‘Huns’ got on. He wasn’t a bigot or anti anyone, he was simply using the language current in those times. We have moved on a lot in Scottish society in the past 40 or 50 years and many of the terms once common for racial minorities, religious groups and gay people are now considered vulgar or ignorant and that is a heartening sign.

Times change and people can change too.

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Strongest Bonds

The Strongest Bonds

Big Al Lenahan peered through the thermal imaging equipment of the Scimitar into the darkness of the night, ‘Contact, 300 yards. Prepare to fire.’ Ghostly green figures moved through the darkness, confident that the veil of night hid them from the enemy’s view. ‘200 yards…’ Al growled in his gruff Glaswegian accent into the radio, ensuring all his mates were primed and ready.  As the Taliban fighters closed on their positions, the soldiers lay in their hastily dug trenches or sat in their fighting vehicles quietly waiting, each with their own personal way of dealing with the tension. Al mumbled an old song under his breath as he often did in times of tension. It may not have been a song many soldiers in the British Army sang but Al was from Donegal stock and saw no contradiction in singing quietly to himself… ‘T’was on a dreary New Year’s eve as the shades of night came down…’ This was it, not a training drill or a jaunt across Salisbury plain, but a real life or death situation. ‘100 yards...’ Al said grimly, his eyes pressed against the thermal imaging scope, ‘Prepare tae fire… Beside him, big Terry, a shaven headed Londoner with a quick fire wit and easy smile gripped the coaxial Machine gun, sweat shining on his forehead. Al glanced at him, ‘Steady Terry, almost in the zone.’ He glanced at the Tottenham Hotspur tattoo on Terry’s tanned left forearm, he was a dependable guy, a long way from White Hart Lane though.  To his right, manning the 30mm cannon sat Deek, a short, powerful Paisley lad who seemed frightened of nothing. As the Taliban fighters entered the killing zone Al half shouted the order into the radio; ‘Open Fire!’ All along the line a storm of steel erupted and snaked through the darkness towards the unsuspecting enemy. Tracer lit up the night sky and the crump of explosions was audible through the Scimitar’s armour. Terry traversed left and right with the machine gun sending hundreds of 7.62mm bullets ripping through the night air like angry wasps…’ Come on you Bastards, have some of this!’  After a while the noise abated and the radio crackled with the voices of men elated to have come out on top… this time at least.

Dawn broke over the Nahre-e-Burgha Canal, a dusty, orange tinted dawn which wafted the smell of cordite over their positions. The enemy was seemingly gone and so too their dead and wounded. They seldom left anyone or anything behind unless it was booby trapped. Terry grinned as he opened the hatch on the top of the vehicle, ‘Now let’s get some air in here, sweaty Jocks stinking up my tank all night.’ He clambered out and urinated against the back of the vehicle. Al was next out and seeing Terry relieving himself said, ‘I’ll get the grub seeing as you’re not too hot on the hygiene front.’ Terry grinned, ‘Bacon sarnies if you can Al and a brew too. Best get the sweaty git some too.’  Deek’s head popped out of the top hatch of the vehicle, ‘Only sweaty wan about here is you ya Cockney fud.’  Terry shook his head, ‘Speak English, Braveheart uh?’ Deek smiled and leaped down from the vehicle to check the exterior for any damage after the night’s action. ‘Look after your equipment and it’ll look after you’ was his motto. All seemed well, he sat on the already warm ground and exhaled. The pressure could be immense at times and he sometimes needed a few moments alone to compose himself.

Big Al walked up the dusty incline towards the already discernible smell of cooking. He glanced over his shoulder at the position he and his buddies held. They seemed so few in this vast and hostile land. He’d often wondered what the Politicians were thinking of getting 7000 soldiers to try and hold down an area the size of Scotland. But then he didn’t fight for them, he certainly didn’t fight for Queen or country. He fought for his friends who relied on him as he relied on them when the shit was flying. They were the strongest bonds of all. Terry shouted up at him, ‘Hurry up with the food Al, I’m starving.’  Al grinned and was about to reply when a crack rang out which he immediately knew was a high velocity rifle. Terry spun round, a surprised look on his face and crumpled to the ground. Al roared instinctively ‘Sniper!’ as he threw himself to the ground. Deek was already dragging Terry to cover behind the Scimitar as another shot sparked off the side of the vehicle a foot above his head. Al glanced at Terry lying still just 50 yards away, it didn’t look good….

A warm April breeze was blowing as Al Lenahan walked with his brother Tony along the Gallowgate. Strachan’s Celtic was taking on Rangers and as he was between deployments he made sure he was in town for the match. They entered a bar near the Barras where they’d arrange to meet a few friends. It was already full of green and white clad fans who were singing along with a serious looking, bearded young man who was playing a guitar on a small raised stage area. The place rocked to a familiar tune…

‘Go on home British soldiers, go on home
Have you got no fucking homes of your own
For 800 years we've fought you without fear
And we will fight you for 800 more…’

Tony grinned at his brother, still looking tanned from his time in Helmand, ‘They must have known you were coming.’ Al grinned back at him, ‘Better shutting up about my profession in here eh?’  Tony looked more serious, ‘Thousands of Celtic fans served in the forces Al, but I catch yer drift.’ They met up with a few old friends and the Guinness flowed as the tunes continued. Big Al even ended up on the stage amid great cheers to sing his party piece. Tony had his phone out filming him as he had the whole Bar joining him in a rousing rendition of a tune he had learned at his father’s knee…

‘T'was on a dreary New Year’s Eve
As the shades of night came down
A lorry load of volunteers approached the border town
There were men from Dublin and from Cork, Fermanagh and Tyrone
And the leader was a Limerick man - Sean South from Garryowen…’

He finished to a huge cheer and rejoined his friends, a cold pint being thrust into his hand. ‘That was good, yer still a fair chanter, big man,’ his brother smiled. Al shook his head, ‘Tuneless big growler mer like.’ His brother put his arm around his shoulder and said quietly, ‘For a squaddie you can sure sing the Rebs!’ Al nodded, ‘What do James Connolly and Tom Barry  have in common?’ Tony shrugged, ‘No idea.’ Al leaned closer, ‘They both served time in the British Army. Willie Maley was born in Newry Barracks!' So no contradictions with me doing the same. That said, I’d be out if they asked me to serve in Ireland.’ His brother nodded, ‘Nothing’s ever black and white bro, eh?’ Al nodded, ‘Naw but they’re green and white tonight.’ He turned back to the stage where the bearded singer had started another song.

Later that evening the friends stood together in the Jock Stein stand watching as Gary Caldwell gathered the ball in the dying embers of the game. Al glanced quickly at the clock on the scoreboard at the opposite end of the field which had read ‘90’ for at least a couple of minutes. Caldwell launched the ball into the box where Scott McDonald nodded it across goal to the gangling Venegoor of Hesselink who launched himself at the ball and buried it in the Rangers net. Celtic Park erupted like a pent up volcano and big Al was there in the middle of it all roaring his head off.  God, Celtic could put you through the emotional wringer, but they were his team and he shared every joy and disappointment that came with following them. Whether he was home in Glasgow or far across the sea, the bond with Celtic was still strong.


Sunday, 1 February 2015

Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder?
Forgive me for returning to an issue which many of you will be bored listening to me going on about. After events at Hampden, I think it’s important to state clearly that what we heard from the blue half of Hampden today was unacceptable in any context. I don’t refer to the Loyalist or Unionist chants which, like it or not, reflect the outlook of a minority in our society. Rather I’m referring to the songs about paedophilia, the songs cursing the Pope and the songs about being up to their knees in Fenian blood. This is 2015 for God’s sake, isn’t it time this stuff was ditched into the dustbin of history? Isn’t it time the decent Rangers fans took a stand about this issue and said, ‘Not in my name?’ Isn’t it about time they tried at least to make some token resistance to the tide of bile which swirls around their club.

There is a school of thought that suggests that Scotland needs the ‘Old Firm’ game to promote our game. However after watching today’s League Cup Semi-Final between Celtic and the Rangers IFC, I would beg to differ. Of course it’s good to see a full stadium and to win the bragging rights in our City even against lower league opposition but the bile pouring from the blue half of Hampden was unacceptable in a decent country.  Of course we expected it as their so called ‘decent majority’ of fans usually sit on their hands and say nothing about the poisonous nonsense being sung by their fellow fans. Nor is their voice heard much on Rangers forums where they really should speak up about the chants which if they were directed against Muslims or Jews, would lead to a huge outcry.

Let’s make no bones about the songs heard today; they were immoral, vile and in post ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football Act,’ probably illegal too. What sort of person chants about paedophilia at a football match? In 2011 after the Celtic v Rangers League Cup Final, Graham Spiers stated with commendable honesty…

"The incessant bigoted chanting by Rangers fans at Hampden was shocking. Unarguably the most socially-backward fans in British football. The really damaging thing for RFC is, it’s not the mythical ‘small minority’. There appear to be 1000s upon 1000s singing these songs."

What has changed at Ibrox since then? What indeed has changed since 1976 when Ian Archer called the club’s less cerebral fans a ‘permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace’?

I don’t class myself as a ‘Rangers hater’ who writes simply out of dislike of the club. I write as a Scot and a football fan utterly bemused by the knuckle dragging antics of a minority of our fellow citizens. Those of you who read my articles will know of my feelings on the singing of political songs by a minority of Celtic fans but there is simply no comparison between nationalist ballads and the morally debased filth we heard today. 

No doubt the media will pour forth their usual ‘Old Firm’ up to their old tricks routine. This ‘both as bad as each other’ tosh doesn’t hold water. Before the game, we saw the Daily Record warble on about a Police list of banned songs. The ‘Famine song’ and ‘Billy Boys’ were there but just to even up the score they added the ‘Ibrox disaster song’ and ‘Glasgow Celtic IRA’ song neither of which I have ever heard in many years of watching Celtic. A Celtic fan stated on twitter that he had asked the Police if they compiled the list of songs and was told they had done no such thing. Why would a newspaper make such things up? We saw this last year after trouble at the Glasgow Cup final at Celtic Park between Celtic’s youngsters and Rangers. I attended this game and the vast majority of the bile came from a group among the away support. Indeed some Rangers fans with children left the away section to get away from them. The press labelled it ‘Old Firm Shame’ and even showed a picture of a Celtic fan with a flare taken years ago at a match with Hamburg which they were forced to apologise for after Celtic fans rightly complained. I could give further examples but you get the picture, they seem impelled to portray the problem as two sides of the same coin.

So we brace ourselves for tomorrow’s predictable media coverage which will no doubt describe the day’s events as an ‘Old Firm’ problem. They’ll no doubt raise the banner among the Celtic support which appeared to use the ‘Hun’ word as a counter balance to the incessant bile from the other end. The ‘H’ word is one I choose not to use but its fairly recent labelling as ‘Sectarian’ is another feeble attempt at the balancing act the media and others try to do when dealing with the ‘Old Firm problem.’ In years gone past fans of every club in Scotland called Rangers and their fans ‘Huns’ and many still do. It isn’t difficult to find examples of this on YouTube and elsewhere. If it is indeed sectarian could anyone please explain what these Motherwell fans are up to here?

At least Ewan Murray writing in the Guardian didn’t dodge the issue of the songbook aired today by the Rangers supporters…

‘The Billy Boys, Famine Song and No Pope of Rome were bellowed out by the blue-and-white masses in what proved a disappointing throwback to the times when Rangers attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. Those embattled and embittered fans do not care about that as, history tells us, the same is the case with Scotland’s policing and football authorities.’

I don’t have any faith in the SFA or SPFL taking any action over this latest brazen example of racism and bigotry which besmirched the occasion. The BBC who covered the match remained silent too. Was that really the same Sportscene show where Rob McLean raised the issue of Celtic fans singing the ‘Boys of the old Brigade’ some years back and labelled it as sectarian?

The decent Rangers supporters must be shaking their heads at this intractable group who stick to the club like barnacles to a ship. What they really need to do is be brave enough to challenge them and slowly try to turn around the club they claim to love. Otherwise they’ll remain stuck in a time warp.
‘No one likes us we don’t care?
Is it any wonder?