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.



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