Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Meeting the Challenge

Meeting the Challenge

Joe’s mum made him put his Celtic scarf in a plastic bag and warned him in no uncertain terms, ‘These Celtic-Rangers games can be dangerous son, promise me you’ll no dae anything stupid. Nae drinking and nae hinging aboot wae Aldo, you know he’s got a screw loose!’ Sixteen year old Joe McGhee shuffled impatiently from foot to foot, the bag under his arm and  itching to get going, ‘I’ll be fine Ma and I don’t think Aldo’s going tae the match anyway.’ She exhaled as if she didn’t believe him, ‘Yer Da will hear aboot it if you get intae any bother.‘ With that she stepped aside and he opened the front door. ‘Mind, be hame fur half six and nae drinking.’ With that she closed the door and Joe bounded down the close stairs and stepped out into the bright May sunshine.

He was meeting his mates in the city centre before heading off to Hampden on the train so he headed along to the bus stop on the Govan Road but seeing a group of noisy, blue clad Rangers fans already there, he crossed the road and walked on. Perhaps the subway would be a better bet today. Excitement was already building in him. He loved these Old Firm games but a Cup Final against Celtic’s most bitter rivals was even more special. Aberdeen had snatched the title that spring and Dundee United had won the League cup so the cup final was the last chance for Celtic or Rangers to win a trophy. This seemed to add to the tension surrounding the 1980 Cup Final as someone was going to end up with nothing that season. Joe trotted down the stair of Govan subway station only to be greeted by a platform packed with yet more Rangers fans. It was too late to back out so he shoved his plastic bag containing his Celtic scarf down the back of his jeans and pulled his jumper over it. As he reached the bottom of the stairway the tell-tale rumble of an approaching train told him he had at least timed that well. The sleek, red train halted at the crowded platform and the doors slid open. The noisy crowd squeezed into the already busy train and Joe joined them. As the doors closed some of the standing fans began to bang the roof of the train as they sang…

Though the straits be broad or narrow, follow we will,

Follow we will, follow we will,

If the straits be broad or narrow, follow we will,

We will follow in the footsteps of our team.

Follow follow, we will follow Rangers…’

Joe glanced at the dark window of the train as it rattled through the tunnel deep under Glasgow and saw his reflection looking back at him. ‘Just my luck’ he thought, ‘stuck in a train full of this mob.’ An older man in a suit glanced at him and shook his head almost imperceptibly. It looked like he too wasn’t enjoying the journey. As the train rolled through Partick, Hillhead and the other stations on route to Buchanan Street in the city centre, the singing became even more raucous and the songs descended into the more guttural variety. Joe glanced around him at grown men singing songs which would surely be considered pig ignorant among decent folk. A few small boys in their Rangers scarves looked on, wide eyed. Joe looked at a blonde haired lad of about eight dressed in a Rangers track suit and wondered how he’d turn out as he grew up listening to such visceral hatred. Celtic had some fans who behaved like this too but it seemed to him the scale of the problem with Rangers fans was much worse. As the train reached Buchanan Street at last and the doors opened, the wave of humanity swept up the stairs singing lustily…

Hullo, Hullo, We are the Billy Boys
Hullo, Hullo, You'll know us by our noise
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood
Surrender or you'll die
For we are the Bridgeton Derry Boys’

Joe waited until they had flooded out into Buchanan Street before trailing up behind them. The older man smiled at him, ‘That was fun eh? Living in the wrong century some of these folk.’ Joe nodded, ‘Beyond me why they want to behave like that.’  He reached the top of the stairs and headed down Buchanan Street towards Central Station where he was meeting his friends. The cavernous station echoed with the noise of thousands of football fans and two distinct lines had already been formed using crush barriers to funnel fans to the appropriate platforms. Between the two lines of boisterous Celtic and Rangers supporters stood dozens of policemen, some holding huge, snarling dogs on leashes. Tensions were high in the city ahead of the game. Joe waited by the huge, polished artillery shell, which had stood in the station as a war memorial for decades, taking in the colour and noise all around him. A familiar voice cut through the hubbub, ‘Joe, ya dick, hope you’ve got a ticket coz yer no doubling up wi me!’ It was his good friend Frankie and his brother Col. ‘Aw right boys, we gonnae win this today?’ Joe smiled. Frankie, wearing his Celtic top grinned at him, ‘We’ll miss big McDonald and McAdam but I think we’ll handle that mob. Aw they know is big punts up the park.’ The three friends headed for the long line of Celtic supporters waiting for their train. A familiar song echoed through the huge railways station…

‘For it’s a grand old team to play for

for it’s a grand old team to see

and if ye know the history

it’s enough to make yer hearts go oh, oh, oh, oh’

Hampden Park was bathed in glorious sunshine as the two teams came out to huge roars from their respective supports. It was one of those hot days when clouds of dust rose from the packed Celtic end. Joe, Frankie and Col made their way to a spot in the centre of the huge terrace to watch the drama unfold. It was a typical Old Firm game of snarling tackles and little good football. There were chances for either side but the game staggered towards extra time in wilting heat. For the huge Celtic support there was much to be happy about. Their makeshift defence with midfielder Casey drafted in at centre half was holding out well and McGarvey and Provan were troubling the Rangers rear guard. The game had been fought out for 108 gruelling minutes when the breakthrough finally came.  Celtic won a corner at the far end of the field and a roar went up from the green clad fans, ‘Celtic, Celtic, Celtic.’ Provan floated the ball in and it was headed clear. Full back Sneddon chipped it back into the box where it was again headed clear but this time it fell to Danny McGrain who fired a low shot towards goal. The keeper moved to his right to cover the shot when quick thinking George McCluskey diverted it to his left where it rolled agonisingly into the net. Half of Hampden erupted as Celtic’s supporters jumped for joy. Surely that was enough to win the cup?  It was.

Joe joined Frankie, Col and hundreds of other dancing, singing Celtic fans on the pitch. They were utterly elated that Celtic had done it. As the team headed up the tunnel to get the cup things took a sinister turn. ‘Look’ said Frankie to Joe, ‘Here come the fuckin animals.’ At the far end of the field hundreds of Rangers fans were heading their way and it wasn’t to congratulate then on their win. ‘Jesus,’ said Joe, ‘Wits up wi these bastards?’ A green wine bottle thudded onto the grass beside them as they backed off in the face of superior numbers. However, Celtic’s wilder elements on the terraces were watching this unfold on the pitch and decided that they would answer the challenge. Joe heard one man shout, ‘Come on or these bastards will be boasting for years that they chased us.’ In the working class male culture of 1980s Glasgow a challenge had been laid down and saving face meant meeting it full on. Within moments a riot was in full flow with charge, counter charge and hails of bottles and cans flying through the air. The few Policemen around looked utterly overwhelmed as hundreds of rival fans battled it out on the pitch. Frankie and Col joined the melee and Joe felt obliged to join in too. Joe spotted his neighbour, big Aldo, in the middle of the centre circle trading punches with a Rangers fan. Just then a line of Police horses arrived and rode towards the fighting fans. Joe thought it amazing that a joy filled moment had turned so ugly in a matter of minutes.

Once the Police had cleared the pitch things seemed to have calmed down. Joe and his friends exited Hampden in a buzz of excitement about what had just occurred. The game and Celtic’s cup victory was not the topic of conversation. ‘Did ye see big Aldo lamping that fud?’ Joe asked excitedly. Before anyone could answer there was a roar to their left as hundreds of Celtic fans charged up Somerville Drive towards a big group of Rangers fans. Sirens wailed, screams and shouts mingled with the sound of breaking glass. It looked as if it was going to be a long hot night in Glasgow.

Joe survived a hair raising journey home. It seemed as if there was trouble all over the city. Buses had their windows broken and groups of glaring young men were everywhere looking for trouble. When he finally arrived home his mother was watching the news on TV. ‘Is that you Joseph? Look at these animals on the telly. I hope you were well away fae that trouble.’ Joe stared at the scenes from Hampden on the news and the images weren’t pretty. His father sat stony faced on the couch watching it. He had stopped going to games years earlier after a bottle thrown by one of his own team’s supporters had hit him. When Joe’s mother left the room he spoke in a low voice, ‘I saw you on the telly, son.’ Joe looked at him waiting for the angry voice but his old man’s voice remained calm, ‘I know that mob started it and I’ve nae problem wi ye defending yourself. Just don’t make a habit of getting involved in that stuff. It never ends well.’ Joe nodded, ‘Ye have tae help yer mates, stick together, Da, know wit I mean?’ His father nodded, ‘Aye son, sometimes ye dae.’

Joe wandered to his bedroom and lay on his bed utterly exhausted. He glanced around at the many Celtic posters and pennants adorning the walls. The game he had watched would be forgotten after the riot which had followed it but amid all of that, Celtic had won the cup and that more than anything made him happy.

He looked at a poster of Danny McGrain in which the bearded Celtic skipper seemed to be smiling at him. ‘Sclaffed that shot a bit, Danny eh?’  Joe smiled to himself as his eyes closed and sleep took him.



No comments:

Post a Comment