She sat on the big chair watching him iron his white shirt with care. It had to be just right before he’d put it on. He’d glance at her occasionally and smile, ‘How’s my wee Mary? I always miss you when I go tae the fitbaw.’ Even as a little girl she knew he loved her. He was her daddy, righter of all wrongs, solver of all problems and arbiter of all disputes. He finished ironing and wandered into the bathroom to shave. She followed him and closing the toilet lid sat on it to observe him. He seemed so tall to her 7 year old eyes as he stood by the sink. She watched spellbound at this strange ritual he went through each day. He covered his face in white foam and she laughed, ‘Daddy, you look like Santa Claus!’ He grinned through his foam beard, ‘Is that right? C’meer you!’ As he reached for her with his foam covered hands she screamed and raced from the bathroom, laughing. He caught up with her in the bedroom and placed a blob of white foam on her chin as she laughed. ‘There, that must make you Mrs Clause!’ They regarded each other for a second, ‘I love you daddy,’ she said in that simple, matter of fact way children have. He nodded, ‘I know doll face, I know.’
Once he was dressed in his dark suit and did up his tie he looked at himself in the mirror. ‘Where’s that hairbrush?’ he asked to no one in particular. ‘I’ve hidden it daddy. Ye canny get it till ye promise tae take me tae see Celtic.’ He spun around to see his 7 year old daughter sitting on the couch smiling at him. ‘Just like yer Ma, always trying tae get yer own way,’ he smiled. ‘Right, Doll face. I promise to take you to see Celtic as soon as you’re 10.’ She regarded him with a look of mock shock, ‘10? That’s yonks away!’ He smiled, ‘Right, 9 then and that’s my final offer.’ She nodded and slipped her thin, pale arm behind one of the cushions on the couch and pulled out the hairbrush like a clumsy magician. ‘Daaa-raaa!’ He took it from her with a smile, ‘Ya wee chancer.’ A voice from the hall cut across their conversation, ‘Davie, that’s Tam here.’ He brushed his hair quickly, ‘Be right there.’ Before he left the living room he turned to Mary, ‘I’ll see you later wee yin. Look after yer ma for me,’ They hugged briefly and she mumbled in his ear, ‘Bye daddy.’ As he left for Celtic Park with his friend Tam, Mary ran to the bedroom window to watch him walk up the street. In her childish way she envied Tam, going to the football with her father but smiled quietly to herself, ‘You’re just his pal, he’s my daddy!’
Eighteen months later Davie was as good as his word. He walked quietly into his daughter’s bedroom and as her eyes flickered open said, ‘Up ye get doll face, time you went tae see the Celts.’ As realisation that today was the day flooded into her mind, she sat up with a huge grin, ‘Yes! You’re the best da ever!’ She busied herself getting ready for the match while he went through his usual routine of ironing his shirt. His wife fussed around him, ‘Are ye sure she’ll be OK? Don’t you be drinking! Get her up the road early.’ He looked at his stressed wife, ‘Will ye stop yer worrying wumin! She’ll be fine.’ At that point Mary entered the living room and he grinned. She was dressed in her bright pink clothes, wellies, Celtic hat and scarf. ‘See, she’s a top fan already.’ As his wife started to air more of her concerns he threw his arms around her and started to dance her around the room, singing as he did so, ‘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…’ Mary watched her mum and dad and joined in the singing, ‘We don’t care if we win, lose or draw, darn the hair we care! For we only know that there’s gonny be a show and the Glasgow Celtic will be there!’
Mary could sense Celtic Park before she could see it. The smell of hot dogs, greasy chips, cigarette smoke and beer filled the air. The crowds heading for the stadium were in good voice as she marched along the Gallowgate her hand clasped tightly in her daddy’s. A tall man with a cheerful, red face smiled at her dad, ‘Wee yin’s first gem?’ Davie nodded, ‘Been dying tae go for years, a good day for it today.’ As they headed down Janefield Street, Mary could see the huge pylon which supported the floodlights high above her. They joined the queues forming at the turnstiles. ‘Right doll face, you’ll be getting a lift over,’ her daddy smiled at her. She stepped in front of him, her heart pounding. He held her close as they waited in the line and she looked up at him and smiled, ‘Thanks daddy, I’m so excited!’ He looked down at her, ‘You know what? So am I doll face, so am I.’
As Mary grew up she always remembered that first game her daddy had taken her too. Later, when he was gone from her life and she felt the crushing pain of his absence, she’d try to remember the good times they’d shared. She still went to see Celtic and on those big occasions when the crowd roared and drove Celtic to unexpected heights, she’d sense he was near. The big stadium had replaced the more modest one she had gone to so often as a girl with her father but she knew that somehow all of those who came faithfully to Celtic Park had given the place their aura. Their hopes, their passion and their dreams still somehow clung to the place. Their songs still echoed in the air over that hallowed ground.
One cold November night she and 60,000 other Celtic fans watched in ecstasy as Tony Watt raced past the Barcelona defence to slam the ball into the net. In that explosion of joy she felt her tears well and said out loud, ‘You’d love this daddy, you’d just love it. I wish you were here with me to see it.’ As that mighty roar reached a crescendo over the brooding east end sky, she thought she heard him whisper...’I am, doll face, I am.’