Saturday, 29 August 2015

Hear the rumble in the Jungle

Hear the rumble in the Jungle
As a lad I recall walking through the streets of Glasgow’s east-end with my old man, my uncle and older brothers. We were of course heading to Celtic Park and in those days it was wise to stick close to those older and more clued up about the dangers that existed for the unwary. A couple of hours waiting outside the pub from the adults to have a drink didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. In fact when the doors opened for someone to enter or leave the Straw House, the Grange or the General Wolfe we’d hear the Celtic songs drift out with the smoke and noise. As we grew up a bit, we’d start to go to some Celtic games with friends rather than with our families although we always knew where to find them on the terrace if we needed any help or a walk up the road. It was on those occasions that we first ventured into that legendary terracing known to us all as the ‘Jungle.’

Watching the Jungle from the Celtic end was always fascinating. On days when the crowd wasn’t huge it was always the fullest section of the ground. It was from there that the songs and chants would start and if they weren’t always politically correct then it’s fair to say they didn’t really care. There were certain rituals which developed and these included singing the ‘Grand old team’ and then as the teams emerged, ‘You’ll never walk alone.’ As the songs spread around the stadium the opposition knew they’d be facing not just Celtic but their support too. There would be chants at the big English Keeper Peter Latchford who told me just last year how much he enjoyed those pre-match chants and waving to the Jungle. As the game got underway the Jungle and its 10,000 hard core Celts were right behind the team and making a terrific noise.

So it was that we graduated from the Celtic end and made our way to the Jungle as teenagers. In those days the amount of drinking going on before and during the game ensured the primitive toilet facilities were overwhelmed. The Jungle smelled of smoke, beer and urine but it was simply a part of the match day experience and we thought little of it. On occasion when linesmen gave dubious calls against Celtic some voice would boom out and give the poor chap a hard time. I recall one match when the flag went up and a man with a voice like a foghorn shouting, ‘Linesman! I’ll come doon there and shove that flag so far up your arse you’ll be farting oot affside decision for years!’ As the flag went up again moments later he was at the poor official again, ‘Linesman, don’t think I cannae see that masonic ring ya wee runt!’  This continued for most of the came with each new insult and threat growing in ingenuity and drawing on an extensive vocabulary of Glaswegian swear words. Eventually as the game was nearing its end the poor man raised his flag again and the foghorn boomed out again, ‘Linesman! Ye got wan right for a change, ya dick!’

When it was in full voice the Jungle was an inspiration to the team. In European ties or Old Firm games it kept up an incessant barrage of noise which drove the team on. Yes, some of the songs in those days could be crude, I recall a Rangers player lying on the turf near the Jungle after a heavy challenge being serenaded with, ‘Die, die, die, die, ya hun, we beat ye seven one. die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, ya hun!’ This was followed by, ‘Dig a hole and bury him!’ There was also that habit of transforming pop songs into Celtic songs, tunes such as the 70s classic about the Muhammad Ali- George Foreman fight, Rumble in the Jungle. which morphed into this crude but witty Celtic song…

‘Came a monkey called John Grieg (at Park-at Parkhead)

Had a face like ham and egg (at Park-at Parkhead)

McCluskey broke the bastard’s leg (at Park-at Parkhead)

Hear the rumble in the Jungle – at Parkhead!

Paul Wilson scored twice in the night

He scored with his left foot and he scored with his right

At Parkhead!’

It was always the ambition of us younger fans to start a song in the Jungle and the trick was to wait till it was relatively quiet and shout as loudly as you could. You needed to drag out the first couple of words to give fans near you time to join in. A friend and I hollered out one day, ‘Hai-lllll Hai-llll The Celts are here,’ as a few nearby fans joined us it spread around the Jungle and we were utterly thrilled that it even reached the Celtic end. Thousands singing a song which two lads in the Jungle started!

The Jungle could be a lawless place too at times. During Jock Stein’s testimonial match against Liverpool, I watched as two Policemen tried to arrest a man near the back wall of the packed Jungle. The man’s friends attempted to release him and in the end some of the crowd turned on the cops who lay on the terracing trying to defend themselves from a barrage of boots and bottles coming their way. TV pundits in the gantry above would receive abuse too if the crowd though they’d been unfair to Celtic on the previous week’s show. On the odd occasion cans or bottles would be thrown onto the field as we saw in the Rapid Vienna game in 1984. But those occasions were relatively rare. Normally the Jungle punters were there to back their team and they did so in that committed and full throttle way the Celtic hard core always have and always will.

The Jungle changed when Celtic, in their wisdom, put a huge gated fence between it and the Celtic end. That free movement of fans which was such a feature of football stadiums back then was gone. They would often lock the gate when there was clearly more space to be had in the Jungle. The awful events at Hillsborough in 1989 signalled the beginning of the end for the legendary terraces of British football. No more would the more fanatical fans gather on terraces such as the Kop, the Stretford end the Holt End or the famous Jungle of Celtic Park. Seats arrived and as Celtic’s directors dreamed of a pie in the sky super stadium at Cambuslang, they seated the Jungle. It was appalling as in the place of 10,000 singing, bouncing, roaring Celtic fans, we had 5000 green bucket seats.

The McCann revolution saw the construction of the new stadium and as was the case at stadia all over the UK, the atmosphere at Celtic Park changed and not for the better. Davie Provan, former favourite of the Jungle once said during Martin O’Neil’s tenure, ‘In my day you had half the crowd and twice the atmosphere.’ Slowly however the heirs of the Jungle spirit gathered to try and bring back that old thunder. Groups such as the Jungle Bhoys and the Green Brigade have provided the spark which often reignites that passion and on those big occasions when Celtic Park is rocking there really isn’t a better atmosphere around as many great players have said.

Today I’ll go to Celtic Park and sit in the North Stand which replaced the old Jungle. In truth the stand is far grander that anything any of us could have imagined as we stood on the urine soaked terraces of the old stadium. It is cleaner, safer and able to attract a wider variety of people than the old Jungle did. We see more females, more children and more senior Celtic fans attending games. Most of us accept the stadium is far superior to the old one but we did lose something as the bulldozers levelled the place in the 1990s. The ‘thunder’ as Neil Lennon called it is being rediscovered, albeit sporadically and Celtic Park has a decent atmosphere at most games. It also has an incredible atmosphere at the bigger matches. For younger fans, the Jungle may be a part of Celtic history and folklore but for those of us who stood in it backing the Celts through thick and thin, it is still missed. Yes it could be wild, dangerous and rebel to the core but it was part of the very fabric of Celtic. It was here that the common man, the working class Celt who had little apart from his team to cheer him lived out his dreams and for 90 minutes on a Saturday could be transported away from the hard lives so many of them lived.

I’m glad we have a stadium fit for the 21st century but I’m also proud to say I was a Jungle Bhoy too.

Now join in will you? … Hai-lllll Hai-llll The Celts are here…’

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