Monday, 28 September 2015

Beyond the pale

As I sat in the north stand at Celtic Park watching the entertaining 0-0 draw between Celtic and Hearts at the weekend, I noticed a few younger fans around me getting annoyed at the couple of union flags being flaunted by the away support. Phrases like ‘diet Huns’ were used to describe the fans from Edinburgh but in reality those Hearts supporters probably hold Rangers in as much contempt as they do Celtic. Such wind ups are part of football all over the world but on Saturday some of the Hearts fans went beyond the pale with their chants about paedophilia. Such chanting says more about the people engaging in it than the intended targets of their poisonous vitriol. Hearts have some form in this area with one of their less intelligent followers showing up at a home game with Celtic dressed as Jimmy Savile and wearing a facsimile Celtic shirt. This is also the ground where Neil Lennon was assaulted. One would hope Hearts, who made such a fuss about Celtic fans leaving republican graffiti in the Tynecastle toilets during a recent cup tie, would speak out about the vile chants. Indeed Anthony Stokes said at the time of the graffiti fuss…

“Maybe Ann Budge should worry about her own fans, I’ve never had so many sectarian comments directed at me in a ground.”

By its very nature, football is tribal, combative and full of fierce rivalries.  Here in Scotland the historic rivalry which developed around Celtic and Rangers became wrapped in the multi-layered identities of the communities which supported the two clubs. The traditional narrative is that their initial games were friendly enough in the early years. Indeed Willie Maley in his history of Celtic (1888-1938) traces the souring of relations between the two groups of supporters to the period around 1912. This marks a watershed period in Irish history as well as the history of Rangers FC.

In 1912 Edward Carson, a Dublin Lawyer, was the first to sign the Ulster Covenant which stated that the signatories would resist Home rule for Ireland ‘by all means necessary.’ The building up of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteers in that period saw Ireland on the brink of major conflict. While this was occurring in Ireland, Rangers FC had a new Chairman by the name of John Ure Primrose. His predecessor, James Henderson was a respected figure in Glasgow, even among those of a Celtic persuasion. Ure Primrose on the other hand was a man of strong Unionist and anti-Catholic sympathies and he was determined to lead Rangers on a very different course. He pledged Rangers to the ‘Masonic cause’ and solidified the sectarian nature of the club. His stewardship was to have consequences for Rangers which would last for decades. He was of course a product of his times and if Rangers FC excluded Roman Catholics from their team and wider business in those days, they were hardly alone in such a policy.

The real damage men like Ure Primrose did though was give tacit approval of the ugly and petty prejudice which blighted many lives over the past century or so. When so called ‘educated men’ in positions of authority exhibit what can be construed as bigoted tendencies it can encourage the street level bigots to think their opinions and actions are acceptable.  However, as society has moved on and various groups have become more integrated it is fair to say that the Scotland of 1912 is gone forever. There are still echoes of those days to be heard but society has changed immensely. Consider how Ure Primrose, one time Lord Provost of Glasgow, met with no real opposition when he aired his anti- Catholic views. When one contrasts this to the reaction former Rangers Vice-Chairman Donald Findlay received in the media after his foolish sectarian karaoke at a Rangers function in May 1999 it is plain to see things have changed.

That being said, you don’t have to look far to find some who still harbour fairly jaundiced views about some of their fellow citizens and traditionally football offered a focal point for the airing of these opinions. This minority exists in every society and it remains the duty of the decent majority to keep them in check. The tribal nature of football means that fans are always looking for the next song to insult and provoke their rivals. Some of these insults can be based on stereotypes such as this effort aimed at Liverpool fans from their rivals at Manchester United…

You are a scouser,
A thieving scouser,
You’re only happy, on giro day.
When your dad’s out stealing,
Your mum’s drug-dealing,
But please don’t take my hubcaps away.

Songs like this are part of footballing rivalries all over the world. Where such rivalries are fiercest, the songs become more pointed. That Manchester United – Liverpool rivalry does stray beyond the bounds of what is acceptable when songs about the Munich air crash or Hillsborough disaster are sung but these are rarer now than they once were.

Here in Scotland there is an element which England long ago dispensed with. That element is of course the consequence of mass Irish migration to the central belt during the industrial revolution and in the post ‘famine’ years. Given that Merseyside had an even higher proportion of Irish migrants than Glasgow it is unsurprising that the Liverpool – Everton rivalry was tinged with sectarianism in its early days. That element faded as the years passed and it virtually gone now. In the more confined space of Calvinistic Scotland, the Irish were not universally welcomed nor were the football clubs they founded in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. Celtic’s spectacular early successes led some to look for a cub which would put the uppity ‘Irishmen’ in their place. That club became Rangers and men like Ure Primrose ensured the more strident types coalesced around it.

The nature of the dominance of the two big Glasgow clubs, exemplified in the fact that they have won the league between them on 99 occasions in 118 seasons, meant that they were often the only show in town. Thus Scottish football became essentially a century long battle between two mega clubs who had the power, support and money to eclipse the rest. This added to the unhealthy intensity of the rivalry. That being said, it was one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures on the calendar and some fans loved these games for that very intensity which seemed to be lacking in other fixtures.

There was a period of just over 1000 days between Celtic’s 3-0 victory over Rangers in 2012 and their 2-0 win in last season’s League cup semi-final.  For some this was a welcome break but others missed the rivalry and found domestic football duller without it. With the Ibrox club, however you perceive them, looking likely to secure promotion this season, the fixture will almost certainly return in 2016. It is to be hoped that the traditional thunder accompanying the games is undiminished but that the more obnoxious elements are left behind.

Sadly the evidence suggests that a minority aren’t ready to move with the times and we will no doubt hear the old songs being aired again. But times are changing and the majority no longer see the rather empty and ritualistic abuse of their rivals in sectarian terms as anything other than an anachronistic leftover from the bygone days of yore. The Scotland Ure Primrose knew in 1912 has changed politically, religiously and socially beyond anything he could comprehend. Those stuck in the mind-set of the past have nothing to contribute to the future and I remain hopeful that in the end the decent majority will prevail.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

The cup of shame

The cup of shame

The mood among the press pack at Montevideo airport was one of tense disbelief. They had travelled thousands of miles from the UK to watch Celtic take on Racing Club of Argentina in the unofficial World Club Championship and their worst fears about the outcome of the tie had come to pass. Three brutal games had culminated in the explosion of violence they had witnessed in the Uruguayan capital that humid day. The match in Glasgow was a mere foretaste of what Celtic would face in Argentina. The spitting, tripping and targeting of key players like Jimmy Johnstone had left Celtic feeling uneasy about the trip to South America but for Manager Jock Stein, the chance to lay claim to the title of ‘World Champions’ was too alluring to resist.

As the pressmen chatted, one of the London based commentators, the brash Peter Lorenzo was scornful of Celtic and was loudly telling anyone who would listen that Celtic were lucky to win the European cup in the first place and had disgraced Britain with their violent reaction to Racing Club’s rough house tactics. Some of the Scottish reporters, well used to this sort of arrogance and condescension from people with an in built superiority complex and very little knowledge of Scottish football, tried to argue the case for Celtic. Hadn’t Lorenzo noticed the intimidation and provocation Celtic had endured on and off the field throughout the tie? Hadn’t he noticed the spitting which was so bad it actually led to some Celtic players washing their phlegm covered hair at half time? Hadn’t he noticed Ronnie Simpson knocked senseless by a metal bolt thrown from the crowd before a ball was kicked in the game in Buenos Aires? Lorenzo was having none of it and continued his loud tirade against Celtic much to the annoyance of some of the Scottish press men forced to listen to it. One of the Scots listening to the big Englishman was Jimmy Sanderson, a man noted for his no-nonsense and straight talking approach when he appeared on Radio Clyde’s phone in show during the 1970s and 80s. Sanderson was a tough little Scot who didn’t suffer fools gladly and Lorenzo had clearly gotten under his skin with his disparaging remarks about Celtic. Sanderson stood and approached the big Englishman with a determined look on his face. He then proceeded to shock the watching press corps by delivering a wicked right hook to Lorenzo’s jaw which floored the larger man and ended the abuse of Celtic there and then.

I once spoke to Bobby Murdoch about the games against Racing Club and he told me that by the time the play off in Montevideo came along, the players had had enough of their spitting, snarling, bullying tactics. As we sat on a train to Nitshill of all places where this footballing genius worked in a pub, he told me that a few of the players had decided to give as good as they got in the third match. ‘The spitting sickened us more than the kicking,’ he said, ‘They knew it was despised in our culture and did it at every opportunity. A few of us thought, right, if they want a fight they’ll get one.’ Johnstone was singled out for vicious abuse in every game but the assaults on the little winger in the play-off match plumbed new depths. French Reporter, Francis Thébaud, writing for the Mirroir de Football, watched in disbelief at the farce developing before his eyes…

“Johnstone, in the middle of the pitch slid the ball to Wallace and got free to receive the return. Martín without bothering about the ball, threw himself at Johnstone’s waist. Both fell and Johnstone struggled and Martín rolled on the ground as if he had been the victim of a blow. Without hesitating, Peréz the incompetent referee... sent Johnstone off! Thus he who had been the constant target of all the aggression since the beginning of the match... became the victim of a man whose aim should have been to protect the footballer against the fakers and the foulers. For my part, I have never seen such a staggering decision.”

Such blatantly biased refereeing and Racing Club’s continuing, incessant provocation led to some in the Celtic side seeking understandable revenge. Tommy Gemmell was captured on camera exacting retribution on one of the worst offenders. He said years later…

‘They were all standing about watching someone getting treatment with about 15 minutes to go. I saw this thug standing there with a great big grin on his face and decided that he wasn’t going to get away with it. I did a tiptoe through the tulips and hit him with one almighty kick to the bollocks. I can still hear him screaming to this day.’

Stein was furious and Chairman Bob Kelly, who valued Celtic’s sporting reputation more than anything, was crestfallen. His Celtic had lowered themselves to the level of the thugs from Buenos Aires and that hurt him deeply.  Celtic ended the third game with seven players after a farce of a match and the wild men of Racing Club got the trophy they wanted so badly that no tactic was too low, no action too despicable. It was a bitter lesson on the depths some will descend to in order to win.

Kelly fined the whole squad £250, a lot of money in 1967, for rising to the bait in Montevideo. He would much rather Celtic lost than bring dishonour onto the club by behaving so poorly. Some fans understood that there’s only so much a team can take before they snap and hit back. As the BBC played images of Gemmell and Hughes misbehaving over and over it seemed as if none of the London based media were taking into account the provocation which preceded the brawl in Uruguay. It was a difficult time for Celtic who prized their good reputation so highly.

Over the next few years Celtic continued to impress in European football and defeated many fine sides. Their reputation as a good, sporting team was rebuilt and the memory of events in South America faded. It was fully 7 years later when those memories rose to the surface again as Atletico Madrid, with a few Argentinians in the side, arrived at Celtic Park for a European Cup Semi-final and proceeded to kick Celtic off the park. Celtic had learned the lessons of Montevideo and didn’t react. They had a strong referee who booked eight and sent off three Atletico players. UEFA though lacked the moral fibre to throw the thugs out of the competition and delivered a paltry fine to the cheats who prospered and reached the final. They led Bayern Munich 1-0 until a 90th minute equaliser secured a replay for the Germans which they won 4-0. Most Celtic fans were delighted to see the Spaniards lose.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The ghosts of Janefield Street

The ghosts of Janefield Street

Scott ran as fast as his legs would carry him. Those chasing him were serious people and they meant him harm. He raced up Springfield Road and turning left sped past the St Michael’s Church and then the Black Bull Pub. Two elderly men, smoking outside the bar watched him with jaundiced eyes as he splashed through the puddles and flew past them. They’d seen enough of the grim gutter theatricals of the east end to know that only fear put such speed into a young man’s legs. They stepped back from the pavement into the entrance of the pub instinctively, knowing the pursuers would soon be along. Within a few seconds they were and the old timers saw that one of the three men hunting the young lad was a well know local chib man. The two grey haired men backed into the warmth of the pub not wishing to see the outcome of the chase. Sometimes it was wise to look the other way in Glasgow’s east end.

Scott Corrigan swung left into Janefield cemetery and threw himself onto the damp grass behind a large, granite Celtic cross, hoping they hadn’t seen him. He breathed heavily and carefully glanced beyond the stone towards the entrance of the cemetery. He was beginning to regret taking his chances here as it was quiet and secluded. If big Donny and his thugs caught him here they could take their time with him. He watched the gate and said his first real prayer in years. ‘Please, God, make them walk past.’ Three burly figures appeared at the entrance of the cemetery and stopped as if deciding what to do next. They glanced into the cemetery where Scott lay hidden a mere 50 yards away, his face pressed into the cold, damp Scottish soil. There was an eerie silence save for the chirping of birds who went about their business unconcerned with the fate and foolishness of men. Scot waited for a long moment before glancing surreptitiously again at the graveyard entrance. The three men had gone. He exhaled and lay on the grass watching brooding, dark clouds flit across the iron Glasgow sky.

After waiting for another few minutes he decided to make an exit from the graveyard over the back wall at the football stadium. The huge bulk of the north stand of Celtic Park loomed over the cemetery like some huge alien spacecraft which had somehow landed in the east end. Scott picked his way through the gravestones towards the back wall, occasionally looking over his shoulder to make sure Donny and his thugs hadn’t returned. To his consternation he found that the council had repaired the wall and it was much higher than he remembered it, when he and his friends would scale it after Celtic games and take a short cut home. Undaunted he took a short run and leapt up, seizing hold of the top of the wall. As he pushed himself up with his feet, he suddenly felt his hand slip on the smooth, wet capstone on the top of the wall and fell backwards. The last thing he noticed as he fell was the glowering Scottish sky, before his head struck something hard and stars danced before his eyes. He felt little as the swirling blackness took him.

Are ye alright young fella?’ a voice said in a soft Irish accent. Scott opened his eyes and saw that it was almost dark. He looked around him, confused and a little dazed. A short man dressed in a rather grubby, old fashioned suit stood observing him. He wore a cap and had a pale, thin face, framed by some impressive, greying side whiskers. ‘Did ye have a fall?’ Scott sat up a little, rubbing his head, ‘Aye, I fell off the wall.’ The man nodded, ‘Best ye sit a while till yer senses return.’ Scott did as he was bid and leaned against the very gravestone he had hit his head on. He glanced at it and saw the name, ‘George McIntyre. Died 1894’’ Below the name was a line of poetry which read…

They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat…’

The old man saw him read the inscription in the fading light. ‘It’s from Paradise Lost by John Milton. You know of his work?’ Scott shook his head, ‘Sorry, I left school early that day.’ The man looked around as if he heard something stir in the gloomy, darkening graveyard. ‘The others are stirring. Tis perhaps best you leave us now,’ Scott pulled himself unsteadily to his feet. ‘The others? Do folk meet up in the graveyard at night?  The man smiled a little, ‘Yes, you might say that.’ Behind the man Scott saw several figures approaching. A woman with a thin, sad face wearing a long, tattered dress stopped by the man and spoke softly to him, ‘You have a visitor I see, George?’ The man nodded, ‘Seems this fellow fell and knocked his head.’ She looked at Scott as if she could see right through him, her dark eyes boring into his very soul. A creaking sound caught Scott’s attention and he glanced to the right of the two figures to see a stout man pushing an ancient looking wooden wheelbarrow. ‘Ah, Finn, you still moving the earth?’ said the grey haired man. ‘Tis all I can do till the holes be filled,’ the man replied. ‘The good brother needs the quarry levelled if his team are to use it for their sport. Two of my horses fell in that damn pit, two of them, and nothing to be done but bury them.’ The grey haired man smiled as the wheelbarrow creaked off into the darkness.  Scott was beginning to wonder what the hell was going on. Perhaps he had hurt his head and was hallucinating? ‘I better go,’ he mumbled and headed past the figures towards the London Road entrance to the cemetery. ‘Aye,’ the grey haired man said, nodding, ‘tis best you do.’ Scott walked unsteadily away from the characters he had been conversing with and headed for the London Road exit of the cemetery. When he reached the exit and saw the first cars roll past on the London Road he stopped and looked back into the cemetery. It was calm, quiet and apart from some swirling October mist, quite still.

The next day dawned dull and misty. Scott awoke with a headache which cut into his skull. As he sat up in bed his pillow rose with him. Congealed blood from his cut head had dried and stuck the pillowcase to his matted hair. ‘Jesus,’ he mumbled, easing it off his head. He cast his mind back to the strange goings on in the cemetery. Fear of big Donny and his gang coupled with the bang on the head he got must have addled his brain, he thought. You can imagine all sorts of things when you’ve had a head knock.  He headed for the shower stopping only to down two paracetamol and a long, cool glass of water. He had football to go to tonight and he needed to plan carefully how to avoid the thugs on his case. All of his current woes were down to a noted liar telling the local tough nuts that Scott had shopped one of their number to the Police who had in turn knocked down his door one quiet dawn and caught him with enough drugs to stock a small chemist shop. It was nonsense of course but as someone once said, a lie is half way around the world before the truth has got out of bed.

Scott kept a low profile that day as he waited for the evening match at Celtic Park. Celtic were taking on Juventus and there was a score to settle after the ludicrous award of a last minute penalty in Turin had robbed them of a creditable draw. Amoroso’s dive still rankled and the huge Celtic support were heading for Celtic Park with revenge on their minds. He met his friends on Springfield Road and was glad to be lost among the crowd, just another face among thousands. As he sat in the Lisbon Lions stand looking around him at the packed stadium he thought of how Celtic had played here since Victorian times. Often giving the poorer east enders’ some joy in their hard lives. This emerald rectangle which glowed under the lights truly was their theatre of dreams and on that misty Halloween evening in 2001 was at its mesmeric best.

The brilliant Del Piero scored with a beautifully arced free kick to open the scoring but Sutton and Valgaeran had Celtic ahead as the titanic tie swung this way and that.  Moravcic was weaving his magic too, spraying passes all over the field and on one occasion slipping the ball through the legs of the talented Nedved who had the grace to smile at his audacity. How the Celtic fans roared and sang as their team fought like lions. Trezeguet made it 2-2 early in the second half before a Larsson penalty and an incredible volley from Sutton had Celtic 4-2 ahead. Trezeguet cut the deficit on 77 minutes but Celtic held out for a marvellous victory against a top side. The Celtic fans departed the ground, elated and exhausted in equal measure, Scott was no different. He said goodbye to his friends at Parkhead Cross and headed for home replaying the incredible events of the evening’s game in his head.

He reached his street and had a feeling something wasn’t right. He was about to enter his close when he noticed someone in the shadows and heard a voice say, ‘That’s the bastard now, get him!’ Scott turned and without hesitation sprinted for all he was worth. He could hear them close behind him and didn’t dare even to look back. Once again his route took him past Parkhead Cross and along the Gallowgate. A few stragglers from the game watched the chase but no one intervened. He saw the opening of Janefield cemetery ahead and thought he could fool them as he did the day before by slipping inside. His luck was out as they saw him and stood smirking in the entrance way. ‘Got ye noo ya prick’ one of Scott’s pursuers called into the dark, misty graveyard. Scott headed for the furthest spot down by the back wall but they fanned out like lions stalking their prey. He was in serious trouble now and he knew it.

Scott stopped at the back wall, his heart pounding in his chest. He could see that he was trapped and scanned the ground for a rock or stick but saw nothing in the semi darkness. The dim lights of Celtic Park and the mist which was thickening combined to cast an eerie greenish glow over the cemetery. Then he saw them closing in on him and in his mind decided that whatever happened he’d go down fighting. Big Donny was first to speak, his red, bloated face contorted into a cruel smile. ‘You’re dead Corrigan ya grassing bastard.’ Scott replied in a voice which sounded braver than he felt, ‘I never grassed anybody, maybe you should stop listening tae liars. The three young men closed on him and one of them slipped his hand inside his jacket and produced a cruel looking knife. Scott’s felt a cold shaft of fear glide through him. As they closed to within a couple of yards of him a voice cut across their thoughts, ‘I wouldn’t be doing that, young fella!’ They froze and turned to look around them. From the mist, shadowy figures appeared and at the forefront of them was the man Scott had spoken with. So it wasn’t a hallucination! The squeak of a wheelbarrow could be heard somewhere in the gloom and the three thugs seemed unsure of what to do. The one holding the knife tried to hide his confusion by blurting out, ‘You’d best fuck off and mind your own business.’ But the voice remained calm and replied, ‘You’re in our territory young fella, I think it best you leave or there will be consequences.’ The ghostly figures seemed to surround the four young men and Scott could see real fear in his erstwhile pursuers’ eyes.  The temperature seemed to drop even lower and Scott could see his warm breath on the night air. Big Donny stepped towards the figure Scott knew as George and reacted as unintelligent people often do by throwing a punch. Scott watched the scene unfold in the strange half-light of Janefield cemetery. Donny’s punch seemed to pass through George without any discernible effect on him. The effect on Donny was electric though. He fell to the ground screaming in pain and holding onto his right arm. His two friends rushed to him and where astonished at what they saw. Donny may have been concerned with the pain in his arm but even in the eerie light of the cemetery it was clear that his hair had turned purest white. The young man with the knife dropped it and looked around with terror in his eyes. He hauled Donny to his feet and they staggered away from Scott and towards the exit of the cemetery.

Scott watched all of this unfold, his back pressed against the cold rear wall of the graveyard. The man he knew as George looked at him, ‘I don’t think they’ll be bothering you again son.’ Scott looked at him and replied somewhat incredulously, ‘Thanks George, I…’ Scott’s voice trailed off to silence, he simply had no words which fitted the situation. George smiled knowingly and surprised Scott by changing the subject totally, ‘That was a din from the stadium tonight. Many of us helped build the old place and it’s fitting we rest so close to it.’ Scott was utterly bewildered, ‘You worked on the new stadium?’ George shook his head slowly, ‘No, young fella, we worked on the old place, filling the quarry and a thousand holes in the ground. A labour of love you might say.’ As the realisation of what the man was saying hit Scott, George smiled his easy smile again, ‘Tis best you go young fella, this place isn’t for you.’ Scott’s legs moved almost of their own volition and he stopped only briefly to turn and say, ‘Thank you, George. Thank you all.’ George said nothing but he smiled and nodded. Scott hurried out of the cemetery and back along the quiet streets of the east end.


Sunday, 13 September 2015


Despite being paraded before the Celtic supporters on February 24th 1996, it was to be 5 weeks later on April fool’s day when we finally got to see our much vaunted new striker in the Hoops. The Monday night match against Aberdeen was already in the bag when a cheer rose around the stadium as he lined up ready to come on as a late substitute. ‘Let the lad settle in,’ a chap beside me said, ‘I wouldn’t expect too much too soon as he’s got to get used to our style of play and this bloody weather.’  Two minutes later Peter Grant slipped a pass through the Aberdeen defence and the new bhoy sensationally outpaced his marker before clipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper and into the net. The roar which greeted that goal was so loud it blew out the Radio 5 Live microphones and the station was briefly off the air. We had waited 5 long weeks to see our new player in action and now that we had we were delighted that he seemed to be the real deal. Draws were hampering Celtic’s pursuit of Rangers in the SPL title race and we needed a striker who could turn our dominance into wins. Jorge Cadete looked like the very man to do that.

The following week it hit home that his registration problems had meant he was ineligible for the Scottish Cup Semi-final match with Rangers and dark mutterings were heard among the support about why it took the SFA 5 weeks to register a player when a few days was usually enough time. All of this going on as the season was entering its climatic phase. Cadete missed 4 league matches, 2 of which Celtic drew, during the period his registration was held up and some wondered if those dropped points would prove fatal to their efforts to halt Rangers make it 8 in a row. Celtic lost the cup semi-final 2-1 in a frantic match in which they fought back from the loss of 2 goals to take the tie to the wire. However, the chances they created were squandered and they were out of the cup. Cadete looked from his seat in the stand, no doubt wondering what might have been had he had a chance to run at the Rangers defence.

Fergus McCann was furious about the hold up in Cadete’s registration and demanded answers from the SFA.  The SFA closed ranks and defended the man responsible, their rather autocratic chief executive Jim Farry, but McCann was nothing if not dogged in his pursuit of justice. An internal SFA investigation cleared Farry of any wrong doing and it was to take 3 long years for McCann to force the ruling body to admit there had been serious breaches of the rules which disadvantaged Celtic at a vital time of the season. The case hinged on the wording of an International Transfer Certificate for Cadete, who joined Celtic from Sporting Lisbon. Celtic forwarded the ITC to the SFA on March 7, 1996 with all other relevant paperwork having arrived two weeks earlier. Celtic believed Cadete was a free agent. He wasn't, but that should not have stopped Farry registering him. Celtic could not convince Farry of this because of a conditionality clause within the ITC. Under law, this was an irrelevance. Indeed a fax from FIFA explained the situation clearly to Farry and suggested he get on with registering the player. It was not until Celtic lodged a third application to register Cadete at the end of March that Farry was eventually persuaded of that fact. Under the SFA's 14-day clearance rule, that was too late for the striker to play in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers. He could have registered Cadete retrospectively in the interest of fairness but chose not to and Cadete was out of the cup tie.

When fobbed off with unsatisfactory explanations from the SFA, McCann decided to bring in his legal team and bring chief executive, Jim Farry, to account for his actions. McCann said at the time….

"It is deplorable that a prominent member club should be disadvantaged in this way when on several occasions the SFA's chief executive had the opportunity to make the correct decision. Mr Farry's failure to properly and timeously register Jorge Cadete leaves the club in no other position than to ask for the office bearers of the SFA to recognise that Mr Farry's position is untenable. This case demonstrates clearly that Mr Farry cannot be allowed to hold and exercise such powerful authority."

At a meeting held in Glasgow’s RAC Club, Farry entered the room in his usual bombastic and rather pompous manner. He left an hour later having been ripped apart by McCann’s legal team, his career at the SFA over. He was warned by the chairman about consistantly evading questions and giving contradictory evidence. He was unable to explain why, once the Cadete registration had gone through, he didn’t apply the registration retrospectively to allow the player to play in the Scottish cup tie. McCann was entirely vindicated as the SFA were forced to send a written apology to Celtic as well as pay compensation. It was a victory for natural justice and an utter humiliation for the SFA whose own Chief executive had been shown to be guilty of ‘gross misconduct.’ There was no way back for Jim Farry and he was sacked. Astonishingly a man fired for gross misconduct went with a parting pay off of £200,000.

Celtic fans respected McCann for his terrier like pursuit of justice and began to ponder on Farry’s motives. To hold up a players registration at such a vital stage of the season gave rise to the opinion among some that he was simply anti-Celtic. Fergus McCann and the club were careful always to couch their opinions in diplomatic language and never suggested Farry was out to harm the club’s prospects. What they thought and said in private remains unknown but for a sizable number of Celtic supporters the actions of Jim Farry spoke for themselves.

Cadete proved to be a good striker for Celtic scoring 5 goals in 6 games as season 1995-96 petered out disappointingly with Rangers winning the SPL for the eighth successive season. He scored 38 goals in 47 appearances for Celtic as season 1996-97 saw Tommy Burns’ marvellously entertaining team lose out on the title again. One incident at Ibrox demonstrated the difference between success and failure for Burns’ team that year. With Celtic 2-1 behind and outplaying Rangers deep into the second half as they sought an equaliser, Cadete controlled the ball with his chest in the box, swiveled and fired the ball high into the net. The referee blew his whistle and disallowed the goal much to the consternation of the Celtic fans behind the goal. Cadete was clearly onside and the Referee, no stranger to controversy where Celtic were concerned (Jim McCluskey) stated later…

I had raised my hand when I blew for the infringement to indicate an indirect free kick – in other words for offside rather than hand ball. Seeing the footage later it became clear that we had got it wrong.”

Losing the title that year was to cost Burns his job and Cadete was soon to follow him out the door as his increasingly disruptive behaviour tried the patience of Fergus McCann. Rangers entered season 1997-98 looking to shatter Jock Stein’s record by making it 10 in a row. Celtic fans looked desperately around for a striker to replace Cadete and help the team hold onto a piece of Celtic history.

Their prayers were answered in the form of a sallow skinned Swede sporting his trade mark dreadlock hair style.



Tuesday, 8 September 2015

My Last Love

My Last Love
Bob Kelly had watched the injury list grow at Celtic Park and thought it wise to add a steady defender to the pool as cover. He asked the experienced old reserve coach, Jimmy Gribben, who he thought they should go for. The grey haired trainer thought for a moment, ‘There’s a steady chap I know playing down in Wales, I’ll give him a call and see if he’d be interested in joining us.’ The Chairman looked at him, ‘What’s his name?’ Gribben replied, ‘Stein… Jock Stein. You might recall he was with Albion Rovers?’ Bob Kelly nodded, ‘The name rings a bell. Give him a call and we’ll see what transpires.’  

380 miles away in South Wales, 29 year old Jock Stein was not a happy man. The football was good and God knows Llanelli were good to him. His defensive partnership with the tough Welsh internationalist, Jack Roberts, made Llanelli a tough club to beat and he earned more in Wales than many players did in the First Division of his native Scotland. However his wife, Jean, was a home bird and Jock was on his own in digs in Mansell Street. He had a wife and child and needed to earn to support them but they were often far away in Scotland.  His mood wasn’t helped when a phone call told him his house in Scotland had been burgled again. He knew Jean was finding it tough without him. There seemed no easy way out of his predicament when the Llanelli Chairman told him that a Scottish Club had called and were interested in signing him. When he asked which club, he was surprised when the Chairman replied, ‘Celtic.’ The Chairman of Llanelli may not have known the off field consequences a man like Stein would have to face if he joined the so called ‘Catholic’ club of Scotland. The tiresome bigotry which hung around the west of Scotland like a bad smell would no doubt impact on his life if he signed. However, the fact that Celtic wanted him and that much respected Jimmy Gribben had recommended him sealed the deal and Jock Stein was on his way home.

£1200 changed hands in that cold December of 1951 and Jock Stein was a Celtic player. The £12 a week he was paid was similar to his wage in Wales but at least he could be home with his family. He was however soon to feel the force of the petty bigotry which existed then. Friends he knew from his early days in Burnbank shunned him and one good friend in particular never spoke to him again. He would say later…

"I lost some friends when I made the move, but if that's what matters to them, then they're not really friends at all."

Injuries to defenders saw Stein break into the first team and lead Celtic to fleeting success in the mid-fifties as the sleeping giant won the Coronation cup in 1953 and the league and cup double the following season. Injuries put an end to his career as a player a couple of years later and under the influence of Jimmy Gribben he became reserve team coach. He put his considerable mind to the science of soccer. He had studied the great Hungarian team of the 1950s and even travelled to Wembley to watch them beat England 6-3. The English press were stunned at the first foreign team to win in England and boasted that this fluke result would be corrected in the return tie in Hungary. England were hammered 7-1 in Budapest by the magical Magyars. Something was changing in football and Stein knew it. The passing game the Scots gave to the world was being transformed by skilful, fast players who were committed to attacking play. Stein tutored the Celtic reserve side with great success. As the first team floundered in mid table the track suited Stein was on the training pitch getting his ideas across to youngsters like McNeil and Murdoch and led the reserves to an astonishing Cup final win over the powerful Rangers team of the era. The two legged final was won 8-2 by Celtic and most commentators stated that Rangers were lucky it wasn’t double figures.

As the 1960s dawned Stein was attracting interest from several Scottish clubs who saw the potential of this fine young manager. Some have suggested that he saw little prospect of becoming Celtic’s manager with McGrory already in post and the club’s previous 3 managers all being Catholics. Given that Celtic had played mixed teams from their earliest times it is difficult to lay a convincing charge of prejudice at their door. Whatever the truth or otherwise of such assertions, his success with Dunfermline and Hibs soon convinced Bob Kelly that here was the man to rejuvenate Celtic. After some haggling over whether he would be Sean Fallon’s assistant or joint manager, Stein made it clear that neither post would be suitable. He would return as first team Manager providing he had complete control over the playing side of the club. Nothing else would be acceptable. The autocratic Bob Kelly was wise enough to know what was best for Celtic. Jock Stein drove up Kerrydale Street in March 1965 to take charge of Celtic. There was much to do to turn the undoubtedly talented individuals in the squad into a team with a winning mentality.

After a patchy start while he sorted out the first team and reorganised training, Celtic faced his old club Dunfermline in the 1965 cup final. Celtic's legions of fans packed out Hampden Park desperate for a first trophy in 8 long, bitter years. The team were twice behind but 2 goals from Auld and McNeil’s imperious header sealed a memorable triumph.

After the game, Celtic’s jubilant party headed for the Central Hotel in Glasgow for their victory celebration. As thousands of fans sang outside the hotel, Stein called on his old friend and advisor Jimmy Gribben to carry the cup into the hall. Stein often said that nobody knew more about football than Jimmy Gribben and there is no doubt he learned much from the older man. It was almost 14 years since Gribben had recommended Stein to Celtic and the old timer who had given Stein much good advice over the years was suitably delighted that his young protégé gave him such an honoured place.

Stein would ask Gribben to carry another cup for him a couple of years later. That trophy was considerably bigger than the Scottish cup and brought even more delight to the long suffering Celtic fans who had stuck by their team through the tough times. Old Jimmy must have smiled as he thought of the £1200 Celtic had paid for Stein back in 1951. It must surely be the best £1200 the club has ever spent as it began a relationship with one of the true greats of Celtic history. They could never have guessed that the stop gap Centre half would develop into a club legend who put Celtic on the map of world football.

As for Jock, his affinity with Celtic grew and he fought for the club on many fronts. As he is often quoted as saying…

‘Unlike many other Celts, I cannot say that Celtic was my first love, but I can say that it will be my last love.’

As we remember the magnificent achievements of Jock Stein on the 30th anniversary of his passing we are thankful for all he did for Celtic. To take an under achieving Scottish side and make them Champions of Europe is simply incredible. To play football in that expansive, attractive, quintessentially Celtic way simply added to his Legend. He once said to Archie McPherson "We all end up yesterday's men in this business. You're very quickly forgotten." For once I must disagree and say that as long there is a Celtic the memory of Jock Stein will burn bright.

Rest in peace Boss and a million thanks for all you did for Celtic. We’ll never forget you.

Jock Stein  (5 October 1922- 10 September 1985)

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A stranger in a strange land

A stranger in a strange land

‘Mon in’ smiled Raz at Paddy Devlin, ‘we don’t bite ye know.’ Paddy smiled feeling a lot less brave than he looked. It was the first time he’d ever been in a Muslim home in his life.  He and Raz had met at High school and had become good friends via their mutual love of playing football. Despite being from an Asian background, Raz was pure Glasgow in his speech and mannerisms. Paddy liked his self-deprecating humour and the fact he was just a decent guy. He also admired the way he destroyed any idiots who spouted racist nonsense, not with his fists but with his razor sharp wit.  He hadn’t been in his house in the many months they had hung about together partly because Raz lived a couple of miles away in Govanhill and partly because the opportunity never arose.  The first thing he noticed as he crossed the threshold was the smell of cooking and unfamiliar spices hanging in the air. ‘Come and meet my Mum,’ said Raz walking up the long hall. He turned into the living room which was surprisingly like Paddy’s own with its TV and 3 piece suite. A slender woman dressed in brightly coloured south Asian clothes smiled at them, ‘Ah Raza you’ve brought a friend. Come, sit and I’ll bring you some food.’ Raz nodded towards a small wooden table which had four chairs around it and Paddy sat. A loose pack of cards was on the table and Paddy noticed that the back of each card was embossed with an image of a black marble building. Raz noticed him looking at the cards and as he tidied them said, ‘That’s the Kaabah, in Mecca, the most holy place in Islam. I’m going on hajj one day and I’ll see it for myself.’ Paddy thought for a second, ‘So it’s a bit like St Peter’s or Lourdes is for our lot?’  Raz shrugged before nodding, ‘Aye, I suppose it is in some ways but in other ways it’s really unique.’  

Raz’s mother appeared with a large plate of samosas and two glasses of what looked like cola. ‘I’m Raza’s mother’ she smiled, her kind brown eyes putting Paddy at ease, ‘nice to meet you.’ Paddy replied, ‘Nice to meet you too Mrs Hanif. I love your clothes by the way.’ He instantly regretted saying such a thing unsure if it would cause offence but he relaxed a little when she smiled at him, ‘Thank you, I usually wear western clothes but traditional clothes are so comfortable.’ She left the boys with their snack before turning and saying to Raz, ‘Don’t forget to go say hello to your grandfather before you go out again, Raza.’ Raz nodded, ‘I will mum.’   Paddy paused as he reached for a samosa when he noticed Raz had his eyes closed. "Bismilallah," he said quietly before opening his eyes and reaching for the food. ‘You pray before eating, Raz?’ Paddy asked. Raz nodded, ‘don’t you?’ Paddy shrugged, ‘sometimes, well, always in school. They make us do it there though.’

The two teenagers ate their fill before Raz led Paddy from the living room along the hall to his grandfather’s room. He knocked the door respectfully and spoke in a language Paddy couldn’t understand but knew originated somewhere in Pakistan or India. A quiet voice from within the room responded and Raz entered and approached the ancient looking man sitting in a big chair by the window, “Daada! As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu” Paddy glanced around the room a little self-consciously as Raz embraced his grandfather. He wasn’t in the habit of hugging his grumpy old gramps and thought it a little sad that Scottish kids seemed to lose those sorts of demonstrations of affection as the years passed.  As he looked around, he noticed an X shaped book stand on the floor upon which sat an open Koran. On the fireplace stood three old fashioned picture frames each containing a black and white image. The first showed a man wearing cricket clothing and smoking a cigarette. The second showed a family group in some place much more tropical looking than Glasgow. The last picture took Paddy by complete surprise; it was incongruously enough an image of Jock Stein the former Celtic manager looking sharp in a dark suit.

Raz called Paddy over to meet his grandad, ‘He doesn’t speak much English Paddy but I can translate for him.’ Paddy reached out and shook the old man’s hand noticing the many lines on his ancient yet kindly face. His grey beard was well trimmed and his bright eyes seemed full of life. The old man regarded Paddy for a second as if sizing him up before speaking a long sentence. ‘He asked if you liked his pictures?’ Paddy nodded, ‘aye, very nice.’ The old man spoke again as Raz translated, ‘The first one is of Fazal Mahmood, who, according to grandpa, was the greatest player ever to pick up a cricket bat.’  Raz then added, ‘He’s obviously never seen Imran Khan. The centre picture is of his family on the day he left Pakistan for Scotland.’  Before the old man could go on, Paddy pointed and asked, ‘What about the picture of Jock Stein? The old man smiled and pointed towards a chair. Paddy sat as Raz perched on the arm of his grandfather’s worn old armchair and translated for him as he spoke…

‘When I came to Scotland in the year 1966 I knew no one. The flight from Pakistan to London was the first and only time I have been on a plane. A long train journey from London followed and I arrived at Central station one dark winter’s night as the snow was drifting down. I had the address of a cousin who would put me up until I started work and got on my feet. It was written on a piece of paper. I asked several people how to get there and they pushed past me without reply.’ The old man paused as if recreating the scene in his mind. ‘I walked the dark, cold streets with my suitcase, a stranger in a strange land. I recall four young men shouting at me for no reason at all. They seemed so angry, so full of rage. I thought they would assault me but a car stopped and a man got out. He told them to leave me alone and his manner ensured they did not argue with him. They disappeared into the darkness like jackals when they see the shepherd’s gun. The man read my piece of paper and nodded. He opened his car door and ushered me in before driving me across the city to my cousin’s house. I spoke so little English that we could barely talk on the journey. He helped me with my case and led me to the close of that tenement building which is now long demolished. When I had gained entry to my cousin’s house I looked out of the window just in time to see him drive away. I thought no more of the man until a week or so later when an envelope arrived for me in the post. In it was a signed photograph of the man who had helped me. He also enclosed a note which my cousin read for me, wishing me well in my new life in Scotland. I must have left the paper with the address in his car. My cousin said the man was quite famous in Scotland but for me he was just a good man who crossed my path and I honour him still by keeping his photograph in my home.’

Paddy listened to the story in silence. ‘That’s amazing,’ he said, ‘Jock helping your grandad all those years ago.’ Raz nodded, ‘That’s why I have a soft spot for Celtic, that and them being started by immigrants. A lot of your fans get it, they know what it’s like being the outsider.’ Paddy nodded, ‘I’ve got an idea. You brought me intae your home today, I’m taking you to mine.’ Raz looked mystified, ‘But I’ve been in your house?’ Paddy smiled, ‘Nah, I’ve got two homes.  Let me explain….’

The following weekend Raz and Paddy walked up the Celtic Way in bright sunshine. Celtic were taking on Aberdeen and the crowds milling around the stadium were in expectant mood. They stood in front of the statue of Jock Stein, ‘That’s the guy who helped yer grandad back in the day,’ said Paddy. Raz looked carefully at the statue, ‘He looks strong, not arrogant just a strong person.’ Paddy nodded, ‘He’s an ex miner, arrogant folk wouldn’t last long down a pit’.’  Raz approached the statue and reaching into his jacket pocket took out a small flower which he placed on the plinth, saying quietly, ‘That’s from an old man you helped a long time ago. Paddy watched in silence before saying, ‘Now let’s go look at my second home.’ They entered turnstiles at the Jock Stein stand and made their way to their seats behind the goal. So this is your second home is it, Paddy?’ Raz said looking around him at the impressive emerald arena. Paddy looked at his friend, ‘It is indeed. Who knows, if you enjoy the game today you might come back again. Ye might even end up a Tim.’ Raz laughed as a roar announced the teams were coming out, ‘insha Allah, Paddy, insha Allah.’  Paddy regarded him, ‘I’ll take that as a yes shall I?’