Friday, 5 February 2016

McCallum's Penny

McCallum’s Penny

Glasgow: April 1967

Lion faced old Joe Hogan sat up in an agitated manner in the hospital bed when he saw his grandson appear at the end of the ward. He had waited all day for his him to arrive and bring him the news he waited for so patiently. He beckoned Frankie come closer with a rather weak wave of his hand. Frankie looked at his grandfather as he walked through the ward and approached the bed. Was this pale, feeble looking old man once the vigorous and strong man who would carry him on his shoulders and play rough football games with him and his brothers in Glasgow Green? With his father killed in an accident in the Shipyards, old Joe stepped in and made sure the Hogan boys had a secure childhood.  Now entering his ninetieth year, old Joe had a waxen look about him and the doctors were clear that his age meant there would be no operation, no saving him from the illness which would surely now end his long and varied life. ‘Frankie,’ he rasped in a tired voice, ‘did we do it? Did Jock and the boys do it?’ Frankie sat on the chair by the bed and took his grandfather’s hand noticing how cold it felt. ‘The game finished an hour ago, grandad, it was nothing each. We’ve made it! Celtic are going to Lisbon!’ The old man slumped back on the pillow a satisfied smile on his face. ‘Thank God, I knew we could trust Jock to see us through.’ Frankie nodded, ‘It wasn’t pretty but getting to the final was the only thing that mattered.’ The old man’s eyes flickered open, ‘Who else is in the final? Is it Inter?’ ‘Not sure yet,’ replied Frankie, ‘They beat Sofia 1-0 but it’s level on aggregate. They’ll need another game tae settle it but my money’s on Inter, they’ve beat Real Madrid this year already.’ The old man nodded, Aye, son, they’re nae mugs.’ As Frankie watched his old man slip into sleep he heard him mumble, ‘But Jock will see us alright…’  He sat by the old man’s bed for another half an hour listening to the rasping sound of his breathing.

The Docs had told him his grandad would do well to make it through another week but he was a spirited old guy and was so keyed up about Celtic’s run in Europe.  His passion for Celtic was the one constant in his long life and he would enthral Frankie and his brothers with tales of seeing McGrory, Thomson and Patsy Gallagher. It was astonishing to think that old Joe had followed Celtic since the club’s inception in 1888.  Frankie chatted quietly to the duty Sister before slipping out of the hospital and out into the noise and bustle of Castle Street. He’d return to see the old fella soon and he’d bring Paddy and Scott too. Time was short and it was important the brothers had the chance to say their goodbyes to old Joe.

As Frankie made his way home, old Joe lay on the bed seemingly lost in sleep but his dreams were carrying him back to a day long gone…

Monday  28th  May 1888

Joseph Hogan ran through the grey streets of the east end as fast as his 10 year old legs would carry him. ‘Come on Anthony, we’ll miss the start!’ he called in an accent alien to his home city. His younger brother ran after him down Dalmarnock Street, ‘Will ye slow down Joseph!’ As they neared the tall picket fence erected around the newly constructed little stadium the crowds were heavier. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, it seemed, had come out to watch the new club play their first game. The two boys scanned the crowds excitedly, ‘Where’s my dad?’  said Joseph. They stood watching the crowds milling about the new football field some were calling Celtic Park. A roar from behind startled the two brothers and they were scooped up in the strong labourer's arms of their father, Patrick Hogan. ‘Here now ya pair of scallywags come and give yer oul fella a decent welcome.’ The two boys hugged their old man before he placed them on back onto the wet cobblestones, ‘Now let’s be getting inside and see if the bold Celts are up to the task.’

They followed their father to an opening where a man was collecting money in return for entry to the neat little ground. They made their way to a spot near the small retaining fence opposite the little grandstand where those with more money sat in some comfort. As the teams came out a mighty cheer arose from the thousands gathered around the field. Joseph looked up at his Father, ‘Look at their shirts Da, they have a Celtic Cross!’ His old man smiled, ‘and why not indeed, many a fine Irish lad in that side?’  The game began and play thundered from one end of the field to the other. The Rangers Swifts were soon pushed back and the Celtic won a corner kick. Mick Dumbar, star player of the fine Hibs side of the era placed the ball carefully and swung a crisp cross into the penalty box. As Joseph watched spellbound, Neil McCallum rose above the Rangers defence and headed the ball powerfully into the goal. Celtic had scored their first ever goal and the two Hogan boys cheered wildly like all the other supporters of the new club gathered in Glasgow’s impoverished east end. Maybe, just maybe they’d have a team to match the mighty Hibs or Queen’s Park. The battle raged on and as the two young boys watched engrossed as Celtic fought their way to a fine 5-2 victory. As the players trooped off the crowd roared their approval. Few could have dared believe that the new club could perform with such verve and style.

Patrick Hogan led his boys around towards the new grandstand in the hope that they might catch a glimpse of the new sporting heroes of the east end Irish. As they stood with a few hundred others the players and various officials began to emerge. ‘Look Da, there's Brother Walfrid, he was my teacher last year!’ shouted Anthony Hogan, his eight year old eyes sparkling, ‘and there’s Neil McCallum!’ As they boys looked on the young Celtic forward shook the hands of many well-wishers and accepted many slaps on the back. As the crowd parted the scorer of Celtic’s first ever goal stood directly in front of the Hogan boys, ‘Did you enjoy the sport young fella?’ he asked Joseph who gazed up at the Celtic winger a little star struck. ‘Aye, Mr McCallum,’ he responded a little shyly, ‘I’ll be coming to all the Celtic games now with my Dad.’ The popular player ruffled Joseph’s hair, ‘Good lad, now here’s something to remind you of the day.’ He pressed a penny into Joseph’s hand before moving on through the crowd and becoming lost to their view. Joseph’s old man looked down at him, ‘Now I’d be keeping that coin safe Joseph, No telling what this new club will do and here’s you with a penny from the first scorer!’ Joseph held the penny tightly. There was no way he was letting go of it.

May 25th 1967

Frankie ran up the grey stone stairs of the Royal infirmary filled with joy like a child who has had his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Celtic had done it! They had mastered the finest defence in football with a display of awesome attacking prowess. The old fella would be so proud. A startled Nurse stood aside as he raced past, ‘Don’t worry doll,’ he shouted as he passed, ‘Just watched the mighty Celts conquer Europe, yeehaa!’ She stood dumbfounded watching him race up the stairs. As he reached the Ward his grandad was in he tried to compose himself but the grin etched on his face would take weeks to erase. He pushed the door and entered the Ward. He strolled along past the rows of beds replete with chattering visitors and patients. He figured he could spot the Celtic fans by the looks of sheer joy on their faces. He stopped at his grandad’s bed and his smile froze on his face. It was empty. As he looked around a little confused and saw that the staff nurse was approaching him, walking in that brisk, business-like manner they adopted at important times. The look on her face told him all he needed to know. He shook his head, ‘No, no…not today of all days!’  Frankie Hogan felt the tears rolling down his face before she broke the news to him, ‘Mr Hogan, can you come with me please. We need to talk.’

In the quiet of the mortuary he stood before the old fella. The nurse left him alone for a few moments to say his goodbyes and he gazed on the familiar face of his grandfather. The old man’s lined face looked worn out but he was at peace. ‘Well Granada,’ Frankie began, emotions welling in his chest, ‘we did it, we beat Inter 2-1. You’d have been so proud of them the way they played. They destroyed them.’ He sat by the trolley and took the old man’s frigid hand. ‘They were magnificent,’ he whispered.

As he held his grandfather’s hand he felt something hard protruding from his closed fist. He gently opened the old man’s hand and saw an old style penny with an image of Queen Victoria on it. He turned the coin over and smiled through his tears.

It was dated 1888.


  1. beautiful story.true or fictional it is to me dead brilliant.

  2. Neil McCallum is laid to rest in Bonhill Church. The Reverend Miller will happily show you as it's unmarked.

    1. Thank you Tam, I though the excellent Celtic Graves group were looking to mark his resting place. What would those old time players make of the modern game I wonder?