Sunday, 22 May 2016

Time to tell James

Time to tell James

Watching former Celtic player Alan Stubbs lead Hibs to their first Scottish Cup win in 114 years was pleasing this weekend. Of course there is no denying it was a little sweeter given the opposition but it was more than schadenfreude. The Celtic connection among the Hibs players was strong with man of the match Stokes, Liam Henderson and Dylan McGeogh all current or former Celtic players but having watched Hibs fall at the final hurdle so many times it was good to see them win regardless of who was in their line-up. For Stubbs the win makes the difference between a disappointing season in which they failed to return to the Premiership and a season their support will always remember.

This week I read his biography and the sections dealing with his time at Celtic made for an interesting trip down memory lane. Having joined Tommy Burns’ Celtic in the summer of 1996, he found himself in a city working itself into a frenzy over Rangers attempts to equal or surpass Jock Stein’s 9 in a row record. Those of you who recall those times will testify to the tension which existed in the Scottish game then and particularly the degree of tension between Glasgow’s two big clubs. Celtic supporters had endured 8 long years in the wilderness and at last under Tommy Burns were beginning to show signs that they were ready to become serious contenders again. As Stubbs ran out at Ibrox early in that 1996-97 Season the cold blast of sectarianism hit him forcefully. He recalled in his biography ‘How Football Saved My Life’…..

‘I was waiting in the tunnel to go out for our warm up and could hear a level of abuse I’d never come across before. I’d been around long enough to think I’d heard everything an opposition supporter can shout at you but this though was something new. ‘You Fenian bastard! We’re going to break your legs Celtic scum. Hope you get fucking cancer and die. Looking back I was taken aback by the abuse and sheer vitriol with which it was shouted. As the team walked down the tunnel towards the pitch, the Rangers fans greeted us with a volley of spit. It was disgusting.’

His book deals with issues of the day with honesty and gives a little more insight into incidents such as the dressing room bust up between Mark Viduka and John Barnes on the night ‘Super Caley went ballistic’ and knocked Celtic out of the cup. Viduka’s refusal to go out for the second half and his virtual brawl with Eric Black went a long way to costing John Barnes his job. Stubbs affection for Tommy Burns shone through too and he was sad to see Tommy go in the wake of losing the title to Rangers. Tommy’s commitment to all-out attack meant that they often outplayed Rangers only to be suckered on the counter attack as that old Fox Walter Smith knew exactly how Burns’ team would approach the match. From the down of losing a Manager he greatly admired to the high of stopping the ten in 1998, Stubbs’ time at Celtic was certainly eventful. The club was being reborn under Fergus McCann and set on a firm financial footing. Given what occurred at Ibrox in the proceeding years McCann’s legacy is obvious.

Stubbs talks frankly about the sectarianism which scars aspects of Scottish football. He played against Paul Gascoigne in a few derby games and recalls Gaza’s ill advised ‘flute playing’ antics. It was ironic that he’d end up at Everton, his boyhood favourites, playing with Gazza and being managed by Walter Smith. Although Stubbs was not at all keen on Smith’s assistant Archie Knox who he says used foul mouthed bullying to cajole senior players who were unlikely to respond to such tactics.

Stubbs outlines his battle with testicular cancer and how Celtic stuck by him and ensured he was looked after. His urine test after losing the Scottish Cup Final to Rangers picked up the signs that all was not well. Stubbs battle back to fitness and subsequent relapse makes for inspiring reading. He was and remains and honest working class lad who tells it as he sees. He retains great affection for Celtic but as a professional gave his all for every club he represented. I recall his late equaliser against Rangers on a cold November night in 1997 which seemed to instil in Celtic the belief that they could turn over Smith’s team and win the title. That goal, in retrospect was absolutely vital as to have lost that game would have cost Celtic their moment of glory in May 1998.

In some ways the antics of supporters after the final whistle at yesterday’s cup final will distract people from the magnitude of Stubbs achievement in winning the Scottish Cup for just the second time since Queen Victoria sat on the throne. There is no doubt that a minority of Hibs fans were out of order as were those in blue who entered the field of play, as they had done in 1980, intent on violence. The wave of joy which saw thousands of Hibs fans sweep onto the field is perhaps understandable but any assault on players is not acceptable. Statements from Rangers commending their supporters’ restraint seem a little hollow given the video evidence to the contrary and their silence on thousands singing the old poisonous, bigotted songs is predictable. No football fan can condone what occurred yesterday but when all of the fuss is forgotten and we’ve moved on to other things the history books will record that the longest running losing streak in Scottish football history is over. After 114 years of failure and ten final defeats Hibs have finally won the cup and Alan Stubbs was the man who led them to their moment of glory.

One of the Hibs fan sites posted a poignant picture of the grave of one of their supporters, James Boyle, who passed a few years ago. On his gravestone it says ‘PS I was a Hibs fan so if they win a cup let me know.’ It’s time to tell James that his team finally came through and delivered the Scottish Cup to their long suffering support.

Well done Alan Stubbs and well done Hibs. You were Celtic’s inspiration in 1887 and although we will doubtless be fierce rivals in the future there are many who follow Celtic who were delighted at your victory.

Rest in Peace James. Your boys finally did it. 

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