Saturday, 5 November 2016

A time of smiles

A Time of Smiles

Glasgow 2016
Andy McGee sat in silence in the back of the sleek funeral car as it inched its way up the small road which led to the two small chapels in Daldowie crematorium. He glanced at a wooden notice board by the roadside on his left and saw there the familiar name of his father. It read; ‘East Chapel 10.30 Thomas McGee.’ A slow drizzle was falling, even the brooding Glasgow sky seemed to be weeping for old Tommy who had reached the end of his journey. As family and friends trooped into the chapel, Andy waited with his sons and nephews to do their duty for old Tommy. The Undertaker spoke quietly as he instructed them on what to do. They lifted the coffin onto their shoulders and walked slowly towards the chapel. As they carefully negotiated the steps at the front doors a familiar song drifted out the door to meet them. Andy felt tears well as the words of the song seemed to caress them, tell them it was alright, old Tommy was fine, he was beyond pain now. They entered the chapel and the song seemed to fill the air….

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm, there's a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown…
They placed Tommy on the plinth as instructed and took their seats as the song continued. The song was fitting, not only in its uplifting lyric but also because old Tommy had sung it a million times as he followed his beloved Celtic all over. Andy’s mind travelled back many years to a time he and his father had shared in those magical days when time was long and all things seemed possible….

Glasgow May 1967
Twelve year old Andy McGee held tightly to his Father’s strong hand as the big propellers of the plane began to rotate noisily outside the window. Tommy McGee smiled encouragingly at him, ‘Don’t worry son, these things are safer than a trip in yer grandad’s car,’ As the plane thundered and vibrated before beginning to taxi along the runway, Andy closed his eyes and in his head mumbled the words his teacher had taught him at school: “Oh my good angel, whom God has appointed to be my guardian, enlighten and protect, direct and govern me, who have been entrusted to you by the Divine Mercy. Amen.” He had been excited about the prospect of flying for the first time but that had given way to trepidation as the date approached. For Andy like so many other people on the flight, this was their first trip on a plane and as it accelerated along the runway more than a few were wearing anxious frowns. As the wheels lifted off the tarmac there was a muted roar of relief. Somewhere behind Andy a lone voice started a soft chant which a few others took up… ‘We’re on our way to Lisbon, we shall not be moved-We’re on our way to Lisbon, we shall not be moved.’ So they were.

As the plane climbed into the azure sky and left Glasgow behind Andy breathed more easily and glanced out of the small window at the fields of Scotland spread out beneath him like a patchwork quilt. Lisbon! He had dreamed of it since the night they beat Dukla at Celtic Park! Now it was a reality, he was really going! He smiled up at his father, ‘Thanks Da,’ His old man smiled back at him his eyes a little moist, ‘Wouldn’t have missed it for the world son.’ The plane banked left and climbed higher into white clouds obscuring the view of the land of their birth. It then swung south and headed for Portugal and Celtic’s date with destiny.

They had come so far in this last couple of years. Jock had taken a team of perennial losers and in the space of two years had won two titles, two league cups and a Scottish cup and now as thousands of their supporters headed for Lisbon, they were close to becoming the Champions of Europe. It was an incredible and exhilarating time to be a Celtic fan. Tommy McGee looked at his excited son’s face as he peered out the small plane window at the clouds. Celtic meant so much to him, that much was clear. He remembered taking Andy to his first game when he was seven years old and Celtic had demonstrated that day all the inconsistencies which plagued Mr McGrory’s team in those days. It had been a cup tie against Third Lanark at a packed Celtic Park. The attack had been magnificent and scored 4 goals while defensive lapses had cost the side 4 goals as the game ended in an exciting but frustrating draw. Andy had talked excitedly about the game all the way home. He was hooked just as his old man had been when he had gone with his Dad to see Celtic win the Empire Exhibition cup. That was the way it was; Celtic was introduced to each new generation and most fell in love with those hooped shirts. Most felt that magical attraction which withstood good times and bad and became lifelong Celts.

Less than 3 hours later the plane banked and descended in brilliant sunshine over the shimmering sea off the Portuguese coast and headed for Lisbon which sprawled along the shore, the spires of a hundred churches visible from the plane window. Andy watched transfixed, ‘Look, Da! Look, we’re here.’  Tommy McGee nodded, ‘We are indeed son, let’s hope Jock and the boys make the trip worthwhile.’ His smiling son glanced at him, ‘They will Da, they will. I’ve been saying my prayers every night.’ Tommy McGee smiled, if only life were that simple. The plane landed with a bump a few minutes later and the excited passengers stepped through the open door onto the steep steps feeling a blast of heat hit them from the warm Portuguese sun. This was it, the supporters would do all they could to drive Celtic on but it was up to Jock and the team to write the most glorious page in Celtic’s history or be remembered as a very good side but not a great one.  Tommy McGee held Andy’s hand as they walked across the tarmac to the terminal building. He looked at the excited face of his son and thought to himself, ‘please Celtic, don’t let him down, don’t let any of us down…’

He needn’t have worried. Celtic’s date with destiny was written in the stars. They would rise to the challenge as they had to so many over the decades. This was their time, their shining moment of glory and they would not fail.

Glasgow 2016
After old Tommy’s funeral they family and friends had gathered to drink, laugh, cry and remember.  They told stories and anecdotes of old Tommy and a life well lived. Often the tales revolved around his trip to Lisbon with Andy 49 years earlier when they had watched the Lions maul Inter Milan. Tommy knew how important family was and instilled that in Andy. He saw the wisdom of his father’s outlook when he felt the support and love family could give each other in difficult times like today. It was a bittersweet time, a time of smiles, a time of sorrow but also a time of pride. As the laughter and songs filled the room Andy got into conversation with his friend Phil, a good guy even if he and Andy were on different sides of the Glasgow football fence, ‘Ye going tae the game tonight, Andy?’ Andy nodded, ‘Aye Phil, this Group is the hardest ever but we’ll give it a go.’ Phil smiled, ‘Still think Celtic can match a team that cost £500 million tae put together?’  Andy nodded, ‘Better teams than Manchester City have been beat at Celtic Park. Celtic will do OK.’ Phil remained sceptical and smiled, ‘I think you’ll be lucky to escape with a 3-0 gubbing.’ Andy looked at his friend, ‘Oh Ye of little faith.’

Later that night as Celtic Park hummed and seethed with noise and passion, Andy took his seat in the Jock Stein stand with his two sons. The roar greeting the Champions League anthem was utterly deafening. He glanced around the stadium at these incredible supporters who had made this club and continued to infuse it with energy. He hoped in some way his old man could watch what was happening. As the game got underway it was clear that Manchester City were a little spooked by the racket. A couple of minutes into the game a free kick to Celtic was glided wide right to James Forrest who hit it back across goal. Erik Sviatchenko met it with his head and it glanced of the body of Moussa Dembele and into the net! Celtic Park erupted like a volcano; a huge roar split the dark, damp Glasgow sky. Celtic were ahead and the wealthy aristocrats of Manchester City were learning an old lesson. You write Celtic off at your peril.

In the Jock Stein Stand, Andy was hugging his sons, feeling somehow that his old man was there too, savouring it all as he had done countless times over his lifetime. ‘That one’s for you Da!’ he thought as he wiped a tear from his eye. ‘Come on Celtic!’ he roared, ‘Let’s do it!’

No comments:

Post a Comment