There’s a magic here
For Jazz Thompson stepping inside the front door of Celtic Park and out of the cold November air was a real thrill. Of course he had visited the stadium more times than he cared to remember to back the team but for the first time in his 40 years of life he was walking in the front door and he was savouring every second. He glanced around the foyer at the various Celtic related artwork on display, taking it all in before a smart woman sitting at a desk scanned his apparel and smiled at him, ‘Come for the sleepover? Can I have your name please?’ He placed his sleeping bag and backpack on the floor beside the desk, ‘It’s Jazz, eh… James Thompson.’ She scanned a list in front of her before running a pencil line through his name, ‘OK Mr Thompson, just go through to the board room and you’ll be told what to do.’
Jazz followed a tall man through the door into the board room and looked around with a smile on his face. On the wall to his left was a long trophy cabinet full of cups, shields and mementos of bygone games. He walked to the part of the display he had seen in a thousand photographs. A Celtic and Inter Milan shirt flanked a shining full sized European Cup. As he studied the scene with a smile on his face he caught a glimpse of his reflection on the polished glass. His youthful looks were gone but the grizzled face he saw looking back at him had character and spoke of a life that had seen its share of troubles. He had come a long way in the past few years and being here tonight was his way of saying thanks to those who had helped him. Sleeping out to raise funds to help others was also tinged with a little irony as just a few years earlier he was one of the ‘others’ who had hit rock bottom and found himself on the streets. Those hard months had marked him for life and had introduced him to an underclass he barely knew existed. It also introduced him to both sides of human nature as he had met with kindness and cruelty, help and humiliation, compassion and indifference. It was the indifference which hurt more.
His spiral down to the streets wasn’t the usual tale of alcohol or drugs but one of an undiagnosed mental illness which was now thankfully under control. Jazz smiled at his reflection again before turning to face the room which was now filling with chattering people of all ages, each carrying the necessary things they’d need to get through a night under the stars at Celtic Park. A familiar face approached him, hand outstretched, ‘Jazz, nice to see you. I never expected our paths would cross here.’ Jazz smiled a genuine smile, ‘Andy! How are you, mate?’ The two friends talked of old times with genuine affection. Andy and his organisation had helped Jazz when he was at his lowest ebb. They had got him a warm bed in that fierce winter of 2010 when he was sleeping in a disused warehouse, shivering in the sub-zero temperatures. More importantly, they had got him the medical help he required and that had led to a diagnosis and treatment of his condition; a condition which explained his more bizarre behaviour which had cost him his job, friends and finally his long standing partner, Annie. He didn’t blame her for asking him to leave. He knew his behaviour was impossible to live with in those days. As the doors closed to him and the faces turned away the downward spiral began.
Andy was called to the front of the room to give a short speech and left Jazz with a warm hug. ‘Enjoy tonight mate, it’s great to see you back on your feet.’ Jazz smiled at him, ‘Thank you, Andy, great to see you too.’ Jazz watched Andy speaking thinking that he was one of those people who genuinely helped others because it was the right thing to do. He didn’t want praise or admiration; he simply wanted to help and would never look down on others unless he was helping them up. When the speeches were over, the hundred or so hardy souls sleeping out headed towards the hallowed pitch. As Andy walked down the Celtic Park tunnel he felt an unexpected thrill pass through him. All the Celtic greats had walked this walk. The first sight they would have seen in days past was the packed terrace of the Jungle, he remembered so well from his youth, waiting to embrace them. For the modern players the big North Stand with its 26,000 capacity would be quite a sight too. Andy stepped onto the track and looked around him. A younger woman behind him looked at the huge empty cavern of Celtic Park and said simply, ‘Wow!’ He nodded, ‘Wow indeed,’ before heading along the track towards the Jock Stein Stand and spreading his groundsheet on the track. He climbed into his sleeping bag and settled down. Before sleep took him he looked up at the green, luminous ‘Celtic Football Club 1888’ sign which seem to hang like a beacon in the dark winter sky. He smiled and closed his eyes as dark shades of sleep wrapped themselves around him.
Jazz could hear laughter and someone shouting, ‘Your ball Kenny!’ He sat up and opened his eyes as bright sunshine startled and warmed him in equal measure. He stood and looked at Celtic Park as it was in his youth; the old Jungle silent and empty and to his left was the Celtic end where he stood as a child with his father. On the field he could see 20 or so players in training tops go through various drills as the unmistakeable gruff tones of Jock Stein barked out his orders. The blue sky told him it was summer and as he watched Stanton, McGrain, Dalglish and many other familiar faces laugh and joke their way through training he smiled to himself. ‘You’re dreaming Jazz! Don’t wake up just take it all in.’ A white football rolled across the pitch towards him and he stopped it with his right foot. A sweating, panting player ran towards him, ‘That baw mate!’ he called. Jazz side footed the ball back to the unmistakable figure of Tommy Burns who trapped it instantly and turned back to training.
As the players continued their workout Jazz glanced across at the houses in Janefield Street peeping over the neck of terracing which once joined the Celtic end to the Jungle. If he was dreaming then this had to be 1976 or 1977 and that meant that somewhere beyond the stadium wall was his childhood home and his late father and mother. As he looked wistfully beyond the stadium a player who appeared to be jogging around the track stopped behind him, his laboured breathing making Jazz turn. ‘Hard work, pre-season eh?’ Jazz smiled at the familiar figure of Johnny Doyle. The Celtic player straightened up and smiled at him, ‘I don’t care about that pal, if I get tae wear the hoops I’ll train all day and every day.’ Jazz nodded, ‘That’s why we love you Johnny, you’re one of us. We always know you give all you’ve got.’ Johnny smiled, ‘You better believe it pal, I dreamed as a wee boy that one day I would play for the Celts. Just shows you if you work hard sometimes yer dreams can come true.’ Before Jazz could reply the unmistakable voice of Jock Stein echoed towards them. ‘Move yer arse Doyle, we’re no paying you tae gab tae fans.’ Doyle winked at Jazz and smiled, ‘His bark is worse than his bite, believe me he loves Celtic as much as I do.’ With that the player set off on another lap of the Celtic Park track.
Jazz felt the air begin to cool and the light dim and knew his dream was ending. He closed his eyes and took in one last breath of the warm summer air of long ago. It infused him with nostalgia and reinforced his love of Celtic. It wasn’t just the players, the team or the stadium; it was the whole community, the friendships, the happy days of victory, the stoic defiance in the hard times. It was the countless threads which bound him to this club, the thousands of memories and experiences which he had stored in his mind. As he drifted towards consciousness he heard an echoing voice calling out, ‘Come on Kenny pass the baw, yer a Celtic player, it’s all about the team!’ He smiled, that was big Jock alright and as usual he was right. He felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes. It was Andy, ‘Alright Jazz, the folk are heading in for some breakfast now. It’s 6am and it’s been a long night.’ Jazz sat up and looked around the dark stadium, a smile on his face. ‘That was a great sleep, Andy. I love this place.’ His old friend nodded, ‘so do I, Jazz, there’s a magic here.’ As Jazz rolled up his sleeping bag and walked towards the tunnel he glanced towards the corner of the stadium where the old jungle used to meet the Celtic end and mumbled quietly to himself, ‘Aye Andy, there’s a magic here alright.’
An hour later as Jazz was leaving Celtic Park and stepping into the chill of a Scottish winter morning. Annie was waiting in the car for him. When he sorted his life out he had sought her out to apologise and explain and she had understood. For that he thanked God. He glanced at the statue of Jock Stein to his left and smiled, ‘Alright big man, thanks for it all. Wee Johnny was right about you. You’re Celtic to the core.’ He headed towards the car as its lights flickered on and sat in the warmth of the passenger seat. ‘How was it?’ Annie smiled at him. Jazz hugged her and whispered in her ear, ‘It was... magical.’
As the car headed for the road which ran under the North Stand and which once upon a time was called Janefield Street, Jazz looked at all the images of Celtic players down the decades emblazoned on the panels of the Jock Stein stand. There beside Jimmy Johnstone, Dixie Deans and Kenny Dalglish was Johnny Doyle. As Jazz looked on, the words from his dream came back to him… ‘If I get tae wear the hoops I’ll train all day and every day.’ Johnny would have meant it too.