Friday, 23 December 2016

This side of Heaven

This side of Heaven

Glasgow 1979
The old man took his daughter’s hand and glanced briefly beyond the curtain at the sea of faces which seemed to float in the darkness of the hall. ‘My, what a crowd, who have they come to see?’ Maria held his hand and smiled, ‘You Dad! They’ve come to see you.’ He looked at her in genuine surprise, ‘Me? Goodness!’ The compare completed his speech and introduced the modest and rather shy old man to the waiting audience which filled the Kelvin Hall. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only… Jimmy McGrory!’  There was a huge roar as the old man walked onto the stage to be embraced by a tsunami of affection. There were youngsters who never saw him play, contemporaries who did and knew him to be the most lethal striker the British Isles had ever produced.

The old man stood basking in their affection. They knew he loved Celtic as much as any of them and had served his club with distinction since 1922 when a shy boy from the Garngad walked through the front door of Celtic Park and into sporting immortality. They knew he had often been treated poorly by Celtic during more than 50 years he served the club board. From the shoddy episode when they tried to sell him to Arsenal against his wishes for the then huge sum of £10,000. Of course he refused to go saying that ‘McGrory of the Arsenal didn’t have the same ring to it as McGrory of the Celtic.’ His loyalty to Celtic was rewarded by being disgracefully paid less than his team mates. In typical fashion he said of that episode, ‘ Well, it was worth it just to pull on those green and white Hoops.’ Such an attitude may have seemed na├»ve but Jimmy McGrory loved Celtic and it was his dream to play for the club.

For the thousands in the Kelvin Hall cheering the delighted looking old man on the stage it was a chance to say thank you. There was no golden handshake from the parsimonious Board, no testimonial match for a man who spent a lifetime in Paradise serving his club as player, Manager and Public Relations Officer. His retirement at 75 would be one of watching the pennies and that will be to the everlasting shame of the Celtic Board of the era. But all of that was far from his mind as he stood as guest of honour of the assembled Celtic support. The Board may have treated him shabbily but they would let him know how much he was appreciated. When the applause and cheers subsided an old song reverberated around the hall…

‘In the war against Rangers in the fight for the Cup
When Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up
We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again,
On Erin’s green valley’s look down in thy love,’

It was a fitting tribute to a man who made Hampden roar with a winner against England in 1933 as 134,000 Scots looked on. It was McGrory who scored 410 goals in 408 games for his beloved Celtic. Despite consistently scoring throughout his career, he was capped by Scotland a mere 7 times scoring 6 goals in the process. His old friend and opponent from the fine Rangers side of the era, Bob McPhail, would express embarrassment at McGrory being dropped from Scotland sides for no apparent reason, especially when the team were due to play at Wembley. McGrory took it in his stride and supposed the selectors had their reasons for not capping him more often. Some muttered that it was about the team he played for rather than his ability and in those less enlightened times they may have been right.

To see him in his later days looking a little shrunken and frail in his suit one could be forgiven for failing to appreciate just what a powerful athlete he was in his prime. Contemporary and former Arsenal player Bill Patterson said of him…

"Shoulders like a young Clydesdale, neck like a prime Aberdeen Angus and a head the nightmare of every goalkeeper. He had the knack of connecting with his napper and directing the leather netwards with greater velocity and judgement than many a counterpart could accomplish with his feet."

McGrory was called ‘The Mermaid’ due to his heading ability but there was far more to his game than just that. Football in the 1920s and 30s was far more physical than today. There were no substitutes and injured players often hobbled about on the wing  just to keep eleven on the field. McGrory often had to battle brutal defenders to get his goals and had more broken noses and black eyes than he could count in a long career. His playing days coincided with the rise of Bill Struth’s powerful Rangers side in the 1920s and 30s and the Celtic Board preferred to try and grow a team of youngsters to meet this challenge rather than invest in seasoned professionals who would complement their prolific centre-forward. McGrory’s tally of 3 league titles and 5 Scottish cup wins in 14 seasons at Celtic is testimony to the ascendancy of Rangers and the parsimony of the Celtic Board.

As he took the applause from the supporters gathered to honour him in the Kelvin Hall in 1979, Jimmy knew he was among friends. These were his folk, Celtic people honouring one of the finest Celts of all. The warmth they showed towards him was born of that deep bond which all true Celts have. This old chap had seen more of Celtic’s history than most of them and had said of his trip with the side to Lisbon in 1967…

"I actually broke down in tears of joy that night, the first time in all my years in the game that I had cried. What a thrill it was to see young boys like Murdoch, McNeill, Johnstone, Gemmell, Clark and Lennox coming of age. What a thrill it was to see the club I had served all my life reach its pinnacle. My one ambition now is to live long enough to shed some more tears into that magnificent European Cup." 

That was Jimmy; a fan above all else. A man who had spent a lifetime in Paradise and despite the ups and downs of football, the shabby treatment by the board and the lack of ambition the club often showed, had never lost his passion for the club he loved.

Glasgow October 1982
Old Bob McPhail hobbled on his stick down the Ward in the Southern General Hospital. Despite getting on in age himself he wanted to see his old friend and rival one last time. Jimmy lay on the bed, frail and tired but unafraid. His deep religious convictions had moulded his life and death held no fears for him. The old Rangers man sat by the bed and held McGrory’s hand. The two old timers exchanged quiet words and the affection between them was obvious. Few of the nurses or visitors scurrying around the Ward would have known that the two old men where once the greatest strikers in Scottish football. McPhail left in tears knowing he wouldn’t see his lifelong friend again this side of heaven. Once they had bestrode the Scottish game like the heroes they were. Once they had fought out titanic struggles on the field wearing the green and the blue but when the great Referee looks at his watch and is ready to call time there is nothing to do but be glad of a life well lived, of a game well played.

Jimmy McGrory left us on 20th October 1982 but as long as Celtic endures so too will the legend of this splendid footballer.

When will we see his like again?

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Invisibles

The Invisibles

One of the great pleasures I get from social media is interacting with and occasionally meeting some wonderful folk. A lot of the people I’ve met in recent years have been doing great things to keep the charitable ethos of Celtic to the fore. One such person is Dermot Hill who is involved with an organisation called ‘The Invisibles’ which seeks to support some of those forced by circumstance to sleep rough in Glasgow. Part of their mission statement states…

‘’There is a large and often ignored homeless community in Glasgow. Indeed, even if a solitary individual is forced to sleep rough in our city, we should all consider that number to be one too many. At “The Invisibles”, it is not our aim to provide these people with accommodation or employment – although we wholeheartedly back such ideals – but to equip them with a variety of items to keep them as warm and comfortable as possible whilst they remain on the streets.’’

I had a chance to chat to Dermot at the recent Celtic Charity Foundation Sleep-out and this modest man, like the other good folk who give their time to support the homeless in our city, is motivated by the kind of altruism and decency which anyone who knows Celtic’s foundation story will recognise. I made a mental note on that chilly night to try and do something, however small, to help the Invisibles in their work.

When I discussed it with John O’Farrell who runs the excellent ‘Celtic Canvas Art’ he was keen to do what he could to help too. So a chain of events was set in motion which led us to this article. John (Judebox09) arranged for a picture of Kieran Tierney, taken by Vagelis Georgariou, (@vagelisgeo) to be printed onto canvas. With kind help from Jason Higgins (@ApuaCeltic) of the HomeBhoys Podcast the canvas was signed by the Celtic full back Kieran Tierney. Kieran knows the charitable purpose of the canvas and was more than happy to sign it. It is through the kindness of these four people that I am able to launch this fundraiser today.

I know that most of you must be emotionally and financially drained by the huge volumes of appeals and charitable ventures you’re asked to support so this one is a little different. Initial thoughts of auctioning the picture left me feeling that this might make it difficult for the less wealthy supporter to get involved. You are therefore asked to donate a minimum of £10 to the link below, more would be great if you can afford it. For this you will be given a number between 1 and 59. When all 59 numbers are gone I will post a list of names and their linked numbers on Twitter. The next National Lottery draw falling after all the numbers are gone will decide who wins.

First Prize is of course the wonderful signed canvas of Celtic star Kieran Tierney. The bonus ball number will be matched to our list of 59 names and whoever has that number will be the winner of the canvas. 

Second prize will go to the name matching the first number called in the Lottery draw. The prize for this, donated by Celtic stalwart Matt McGlone, will be a year's subscription to the excellent Celtic Fanzine ' The Alternative View' and a T Shirt of your choice from the 'Alternative T Shirt Company' collection. 

Third prize will go to the person with the number matching the second number called in the Lottery draw. This prize will consist of a signed copy of the Green Angel book, an excellent Celtic poster and two Celtic e-books. (The Gift of Celtic & The Green Angel) Jimmy McGrory's old Club, St Roch's Juniors have also kindly donated a season ticket too. 

John at Celtic Canvas Art will also give everyone who entered 10% off any items ordered.

It really is a very worthy cause to support and I urge you to get involved soon as I envisage the 59 numbers going quickly. It would also be nice to get things moving so that the winner can have their prizes for Christmas. Here is a checklist of what you must do to enter the draw and support those less fortunate:
  •      Make a minimum donation of £10 at the link below. More would be great if you can afford it.
  • Ensure you leave a message with your Twitter handle, email address or other point of contact so you can be notified if you win.
  • Watch Lisbon Lion’s (@Tirnaog09) twitter account to see which number you have been allocated.
  •  Watch Lisbon Lion’s (@Tirnaog09) twitter account which will announce when all 59 numbers are gone and which lottery draw will decide the winners.
  • If you win a prize Lisbon Lion will be in touch to deliver the items to you.
  • Click this link to begin:

Thanks are due to the excellent John O’Farrel at Celtic Canvas Art, Jason Higgins, Vagelis Georgariou  and of course Kieran Tierney. It goes without saying we can rely on Celtic men like Matt McGlone to support such a good cause but thanks go to him too nonetheless. Thank you also to everyone who donates money to help the Invisibles in their very worthy work. It would be nice to live in a society where homelessness doesn’t exist but while it does, we can each help in a small way those less fortunate. 

Brother Walfrid would approve.

Thank you, good luck and Hail Hail

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Mysterious ways

Mysterious ways

Jacqueline guided her car carefully along the Shettleston Road in the pale light of a Spring morning which threatened rain at any time. She stopped at the lights and glanced out at graffiti covered tenement building on her left. Life was tough for many in the poorer parts of Glasgow and she knew early on in her life that she was lucky indeed in not having to face the hardships many of the children she taught did.  As she mused on such things a child emerged from the close nearest to her. She recognised the bleary eyed and rather unkempt lad as John Lynch one of her pupils in Primary 6.  He always looked a poor wee soul and she knew from teaching him for the past six months that he had a difficult life. Social work was involved in his life due to his father’s erratic behaviour and the skinny, pint sized wee lad was as nervous as a kitten. His father was off the scene now and mum struggled as best she could with John and a younger sister.

As she watched him wait outside the close, shoulders slumped, she thought of a proverb her Polish grandfather used to say; ‘The child is the father of the man.’ She hoped wee John would somehow overcome the harsh realities of his life and not carry his insecurities and fears into adulthood. So many lives were hampered by bad starts although she knew of others who had risen above the hardness of their childhoods and made a place for themselves in life. Just as the light turned amber and she released the handbrake a man in a faded tracksuit, came out of the close behind John. Jacqueline didn’t hear through the glass of the car window what was said but the unshaven, scruffy looking man slapped John hard across the back of the head. Her car was already moving as this occurred and with vehicles behind her she couldn’t just slam on the brakes. She glanced in the mirror as the figures grew smaller with distance, ‘Bastard’, she mumbled under her breath, grinding her teeth in anger.

She reported what she had seen to the Head Mistress of the school as soon as she arrived and it was duly noted. The Head Mistress was sympathetic and muttered darkly, ‘I’ll see Social Work know about this. We let people look after children who are banned from keeping animals.’ The conversation moved on from John Lynch to the upcoming school fete. ‘I want you to organise the prizes for the draw we already have vouchers and various things from the local shops. I believe the local Celtic Supporters Club is going to give us an item for the draw too. The signed football top they gave us was very popular last year and sold a lot of tickets.’ Jacqueline listened as the head teacher outlined her plans for the Fete and her role in things. ‘So I’ll send all the prizes to you and you can organise that side of things.’ Jacqueline agreed and headed to her classroom on the first floor to prepare for the day ahead.

Later that morning as she read with a small group of children she had a chance to talk to John. ‘Was that you I saw down at the lights this morning?’ He replied in a quiet voice, avoiding her eyes, ‘Yes Miss Cairns, I was going tae my grannies. There was nae milk left in oor hoose for breakfast.’  ‘Who was the man you were with,’ she pushed, ‘not your Dad, I’d recognise him.’ The boy was silent for a moment before mumbling, ‘that wis Davie, He stays wi us noo.’ She moved on with the school work when she saw how subdued he had become. They moved onto writing their news and she smiled when John handed his in. There was another story about his beloved Celtic. Sometimes it was all he wrote about. She corrected it as she read his childish glee in his team winning. At least he had some happiness in that. It was written in his familiar spidery handwriting and said…

‘Monday 16th April 2001
I saw Celtic on the telly. They beat Dundee United 3-1 in the cup at hamden. They might win the cup final. I want to go to the cup final but I’ll see it on my grannies telly anyways. Henrik Larsson is my bestest player ever.’

Above the news was a childlike drawing of the dreadlocked Mr Larsson, hands raised after scoring another goal. Jacqueline smiled again and thought to herself that such role models weren’t necessarily a bad thing for a growing boy. From what she heard Larsson was a decent man and a model professional.

After School Jacqueline sorted through the various prizes local businesses had handed in for the upcoming Fete. She made a mental note to phone the Celtic Supporters Club in the area to check what they were going to hand in for the prize draw. They were a good bunch and Scott Delaney who ran the bus was a former pupil of the school. The preparations for the Fete were going well and Saturday 19th of May was pencilled in as the big day. Face painters had been ordered and a bouncy castle would be installed in the playground. All was ready to go and Jacqueline as usual went the extra mile to ensure it was a success.

The routines of school life kept her busy until one sunny morning in May the Head Teacher handed her a white envelope. ‘That’s from the Celtic Supporters Club.’ She said, ‘Looks like a donation rather than a strip this year. Oh well, not to worry.’ The head teacher sounded a little disappointed as she gave Jacqueline the sealed envelope and headed back to her office. Jacqueline opened the envelope at her desk in class 6 and removed the letter it contained. It was from Scott Delaney who apologised for not having got a signed shirt this year but offered instead another gift which he hoped might raise a few quid for the school. Jacqueline looked at the two pieces of paper held to the letter with a paper clip. They were two tickets to the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Hibernian. In that instant John Lynch’s face popped into her head. What wouldn’t that lad give to see a cup final involving his beloved Celtic? As far as she knew he seldom got to see the team he loved so much with only his increasingly frail grandfather taking him to the odd home game.

‘No!’ said the Head Teacher with a firm voice, ‘I have sympathy with what you’re saying Miss Cairns but those tickets were given to the school in good faith to be raffled and it would be wrong to give then to any individual child no matter how needy.’ Jacqueline turned from her office, noting that the Head Teacher always called her ‘Miss Cairns’ when overruling her or laying down the law. ‘You’re the boss Margaret but that wee lad’s life is pretty crummy and we both know he’s Celtic daft.’ The Head shook her head, ‘It’d be wrong Jacqueline. Raffle them in the usual way. We have to be fair to everyone.’  Jacqueline headed along the corridor, a little deflated. She saw and heard every day how besotted wee John Lynch was by Celtic but still there was nothing she could do.

When news broke that two Cup Final tickets were among the raffle prizes the tickets sold like hot cakes. The Head teacher insisted on a separate draw for the tickets as a sort of grand finale to the Fete and suggested Jacqueline write every ticket purchaser’s name onto a piece of paper and place them into the revolving drum the school kept for such things. There were over four hundred tickets sold for the draw as the Fete approached.

The Wednesday before the Fete was Parents’ evening and when John entered the classroom he was dressed in a Celtic top which was a couple of sizes too big and a couple of years out of date. As Jacqueline outlined his progress to John’s mum the boy was buy counting small change. His mum was her usual nervous self and ordered him to stop. ‘But Ma I need tae buy a ticket for the draw. I might win the tickets and ye can take me tae Hampden?’  Jacqueline smiled and helped him count the money out. He had enough for one ticket and his mother commented, ‘He’s been saving up coppers every day to buy a ticket. I told him he had no chance but ye know what weans are like? Think’s this is like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and he’s gonnae win a golden ticket.’ After they had left Jacqueline took the small white rectangles of paper she had cut on which to write the names of people who had bought a ticket for the prize draw. On the top one she wrote ‘John Lynch’ and folded it before placing it into a plastic box. She stared out the window a though creeping into her mind.

The school Fete on a bright Saturday in May was a huge success as adults and children thronged the school yard eating, laughing and generally having fun. Jacqueline helped out where she was needed before being ordered by the Head Teacher to get ready for the big draw. The revolving drum had been placed onto the stage in the school hall and it seemed as if hundreds of people had crowded in to see who would win the Cup Final tickets. Jacqueline smiled at John who stood with his bored looking mother to the right of the stage, a hopeful look in his young eyes.  The Head Teacher took the microphone from the stand and made a short speech about how successful the Fete had been and how much she wished to thank the parents for all they did for the school before saying the words they all wanted to hear, ‘and now without further ado, Miss Cairns will choose someone to draw the winning name in the prize draw. The winner will receive these two tickets for next week’s cup final.’  She then rather theatrically held a white envelope containing the tickets above her head.

Jacqueline invited one of the Primary 7 children to come onto the stage and made great pains to spin the revolving drum which contained 392 pieces of paper. There was an air of expectancy and complete silence fell in the hall as the Primary 7 girl opened the small hatch in the side of the drum and stuck her hand into the large jumble of paper slips. She drew one out and handed it to Jacqueline who handed it in turn to the Head Teacher. The Head opened the paper slip as hundreds of eyes were fixed on her. Her eyebrows raised slightly before a smile creased her face and she spoke into the microphone, ‘The winner of the two tickets for next week’s Cup Final between Celtic and Hibernian is….’ She then did one of those annoying pauses so beloved of game show hosts before shouting loudly into the microphone…. ‘John Lynch of Primary 6’

There was a cheer in the hall and a few groans of disappointment but to the right of the stage John was stunned. As realisation struck home he shouted, ‘I’ve done it Ma! I’m going to the Cup Final! I telt ye I would win, I telt ye!’ Tears were falling from the boy’s eyes as he mounted the stage to collect his prize. Jacqueline gave him a hug, feeling a little emotional herself. ‘Well done, John. Enjoy the game.’ He whispered in her ear, ‘I prayed so hard Mrs Cairns, I prayed so hard every night. I knew God had tae hear me.’  She smiled as he turned to receive his tickets from the Head Teacher and held them above his head like a winning Captain with the Scottish Cup.

After the crowd had departed the teachers and other staff members tidied the school, chatting happily as they did so. ‘Imagine wee John winning those tickets?’ the Janitor said. ‘Couldn’t have gone to a better person, that wee fella loves Celtic,‘ someone replied. Jacqueline passed the Head Teacher, carrying the revolving drum and said, ‘Just going to empty this into the recycling bin. No point wasting all that paper.’ The Head held the door for her as she passed. ‘That was great. I’m glad wee John won. Quite a coincidence after our discussion.’ Jacqueline shrugged and smiled, ‘Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.’ She reached the recycling bin and began to empty over 390 pieces of paper into the container. She noted her neat hand writing on every single one of the white rectangles of paper. She also noticed that every single one of the pieces of paper had the same two words written on them; ‘John Lynch.’

She smiled and headed back into the Hall mumbling to herself, ‘Enjoy the Cup Final, John. I hope your team wins.’

Sunday, 4 December 2016

No Pasaran

No Pasaran

Tony Reid shoved his Celtic scarf inside his jacket, trapping it between his body and his left arm. It didn’t do to walk through Bridgeton on such nights with your colours on display, especially if those colours were green and white. He noticed the crowds around the doorways of the pubs at the Cross, tonight would be a busy night for them. It always was when Celtic met Rangers in the east end of Glasgow and tonight’s game had a lot at stake. A Celtic win would claim a title win which for most of the season looked very unlikely. Anything else would hand the flag to Rangers; it was all or nothing on a bright May night in 1979.  He walked along London Road past the Dunne and Moore yard which supplied the city with soft drinks. The lorries inside the yard were lined up in neat order, each one stacked high with hundreds of crates of ‘ginger’ as Glaswegians called the fizzy stuff.

Tony crossed the road and headed up Abercromby Street to his childhood home where his old man was waiting for him. He glanced at St Mary’s Church as he turned left into Stevenson Street; that was where Celtic had been founded. The Calton was a tough place to live in the 1880s and it was still a tough place now in 1979. The collapse of industry in Cities like Glasgow brought the blight of mass unemployment back and that in turn fed into the social problems he saw around him. He despised the petty bigotry he met on a daily basis. His old man, a committed socialist, had told him that this was caused by the capitalist system which sought to keep ordinary workers divided. He turned right into Tobago Street, walking past the Police Station where he had been held overnight when he had been ‘lifted’ for the only time in his life. He had been arrested for being part of a disorderly ‘gang’ ten years earlier when he was 15.  The truth was the gang had long disappeared when the cops showed up so they grabbed Tony and a couple of his friends who were doing nothing more criminal than playing football. When Tony made this point, one of the cops, a hulking, mean man with a Highland accent, had delivered a right hook to Tony’s face which left him with a black eye. His father had listened to his story when he picked Tony up from the Police station the following morning and nodded, ‘Those bastards think they’re above the law.’ 

Tony entered his father’s close, the smell of stoor and urine assaulting his nose. The old tenement was due for demolition soon and just two of the eight houses were occupied. He walked up the stairs noticing how worn they were. How many footsteps did it take wear stone out like that?  Someone had scribbled ‘7-1’ on the wall outside his father’s door with a pencil. His old man wouldn’t mind that. He used they key his father had given him to let himself in, ‘Ye in Da? It’s me, Tony,’ he called as he closed the door behind him. ‘Aye son, in the living room.’ Tony felt the chill in the flat even if it was May in Glasgow. He entered the living room where  Tommy Reid sat by the coal fire, a tartan blanket over his knees. In the corner his small black and white TV was showing images of Britain’s new Prime Minister. ‘It’ll go bad for the workers wi this clown in power,’ his old man said nodding towards the TV. Tony glanced at the hawkish face of Margaret Thatcher on the screen, ‘Think ye might be right there Da. Quoting St Francis last week but that yin will no be good news for folk like us.’ He watched his old man for a second, his once jet black hair was now grey and the many lines on his face spoke of a hard life. Chronic back pain brought about by an accident at work had left him on the ‘Pat and Mick’ as he called long term sickness benefits and made walking for sustained periods difficult. At 59 he wouldn’t be a worker again and that had robbed him of a little of his dignity. Being unable to stand on the Terraces of Celtic Park because of his back trouble was another blow to him as he had followed the team since boyhood and passed on the affection he had for the Celts to Tony. ‘Think the Celts will do it tonight?’ his old man asked, glancing up from the TV. ‘Aye Da, they need tae. Billy will get them fired up and I’d fancy us against anyone at Paradise.’

They sat for an hour drinking tea and talking about football, politics and life in general. Since his mother had passed he made a point of seeing his old man whenever he could. The old fella didn’t get out much and Tony made sure he had his milk and papers as well as putting on his lines at the bookies for him. As it neared six o’clock Tony stood, ‘Need tae get moving Da, meeting the guys in the Four Ways soon. His old man nodded, ‘Good luck son, I know the Celts will get stuck in. If the Ref gies us a fair shake we’ll be OK.’ Tony leaned over and hugged his old man, ‘Right Da, I’ll drop by the morra and fill ye in on how it went.’ His father looked at him and nodded, ‘Mind whit yer Granda used tae say?’ Tony smiled and glanced at a photograph on the fireplace which showed three grinning, men from long ago, rifles slung over their shoulders. They wore rather scruffy uniforms and stood on a dusty road in the glare of a Spanish summer’s day. The middle of the three was his grandfather, Charlie, a veteran of the Spanish civil war. Tony turned back to his father and clenched his fist, ‘No Pasaran!’ His old man smiled, ‘That’s the spirit the Celts need tonight.’

A river of humanity flowed along the Gallowgate towards Celtic Park. Tony Reid was swept along with it, happy to be with great Celtic army which had backed the team so well in what was a strange season. Celtic had stuttered along losing too many games and looking very inconsistent. In December the snow had come as Celtic sat in the lower half of the table. That fierce winter of 1978-79 had seen Scotland grind to a halt for weeks on end as snow storms and freezing temperatures held the land in an icy grip. Celtic didn’t play a league match for almost 3 months and had to play virtually 2 games a week to catch up on lost time when the spring finally arrived. Their rise up the table had been meteoric and now it all came down to the final fixture with their oldest rivals; win this match and the title would be theirs.

As Tony reached the packed turnstiles at Janefield Street the crowd began to sing even louder than before. It was a song his father would have sung in the old days, a corruption of a hymn Tony had sung each March in school…

‘In the war against Rangers in the fight for the cup
When Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up
We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again
On Erin’s green Valleys look down in thy love’

As Tony finally gained entry to the stadium and climbed the concrete stairs to the Celtic end he felt the butterflies in his stomach flutter. This was it, it was do or die. He squeezed into his usual spot near the front of the terrace, spotting the usual bunch of his friends standing where they always did. A huge roar told him the teams were entering the field of play. That emerald rectangle would be their field of dreams for the next 2 hours. What happened during this game would decide whether Celtic would face a barren season or pull off one of the most incredible comebacks in Scottish football history. The Jungle was in full voice and their songs spread around the three quarters of Celtic Park filled with green clad supporters. A deafening roar filled the bright, spring air as the game began. This was it; this was the defining moment. ‘Come on Celtic!’ roared Tony Reid as the play surged towards the Celtic end, ‘Intae them!’

Less than a mile away old Tommy Reid sat by his window listening to the roars from the stadium which drifted over the now quiet east end streets. He opened the window to let some air in noticing how much louder the noise from Celtic Park was when he did so. He had forgotten to tell Tony to bring him batteries for his radio and had no idea how things were going in the season’s decisive game. He had taken his medication for his back pain and sat in an old armchair which was frayed but comfortable. He missed going to see his team but it was simply too painful to stand at the match. It had been such a large part of his life; you worked hard for five days and on Saturday you went to see the Celts and had a few pints with your mates. That was his ritual for decades and how he missed it.

The tablets often made him drowsy and he nodded off with the sounds of the distant struggle at Celtic Park still filling his head. He slept for what seemed a moment but the gathering darkness told him it had been much longer. A voice called to him from the Street below, ‘Da! We done it! We fuckin done it!’ It was Tony shouting up at his window. Old Tommy focussed his eyes and looked down to the street. Tony was there, a delirious smile on his face. He stood with a dozen or so of his friends all in their Celtic shirts and scarves. One waved a flag as they began to sing and jump up and down under an old Celts window…

‘We are the champions, we are the champions,
We are the champs, we are the champions
‘We are the champions, we are the champions,
We are the champs, we are the champions!’

Other Celtic fans passing joined the small band and chanted with them, filling the street with song. The old man smiled down on them tears falling from his eyes. He was lost for words and just grinned at them, his fist clenched into the salute he had learned from his father. It may have been a political gesture during the Spanish civil war but it fitted days like today well. Celtic would fight to the final whistle, give their all for those fans who often had nothing but then again when they had Celtic, they had everything.

Old Tommy nodded and mumbled almost to himself, ‘No Pasaran, Tony, no Pasaran!’