Friday, 22 September 2017

Passion and Pride

Passion and Pride

Glasgow May 2003
Jim Reilly sat absentmindedly gazing out the window when the familiar clatter of the letterbox broke into his thoughts and told him the post had arrived. He collected the small bunch of letters and returned to his favoured spot on the couch. He sorted through the letters mumbling as he did so, ‘Junk, bill, bill, Annie’s catalogue…..’ he stopped when he saw the last letter in the bunch. The smart white envelope was addressed to him. He opened it carefully and a frisson of excitement passed through him when he saw the familiar letter head of the Celtic Football Club. He began to read…

‘Dear Mr Reilly, we are pleased to inform you that you have been successful in the ballot for a ticket for the UEFA Cup Final between Celtic and FC Porto on May 21st 2003…..’

Yasssss!’ roared Jim in a voice which started his wife Annie who was pottering about the kitchen. She swung the door open and regarded her husband of 41 years, ‘what are you shouting about ya auld fool!’  Jim was already on his feet and heading towards her. ‘I got a ticket for Seville!’ He grabbed his wife and began to waltz her around the living room singing as he did so, ‘For it’s a grand old team to play for, for it’s a grand old team to see…’ She shook her head and smiled, ‘Daft as a brush, you’ve got Celtic on the brain.’  Jim however wasn’t listening. He was lost in thoughts of a sunny day in Spain watching the Celts fight it out for a European trophy. He had missed out on Lisbon because of illness. Missed Milan because of work commitments but this time he would be going. Nothing would stop him….

Later that night his three sons were in the house celebrating with him and helping him book a flight to Seville. Thomas, a gruff 30 year old with a fashionably long beard and a passion for Celtic every bit as strong as his old man’s, was explaining internet booking to his dad. He was also sounding annoyed at the price hikes going on just because Celtic were likely to have thousands of fans looking to make the trip. ‘It was £90 for a flight before the Boavista game and now it’s £345; Robbing Bastards!’ He persevered though and eventually got his old man a seat on a flight the day before the game. Gerry the middle son, Celtic daft like both his brothers, said half in jest to his father, ‘Mind Da if ye don’t want to go I’ll step in, pay you for all yer outlay.’ Frankie the youngest at 23 cut across him, ‘away you go, if my Da cannae make it, I’ll be stepping in so you jog on ya chancer!’ Gerry was having none of it, ‘You’ll be at Uni ya dafty, you cannae go!’ Frankie was adamant, ‘If I get my Da’s ticket I’ll be there and besides your misses won’t let you go tae the pub never mind on a bender tae Spain.’ Jim Reilly ended the growing argument by insisting that he’d be going and nothing would stop him cheering the Celts on in the heat of Seville. ‘I missed Lisbon and Milan boys, I’m not getting any younger and I might not see another European final wi the Celts in it. So you can stop yer squabbling, I’ll be going tae Seville.’  Thomas nodded at this and said, ‘That’s it settled, my Da’s going,’ then added with a grin, ‘and even if he wasn’t his ticket would go tae the eldest.’ The arguments started again as Jim Reilly shook his head with a smile. He’d passed on his love of Celtic to his boys all right and that made him happy.

Fate however, in the shape of Jim Reilly’s undiagnosed heart condition, stepped in though to deny him the chance of going to Seville. A week before the Final with Fc Porto he collapsed in his local pub and nothing could be done to save him. His three sons welcomed a house full of family, friends and neighbours into the family home where their old man was laid out in his finest suit. He looked as if he was sleeping someone commented and in truth he did look peaceful, serene almost. As the men drank beer and reminisced in the living room, the women, led by their redoubtable auntie Bernadette, said the rosary by the coffin. It was solemn and sad occasion but even in the darkness of such events the men still talked about the upcoming final in Seville. ‘Yer Da would have loved tae go,’ one friend said, ‘followed the Tic aw his days.’ Another commented, ‘I heard about a ticket going for £600, utter madness.’  The three brothers looked at each other and said nothing. No one had forgotten the ticket for the final but decency demanded they hold their peace until after the funeral.

That evening the undertakers took Jim Reilly to the church he had been married in and in which his three sons had been baptised. A hundred or so family and friends were there for the short ceremony which preceded the funeral Mass which would take place the following morning. As they left the church and stepped out into suitable sombre Glasgow drizzle, Thomas said quietly to his two brothers, ‘We’ll need to find that ticket and decide after the funeral who’s getting it.’ Frankie nodded, ‘Aye, we’ll roll a dice or something.’ They agreed and headed for home.

Later that evening after two hours of rummaging through drawers and searching high and low they still hadn’t found the ticket. As various relatives drank and chattered the three brothers were exasperated. ‘Ask my Maw,’ ventured Frank, ‘she’ll know.’  Gerry waited until a suitable moment arrived and even though he felt a bit awkward, asked his mother, ‘Ma, any idea where my Da put that ticket for the cup final?’ The pale looking woman thought for a moment before replying, ‘Now let me think… Aye, he put it in the inside pocket of his black suit. I saw him do it; it was in a white envelope.’ Then a strange look came over her face and she covered her mouth with her hand. Gerry looked at her, ‘what’s up, Ma?’ She looked at her son and said simply, ‘He’s wearing that suit!’

As the alcohol took effect later that night the three brothers discussed the dilemma. Thomas was the more accepting, ‘It’s gone boys, forget it and we’ll watch the final doon the pub.’ Frankie was having none of it, ‘I’ll get doon the chapel early, explain the situation tae old Father Mac and unscrew the lid and get the ticket and have the lid back oan in 5 minutes?’ Gerry was appalled. ‘Ye cannae unscrew a coffin lid in a chapel ya madman! This is yer Da’s funeral and you want tae act like Burke and fuckin Hare?’ Frankie remained stubborn, ‘So you want a ticket tae a European final to be cremated with my Da? He’d want us tae get it! I could whip the lid aff in two minutes!’ Gerry shook his head incredulously, ‘Whip the lid aff? It’s yer da’s coffin no a fuckin’ lunch box!’ Are you actually planning go tae yer Da’s funeral wi a screwdriver in yer pocket like a tin pot chib man? Fuck sake Frankie, you’re losing the plot bro!’ 

As the debate raged their cousin, Johnny, whom everyone called ‘Joker’ decided it would be an appropriate time to lighten the mood with some of his jokes. ‘When my mate’s da got ill they covered his back wi lard…. He went downhill fast after that!’ There was laughter in the room after the gloom of the past few days. Joker continued, ‘Never told the burd I’ve replaced our bed wi a trampoline, she’s gonnae hit the roof!’  Joker’s patter cheered folk as stories, memories and family legends about Jim Reilly began to flow like the seemingly endless supply of beer. There were funny tales of Jim’s adventures following Celtic like the time he drove to a game at Nottingham and ended up outside Coventry City’s ground. The brothers found the stories and the laughter comforting. This was the sort of send-off their old man would want. As the evening drew to a close, their old man’s best friend of over forty years began to sing an old song which hit the spot for all of them…

‘I took a trip to Parkhead, to the dear old Paradise,
When the teams made their appearance, sure the tears came to my eyes
A familiar face was missing from the green and white brigade
T’was the face of young John Thomson for his last game he had played….’

The brothers knew that a familiar face would be missing from their lives now but they’d soldier on with their memories of their old man to console them. Those memories were many and varied. From their first visit to Celtic Park as boys hand in hand with their Dad to his fake fury when the three lads jumped the subway as teenagers to attend a Celtic game at Ibrox. Their mum was furious as the oldest was just 14 at the time and old Jim ripped into them too. Once their mother had left the room he grinned at them and whispered, ‘It’s something else lads eh? Glad we stuffed them!’

The following day Jim Reilly took his final trip to Daldowie Crematorium, the convoy of cars following the hearse stopping for a few poignant moments on the London Road outside Celtic Park.  The service at the church had been very fitting. Gerry had even theatrically frisked Frankie to ensure he wasn’t bringing a screwdriver. Frankie though had seen the error of his ways and accepted that his plan to open the coffin had been ill conceived and just a little inappropriate.

Gerry had looked at Frankie as the curtains closed and their old man’s coffin was hidden from view in the crematorium but all thoughts of a ticket to the UEFA Cup final were banished as the tears fell and they said their last goodbyes to the old fella. They left the little chapel to as strains of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ echoed off the walls. Saying goodbye was so very hard but they knew they had to pick up the threads again for their own sakes and for their mother’s. They stumbled through the day, shaking hands, meeting old friends and distant relatives.

They had another house full after the cremation and the drink was soon flowing again. ‘Gerry,’ called Mrs Reilly, who sat with a neighbour in the corner, ‘Could you fetch my wedding pictures; I want to show it to Agnes. The album is in the box on top of the wardrobe.’  Gerry opened the bedroom door and stood on a chair to reach a rather faded white box which contained his parents wedding photos. He put the box on the bed and opened it to check the album was there. On top of the album was a white envelope and a curious Gerry looked briefly inside it. A brightly coloured ticket to the 2003 UEFA Cup Final looked back as him, ‘Fuck me!’ he mumbled, ‘it never got burned… it’s here!’

The three brothers were unanimous about what should happen to the ticket. It was raffled by the local Celtic Supporters Club and over £500 was raised for charity and donated in the name on Jim Reilly. As they stood in a packed pub watching Celtic walk proudly out onto the field in Seville they roared like every other Celtic fan around the world, ‘Come on Celtic! Intae them!’  The game would prove to be a roller coaster of emotions for the brothers as it was for hundreds of thousands of other watching Celtic fans but no matter how it turned out their love affair with Celtic would never waiver. That passion and pride in their club would always burn brightly. 

Old Jim had seen to that.

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