Saturday, 27 January 2018

Hampden is burning

Hampden is burning

Season 1908-09 was a good one for Willie Maley’s Celtic as they battled with a very useful Dundee side for the championship and secured it on the last day of the league season at Hamilton. It was their fifth straight title and no one it seemed could break the stranglehold this fine side had on the Scottish league. The Scottish cup offered another chance though for Celtic’s rivals to knock them off their perch and some were determined to stop Maley’s side completing a memorable double. The Hoops battled past teams long consigned to the history books as far as senior Scottish football is concerned to reach the final at Hampden. Leith Athletic were beaten 4-2 in Edinburgh before Port Glasgow Athletic were soundly defeated at Celtic Park. Airdrie were despatched in the Quarter Finals before Celtic beat a stubborn Clyde side in the semi-final. They were through to the final and the possibility of a glorious double. Waiting for them in the final were Glasgow rivals Rangers.

Relations between Celtic and Rangers supporters in that era were reasonably cordial although the press spoke of ‘bad blood’ between fans after a particularly vicious brawl at a match between the clubs in 1896. One Newspaper described the fans involved as, ‘The scum of the city, drunken and brutal in their behaviour and language.’ Further trouble occurred in 1905 when Jimmy Quinn of Celtic was sent off for allegedly kicking Rangers’ defender Albert Craig. Celtic fans invaded the field and the Referee was assaulted, according to reports of the time, with an iron paling. There was a rivalry between the clubs but that visceral edge was to heighten considerably in the years ahead.

Rangers had yet to adopt their sectarian signing policy in full. That was to change when Sir John Ure Primrose, Mason, Orangeman and unionist Politician, became Chairman and saw not only the political but financial benefits of a Rangers becoming exclusively Protestant in nature. He dedicated Rangers to the ‘Masonic cause’ in 1912 and at the height of the Irish home rule crisis of the era could be found sharing a platform with Sir Edward Carson. The Irish Barrister leading the anti-home rule faction in Ireland. According to books such as ‘Floodlights and Touchline; A history of Spectator Sport’ he was also spouting the sort of anti-Catholic invective which might appeal to those of limited intellect.

However, that was all in the future as Celtic lined up to face Rangers in the Scottish cup final in April 1909. The crowd of around 70,000 was the highest yet seen for the Cup Final and they saw an entertaining game in which Celtic, led by their talismanic striker Jimmy Quinn, battled back from 2 goals down to secure a draw amid great cheering. The replay again had old Hampden busting at the scenes and after a bruising encounter, in which Quinn had again scored, the teams stood at 1-1. Some of the players left the field while others lingered as if expecting extra-time to be played before they too headed for the changing room. Some of the crowd began to jeer and whistle feeling that the draw had been contrived to get more money out of them in a second replay. The mood turned ugly and press reports of the time testify to the ferocity of the violence which then erupted. One newspaper reported…

Keen dissatisfaction prevailed among the crowd, and protests were heard on many hands, culminating in threats and an outbreak of disorder among the more rowdy elements. The first overt action which resulted in the lamentable scone of the day was the invasion of the playing pitch by a number of the dissatisfied onlookers, their evident intention being to proceed to the dressing-rooms, whither the players had retired. A considerable force of police was, of course, on the ground, and they naturally endeavoured to keep the crowd in order, and to induce them to leave the field peacefully. What actually first led to a collision between the police and the civilians is at present matter of the most conflicting opinion. Soon, however, the mob wore venting their rage on the police force, who were subjected to a fusillade of stones, bottles, brickbats, and every conceivable missile of which the roughs could become possessed. Overwhelmed and swept aside by superior numbers, the police rallied, and endeavoured to cope with their assailants. To this end they were forced to use their batons, and shortly they were engaged in a hand to hand conflict. The gravity of the situation became apparent when a number of the policemen were seen to have sustained such injuries that they were rendered prostrate, and had to be carried off the field.(The Scotsman, April 1909)

The violence, in which supporters of both sides took part in grew in ferocity and soon the mob were on the field doing their best to destroy the goal posts and attack the Police…

‘Maddened by excitement, and relying on their overwhelming numbers, the rioters now proceeded to the extremest limits. The goal-posts were attacked, and uprooted, the nets torn to pieces, and the woodwork around the enclosure broken down to be used as weapons, against the police. Acting with commendable patience and restraint, the police force, who were shortly reinforced by the arrival of reserves from almost every district in the city, persevered in their attempt to clear the ground. A number of mounted Policemen were found to be of great assistance; but the mob took a. malicious delight in surrounding the horsemen, and endeavouring to force them to dismount. They beat man and horse most unmercifully, and in some cases the man was pulled to the ground. Not only had the police to persist in their own work of overcoming the mob, but, they had to protect, and rescue each other. Where a solitary policeman was trapped he was dealt with in the most outrageous manner, and it is little wonder that rumour had it that several of them had been killed.

When the mob started burning the pay boxes, the arriving fire Brigade were greeted with stones and violence too. As they attempted to control the fires, their hoses were cut and one fireman had several ribs broken in the attack. It took 200 Policemen and 16 mounted officers to eventually restore order, but the injury toll was high and the hospitals of Glasgow working flat out to deal with casualties. It was at the time the most serious riot in the history of Scottish football. Both clubs were ordered to pay Queen’s Park £150 towards the damage to their stadium and the SFA paid them an additional £500.

The question of a second replay was raised but both Celtic and Rangers were against the idea and petitioned the SFA to abandon the competition of that year. The press stated…

‘Mr Maley, representing the Celtic, and Mr Mackenzie, representing the Rangers, were recalled and questioned by the Chairman as to a letter appearing in several newspapers of that morning purporting to be a petition to the Association, to abandon the match. Mr Mackenzie said that as regarded the Rangers they accepted responsibility, and the Celtic, who had also agreed, to the document, had a copy of it in their possession.  

With that, the 1909 Scottish cup was withheld and for the first time in peace time there was no winner of the country’s major cup competition. It was a remarkable display of unity by the wilder elements of the Celtic and Rangers support who undoubtedly acted together to bring destruction and violence to the cup final. As the divisions between the clubs widened in the years to follow, it remains unlikely we’ll ever see such joint action again. One press report put the scene at Hampden on that day of rage in almost poetic terms...

‘The South Side of Glasgow trembled to the noise of emergency vehicles, the groans of the injured and to the clamour of the rioters. Above all this hung a pall of smoke. Hampden is burning.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Who guards the guards?

Who guards the guards?

There is famous photograph taken at the height of the Miners’ strike in 1984. It shows Lesley Boulton, then a young woman who was part of the ‘Women against pit closures’ group, about to be struck by a baton wielded by a mounted Policeman. The picture is now well known but at the time only one of seventeen daily newspapers in the UK printed it. The demonization of the Miners in the gutter press was such that they celebrated the Police decision to go in and ‘hit them hard.’  For the population of villages like Orgreave near Sheffield, it was a brutal experience of British Police Officers behaving in a manner which was far removed from the image of the genial bobby on the beat. Lesley Boulton said recently…

‘The police were completely carried away. Some of them were laughing and obviously enjoying this exercise of their power. That part was very, very disturbing. Because the police were actually having a very good time, they were enjoying this huge exercise of brutal authority, so I found that very disturbing.’

A year after the events at Orgreave, there was reminder somewhat closer to home of what can happen when the Police forget they are there to protect and serve the public. 

Season 1984-85 was a mixed one for Celtic. They fought hard with Aberdeen for the title and despite winning two and drawing one of their four SPL matches with Fergie’s Dons, vital points were dropped to teams like Hibs, Motherwell and Dundee and this ultimately cost them the title. 

They did fight their way to the  100th Cup Final but had a few league matches to play before they headed for Hampden and the  Scottish Cup Final. One of these matches was against Rangers and the teams fought out a nasty and ill-tempered match which saw two Rangers players sent off and several others booked. Celtic’s Roy Aitken missed a penalty and gifted Rangers an undeserved equaliser late in the game by handling the ball in the box. The match ended in a 1-1 draw but despite the tempestuous nature of the game, the real drama was to unfold as the Celtic fans exited the stadium via Janefield Street.

In those days Janefield Street still had houses on both sides of the road and was a fairly narrow thoroughfare for fans to use. As thousands of supporters made their way out of the stadium they would have noticed a line of mounted Policemen watching them leave. What happened next is not in dispute even if the claimed reasons for it are. The mounted Police charged up a street crowded with men women and children. It’s difficult to imaging the shock of huge Police horses being ridden into a densely packed crowd. People screamed in terror and tried desperately to get out of the path of the charging horses. The crowd was packed so tightly that a retaining brick wall topped with a metal railing collapsed along its whole length. People were strewn on the ground and one man in a wheel chair was toppled onto the street. Only the quick intervention of fans who dragged him clear stopped him being trampled. People were injured and there was a huge surge of disbelief that the Police could act so recklessly and so dangerously. That disbelief turned to anger as the horses reached the end of Janefield street and turned to charge again. This time some of the supporters decided to defend themselves and their fellow fans, utilising rubble from the collapsed wall they met the second charge with a hail of missiles. I will never condone violence, but many clearly thought there actions on that particular night were in self-defence. Police vans screeched into the street at that point and officers leapt from them and behaved no better than their mounted colleagues. One supporter wrote to the Chief Constable and told him…

Without warning six mounted policemen at the gallop approached us from behind with no consideration at all for the safety of those men, women and children already tightly packed together and moving steadily if slowly. The crowd was obliged to move as quickly as possible to right or left as appropriate in order to avoid trampling. That no pedestrian was apparently seriously injured in the charge is surprising. The six mounted men stopped some 70 or 80 yards beyond me, turned and repeated the charge in the opposite direction, again scattering us right and left. On this run I saw some small objects and coins thrown at the policemen who ducked to protect their faces. On both charges I was within two feet of the animals. I managed then to move right into Holywell Street and thence to the Gallowgate which was fairly heavily congested with traffic. By this time the astonishment of the crowd had developed into anger and I heard but did not see objects that had been thrown strike police vehicles which were arriving in substantial numbers. From these vehicles constables emerged and arrested young men indiscriminately.’

The aftermath of the so called ‘Battle of Janefield Street’ saw a furious Celtic back their fans for once. They asked witnesses to write to the Celtic View with their version of events and expressed their concern to Police and politicians about what had occurred. One female supporter recalled the events of that night on a Celtic forum a few years ago, stating …

‘I was 5 months pregnant and when the wall collapsed my mate threw me out the way of the metal fence about to fall on me - he took the full force of it and broke his leg (Larsson style). We sat on what was left of the wall till the police told us to move, even after seeing the state of his leg they told him to hop. Stewards came from inside CP and took us in to the ground till an ambulance arrived. I've never been so terrified in my life! There had been no fighting between fans before the mounted police charged!’

Fans spoke of aggressive behaviour from the Police all the way from Celtic Park to the city centre. In the wake of the trouble Celtic released a statement which read…

"Celtic Football Club have always cooperated with the police in every way and it is recognised that sometimes the constabulary have a difficult job to perform to keep law and order. Regrettably however it would appear that some policemen put many innocent people at risk as the crowds streamed out of Celtic Park last Wednesday night. An overwhelming consensus of opinion among people who witnessed the scene clearly indicates that the action of the mounted police in Janefield Street after the game must be called into question. When scattering, panic-ridden fans caused the collapse of 100 yards of an iron fence topped wall without as much as a broken window in any of the closely adjacent houses it can only be assumed that the debris was caused by a stampede."

As was the way of things in the 1980’s, the Police told a compliant press their version of events and these were printed as factual. The violence was blamed on ‘casuals’ and we even had an added lurid detail which told us that fans had thrown golf balls studded with nails at officers. It is hard to believe someone would take such objects to the match then save them until the game was over just to throw at the Police. The Police line was that there was fighting going on between fans which officers on foot could not control and thus the mounted police moved in. All of this is at odds with the views of hundreds of supporters who sent their accounts to the Celtic View. One 70-year-old local resident witnessed what occurred from her house in Janefield street and said…

‘The fans were walking peacefully home. There was no trouble I could see. It was so quiet I even let the dog out. Then all hell broke loose. The horses came charging down scattering everyone. I think it was the Police charge which caused the damage. I saw the Police charge down Janefield Street then up then down again and then finally up again.’

The actions of the Police on that night in 1985 could have caused severe injury or even death. Whatever caused them to charge into a narrow street packed with men, woman and children, it was an act of gross stupidity. In those days though there was a general feeling that whatever happened between the Police and football supporters, society at large would always side with the Police. Being a regular at Celtic games in those days I can testify to the shabby way fans were treated up and down the country. It took the awful events at Hillsborough, the exposure of Police incompetence and the despicable cover up in the aftermath to open they eyes of some about the behaviour of a minority in our Police service. Those of us brought up in the housing schemes of cities like Glasgow have always known that a minority of Officers blemish the reputation of the force. In these days of mobile phones with cameras it is much more difficult to get away with it and in fairness the Police force of today is much more professional than those I saw go into action in Janefield Street in 1985.

Despite calls for an inquiry and hundreds of witness statements being sent to the Celtic View, nothing was ever done to bring to book those who had acted so recklessly and endangered the very public they are paid to protect.

Almost 2000 years ago the Roman writer Juvenal wrote his famous adage; ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?It translates as ‘Who guards the guards?’ and is as pertinent todays as when it was written. The public need to trust the Police force they pay for and the members of that force need to be accountable for their actions. Some were out of control in 1985 during the so called ‘battle of Janefield Street.’

It is good that they remember they are public servants and not public masters.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

With hope in your heart

With hope in your heart

The smell of the Glasgow underground was instantly recognisable to Scott as he skipped down the steps of Buchanan Street station. The platform was already packed with people waiting for the rumble of those familiar little trains which were usually packed on matchday. A few Policeman dotted the platform making sure the fans heading to Ibrox were behaving and Scott could see from the preponderance of colours on the platform that most waiting for the next train were Celtic supporters. He scanned the crowd looking for his friend Davie who had told him in typical unclear terms the night before, ‘Get ye at Buchanan Street at two o’clock.’ As he stood scanning the faces a voice called out through the hubbub, ‘Scott, ya tadger!’ He soon located his friend who stood grinning a mere ten yards away.

Davie Murphy was one of those people who always looked happy. Life seemed to be a big joke to him but for all his cheerfulness his life wasn’t easy. One of eight children being brought up by their old man in Glasgow’s east end, Scott had watched Davie help his old man with cooking and caring for the younger children following the death of his Mother from a smoking related illness. He did this while still working forty hours a week in the Park’s Department. He recalled the dark humour when he’d gone to pay his respects when Mrs Murphy had passed. He had knocked on the door, entered the quiet house and followed Davie into the room where his mother was laid out in her coffin. The younger children were seemingly less affected by what was going on perhaps not old enough to grasp the enormity of what had occurred. As Davie and Scott approached the coffin Scott’s eyes widened a little; one of the younger children no doubt knowing their mum’s love of a fag had placed a cigarette between her lips. It just stood there like a rocket waiting for blast off, it was a strange sight indeed but then Mrs Murphy was seldom seen without a fag in her hand. Davie shook his head, ‘Fucks sake,’ he said quietly as he removed it, ‘that’ll be they mad weans.’

These thoughts flashed through Scott’s head as he eased through the crowded platform towards Davie. ‘Wit kept ye?’ his friend enquired, ‘fixing yer mascara?’ Scott laughed, ‘Shut it you, I gave up that new romantic phase.’ Before they could go on a low rumbling told them the train was near. It seemed to galvanise the crowd on the platform and from somewhere a song started;

‘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….’

As the train stopped at the platform the crowd surged forward as if not wanting to be left behind. This made it exceedingly difficult for people trying to get off but that was of no concern to Scott and Davie who squeezed onboard just as the sliding doors closed behind them. The carriage was packed but the atmosphere was jovial as the songs and banter flowed. So too did the ubiquitous Buckfast which was being swigged by a few of the young men around them. Davie started one his stories which Scott could never tell was true or a fast arriving joke. ‘That’s the burd leaving me.’ He began, ‘said I’m obsessed wi gardening. I said, ‘where’s this all stemming from petal?’ Even Scott had to laugh at that one. The train rumbled around the stations until it reached Ibrox. 

As they walked up the stairs towards the daylight, they could hear the familiar strains of one of the home side’s anthems drifting towards them, ‘We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood, you’ll surrender or you’ll die….’ Davie grinned, ‘One of my ambitions is tae live long enough tae hear that mob sing a song that’s actually aboot fitbaw.’ Scott smiled. He had a point. As they exited the station the police were there in force to ensure the two streams of fans were kept apart. Scott and Davie joined the stream of Celtic supporters being herded towards the away end. The chanting was louder and the venom on a few faces disconcerting. Davie grinned and joked through it all though and even when a red faced local shouted in his direction, ‘You ya plooky Fenian basturt, ye want tae get yersel some Biactol!’ Davie smiled and called back over the shoulder of a weary looking Policeman, ‘Wit you saying fat boy, you’ve got mer chins than the Hong Kong phone book, ya tadger!’ The weary cop smiled a little at that remark.

They clicked through the turnstile and soon found themselves in the packed enclosure under the main stand. Celtic supporters occupied the Broomloan Stand, part of the main stand and even a section of the Govan Stand and they were making most of the noise.  There was a deafening roar as the teams came out and as the game got underway it was clear both sides where up for the battle. Celtic played most of the good football but bizarrely two deflected goals saw the half time whistle sound with the Hoops 2-0 behind. Scott shook his head and looked at Davie, ‘Playing well mate, just not had any luck at all that half.’ Davie nodded, ‘This game’s far from finished. The team will be fired up in the second half.’ No sooner had the words left Davie’s mouth when a coin from the stand above struck his head,’Arrghhh, ya f…’ As Scott looked up he saw a plastic cup heading towards him and was too late to react as it hit his shoulder, splashing liquid onto his face and clothes.’ Davie rubbed his head with a grimace, ’You no order me any tea? Yer the same in the pub when it’s your round, ye’d think ye had a rattlesnake in yer pocket.’ Scott smiled, ‘Hate tae tell ye pal but it wisnae tea in that cup.’ Davie eased closer and sniffed, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Did wan of those mad Huns actually pish in a cup and fire it at you?’ He laughed as he said it, ‘hahaha Poor old pishy Scott! Suffering for the cause!’ Scott shook his head, ‘Aye, you laugh ya numpty.’ Davie smiled at him, ‘I’d rather get hit wi a coin than be scent marked by a currant bun!’  

They glance up at the Broomloan stand where the massed ranks of Celtic Supporters were beginning to find their voice. Soon every Celtic fan in the stadium raised their scarves and flags in in unison as the words of a familiar anthem boomed out…

‘Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone…’

As they sang the team came out and Scott could see Burns, Nicholas, Murdo McLeod and the other players look around in wonder. It was a strangely beautiful moment amid the coarseness of the day. Once more the supporters had bonded with the players, made them aware that they were right behind them. Here they were 2-0 down and the fans had clearly not given up. Neither would they.

As Scott and Davie settled to watch the second half, they and thousands like them urged the Celtic team on and the players found new energy and simply overran their opponents. First Nicholas scored with a penalty then McAdam made it 2-2 with a header as the huge away support watched in delight. There was only going to be one winner now and it was Celtic. McGarvey and Nicholas completed the comeback. As the final whistle sounded and news reached them that Dundee United had beaten Dundee to clinch their first league title, there was still huge happiness among the Celtic support that the players had risen to the challenge and not let them down. The fans gave their all at these games and they asked the players to do the same in return. Today they had, and no one was prouder of them that Scott and Davie.

As they headed home on the subway, the Celtic fans remained in good heart. Scott was putting up with Davie winding him up on the train. ‘Good movie on tonight, Lilian Gish is in it.’ He grinned. Scott could see he was using every opportunity to allude to what would become known as the ‘cup of pish’ incident. They got off the train and headed for the Celtic bars of the Gallowgate. There would be more laughter and songs to sing before the day was over. They may have lost the title that bright day in the spring of 1983 but the love fans like Scott and Davie had for their club was undiminished.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Every other Saturday

Every other Saturday

Tommy Mullins picked up his pint and glanced out of the window towards the lush green rectangle which had been his field of dreams for so many years. He was getting on now and enjoyed the comfort of the hospitality lounge at Celtic Park but part of him missed the old place. He was a Jungle boy at heart and his formative years had been spent on that famous old terrace cheering his team on. From the lounge above the North Stand he gazed into space, his mind’s eyes seeing Dalglish chip the keeper, McGrain racing down the wing and Johnny Doyle and Burns fighting for the Celts with every ounce of their being. They were some days to be alive and he was glad he was there to see them. Now he was older, probably wiser but still he hankered for the raw passion of the Jungle and the fans who brought it alive every other Saturday.

As he mused on these things a voice behind him broke into his thoughts. ‘Tam Mullin?’ He turned and gazed into the face of a man who might have been a similar age to him. Bright blue eyes regarded him, ‘I thought it was you, no seen ye in aboot 30 years!’ Tommy was struggling to recognise the face as he reached to shake the man’s hand. As he did so he saw a fading Indian ink tattoo etched below the man’s thumb. The word ‘Toi’ and a small blue-black shamrock beneath it told him what he wanted to know. ‘Eddie!’ he blurted out as recognition and relief flooded into his mind. ‘Eddie McGrory! Long time no see!’ Eddie smiled, pleased that despite losing most of his hair and the 30 years of wear and tear on his face that Tommy still recognised him. ‘You’ve come long way since our days fighting the Cranhill Fleet,’ he smiled. Tommy laughed, ‘They were wild days, Eddie, glad we both came through them. A good few didn’t.’ 

Tommy got the beers in and few would have guessed that the two smartly suited Celtic fans were discussing the less wealthy and more dangerous days of their youth. ‘What became of all the old mob?’ Tommy asked. Eddie rhymed of all their old friends and what he knew about them. ‘Toner’s in Barlinnie for selling the gear. Mad Max ended up in Australia, Tony G got married and is a Grandad noo! Big Andy ended up on the oil rigs and hasnae been seen since the 90s. Oh and Geezer lives in Airdrie noo, running a pub, I hear.’  Tommy nodded, ‘They were good mates. Stand by ye no matter what.’ Eddie regarded him, ‘How the fuck did we survive that madness, Tam?’ Tommy nodded, knowing exactly what his old friend meant. The gangs of Glasgow in the 1970’s sucked in so many of the young and their turf wars were brutal in the extreme. Easterhouse lads like Eddie and Tommy drifted into them to avoid being bullied by the other toughs in the area. ‘Ye mind that night we fought the Drummy? The time big Geezer got lifted?’ Tommy asked. Eddie nodded,’ Jesus, I thought my number was up that night Tommy. That mob broke intae the Butchers that week and brought every knife they stole. One mad bastard even had a cleaver!’ Tommy nodded, ‘I actually let myself get jailed that night, Eddie. It was safer in the cells.’ They laughed like two old war veterans talking about their service together.

They spent an hour reliving the days long gone when they were young and reckless. They talked of wild nights when alcohol flowed, and violence was never far away. Of the ancient Football Special trains taking them and hundreds of other Celtic supporters all over Scotland to see their team. Eddie said with no hint of regret in his voice, ‘Mind we teamed up wi the Shamrock tae fight that mad Hilltoon mob in Dundee? I missed the bus and had tae skip the train hame.’  Tommy grinned, ‘I lost a shoe at Motherwell, horse stood on it and I was swept away wi the crowd. Watched the game with a Haddows bag on my foot!’ Eddie laughed, ‘Then there was Hampden in 1980. The Huns came charging up and yer old Da, God rest him, shouts ‘Are yeez gonnae let these bastards bully yeez?’ Old fella was aboot 50, but he was one of the first o’er that fence and intae them.’ Tommy shook his head, a smile on his face, ‘Aye, my old man was off his rocker at times.’

They spoke too of the good times; the parties, the away trips following Celtic, the nights at the dancing, the ‘burds nipped’ and slow process of making something of their lives. The good people who struggled in hard circumstances to help them move on. ‘You left for Uni, as I recall,’ said Eddie to Tommy. Only guy I ever knew fae St Leonard’s who went tae Uni back then. Tommy smiled, ‘Plenty going now from Easterhouse. I help them and other like them.’  Tommy explained his route into higher education after completing his degree. ‘Once my Ma passed I realised I couldn’t live that manic life any more. Got a bit of help from the social worker, went to night school and on to Glasgow Uni. Guys like us never had the chances back then, Eddie. We lacked the aspiration, but I’ll tell ye this; we were no less bright that folk from Bearsden or Clarkston.’ Eddie nodded, ‘I screwed the nut tae. Got intae computers big time. Did a degree in programming; used tae make a fortune copying games and selling them at the Barras but it’s been legit for the last fifteen years.

As they chatted the stadium outside the glass window of the executive box began to fill. The throb of the Green Brigade drums began to fill the air and the songs started. Eddie nodded towards the corner where they stood, ‘At least wee bit of the Jungle survived eh?’ Tommy agreed but added, ‘I liked the old place, Eddie but there’s a time for change. We don’t forget where we’ve come from, but the world moves on.’ As kick off time approached they exited the lounge and headed for their seats. Eddie was three rows in front of Tommy and like him utterly engrossed in the game as they had been all those years ago in the old Jungle. Celtic controlled most of the early play in the bright September sunshine but Rangers hung on stubbornly. Then in 32 minutes Sinclair lined up a corner as the huge Celtic support roared in anticipation. He arced the ball to the back of the six-yard box where Moussa Dembele waited like a coiled spring. He rose above the static defence to power a header into the net and Celtic Park exploded. As the wild celebrations calmed a little Eddie turned and smiled at Tommy. Tommy returned his smile, nodding his head as he did so. It was always good to see old friends, always good to be reminded of where they had come from. 

As they refocussed on the game it struck him too that Celtic was a constant in their lives too. Wherever their journey took them they’d always be interested in what was going on at their club. He guessed even ‘Mad Max’ as they had called their big mate Joe Gibson was tuned in somewhere in Australia. Celtic get’s you that way, gets in the blood and stays there for a lifetime.

When the game was over, and Celtic had carved out a famous 5-1 victory, the two friends said their farewells. ‘It was good tae see ye Tam, gies a phone and we’ll get together again soon.’ Tommy shook his hand warmly, ‘It was great, Eddie. I’ll be in touch for sure mate.’ As he turned to leave Eddie gestured around the lounge with its bars and walls covered with paintings of Celtic stars of the past and present, ‘We’ve come a long way since we fought the Fleet.’ Tommy smiled, ‘Glad we survived it all, Eddie. Days like today make it all worthwhile.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Another year in Paradise

Another year in Paradise

Well that’s another year over and in the footballing sense it was an excellent one for Celtic. An Invincible, treble winning season was achieved and the team enter the New Year with the League Cup in the bag and 8 points clear in the SPFL. The club also made it to the Champions League and once more faced a formidable group which contained two of the top club sides in Europe. Rodgers set the target of reaching the Europa League and despite some embarrassing defeats, particularly against PSG, they finished in third spot having been fourth seeds in the group. So overall the history books will look kindly on 2017 from Celtic’s perspective although the team looked tired and jaded as the year drew to a close.

The last match of 2017 brought the Rangers to Celtic Park and their route one style and hustle made life difficult for a leg weary Celtic side which nonetheless dug in and fought right to the end. Celtic missed the creativity of Roberts and Rogic and looked uncomfortable in defence at times. Kristoffer Ajer looks a real prospect and will flourish in a settled back four. Perhaps the arrival of Marvin Compper will aid his development and push the other centre backs at the club to up their game. Celtic players barely had a fortnight off last summer as the demands of Champions League Qualifiers had them playing their first friendlies in June and the first competitive games in mid-July. Kieran Tierney has played 64 games for club and country in 2017 and others such as Brown, Lustig (58) and Sinclair (57) have played a huge amount of football.

This transfer window is an important one for Celtic and the fans will be well aware on the millions coming in from Van Dijk’s transfer to Liverpool from Southampton and would like to see most of it used to strengthen the side in key areas. If Moussa Dembele decides that it’s time to move on then good and well provided the price is right and at least some of the money is reinvested in the team. It would be fair to say that rotating the strikers hasn’t helped any of them find their top form. There will be comings and goings in January and it is to be hoped the team is rejuvenated when it all kicks off again in three weeks.

The match with Rangers brought out the worst in the away support as it always seems to do. My Twitter Timeline was awash with grown men trying to justify or openly exalting in songs about Paedophilia, anti-Catholic bile from the dark ages and a dirge about the Lisbon Lions dying. I simply can’t get into the mindset which thinks this is acceptable behaviour in the twenty first century. I have commented in the past that if the anti-Catholic songs we hear from the Ibrox fans were directed against Jews, Muslims or black people there would be a huge outcry to do something about it. As it is, the Police look on and do nothing as literally thousands of people chant ‘Fuck the Pope’ yards from them. If the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is to be worth the paper it’s written on then surely such hate crimes should be targeted?

Lord Byron once wrote thatthose who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.’ I would add to that that those who don’t speak up to condemn it are complicit. There are many decent followers of Rangers who are embarrassed by this poison among their support but their silence is deafening. The Herald newspaper unhelpfully and in my opinion untruthfully trotted out the ‘both sides the same’ nonsense in its report on the game. Journalist Graham Spiers exploded this drivel when he wrote a few years ago…

‘I’ve probably gone further in my accusations with regards Rangers rather than Celtic and that is because I decided to break an age old rule in Scottish football which said, if you’re writing about football and you’re writing about bigotry always make one side as bad as the other. That always struck me as odd. It was obvious to me that Rangers had a far greater problem, the result of which I was accused of being biased.’

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Celtic fans are angels, far from it but the sheer percentage of visiting supporters engaging in these chants at Celtic Park on December 30 is sad and perplexing. Have they no self-awareness? Do they simply not care that they appear to be bigoted red necks wallowing in their ignorance? Times change and people move on but some appear to be trapped in the deep well of prejudice with no idea of how to get out of it.

It would be nice to write about Scottish Football being on the up in 2018. Aberdeen had over 18,000 for their match with Hearts last week. Hibs and Hearts both average crowds around 19,000 and the standard of play is improving. Stadiums are evolving into more appropriate and safe places to watch football and for a country of 5.3 million more people per capita watch football here than any other league in Europe. We should be talking up our game and building for the future not watching as backward, Neanderthal behaviour from a minority drag us down. Alas as Albert Einstein once said, ‘We live in an age where an atom is easier to smash than a prejudice.’ My justifiable condemnation of a moronic minority in our society is no slight on the vast majority of Scots, who remain good, decent and tolerant people. However, if we want a better society for our children and grandchildren then we can’t remain silent in the face of such attitudes. As a good man once said; ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’  This issue goes beyond clubs and football; it’s a deep rooted problem in some corners of our society and it’s up to us all to help stamp it out or at least hold  a mirror up to bigotry’s ugly face.

I hope 2018 is a good one for all of you kind enough to read my articles. I hope the football is good and we see a continued resurgence in the much-maligned Scottish game. I hope too that my writing this year is concerned with events on the field and that the good people who follow all the clubs of Scotland make their voices heard. Be loud, be proud and be passionate about your team but leave the prejudice in the past. It isn’t wanted, it isn’t needed and it tells us more about the bigots themselves than their intended targets.

Now, let’s enjoy another year of blood and thunder in this fine old game of ours. For all its clannishness, faults and failings, Scottish football can still enthral and I’m sure it will in 2018.

Happy new year!