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.’