John Toner eased the bathroom door opened and looked at his old man as he stood by the sink. The pale light of a Scottish winter slanted in the widow as he watched the even stroke of his old man's razor on his face. He always found it fascinating watching his da shave but something else was on his mind this cold winter's morning. 'Da did ye see uncle Tam that ticket for me?' His father turned to look at him, the shaving foam giving him a bright white beard which to young John made him look like Santa. 'He's sure if he's going the match but says if he's no then you're first on the list to get his ticket.' John smiled and walked forward towards his old man, 'I've never been a Celtic and Rangers game, da, I really want to go.' He wrinkled his nose as he added, 'I like uncle Tam but I really hope he's going.' His father smiled, 'He'll be at the party tonight, we can ask him then.' With that he grabbed his son, 'Noo you, auld da a hug.' John laughed as the shaving foam got all over his face.
The day drifted past and John helped his mother prepare for the family gathering which would take place that night. It was a yearly tradition that the Toner and Reilly clans gathered at their house on January the first to celebrate the New Year. ' John' as he was known to most of the family, loved these family gatherings as there was always food, fun and a lot of singing going on. It was also one of the few days of the year when he was also allowed to stay up late and for a that was always a bit exciting.
He glanced out of the window at the quiet streets of below. A steady drizzle was falling as he daydreamed about going to see Celtic play Rangers the next day. He'd heard a lot about these matches from his friends at school and although he'd watched a few on tv had never been there in all of his 9 years of life. His grandad had joked that Rangers had won the league every year since he had been born and that he was a bit of a jinx. This year though was going to be different although Celtic still had an annoying habit of losing games they should be winning. His old man took him to a few games each season but had always told him that the Rangers game was too dangerous or he wasn't old enough but John had kept badgering him about it until he relented. 'Uncle Tam might not be going,' he had said, 'his bad back is bothering him.' John had a window of hope that this time he might just make the game.
As the shades of night fell, the familiar sound of slamming taxi doors and chatter told him that the family had started to arrive. His grey-haired grandparents were first to knock the door and handed over a couple of bags full of clinking bottles which were lined up with all the others on the kitchen worktop like regiments of soldiers awaiting battle. As the house filled, John listened out for the door hoping his uncle Tam would arrive soon and put him out of his misery. He so wanted to go to the match the following day and the suspense was killing him. Ten o'clock had come and gone and every knock of the door had John racing to open it only to find cousins, aunties and but no uncle Tam. Laughter and chatter filled the house and soon the drink was flowing.
The noisy living room was full and a blue haze of smoke filled the air. The familiar voice of John's granny called for quiet before she launched into her song...
'Blow me a kiss from across the room, Say I look nice when I'm not Touch my hair as you pass my chair, Little things mean a lot
Give me your arm as we cross the street, Call me at six on the dot A line a day when you're far away, Little things mean a lot'
There was an appreciative silence as she sang in an in a not unpleasant voice. John squeezed onto the couch beside his dad as the song went on. He looked around the living room at the faces of his relatives seemingly caught up in the song his gran was singing. Even at 9 he was becoming more aware of the bonds of family and how such gatherings strengthened them. The Toners were all here as were a good few of his mum's side, the . When the song finished there was generous applause before a female voice shouted, 'Right, a man's turn !' There was an unwritten etiquette about such things; a woman singer was always followed by a man. You didn't sing anyone else's song and you kept silent unless accompaniment was required. The laughter and noise subsided again as his uncle John began singing one of his ....
As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham I think about these past few days, oh, will they say we've failed? From our school days, they have told us we must yearn for liberty Yet, all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me...
Most in the room quietly joined in the chorus and even John knew the words from the Dubliners songs his old man played on the tape deck in his car....
'Oh, Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger They'll take me out at dawn and I will die With all my love, I place this wedding ring upon your finger There won't be time to share our love for we must say good-bye.'
The songs came and went and the drink continued to flow before John heard his mother tell him it was time for bed. 'Is uncle Tam no coming?' He enquired with a frown. 'I'll phone him when I get a chance John but for now it's way past your bedtime.' John flopped onto his bed glancing around him at the posters adorning the room . Burley, Lambert and of course his player, Henrik Larsson, smiled back at him as he lay in the darkness listening to the muffled laughter from the living-room. Someone was singing but he was unsure of the song as his eyes closed and sleep took him.
'John John...' A quiet voice woke him out of his sleep and he slowly opened his bleary eyes to the weak light of a January morning. His father was sitting on the edge of his bed smiling at him, 'That was your uncle Tam on the phone...' John instantly sat up and looked imploringly at his father who grinned at him, 'He can't make the game so you're coming along today.' John grinned and threw his arms around his father's neck, '! When his old man had left the room, John glanced at the faces of the Celtic players smiling at him from the posters on his bedroom walls. 'You better do it today!'
The house was still busy and the smell of sizzling bacon filled the air as John walked into the living room wearing his bumble bee Celtic top. His grandfather smiled, 'All right John son, I hear your coming the match. Hopefully the jinx will end today.' John's father shook his head, 'It's no his fault Rangers have won the league for his entire life so less of this jinx talk.' John was past caring about such talk in his excitement about seeing his first Celtic-Rangers game. His grandad continued, 'Aye, right. Maybe wee John will bring us good luck today. We bloody need it after that result in Perth.' His father replied, 'We're four points behind and if we don't win today I think they might Ten in a row,' John shook his head, 'We'll win da, I just know we will.' His old man smiled, 'I bloody hope so.'
It seemed as if hundreds of Celtic fans crowded the platform of railway station. A knot of Rangers supporters had gathered at the far end of the platform but they were local lads who knew many of the green clad fans so there was no animosity just the usual banter. 'Here, Joe,' one shouted to a friend in a hooped Celtic shirt, 'Laudrup will destroy your back lot.' His Celtic supporting friend shook his head, 'Big Rico will handle that poser.' John stood with his father and grandad, three generations of Celtic fans off to watch the oldest and most contested rivalry of them all. The train arrived and was soon packed with fans heading for the game. A few yellow coated Policemen watched them but there was no sign of problems. The train stopped at Duke Street station a few minutes later and the fans poured out. John took his old man's hand as they walked in the chilly air towards Celtic Park. His eyes were shining when he saw the stadium. His father exchanged looks with his own dad. They had shared such a moment themselves back in the 1970's. He hoped Celtic wouldn't let them down today.
The temporary stand behind the goal was buzzing as the teams came out. Thousands of feet stamped on the boards of the rickety looking structure to create a noise like distant thunder. John sat between his father and grandfather as the action began. On occasion he'd just look around the stadium and take in the sights and sounds which crashed onto his senses like huge wave onto a beach. He was by it all. A hectic first half marked by Celtic dominance and Rangers counter attacking flew past in what seemed moments. 'We need a goal here,' his old man said as the second half action raged, 'I can see the sucker punch coming.' Wee John looked at his dad, 'We'll get one , don't worry.' No sooner were the words out of his mouth when a through ball found Craig Burley in space and the midfielder flashed a low shot past and into the net. Celtic Park exploded and wee John was grabbed in his father's strong arms who roared and screamed like a mad man. A crescendo of noise poured from the stands onto the pitch as Celtic went for the jugular.
As the game reached its concluding phase a ball into the box was headed clear by the Rangers . What happened next was one of those moments which would live with John and thousands of others for the rest of his days. Paul Lambert raced onto the loose ball and smashed an unstoppable, swerving shot high into the Rangers net. It was a goal of subliminal beauty and it sealed a victory which might just have Jansen's team believing they could stop the 'Ten.' For one wee boy though it was the wonderful conclusion to a day he'd never forget. As he hugged his old man he heard him mutter, 'We're win the league, Johnny ! I know we are.' Wee John had a smile as wide as the Clyde on his face, 'I know we are Da, I know we are!'