Saturday, 12 May 2018

A Piece of Paradise

A Piece of Paradise

Mikey Walsh took the stairs two at a time feeling an excitement in the pit of his stomach which ebbed a little as he reached the second floor and he remembered why he was here. A nurse smiled at him, regarding his Celtic shirt which he wore beneath his jacket, ‘Let’s hope we do it this week eh? No room for error now.’ Mikey grinned, ‘Today’s the day.’ She passed him with a smile, ‘I sure hope so, my old man’s nerves are frayed to breaking point.  Mikey pushed the door of Ward 3 and glanced at the duty desk on his left hand side which was deserted. He paused for a moment unsure if he could just wander in out of visiting time. Time was short today however so he headed up the central aisle towards his father’s bed.

His old man was sitting up in bed reading a newspaper; his glasses perched on the end of his nose. Mikey smiled, ‘Aw right da, that you reading the Daily Ranger again?’ His old man looked up, ‘Michael son! I never expected to see you today? Mikey sat on the chair by his father’s bed, ‘I thought I’d pop in on my way tae pick up Scott and Tony, big day today.’ His father nodded, ‘Celtic better get the job finished today. Last week at Dunfermline was heart attack material.’ The older man smiled remembering why he was in the Southern General in the first place before continuing, ‘I saw every one of the clinchers when Jock’s team did 9 in a row. Fir Park in 66 tae Falkirk in 74, It’d break my heart if that mob won ten. We’ve got to stop them.’ Mikey nodded, ‘They’ll no blow it this week, Jansen knows what it means tae the fans and the players know it’s last chance saloon.’ His old man removed his glasses and regarded him, ‘They’re under real pressure and pressure can bring out the best or make a team fold.’

They chatted, mostly about the championship decider later that day, for 15 minutes before a stern looking ward Sister approached the bed. ‘Mr Walsh visiting is 2 till 3, or 7 till 8 tonight. I must insist your visitor leaves now!’ Old Tommy Walsh regarded her with a shrug, ‘Aye Doll, he’ll be leaving in a minute, just discussing important family business.’ She pursed her lips and turned to go saying, ‘see that he does.’ Mikey watched her march up the Ward, ‘Old school that yin!’ His father grinned, ‘reminds me of yer maw, ye wouldn’t want tae go home tae her wi the wages opened!’ Old Tommy looked at his son, ‘you’d best be off, Michael. Are you all meeting up the Pub later?’ Mikey nodded, ‘aye Da, the whole clan will be there. Here’s hoping we’ve got something tae celebrate. It’ll be like a funeral if we don’t win.’ With that he smiled at his old man and stood to leave, ‘I’d best head, Da, I’ll be up tonight, hopefully bringing good news.’ His old man grinned, ‘Today’s the day, son, I can feel it in my bones.’

Mikey drove out of the hospital and headed towards Paisley Road to pick up his brother Scott and his pal Tony. He drove down Edmiston Drive and past Ibrox stadium which stood quiet and empty, glancing at the red brick façade. ‘Our time now chaps,’ he mumbled to himself hoping it was true.  Scott and Tony stood waiting at the corner by the Fiorentina Restaurant, their Celtic colours invisible behind zipped up jackets. Each carried a plastic bag containing their scarves. This neck of the woods was not the place to be flaunting the green especially on a day like today. They jumped into the car, ‘Aw right Mikey boy, get the tunes oan,’ Scott said with a smile, ‘today’s the day we stop the ten!’ Mikey grinned, ‘you been boozing already bro?’ and pushed the cassette tape into the player, instantly filling the car with the dulcet tones of Christy Moore….

‘Van Diemen’s land is a hell for a man 
to live out his whole life in slavery,
Where the climate is raw and the gun makes the law,
Neither wind nor rain care for bravery, Twenty years have gone by,
I’ve ended my bond, my comrades ghosts walk behind me,
A rebel I came and I’m still the same, on the cold winter’s nights
you will find me… oh I wish I was back home in Derry.’

The car headed east towards Celtic Park and their team’s date with destiny. From all over Scotland, Ireland and a hundred other places they were travelling too, in hope and expectation that their team could finally end ten barren years and win the title. As Tommy Burns had once said you didn’t just play for Celtic when you pulled on that shirt, you played for a people and a cause.

The atmosphere was raucous when the three Celts took their seats in the huge north stand but there was something else in the air too; it was a quietly nagging doubt, an unspoken dread that they’d blow it.  As the teams came out the noise levels were ear splitting, this was it, 90 minutes to be heroes forever of the forgotten men who lost the ten. The game began at a furious pace as St Johnstone dug in and made their intentions clear, they were here to do a professional job and had beaten Celtic in Perth a few months earlier. In just three minutes Henrik Larsson picked up the ball on the left and cut across the 18 yard line with defenders snapping at his heels. The sallow skinned Swede then unleashed a curling shot which sailed into the St Johnstone net. Celtic Park exploded, unleashing a torrent of noise and pent up emotion which flowed from the stands onto the pitch. Maybe they wouldn’t bottle it, maybe today would be their day…

Seven miles away in the Southern General Hospital, the duty Ward Sister was doing her rounds after the departure of the afternoon visitors. All was quiet and as she reached the bed of old Mr Walsh who lay with his eyes closed, the white ear phones of the hospital radio suggesting he was listening to some relaxing music. As she glanced at the board with his notes which hung at the foot of the bed he suddenly open his eyes and roared, ‘Yassss! Henrik ya fucking dancer!’ The startled nurse dropped the board in her fright before scowling at him, ‘Mr Walsh! That language will not be tolerated in this ward!’ He removed one of the earphones and grinned at her, ‘Sorry aboot that doll!’

Back at Celtic Park the 50,000 fans crowded into the three quarters complete stadium then endured 70 long minutes of stress and pressure as the team failed to deliver the killer blow. They knew Rangers were winning at Tannadice and that all it took to kill their dream would be a St Johnstone equaliser. The nervousness of the fans was affecting the players and when George O’Boyle almost got on the end of a cross for the visitors the tension increased. Then in 72 minutes Celtic broke up the left with the dependable Tom Boyd finding McNamara racing up the wing. His low cross was perfectly placed and zipped across the face of goal where the onrushing Harold Brattbakk met it and slammed the ball past Alan Main and into the net.

The goal was greeted like few others in Celtic history. Not only did it seal victory in the match, it ended ten barren years without the title and signalled that Celtic’s years in the wilderness were over. Mikey, eyes closed, hugged his brother in sheer delight as pandemonium erupted around them in the stands. The long wait was over, they had done it. Celtic were the Champions! In that moment of elation he thought of his old man in the hospital, no doubt tuning in on the radio. He was the man who introduced him to this magical football club, who took him to games all over Scotland and taught him the history and what it meant to be a Celt. He glanced around him at celebrating supporters who all shared that common bond, that love of Celtic, ‘that was for you da!’ he mumbled, ‘that was for you!’

Later that fine May day Mikey bounced up the stairs to his old man’s Ward. There was a night of celebrating ahead but first he would visit his old man and tell him of the day’s events. The old man was sitting up in bed and greeted him with a clenched fist salute and a huge smile. Mikey gave him a hug and produced a plastic bag from his jacket. ‘This is for you Da,’ he smiled. The old man looked mystified as he opened the bag and took out an emerald slither of earth and grass. ‘You couldn’t be at Paradise today so I brought a bit of it to you.’ The old man grinned, ‘You were on the park? Tell me about it son, I want tae know every detail.’

As they talked intently about the day’s events, their laughter echoing around the ward, the duty sister passed and glanced at the piece of turf sitting incongruously on the bedside cabinet. She rolled her eyes as old Tommy smiled at her, ‘A wee piece of Paradise, doll. I can cut you a bit if ye want?’ Her expression suggested it wasn’t an offer she’d take up.

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