Saturday, 2 June 2018

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood

It’s a feature of life that the older generation are often unhappy with the behaviour of the young. Consider the following quote…

‘The children of today love luxury, have bad manners, show contempt for authority and are disrespectful to their elders.’

A few of you reading these words will no doubt be nodding your head and thinking they contain a grain of truth. It may surprise you to know that they were written by Greek Philosopher, Socrates, 2400 years ago. It seems that these generational squabbles are nothing new.

This came to mind when I met an old friend recently who used to accompany me all over the as we followed Celtic in our youth. We got to reminiscing about those times and among the great footballing memories we shared, there were also some more hair-raising adventures discussed. The Hampden riot in 1980 was chief among them and in truth I’ve never seen Glasgow in such a ferment before or since, The trouble at the stadium was repeated in streets and bars throughout the city and the Police cells were full to bursting when the sun set.

Younger Celtic supporters today often get it in the neck from their elders for things such as pyrotechnics, flares (smoke bombs - not 1970s trousers) and jumping around at football as if they were in a mosh pit but truth be told, their fathers and grandfathers were just as lively in their youth and often worse! Growing up and following Celtic in the 1970s and 80s was an experience which could offer the same thrills and disappointments as following the team today but the football environment we moved in was more lawless and could even be dangerous at times.

For instance in the spring of 1978 Celtic were facing the last few games of a dreadful season in which they would finish fifth in the league and fail to qualify for Europe for the first time in years. They were on the wrong end of a 4-1 hiding at Easter Road when some of the fans got violent. Golf balls and bottles flew and the field was invaded. It took most of the Celtic team and manager to usher fans back onto the terracing. Police made 30 arrests. Later that year, Celtic travelled to Burnley to play in the Anglo-Scottish Cup. 10,000 Celtic fans headed down and many had been drinking all day by the time the game started. The usual moronic taunts from the local supporters led to some Celtic fans ripping up railings and starting what was by any standards serious disorder. Fighting halted the game for a while and it took the Police a good while to restore order. The local Police chief said it was the worst hooliganism he had ever seen in Burnley. By 1980 we had the cup final with Rangers and perhaps the worst scenes of rioting seen at a major Scottish sporting event since the 1909 cup final had been abandoned and Hampden left smouldering by a rampaging mob.

Incidents as serious as the ones above were rare but there was an underlying threat of trouble at many games in those days as policing hadn’t yet evolved the tactics to make it less likely and stadiums were antiquated and un-segregated for the most part. You knew in advance that there were away matches were a scrap was likely with unsurprisingly Hibs, Hearts, Rangers and even Dundee being among them.  Alcohol was ubiquitous and I still recall watching in amazement as a man denied entry to Celtic Park with a bottle of Eldorado wine drank the lot in two huge swigs before dumping the empty in a bin by the turnstile and entering the stadium.

On occasion there were fights within the Celtic support with gangs from various parts of Glasgow bumping into each other in the old Jungle. There were also times when some supporters were willing to take on the Police as we saw in the infamous Janefield Street Riot of 1984. There was a huge element of provocation that night and some could justifiably claim self-defence. Police horses had charged up a packed Janefield Street in the aftermath of a Celtic v Rangers game causing absolute mayhem. People fell over and the sheer weight of bodies trying to avoid the horses caused walls and railings to collapse. There seemed no justification for the charge by Strathclyde’s mounted division but when they reached the stadium and turned to charge again, they were met by a hail of bricks garnered from the collapsed wall. Van loads of Police arrived then and lashed out at anyone within reach with batons, boots and fists. It was an ugly night and one on which it was difficult to discern who exactly were the hooligans and who the guardians of the law. It was a similar tale at the Cliftonville v Celtic match in Belfast that year when the RUC reverted to type and behaved with similar brutality.

The Celtic song book in those days was more earthy too and alongside the standards like ‘The grand old team’ and ‘You’ll never walk alone’ there were numerous Irish nationalist songs and some fairly crude lyrics were added to popular chart tunes of the time.  One which sticks in the mind used the tune from the song ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ about Muhammad Ali’s fight with George Foreman, but with the lyric amended, it was hardly Lennon and McCartney but such ditties were common among most supports when abusing rivals…

‘Came a monkey called John Grieg, to Park, to Parkhead,
Had a face like ham and egg, McCluskey broke the bastard’s leg
Hear the rumble in the Jungle…. at Parkhead’

Terrace life in the 1970s and 80s could be fantastic when the crowd was roaring out the backing for the team but even the most fervent Celt would admit it could be a bit hair-raising at times too. I’m sure most of the older Celtic fans reading these words will be able to recount incidents in stadiums, streets, railway stations or pubs which had them wondering what the hell was going on.

So maybe we should cut the younger generation a bit of slack. Of course they’ll get on your nerves at times with their antics but we older fans should remember that we were once like that. My old man once said to a neighbour who was at the door complaining about us playing football in the back court, ‘Were ye never a wean yerself?’  We should bear that in mind when the next feel like moaning about the young. We did many similar things when boyhood’s fire was in our blood and most of us turned out okay in the end.

Every generation seems to need to make its own mistakes before learning from them and growing up. I recall coming home bedraggled from a match at Ibrox as a lad. I had my hooped shirt on and was delighted that Celtic had won. My Celtic mad uncle smiled as he watched me talking excitedly about the match and Joe Craig’s stunning winning goal, before saying to me… ‘You are as I was. I am as you will be.’

I was a youngster learning about the world and my place in it. I was finding out first-hand about that comradeship and warmth which goes with following Celtic. It was all part of growing up. It has ever been thus, even Socrates knew that.



  1. Another great read Jim,I was at a lot of the games in that era myself. I remember well the game at Easter Road,though not excusing it in any way,the violence started when the Hibs keeper McDonald, came out for a loose ball and kicked a Celtic player(McCluskey or McAdam?) squarely in the balls. The referee took no action(quelle surprise) and mayhem followed. Jock Stein appeared on the pitch and ushered the fans back to the retracing with a menacing look on his face. No one argued. I remember this game in particular as Mike Conroy,a big favourite of mine,scored with a header from about 20 yards out. I may be mistaken about the distance,one tends to exaggerate the older one gets. In another 10 years or so,I'll be telling my grandweans he headered it home from the halfway line.

    1. Correct Danny. Celtic lost 15 league games in 1977-78 season as the absence of Dalglish, McGrain & Stanton hit home. As bad a season as I can recall. HH

  2. Great read again.i was at hibs and burnley as a 15 year old.i loved it.what a rotten season thats why im a "celtic da"telling the young team to embrace every trophy as if its the pyro no party😁im 55 now and still lovin it🍀

    1. Same here Wully, loving every moment of our current success. Thanks for taking the time to read it HH

    2. Agree with every word of every comment. 1979 Rodding McDonald's vs pre Sevco and they made about 50 celtic buses park off London Rd. In the days when that was the rangers end. Mayhem ensued....