Joe McLaughlin stomped moodily down the Celtic Way with his brother Peter in the chill of a November afternoon, ‘Fifty years he supported Celtic, Peter. Fifty years!’ His older and certainly less fiery brother nodded, ‘I know Joe but things have changed, they won’t let you do the things they used to.’ Joe shook his head, ‘Och, I know Peter but you’d think they’d let ye do it on the track or behind the goal, I mean I promised my Da when he was in the hospital and a promise is a promise!’ Before his brother could reply a voice to his right called over, ‘Aw right Joe? How’s tricks ma man?’ It was Joe’s erstwhile workmate Derek Duffy, a ginger haired ox of a man who had a long standing body odour problem leading to him being nicknamed ‘Bo Derek.’ Joe shook his hand, ‘How ye doing Bo, whit brings you up here?’ The bigger man, who seemed neither to know nor care why folk had called him Bo for years, held up a bag from the Celtic shop, ‘Getting the wee man a Celtic tap. Some price these days! What about you?’ Joe shook his head, ‘Up seeing yon PR wumin about getting my Da’s ashes spread oan the grass behind the goal. No chance, she chased us.’ Bo shook his head doubtfully, ‘I know how much Joe Snr loved the Celts but if they allowed that then hundreds of folk would do it. Why not get him wan ay yon bricks wi his name on it?’ ‘I thought of that,’ said Joe rubbing the stubble on his chin, 'but it was the old fella’s last wish that his ashes were spread on the pitch at Celtic Park.’ His brother Peter cut in, ‘We’ll think of something. Maybe spread them on the Celtic way or Barrowfield?’ Joe exhaled, ‘Aye, we’ll think of something.’
Later that night as a slow drizzle drifted lazily out of the dark Glasgow sky, Joe was gazing out of his window deep in thought. A mile away the sky over Glasgow Green was awash with colour as the annual fireworks display boomed and fizzed. He could feel the vibrations of the fireworks even from his Gorbals home and a quiet whining behind him reminded him that Jinky, his Border Collie, was feeling it too and didn’t like it one bit. A huge boom echoed towards him as the show reached its crescendo then all was quiet save a distant sound of cheering from the thousands who always attended the display. An idea was formulating in his mind and he turned to look for his laptop and googled ‘Fireworks.’
A week later Joe sat in his kitchen telling his brother Peter about his recent purchase. Peter looked at him as if he was completely insane. ‘A rocket? You’ve actually sent for a giant fuckin rocket? I’m beginning tae think you’re a fuckin rocket, Joe!’ Joe grinned and left the room. He returned moments later carrying a metre long cardboard box which he plonked down heavily on the kitchen table. ‘It came this morning.’ Peter opened the flaps on the box like a bomb disposal expert viewing a device for the first time. ‘Jesus Christ!’ he exclaimed, ‘It’s fuckin massive! Whit did this cost ye?’ Joe looked at him with a serious face, ‘Eighty five quid.’ Peter looked at the bizarrely shaped firework. It was shaped like a huge microphone with a bulbous head no doubt full of highly explosive gunpowder. The thick, wooden rod attached to it was at least 3 feet long. ‘This is one serious item, Joe. You need tae be very careful with this.’ Joe nodded, ‘I’ve read the instructions. It’s fine under ma bed.’ Peter looked aghast, ‘Under yer bed? If ye farted and this thing went aff ye’d blow the close tae Kingdom come! Get it oot tae the shed!’ Joe shook his head, ‘Shed’s too damp. It might not work.’ Peter exhaled, ‘Joe, this thing is like an unexploded bomb. Ye cannae keep it in the hoose! Whit did ye buy it for anyway? Bonfire night was last week.’ If Peter thought his younger brother’s purchase of an £85 rocket sounded bizarre, what he heard next was simply astounding.
‘Celtic’s playing Spartak Moscow in a couple of weeks. We’re taking the firework tae that grassy area near the stadium at Barrowfield. When it’s quiet we fire it over the stadium and kaboom!’ Peter looked at him opened mouthed, ‘Kaboom? Whit the fuck are you oan aboot? What’s the point in firing a huge fuckin rocket at Celtic Park? Are ye mad? Ye could hurt somebody.’ Joe regarded him with a look of quiet determination, ‘It’s the only way to get my Da’s ashes onto the pitch.’ With this he turned the rocket around carefully in the box. On one side there was a piece of heavy duty duct tape stuck to the side of the sphere. ‘I bored a hole and poured some of the powder oot and got my da’s ashes in using a wee funnel.’ Peter was horrified, ‘Ye did whit? Ya fuckin madman, there’s no way you’re doing this, Joe. You’ve altered the rocket, it could go anywhere! Some granny in Helenvale flats might be sitting in her bubble bath when your fucking doodlebug crashes through the windae! Naw Joe, Naw!’ Joe looked at his brother, ‘It’ll be fine.’ He said unconvincingly, ‘It goes up 300 metres before exploding. I’ve read up on it.’ Peter was having none of it, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Joe there will be 60,000 people milling about the area that night. You cannae dae this, Joe! Promise me you’ll no be so fuckin stupid!’ Joe glared at him, ‘Nothing will go wrong. It’ll be fine. It’s what my da wanted.’ Peter raised his voice, ‘He wanted his ashes scattered on the pitch, no fuckin exploded over the whole east end!’ Joe said nothing and simply closed the big box hiding the firework from view. Peter looked at him intensely, ‘Joe, promise me! Promise me you’ll never light the fuse on this monstrosity.’ Joe sighed, ‘Aye, aw right, Peter.’
Wednesday 5th December found Peter McLaughlin in the huge north stand of a packed Celtic Park. The crowd were making an incredible din as Celtic and Spartak Moscow walked out of the tunnel. The noise increased even more as the Champions League them music pulsed through the cold night air. ‘Come on Celtic!’ Peter roared as he watched Celtic enter their pre-match huddle. The noise was deafening as the game got underway. This was it, a Celtic win coupled with Benfica not winning in Barcelona would see the Hoops through to the last 16 of Europe’s premier tournament.
The game thundered from one end of the field to the other as both sides sought to establish dominance. The breakthrough came on 21 minutes as Gary Hooper pounced on a mistake in the Russian’s defence to thrash the ball beyond keeper Pesiakov. Celtic Park exploded as the fans roared Celtic on. In the top tier of the north stand, Peter glanced at the empty seat beside him. Joe hadn’t turned up for the game. In fact he had barely spoken to him since their row about his insane plan with the rocket. Maybe he was still in a mood, thought Peter as he refocussed on the game. On 39 minutes the Russians equalised. It was going to be a grim struggle right to the end of the game.
In the second half, Celtic old boy, Aidan McGeady appeared in the red of Spartak but it was Celtic pushing and probing, looking for the winner they so desperately needed. Then late in the game a clumsy tackle on Samaras in the box saw thousands of heads swivel towards the Referee who immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Celtic Park was at fever pitch as Kris Commons placed the ball on the penalty spot. This was it, the moment of truth. He strode forward confidently and hammered the ball high towards goal. The goalkeeper spread himself well but was helpless as the ball smashed of the underside of the bar and into the net!
A tsunami of noise thundered from the stands onto the field. Peter McLaughlin was swept up in a bear hug by a fan to his right as they joined 60,000 others in roaring their heads off. He looked up at the dark Glasgow sky with a grin as wide as the Clyde on his face and punched the air triumphantly. As he did, he heard the boom of an exploding firework and saw a split second later a thousand green and golden flashes which sizzled and sparkled, momentarily lighting up the night sky. Peter’s smile faded as he thought immediately of Joe, ‘That screwball has gone and done it!’ he mumbled to himself!
As the final whistle sounded and the Celtic players and supporters noisily celebrated making it through to the last 16 of the Champions League, the last earthly atoms of Joe McLaughlin Senior drifted on the chill wind high above the streets he knew so well as a boy and man.
At least a few of them drifted down onto that brightly lit emerald rectangle where he had watched his team play so often. He would have been happy at that. Joe had kept his promise.