The sweetest thing
Desmond Daly stood beside his son Charlie in the huge bowl of Celtic Park as the sound of U2 echoed in the dark November sky. Tens of thousands of Celtic fans were cheering their team from the field after they had just destroyed their great rivals, Rangers 5-1. It was, as the song so fittingly said, the sweetest thing for every Celtic fan. New boy Lubomir Moravcik had played a blinder and scored two fine goals. The team were picking up and things looked a bit brighter than they had after the 2-1 loss at St Johnstone the week before. Dessie turned to his son and saw in his eyes that same thrill and sense of wonder he had known so many years before. As young Charlie cheered the team from the field, Dessie’s mind drifted back to days long gone…….
Someone once said that Glaswegians had a hundred words for rain just as Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. Both might have been myths but on a chilly February day the wind driven rain was falling in that slanting, sideways fashion which drove it into the faces of those trooping along the Gallowgate towards Celtic Park. The February frost had relented but it was still bitterly cold as ten year old Desmond Daly leaned on the door post of Baird’s Bar waiting for his old man to finish his pints and take him to his very first Celtic v Rangers game. He had badgered his old man for weeks about going to the match and he had relented in the end. Dessie was excited about it and if the price of going to the match was hanging about outside a pub in the rain for a couple of hours then so be it. Occasionally someone would enter or leave the pub and Dessie would have a glimpse into the noisy, smoky interior which was packed Celtic fans, laughing, drinking and singing before the match. Would that be him one day, he wondered? As a patron left the Pub Dessie could hear a familiar song drifting out the door on a cloud of cigarette smoke…
‘A lorry load of volunteers approached the border town
They were men from Dublin and from Cork, Fermanagh and Tyrone
But the leader was a Limerick man, Sean South from Garryowen’
His old man had a scratchy old LP with that song and others like it on it. A boy of similar age to him arrived with his old man who lectured him, ‘Stay here tae I come oot, nae wandering aff or ye’ll no be going tae the game!’ With that the man disappeared into the pub. The boy glanced at Dessie, ‘Yer da in there tae?’ Dessie nodded, ‘Aye, been in there over an hour and I’m soaking.’ The boy nodded in return, ‘I’m Paddy, wits yoor name?’ ‘Dessie, Dessie Daly.’ Paddy stepped closer to him, ‘Listen Dessie, it’s only wan o’clock. They’ll no be oot tae at least two. Ye fancy a walk roon the Barras? It’ll get us oot ay the rain?’ Dessie’s instincts told him to stay put but what would be the harm, besides the Barras had some interesting stuff? ‘Right,’ he replied, ‘but just for 20 minutes, my da will dae his nut if I’m no there when he comes oot.’ With that the two boys walked the few yards from the pub doorway towards the covered market and all the strange delights it had to offer.
As they wandered among stalls laden with musty smelling old clothes, fishing tackle, work tools and a host of other things, Paddy grinned and nodded towards a stall set against the wall, ‘Check the sweetie stall, mon.’ The two boys stood among the milling crowd in the market looking at all manner of sweets neatly packed in rows of translucent plastic bags. ‘Have ye got aniseed balls, mister?’ Paddy asked the grey haired man behind the stall. The man grinned, ‘Naw, it’s just the way I’m sitting.’ The two boys missed the joke as he continued, ‘Cola cubes, Everton mints, Peaches and cream, American bubble gum, love hearts, flying saucers, Fizz whizz, candy cigarettes but nae aniseed balls.’ Paddy nodded, ‘Right, cheers,’ and turned away from the stall. Dessie noticed he walked a little faster until they were out of sight of the stall. ‘There ye go, Dessie,’ Paddy said with a grin, handing him a bag of sweets. Paddy took them with a look of surprise, ‘Ye knocked them?’ Paddy nodded as he stuffed two cola cubes into his mouth, ‘Too easy doon the Barras.’ Dessie glanced over Paddy’s shoulder to the stall selling religious items where a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stared sadly at him as if to say, ‘Don’t let me down, Dessie!’
The two boys wandered the maze of stalls eating sweets and glancing at the eclectic and varied items for sale. One stall was piled high with hundreds of pairs of spectacles and people simply tried them on until they found a pair they could see out of. There were fireplaces, fur coats, Orange and Republican LPs, army uniforms, cooking pots, frozen meat, television valves, hot food and all manner of textiles and clothing. The noise, smell and sights hypnotised Dessie until he glanced at a stall selling clocks and noticed that most of them said it was 2,25pm. ‘Shit!’ he exclaimed, ‘we need tae get back!’ Paddy shrugged, ‘My Da always comes oot at half two so yer right, we’d best head back.’ They pushed their way through the milling crowds and back onto the Gallowgate. The pavements were now full of supporters heading for the match, marching east into the squally wind and rain. They reached the pub just as Paddy’s da came out the door, ‘Right you, let’s go and watch the Celts smash this mob!’ Paddy grinned at Dessie, ‘See ye Dessie, enjoy the game!’ With that they joined the human river flowing towards Celtic Park.
Dessie turned back to the pub and gently eased the door opened a little. The bar was much less crowded now and there was no sign of his old man. He risked taking a step inside to get a better look but he was gone. The barman glanced at him and barked, ‘Nae weans allowed wee man, so oot ye go!’ Dessie felt a mild sensation of panic as he realised his old man wasn’t there. He searched him mind, what would his da do? In the end he figured his da would figure he got fed up waiting in the rain and had gone home. Dessie decided to head for Celtic Park; he knew where his old man stood at every home game and was sure he could find him. He joined the river of humanity heading for the stadium.
As he turned into Janefield the crowds were heavier and the singing more raucous. A man stood by a wall with two big boxes full of rolls, ‘Erza cheese or ham rolls!’ he called out above the din. There were flag sellers, programme sellers and even the odd musician playing tunes on a penny whistle. At last Dessie reached the queues for the turnstiles at the Celtic end. He looked around for a suitable candidate to get him into the game. There was a skill to this, not too old, not too drunk and of course they had to be bigger than you. He spotted a kind faced man in a suit and heavy winter overcoat, ‘Any chance ay a lift o’er, mister?’ The man smiled, ‘Sure wee man, mon wi me.’ The queue took forever as the Police insisted on searching people for drink but at last they reached the turnstile where the man hoisted Dessie up. He swung his legs over as his feet touched the tarmac inside the stadium he heard a huge roar. Someone had scored! Dessie Daly raced up the stairs straining to see what was going on. A wave of noise swept across the pitch towards him, ‘Hullo, Hullo, we are the Billy boys!’ ‘Damn’ he thought to himself, was his first Celtic-Rangers game going to be a bad experience?
He made his way through the packed Celtic end looking for the familiar face of his old man but he was nowhere to be seen. In the end he settled near the front of the Celtic end to watch the game. Celtic pushed Rangers back on a glue pot of a pitch but time after time desperate defending and some brutal tackling kept them at bay. Then as half time approached young full back Davie Hay clipped a cross into the penalty box where it was met by the ever dangerous Bobby Lennox who headed it firmly into the net! Celtic Park erupted! Dessie cheered his young lungs out and felt strong hands grab him from behind. He was spun around and a familiar face was grinning at him, ‘I thought that was you ya wee rascal!’ It was his father and Dessie could have cried at the emotions unleashed at seeing him and Celtic scoring their goal. They hugged for a long time before turning back to the match. He felt safe and secure with his old man standing behind him, hands on his shoulders. The Celtic end and Jungle roared in unison and Dessie and his old man joined in….
‘And if ye know the history, it’s enough to make yer heart go oh, oh, oh, oh!
We don’t care what the animals say, what the hell do we care!
Cause we only know that there’s gonnae be a show
And the Glasgow Celtic will be there!’
There was only going to be one winner in this match now and Dessie could feel it in his bones. He was happy he'd be beside his old man to watch Celtic prevail.