Saturday, 12 October 2019

Boys Keep Swinging

Boys Keep Swinging

John Doolin looked around the walls of the suite at Celtic Park where he was meeting a few friends for lunch before the league deciding game with Rangers; Brendan Rodgers’ side had swept all before them again and looked on course for a second straight treble. The walls were adorned with images of Celtic greats from the past and as life moved on and he got older he smiled to think just how many of those Celtic players he had seen play. ‘Getting old Johnny boy,’ he said to himself as he pushed open the door and entered the already busy Kerrydale Suite. He could hear the buzz of supporters ready for a game which could see Celtic clinch the title against their biggest rivals. Above the laughter and noise he could hear David Bowie’s distinctive voice coming from invisible speakers singing, ‘Boys keep swinging.’ He sure hoped these Bhoys would be swinging today.

His lifelong friend Paddy Murray waved him over to a table which was already boisterous and happy. Paddy’s boyhood red hair was now mostly grey and a fading scar on his left cheek reminded Johnny of a less happy time in their youth. ‘Aw right Johnny boy? Come and have a seat.’ A bottle of beer was pressed into his hand and he sat. ‘We’re just been asking what was the best league winning day you’ve attended? Alfie says Love Street in 86. Geezer goes for the centenary year against Dundee and big Tony reckons it was last year’s invincible season. What do you think?’ John smiled, ‘Ah that’s an easy wan Paddy. You’ll remember it well mate because you were with me,’ As he began to speak, his mind drifted back almost forty years to a very different Glasgow and a very different Celtic Park…

Glasgow 1979
Ma have ye seen my scarf?’ sixteen year old Johnny Doolin called into the kitchen. ‘I don’t think ye should wear a scarf tonight John. You know what that lot are like.’ Johnny sighed, ‘I’ll keep it under my coat till I get tae the game, noo where is it?’ His mother entered the living room of their second floor flat and pointed towards a cupboard with a sigh, ‘It’s in there, son but promise me you’ll be careful.’ He opened the cupboard and found she’d secreted his Celtic scarf in a plastic bag. ‘I’ll keep it in the bag till I get tae Celtic Park.’ Johnny said turning to face her. ‘I’ll be careful Ma, don’t worry.’  She smiled at him, ’I know ye will. Big finale the night, I hope yeez win, son.’  He hugged his mother rather unexpectedly and she smiled, ‘Whit’s that for?’ ‘I don’t need a reason tae hug my maw dae ah?’ he said before heading for the door, ‘I’ll be back straight after the game. I’m heading up tae meet Paddy noo.’

As he skipped down the dank stairs of the east end tenement block he zipped up his jacket, placing the bag containing his Celtic scarf inside it. He stepped out into a blustery but bright May evening and headed along the London Road towards his friend Paddy’s house. They’d been good mates since their day’s at St Mary’s primary school and were both Celtic mad. For Johnny it was inherited from his old man who took him to his first game when he was four years old not that he recalled much about it. He did recall though being perched on his da’s shoulders as they left games and made their way along Janefield Street through the noisy crowd. It was exciting for a wee boy and he’d caught the Celtic bug. The Macaroon bars helped as did the buttery rolls on cheese his old man bought from a guy who sold them outside the stadium from a huge cardboard box.  In the end though he’d just stare at the field watching those green and white hooped players giving their all as the crowd roared them on.

Johnny knew the east end well and knew where to avoid when Celtic hosted Rangers. There were bars, corners and even individual closes it was best to stay away from on such days. The mixture of alcohol and the strong feelings this match brought out in some often led to trouble. He made a habit of looking a good hundred yards ahead as he made his way to Paddy’s house which situated near the Barras Market. He could often spot problems before they occurred and would cross the road, turn a corner or even just do a U-turn if necessary. He could see the blue clad fans outside certain pubs but as he neared the Paddy’s house green became the dominant colour. He bounded up the stairs to Paddy’s first floor flat. The close smelled of urine and the lights were out again, it all gave the impression of dankness. He knocked on the door and Paddy’s long suffering mother smiled at him, ‘Hi John son, Paddy’s in his room. Will you tell him to turn that bloody music down when you go in?’

As Johnny approached the room door he could hear the dulcet tones of Debbie Harry singing, ‘Once I had a love and it was gas, soon turned out to have a heart of glass.’ He liked his music did Paddy. As he opened the door John saw Paddy in his hooped Celtic shirt having a wee dance to himself as he sang along. ‘Alright Paddy, still fantasising about Debbie Harry?’ Paddy turned a little embarrassed at being seen cavorting around his room. ‘Johnny Boy, who disnae want a wee ten minutes with the bold Debbie? Ye could hing a wet Crombie oan it when I think about her.’ Johnny laughed, ‘It’s always been the blonde yin fae Abba for me.’ The two friends laughed before Paddy said, ‘Must win tonight Johnny, no wanting that mob winning another treble.’ Before Johnny could answer the next single on the stack Paddy had set dropped onto the turntable of his record player. The unmistakable sound of David Bowie began to fill the room… ‘Heaven loves ya, the clouds part for ya, nothing stands in your way when you’re a boy….’ Johnny hoped nothing stood in the way of his Bhoys tonight. This really was a winner takes all game.

The two friends stood among the seething mass of Celtic fans gathered in the Jungle as the game began. This was it, the team would need to give their all and so would the fans. There was a ceaseless cacophony of noise in the old stadium that night as they roared and sang themselves hoarse. Rangers scored first but that just seemed to drive the Celtic players on. Under the TV gantry in the Jungle the two friends joined the huge Celtic support in roaring out their defiance. It was as if this mass of humanity became one and refused to accept defeat. The Rangers goal was under siege but somehow held out till half time.

The second half was much the same but things took a grim turn when Johnny Doyle was sent off for kicking Alex McDonald. Amazingly Celtic’s ten men still powered forward, roared on by three quarters of the stadium. When Celtic equalised the place erupted and there were bodies falling, strangers hugging and an incredible level of noise cascading onto the pitch. Johnny hugged Paddy for all he was worth as they literally jumped for joy. Less than ten minutes later Celtic took the lead and again Celtic Park erupted but no sooner had the celebrating fans settled when Rangers equalised; a shot from Russell somehow found its way through a forest of legs before nestling in the corner of the net. There were fewer than fifteen minutes left for Celtic to save the match and win the title.

The Celtic players sensed it was now or never and the 10 men threw themselves at the Rangers defence like men possessed. Waves of attack batted at the door but through luck and some desperate defending Rangers held on. Then with just five minutes left, George McCluskey weaved his way into the box and smashed a shot across the despairing keeper. It hit a defender and spun into the net. Celtic Park went wild! As the game entered its dying moments and fans just wanted to hear the final whistle. Murdo McLeod took possession of the ball on the right side of the Rangers box, ‘Put it in the crowd, Murdo!’ someone shouted but the young midfielder hammered an unstoppable shot high into the net! It was over Celtic had done it. The title was theirs and Johnny and Paddy celebrated like it was the greatest day of their lives.

The younger folk at the table who weren’t around in 1979 listened to Johnny relay this story with a look of awe. ‘What a game that must have been!’ one of them said. ‘Oh it was,’ smiled Paddy ‘but we’ve got a title to win today so another display like that will do just fine.’  As they stood to head for their seats in the huge north stand, Paddy smiled at his old friend, ‘We’ve had some times following the Celts eh?’ Johnny nodded, ‘Better that a date wi Debbie Harry?’ Paddy laughed, ‘It’s close but Aye, the Celts just win it.’

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