Sunday, 14 November 2021

Remembering Bertie Auld

 


Remembering Bertie Auld

Bertie Auld approached life with a smile on his face and was one of the great characters of Scottish football. He learned his trade in the rough street games of Glasgow’s working-class community and was steeled further playing in the Junior league with Maryhill. There was no doubt he was a tough cookie on the field of play but he could play the game too.

The boy from Panmure street in Maryhill wasn’t from a traditional Celtic family but from the day in 1955 when he returned home from Celtic Park clutching a £20 signing on fee given to him by Jimmy McGrory, he was Celtic to the core. His fiery temperament and lippy nature ruffled a few feathers in the stuffy days of the 1950s and  after less than a hundred games for Celtic, the club sold him to Birmingham City where he won the League Cup in 1962-63 and appeared in the Inter-Cities Fairs cup final. (A forerunner of the UEFA Cup)

One of football’s great raconteurs, the stories Bertie told are the stuff of legend. He recalled playing for Birmingham in a European tie and noticing the referee was fellow Scot, Tiny Wharton. He approached Wharton and said before kick-off, ‘You know, we’re the only two Scots on this field so any chance you could do us a wee turn tonight? Tiny ignored him until later in the game when Bertie clattered an opponent. The six-foot four referee approached him saying, ‘Remember you said there were the only two Scots on the field? Well, there’s only one now. Off!’

Bertie had some measure of revenge when he returned to Celtic in the mid-1960s. He asked Wharton what would happen if he called him a bastard. Wharton replied that he’d send him off. He then asked, ‘what if I just think you’re a bastard?’ Wharton replied, ‘I can’t do anything if you just think it.’ To which Bertie replied, ‘well I think you’re a bastard!’

His time at Birmingham also saw him lay out the golden boy of English football, Johnny Haynes of Fulham. He recalls in his book the incident in the following words…

‘As we trotted back Haynes was giving as good as he got, ‘I’ll get you the next time you little Scottish bastard.’ I snapped as we reached the centre circle and thought it would be a good idea to give him a dull one. I whacked him. Our pitch was hard as flint and he went down like a sack of spuds. His head thudded off the surface and he just lay there.’

Bertie was sent off and as he trotted from the field, Fulham’s hulking centre half Maurice Cooke approached him to extract some revenge. To the astonishment of all, the little Scot clocked him too and left him on his back on the turf.

Bertie’s brand of tough, incisive football, combined with a certain gallusness, made him a mainstay in the Celtic side Jock Stein constructed in the years after 1965. That side had an alchemy, a magic which made it more than the sum of its parts. From their experienced old goalkeeper, Ronnie Simpson to a defence in which the full backs were expected to attack as much as they defended and the imperious McNeill was backed up by that great reader of the game, John Clark. The midfield comprised of the dynamic Bobby Murdoch ably assisted by Bertie Auld. These two could tackle, run and pass with an accuracy which suited the pace of Lennox and the virtuoso ball playing genius of Jimmy Johnstone. Up front Wallace and Chalmers posed a threat to any defence.

It is recorded that as Celtic lined up in the tunnel beside the tanned athletes of Inter Milan on that hot day in Lisbon in 1967, Bertie sensed they needed a spur. He began to sing the Celtic Song as the bemused Italians looked on. Soon every Celtic player was belting it out, and Inter knew they had a real game on their hands. The eleven pale Scots proceeded to tutor Inter on the art of attacking football and the 2-1 score line barely registers Celtic’s mastery that day.

Bertie Auld was a man of his time and never forgot his roots. He’d be seen standing chatting to fans, posing for photos with them or signing autographs for far longer than modern professionals would. He epitomised the spirit of the Lisbon Lions and took huge pride in what they had achieved. Above this he was also a lifelong friend to all the players he played with at Celtic and he simply loved their company. So many video clips exist showing him happy and at ease among his old comrades, his infectious laughter echoing around the room. It was obvious that that band of brothers had great love for each other.

As the old brigade leave us one by one, we are left with memories and thankfully a video record of their brilliance to show the young who never saw them play. For me Bertie will be the man holding the ball in the air after defeating Leeds United at Hampden in 1970. He will be the gallus Maryhill lad winding up Herrera’s Inter in the tunnel in Lisbon. He will also be the man who took such pride in wearing that hooped shirt and in entertaining the fans. Above all he was one of us and he loved Celtic with a passion that so many of us share. That shone through in his interactions with the fans, his tales, his jokes and his willingness to attend supporters’ functions from Lanarkshire to Las Vegas.

His great rival at Rangers, John Greig, once stood in the tunnel at Ibrox before a game with Bertie nearby. ‘How much is your win bonus today?’ Greig enquired. Bertie replied, ‘we’re on a fiver each if we win.’ Greig smiled, ‘Really, we’re on ten quid win bonus.’ Aye,’ said Bertie, ‘but we’re guaranteed it. You’re getting nothing.’ That was Bertie, a sharp wit, a sharp footballer and a man forever recognised as Bertie Auld; Celtic legend.

He'd like that.   

Bertie Auld (1938-2021) 


Saturday, 16 October 2021

It’s in the blood

 


It’s in the blood

I have spent the last few of days on the beautiful island of Arran having a wee break from city life and social media. I took a stroll up Goat Fell, well, I say a stroll; a nine-mile hike up and down a 2867 ft high granite Corbett is more challenging than a mere stroll. It was one of those bright, clear October days you get now and then and once on the summit, the view was stunning. Scotland on a sunny day is world class in its beauty and grandeur.

Of course, when match day comes along you feel that strange urge to find out how your team is doing. I sat in a quiet corner of the hotel Bar with my trusty iPad in front of me and found one of those free online streams that seem to offer a better-quality service than Celtic TV. A chap at the opposite table smiled and nodded at me in that way a desperate footy fans nods to a fellow traveller. Being Scotland, there’s always that moments hesitation before contact where folk fret that the person they’re about to talk football with might a fan of their greatest rivals. Celtic and Rangers fans are like Sherlock Holmes when sussing out which side a random stranger supports. Even wearing the club shirt of a completely different team is a clue. St Pauli or Dortmund is 90% certain to be a Celt whilst a Chelsea or even England top would suggest not. Tattoos are another giveaway and, as I know to well, so are certain names.

The chap in the bar played his cards well though; ‘Are you watching the Motherwell game?’ he asked. A skilful opening ploy because if I had said, ‘No, Rangers and Hearts,’ he still hadn’t declared his allegiance. His luck was in though and I said, ‘Yeh, fancy watching it?’ He needed no second invitation and in two minutes flat we were two Celts engrossed in watching our team’s comfortable win over the steelmen.

He told me about his life in selling golfing holidays and how it had taken him all over the world. He had watched Celtic games at 6am in Australia, 10am in New York and at midnight in Kuala Lumpur. ‘It’s in the blood,’ he smiled. ‘No matter where I am, I always try and watch Celtic. I even keep a clock on my phone at Celtic Park Time.’ It struck me that there will have been Celtic supporters in all parts of the globe enjoying Tom Rogic’s defence splitting pass for Jota’s opener and David Turnbull’s rocket for the second goal. Once the green and white bug gets you, it can be mighty hard to shake it off.

Celtic looked comfortable today and in the past couple of games at Pittodrie and Fir Park have managed to find a way to win. That ability to knock the ball about and play intricate passes works well on the wide spaces of the bowling green that is Celtic Park but in these difficult and often physical away matches, the ability to grind out results is what pays dividends in May. Postecoglou’s team is capable of great movement and passing but has had a couple of bruising reminders that nice guys get nothing in the physical world of Scottish football. You need to dig in and fight for every ball in the SPFL and our latest recruits are learning that.

Today’s match struck me as odd in that Motherwell closed a section of the away stand as Celtic changed there and came wandering down the stairs of the stand in an incongruous way we might never see again. These Covid days have thrown up so many odd sights, not least an entire season played in empty stadiums which I still maintain affected Celtic more than most sides. Few clubs are as well backed by their fans and I think their absence showed in the end.

One aspect of the game I was too enamoured with was the songbook adopted by a section of the Celtic support. At a time when various sections of Scottish society are waking up to the anti-Irish racism in our midst and anti-Catholic prejudice, do we really need Celtic fans singing about the IRA? I’d also be total hypocrite calling out Rangers fans for their ‘famine song’ and Billy Boys’ antics and say nothing about what we heard today. That ‘roamin’ in the gloamin’ tosh should be nowhere near a Celtic game and I’m glad the majority at the match seemed to ignore it totally. The brief airing of the song which mentions Davie Cooper, albeit sung by a very small minority, was tasteless and moronic. We could so easily inhabit the moral high ground on this subject, yet an unthinking minority seem to be happy dragging us down to the level of the very thing we claim to despise?

A lot of folk who write about Celtic don’t touch this subject with a barge pole as they feel the inevitable flak they get isn’t worth the hassle. Folk will tell you there is no equivalence between an Irish Republican song and the racist bile we hear from others. That is absolutely true, songs about a nation's struggle for independence from a larger neighbour who oppressed it for centuries can't be classed in the same category as blatant racist ditties like the famine song. But it’s 2021, will we ever move on from this stuff being heard at Scottish football matches? Of course, you pay your money and you make your own choices but when folk outside the Glasgow bubble talk about Celtic and Rangers as ‘two cheeks of the same arse’ annoying as it is to most Celtic fans, it isn't hard to see how they arrive that impression. That being said, Rangers using the tune from the Famine song on an advert on their official media channels demonstrates either breath taking insensitivity or arrogant disreguard for the thoughts of others. Motherwell fans chanting about child abuse today, not for the first time either, discredits the 'family club' identity they seek to portray and is as tedious as it is insensitive to anyone affected by abuse.

I know we tend to mellow as we get older and I freely admit to having sung plenty of political songs in the old Jungle and beyond.  I know that when boyhood’s fire is in the blood, there is a tendency to enjoy a bevy and the ‘Rebs’ and there’s nothing wrong with that, apart from maybe the time and place? It maybe an unpopular opinion but it is nonetheless how I feel about it. Celtic is a broad church these days with fans from various walks of life. There will be various opinions about what constitutes a Celtic song and we can agree to differ and still be as equally fervent in our backing of the team we all hold dear.

Celtic face a trip to Easter Rd soon and when that is past will have played all of our top rivals away from home in the first quarter of the season. Rangers have faced Celtic, Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen and Motherwell at Ibrox in the first round of games and will face them all away in the second quarter of the campaign so we are not without hope going into the autumn.

Ange is making progress with the team and Julien, Forrest and Juranovic are edging towards fitness again. The next couple of months is going to be very interesting indeed.

 


 

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Rome wasn't built in a day

 


Rome wasn't built in a day

Watching Celtic lose 4-3 to Real Betis in the Benito Villamarín Stadium, Seville on Thursday reminded me that much as the club has made progress this season there is a way to go before the team is where the fans or indeed Ange Postecoglou want it to be. That fragility in the back line remains an Achilles’ heel and prompted my brother to say that Celtic today reminds him of the Celtic of the Tommy Burns era. Burns’ Celtic side, as you no doubt remember, was capable of some blistering attacking football but when faced with higher quality and more street wise opposition, was often undone in crunch matches. Tommy would play the game in the best traditions of Celtic and signed some outstanding attacking talent but defence never seemed to be a priority area for him and in the end it cost him his job.

Postecoglou’s Celtic have excited the fans with some fine attacking play and even in tough away matches like those at Betis, Rangers and AZ Alkmaar the team fashioned chances and matched or bettered the opposition in ball possession and attempts on goal. However, it is telling that those teams all did their homework and hurt Celtic by exposing their continuing defensive frailties. Real Betis had far too much space in wide areas and their creative players fashioned chance after chance. AZ Alkmaar targeted our full backs with long balls over the top and gave Celtic’s defence a torrid time. Rangers, in a tight encounter, took their chance from a corner kick when the Celtic defence lost 6 feet 2 Felip Helander in the box. Celtic lost each of the above matches.

Postecoglou is a clever man and a good coach and he’ll see the issues with the defensive side of Celtic’s game. By committing his side to a high pressing, attacking style of play he will entertain and win most of the matches he plays in Scotland. The best teams in Europe adopt this approach but they are able to quickly fold back into a solid defensive block when possession is lost. Too often Celtic have been caught out by counter attacks after losing the ball. A good example came against Betis when the Hoops were pressing with 6 or 7 players in attacking positions. Tom Rogic ran into traffic in the D and lost the ball. Within 5 seconds Betis had raced up the field and created a good chance.

Of course, Celtic won’t face teams as capable as Betis every week but when facing Celtic on their home turf, teams are more willing to attack and as we discovered at Tynecastle, Midtjlland and Ibrox, they will force errors from Celtic’s defence. The Hoops only away win in a competitive match so far this season came in the Champions League qualifier against Jablonec. They dominated possession (66%) and yet allowed very moderate opposition to have 15 attempts on goal. Celtic’s own match report on their website stated…

Two up with just 16 minutes on the clock, Celtic went in search of a third but left themselves exposed at the back. The home side took full advantage and caught the Hoops’ backline out with a long high ball over the top which Pilar coolly converted.’

Celtic’s commitment to attacking play is laudable but it has to be accompanied by a more street wise and adaptable approach to defending. As the team gels, those costly personal errors will hopefully lessen and the side will defend more as a unit. When the game lengthened in the second half against Betis and space was more available, it was noticeable how much space there was in front of the Celtic back four. It takes a very high level of fitness to attack with the vigour Celtic do and then transition into defence when possession is lost.

Some have criticised Ange Postecoglou’s lack of a ‘plan B’ when facing higher class opposition. He would doubtless say in his laid-back Australian way that, ‘Plan B is to do Plan A better.’ We all recall Brendan Rodgers holding similar beliefs and sticking to his attacking principles when playing away at PSG and Barcelona. Celtic lost 7-1 and 7-0 in those games and many fans suggested that you can’t go toe to toe with the best in the world and expect to win. A more pragmatic approach is required. Ange’s attacking principles mean that he won’t alter course; he wants Celtic to be a team which is relentless in its hounding of opponents, committed to attacking football and playing a high paced modern game. He needs time to achieve that and there is a residue of good will among the supporters who can see progress.

Celtic will soon face away trips to Aberdeen and Hibs and those sides will provide a test for the Hoops. It is imperative that Celtic defend as a unit, transition into attack with the pace and movement we have seen so far this season and cut out those basic errors which will have cost us dearly this season. If the team stays in contention in the SPFL as we enter the new year, we will face the second half of the season with a side more used to playing together and more adept at the defensive side of the game.

I’m excited by the start Postecoglou has made at Celtic and the improvements we have seen in the few months he has been here. He deserves time, patience and two or three transfer windows to transform Celtic into the side we all want them to be. Rome wasn’t built in day and good football teams are nurtured and built over several seasons and not a few months. Give Ange the tools he needs and I remain convinced he’ll do the job well.



 


Saturday, 4 September 2021

Moving on

 


Moving on

This week has been thoroughly depressing for those of us who enjoy Scottish football. The end of the transfer window is normally a time of discussing the players in and out as well as our teams’ prospects for the season ahead. Instead, we’re mired in a bitter slanging match about racist songs, bigotry and conflicting narratives. We had the Daily Record trawling the social media accounts of people involved in a podcast linked to Rangers FC and finding the usual comments about ‘bead rattlers, tarriers,’ etc. Much as this unpleasant terminology needs to end, that particular newspaper would drag any of us through the mud to sell more copies.

The media has had something of a feeding frenzy on all of this with a few hardy souls prepared to call out the racism and bigotry we have seen of late, despite the fact that they know this will bring the unhinged down on them. Others have fallen back on the old tropes that Rangers and Celtic fans are as bad as each other and Catholic schools are to blame. One reporter, writing in the times said…

 ‘Celtic and Rangers fans are as bad as each other but the Famine song should be seen as a kind of theatrical performance not an invitation to ethnic cleansing.’

I wonder if that song was targeting Jews or Muslims, the reporter would take the same slant? The song is offensive and racist and as such is to be abhorred by all right-thinking people. The Times also ran a story with the tired old narrative that Catholic schools cause sectarianism. As a teacher, I know that Catholic schools in Scotland are integrated, mixed and work hard to create an ethos where those of all faiths and none are welcome. They do fine work in some of our most deprived communities and teach charity, respect and tolerance. It’s a feature of bigotry, be it racial or religious, that the perpetrator’s blame the victims. The reality is that anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment are far older in Scotland than denominational schools.

Some Rangers supporters are feeling somewhat under siege at the moment as the unacceptable side of their fan culture is being called out by a wider variety of bodies. I’m old enough to remember the fury among some when the Church of Scotland’s magazine, The Bush, criticized Rangers for not signing Catholic players in the 1970s. The General assembly passed the motion but over 200 ministers and elders abstained from voting while others were critical of those picking on Rangers. Think that over for a moment; some of the followers of Jesus, the friend of the poor and marginalised, were actually unable to call out a blatant piece of bigotry. In fairness, many more Church members did call it out but it emphasises the problem; we are all more comfortable pointing out the faults in others than contemplating our own. As Jesus said in the good book…

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye?’

Of course, the warning not to judge others harshly must make us consider our own conduct. There are many in Scotland, and not just bigots, who dislike the singing of Irish Republican songs by followers of Celtic. Nationalist songs can’t be considered ‘sectarian’ but those who remember the trouble will remember some awful things being done by all sides and a generation after the guns fell silent do we really need these songs being aired at Celtic matches, often by folk too young to remember the horrors of the past? As Jock Stein once said, ‘there are plenty of good Celtic songs without bringing politics or religion into it.’ That remains a debate the Celtic support needs to have with itself.

Those of you who live in the Glasgow area will know too that a tedious graffiti war has been going on too. From the concrete pillars of the M8 to the side walls of factories and other buildings we have seen the childish and trite slogans of small minds scrawled and painted. It makes Glasgow look backward and out of time. Do we really need ‘KAT’ or ‘KAH’ on our walls in 2021?

Despite the denial and claims of video editing, the fact that the police have now arrested eight of those involved in chanting the Famine song in Glasgow last week suggests they feel there is enough evidence to proceed with prosecutions. All of those arrested are young men in their 20s and I genuinely hope that they have time to reflect on their actions. They now risk their future job prospects as well as the possibility of having criminal records. I would much rather our society offered them education and the chance to think about their behaviour. We have all done stupid things in our youth and looking back, I know I have. The group dynamic can sweep you along and wisdom sometimes only comes with reflection and maturity.

Some Rangers fan groups have jumped to their defence but they are in reality defending the indefensible. There is no context or occasion where singing that song is acceptable. It really is that simple.

Such is the sensitivity around this subject, some will take from my words what they want to take. Some will see it as another attack on Rangers and their fans; it isn’t as the club is to be commended for swiftly banning those found to be sullying its name. They also condemned racism in all its forms. This is about the bigoted element which attaches itself to Rangers like barnacles on the bottom of a ship not the decent fans who hate this nonsense which swirls around their club.

There will be some who think my mentioning of Rebel songs or dumb graffiti is somehow creating a false equivalence between the behaviour of sections of both supports. It isn’t; Rangers have a major issue with bigotry and racism. That is partly historical baggage left over from a past which saw the club choose an exclusivist and bigoted path. Their petty apartheid went on for decades and gave tacit approval to the more hateful elements in their support. It would be appropriate if they recognised that and offered some form of regret but I doubt that’ll happen.

Those who express an opinion which criticises the bigotry and racism in Scottish society are portrayed as having an agenda or being biased one way or another but that is playing the man and not the ball. Racism needs calling out wherever it raises its ugly head. It’s a matter of being a decent human being not what club you follow or how you vote.

Sections of Scottish football and society really need to drag themselves into the 21st century and ditch all of this outdated and embarrassing nonsense. We do it by working together and respecting each other. By remembering that we are all football fans who love the game, all human beings of equal worth and all capable of building a better future for our children. It’s time we were moving on.

Those who wish to stay stuck in the past should be left there. Their day is coming to a close anyway.

 

Monday, 30 August 2021

How long must we sing this song?

 


How long must we sing this song?

This weekend’s football match at Ibrox was full blooded affair in which two evenly matched teams were separated by the width of a cigarette paper. As is always the case in such matches, you take your chances when they come along or you pay the price. No doubt Odsonne Edouard will receive some criticism for missing a complete sitter but Kyoto had a couple of great opportunities and choose to shoot when he should have passed and then pass when he should have had a shot. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to get it right every time. They are after all, only human.

Ibrox was akin to an away game in Europe for Celtic with no away fans to cheer them but they performed reasonably well and played with no fear. In the light of that fact and the fact that Rangers are over three years into the Gerrard rebuild while Postecoglou is ten weeks into his resuscitation of Celtic, there were genuine signs that Celtic can match the Ibrox side over 90 minutes and that there is much to look forward to in the season ahead. Postecoglou was honest enough to admit he should have played Kyogo through the middle as it was clear his pace and movement was not as effective out wide. In those dying minutes, he cut through the Rangers defence on two or three occasions and one was left wondering why he wasn’t played in that position from the start. We live and learn and I’m sure Anje does too.

There were positives for Celtic today; Jovanović looks a player, Kyogo will bag a lot of goals this season and the defence generally held it together. Celtic supporters were obviously annoyed at the error which cost the team the game’s only goal but saw a side prepared to attack their opponents in probably the most hostile atmosphere they’ll face this season. There was much to be positive about despite the loss of the three points. I’m sure more reinforcements will arrive before the window closes as Celtic gear up for a real challenge this year.

Footage emerged after the game of Rangers ‘ultras’ matching through Glasgow city centre singing the ‘Famine Song.’ This lamentable and frankly, moronic song has already been declared racist in the Scottish courts. Yet Police officers escorted the people singing it with barely a second look at them. It is worth considering the lyric of this odious song as it encapsulates the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic and anti-Celtic spirit which animates it. As a rational human being, you may find it difficult to comprehend that an adult wrote this drivel….

 

‘I often wonder where they would have been
If we hadn't have taken them in
Fed them and washed them
Thousands in Glasgow alone
From Ireland they came
Brought us nothing but trouble and shame
Well the famine is over
Why don't they go home?

Now Athenry Mike was a thief

And Large John he was fully briefed
And that wee traitor from Castlemilk
Turned his back on his own
They've all their Papists in Rome
They have U2 and Bono
Well the famine is over
Why don't they go home?

Now they raped and fondled their kids
That's what those perverts from the dark side did
And they swept it under the carpet

And Large John he hid
Their evils seeds have been sown
Cause they're not of our own
Well the famine is over
Why don't you go home?

Now Timmy don't take it from me
Cause if you know your history
You've persecuted thousands of people
In Ireland alone
You turned on the lights
Fuelled U-boats by night

That's how you repay us
It's time to go home.’

 

Where does one even begin with this trash? It’s the sort of twisted and hateful nonsense you’d expect from red-neck racists in 1940s Alabama. Filled with all the lies, ignorance and bigotry which only the truly morally vacuous and uneducated could swallow, it is not, as some say, banter or irony; It is poisonous racism of the worst kind and it’s time the police, civic and footballing authorities did something about it.

Glasgow is set for 34 Orange Parades in one day on 18th September and the taxpayers of the city, of all faiths and none, will pay for the policing costs as well as facing disruption on the roads and streets. Businesses will suffer as folk stay home to avoid the hassle of bumping into these time travellers from the 17th century and their camp followers.

A friend of mine who is neither a Catholic nor a Celtic fan told me his solution: ‘Why not insist such processions take place in places where there will be no disruption to the daily life of ordinary folk? Rural Ayrshire, for instance? Why not tell the organisers that they can expect to pay the policing costs for all of their parades? That should cut the numbers down as 34 in a day in one city is just ridiculous.’ He does have a point although all controversial or extremist groups shelter behind the liberal, democratic idea that allows for free expression and the right to demonstrate. The old adage; I hate what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,’ comes to mind.

Scotland seems to be waking up from its dreamlike state that it isn’t afflicted by the same racist fringe which exists in all countries to a greater or lesser extent. The blindness exhibited here regarding anti-Irish Catholic racism is receding but what will be done about it beyond the usual hand wringing and a false equivalence narrative which has allowed this poison to be swept under the carpet for too long?

I once had a conversation with a Rangers fan in a bar in the days before they started signing Catholic players and he told me, ‘I don’t think they should sign Catholics. I mean look at Celtic, they sign anybody and they’re still the same? It won’t change anything.’ I asked what he meant by ‘still the same,’ and he replied, ‘still Tims.’ I had to stop and try and process the logic behind what he was saying. I think he meant that despite having a mixed team and an increasingly mixed support, the rivalry wouldn’t change in his eyes because they would still be perceived as different, as the enemy. Yet surely there is a moral element to not discriminating against a group based on religion, race or any other false division the less cerebral bring into creation in their febrile brains?

Already we can see the ‘squirrels’ being pointed at by those who have yet to admit that Scotland has a problem with anti-Irish racism; It’s Catholic schools, (most of which are mixed) It’s a west of Scotland thing, it’s the Old Firm, both as bad as each other, etc. The debate usually stalls around these tropes and nothing is done.

This is a societal problem and as such is one we much tackle as a society. That means the law, education and politicians must all work together to eradicate, where possible, the racism in our midst. People are free to hold whatever opinions they choose to but they are not free to chant racist filth on our streets. Enough is enough.

We seemed to have have had this debate over and over in recent years, yet little is done. Will this time be any different?

As U2 once wrote…. How long, how long must we sing this song?

 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Talk to me

 


Talk to me

This week I saw the Poem ‘Saint Anthony’ by Mike Garry. It’s ostensibly a tribute to the late Tony Wilson, journalist, TV presenter, co-founder of Factory Records, founder-owner of the legendary Hacienda night club and all-round promotor of music and other culture in Manchester. The poem is also a homage to Manchester and through its lyrical approach, is something of a love letter to that fine city.

As I listened to the poem being performed and lip-synced by a good few northern actors and musicians who knew Tony Wilson, I got to thinking that the form and rhythm of the poem would be a perfect vehicle for exploring what Celtic football club has meant to so many down the years. My humble effort is below but should you wish to get a feel for the rhythm of the poem you can watch the original poem here…

 


Talk to me

Talk to me about the coffin ships taking people far and wide

Of a Sligo man from the Kerins clan, who landed on the Clyde

Of slums and drums and hungry kids and the cold unwelcome stare

From those who chose to thumb their nose and wish we weren’t there

 

Talk to me of trying to give those people hope and pride

From far and near they came to cheer, Brother Walfrid’s Celtic side

Of Maley, Kelly, Neil McCallum, who scored that first great goal

Of the men in green who were it seems custodians of our soul

 

Talk to me of Patsy Gallagher, Barney Battles and the mighty Quinn

Of men who thought, who played and fought and gave their all to win

Of James McGrory, what a story when he made old Hampden roar

The quiet lad from the Garngad who was simply born to score

 

Talk to me of a blustery and raw September day

When a lad from Fife gave up his life to keep ball at bay

Of the jeers and the cheers and many tears when Johnny said goodbye

Of lives he touched, those who cared too much and weren’t afraid to cry

 

Talk to me of Tully, Fernie and Bobby Collins on the ball

Of Peacock, Stein who wore the green, the greatest of them all

Of October days when we sang their praise at Hampden in the sun

When the lads in green played like a dream, smashed Rangers seven-one


Talk to me of rainy days when victory seemed so far

Of dirty streets and sore defeats, and sorrows drowned in a bar

Of second prizes, hope that rises then falls back in the mud

Of fans who dreamed, forlorn it seemed, with Celtic in their blood

 

Talk to me Cesar rising high amid the crowd

Of a ball that sped from his head, that roar so fierce and loud

Of Lennox, Auld and Bobby Murdoch, pulling all the strings

Of the glory years and the happy tears when Billy was our King

 

Talk to me of thousands sailing but no coffin ships this time

To Lisbon’s sun, went Walfrid’s sons, to see hope and history rhyme

of football played, that sunny day that was beautiful and pure

The beguiling flare the answered prayer when victory was secure

 

Talk to me of magic times with Jimmy on the wing

Of swerves and jinks and late-night drinks, of dreams and songs to sing

Of Johnny Doyle, big Roy Aitken, Danny and McStay

Of reports I read and tears I shed when Kenny went away

 

Talk to me of the generations who took this club to heart

The amazing story of the tears and glory and how they played their part

Of the twists and the turns of Tommy Burns, of how ‘they’re always there’

Of Jorge Cadette, and the effort and sweat, Andy Thom and big Pierre

 

Talk to me of Lubo, Sutton, Hartson and the King of Kings

Of Naka scoring against Man United when the noise made my ears ring

A  quadruple treble, until the last rebel and the bhoys of the Green Brigade

Of Seville and the Bill and the utter thrill of this love that will never fade

 

Talk to me as we share a drink of the players and the goals you’ve seen

Of Larsson’s chip, a defenders slip as we roared on the bhoys in green

Of Janefield street, of the friends we’d meet as we walked to Paradise

Of the moans, the groans and you’ll never walk alones as we back our side

 

Talk to me of all you see at a game underneath the lights

Of songs and goals as Celtic souls drive their team on to greater heights

Of games you’ve watched with those you love some gone and some still here

You think of them every now and then as you give the bhoys a cheer

 

Talk to me about this club we all hold in our heart

Of a Saturday on the Gallowgate as it has been from the start

Talk to me of the charity, of the good things we have done

It’s not the man or the creed but a friend in need that we will never shun

 

Talk to me about Celtic.

Talk to me.

Talk.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

The Price of Coal

 


The Price of Coal

In the years between the wars, it wasn’t unusual for working class lads of 14 to join their fathers and uncles in the coal mines of Scotland. The work was dirty, dangerous and demanding and as the price of coal fell, mine owners sought to continue profitability by cutting miners’ wages. In the space of a few years in the 1920s, miners in Scotland would see their pay drop from £6 to £3.90 per week. The ongoing industrial slump of the 1920s saw wages and conditions suffer. For Britain’s 1.2 million miners it was particularly difficult. They joined in the General Strike of 1926 hoping to protect wages and conditions but it was to no avail. The government of the day hired thousands of ‘special constables’ to combat the strikers and one of these ‘specials’ said…

'It was not difficult to understand the Strikers attitude towards us. After a few days I found myself sympathising with them rather than the employers. For one thing, I never realised the appalling poverty which existed. If I had been aware of all the facts I should not have joined up..’

The strike ended after just nine days, although the coal miners held out longer before being ‘starved’ back to work. They found their wages cut and their hours increased. It was a bitter time to be involved in heavy industry in Britain as employers were backed up by a government prepared to use the police and even the military to break the strike.

In that same year as the General Strike and with the miners still resisting the demands of the pit owners, Willie Maley, Manager of Celtic FC sent his chief Scout, Steve Callaghan to watch a young goalkeeper in Fife. The scout reported that the goalkeeper he was sent to appraise was mediocre but that the opposition keeper, though still a lad, looked an excellent prospect. He was short for a keeper at 5 feet 9, but he possessed a vice like grip and a graceful agility which saw him reach shots of all kind with ease. The youngster was a miner at Bowhill Colliery where the physical demands of the job strengthened and toughened his slender frame. His mother was fearful that the rough world of professional football could be dangerous and that playing for one of Glasgow’s two big clubs might bring other problems. However, the youngster saw a way to escape the hardship and uncertainty of the mine and be paid for doing something he loved. He joined Celtic and was paid £10 as a signing on fee. His name was John Thomson.

Much has been written about John Thomson’s ability as a goalkeeper as well as his bravery. James Hanley, wrote in the ‘The Story of the Celtic’: 1888-1938 (1960) that:

"It is hard for those who did not know him to appreciate the power of the spell he cast on all who watched him regularly in action. In like manner, a generation that did not see John Thomson has missed a touch of greatness in sport, for which he was a brilliant virtuoso, as Gigli was and Menuhin is. One artiste employs the voice as his instrument, another the violin or cello. For Thomson it was a handful of leather."

Desmond White, the chairman of Celtic, claimed Thomson was the best goalkeeper he had ever seen. He added:

"Johnny had the ability to rise in the air high above the opposition. It was this almost ballet-like ability and agility which, in his tremendous displays, endeared him to the hearts of all Celtic supporters."

Dr. James Hadley remarked: "The generation that saw John Thomson in action will agree it would be hard to exaggerate his magical skill and will acknowledge that neither before nor since have they seen a goalkeeper so swift, so elegant, so superbly safe in operation. He had the spring of a jaguar and the effortless grace of a skimming swallow."

Thomson’s bravery saw him dive at the feet of an Airdrie player and fracture his jaw, several ribs and collar bone. He also lost several teeth. Goalkeeper were fair game in those days and forwards set out to intimidate or ‘rough up’ goalkeepers. We may smile at grainy footage of goalkeepers of the era clutch the ball and then rush to clear it downfield. It was in fact the safest thing to do as forwards could barge or even attempt to kick the ball from the keeper’s hands without a foul being awarded. It was a dangerous time to be a goalkeeper.

Indeed just a few years earlier in 1921, 24-year-old Joshua Wilkinson was playing in goal for Dumbarton against Rangers. As a result of a very physical challenge he suffered early in the game, he suffered a ruptured intestine which he unwittingly made worse by playing for the rest of the game. Tragically, peritonitis set in and despite undergoing emergency medical surgery in Glasgow, he died on the Monday following the game.

We all know the price John Thomson was to pay on that fateful September day in 1931 at Ibrox. Brave as ever he had rushed to defend his goal from Rangers’ excellent striker Sam English. The resultant collision, totally accidental, proved fatal to John Thomson who died that night aged just 22. Scottish football and indeed the nation was stunned at Thomson’s death. The young star who had defied the great Dixie Dean of Everton as Scotland defeated England at Hampden was gone. Thousands walked from Glasgow to Fife to attend his funeral and six of his distraught team mates carried his coffin the one mile from his home to the cemetery. Willie Maley, a tough and hard-bitten old stager, admitted that he had cried at John’s passing.

Six weeks after John Thomson’s funeral there was an explosion at his old pit at Bowhill in Fife. It was fortunate that it was a Saturday afternoon and the 1200 miners who worked there were not at work. As it was 10 of the maintenance crew who worked at the pit were killed. Two of them were still teenagers. The price of coal was still high.

Next month marks 90 years since the tragic death of John Thomson. He is still recalled in the history and in the mythology of Celtic football club as one of their greatest sons. He is remembered in children’s football tournaments charity events in his honour, and pilgrimages to his graveside. There will now be very few, if any, people alive who saw John Thomson play but his place in the history of Celtic is assured. We who never saw him play heard tales from our fathers and grandfathers of a goalkeeper who was peerless, fearless and supreme.  In the words of the old song my father would sing, long ago…

So come all you Glasgow Celtic, stand up and play the game,

For between your posts there stands a ghost, John Thomson is his name.

 


                                               John Thomson (1909-1931)

                                                          Celtic Legend.