Saturday, 17 March 2018

Wide eyed and legless

Wide eyed and legless

Tony pushed on his mother's front door finding it unlocked as it always was on such occasions. He was fresh from the football at Ibrox where he had just watched Celtic demolish Rangers by 5 goals to 1 and was still wearing the green scarf passed down to him by his father. It was a precious heirloom to him; a link to his old man who had left this world ten years earlier. How he would have loved his old fella to have been standing beside him as Lustig curled home that fifth goal. He smiled and nodded as he walked up the hallway towards the living room, 'That was for you today, Da.'  

The noise from the living room told him that most of the Gallagher Clan were already here to wish their matriarch a happy birthday. He entered the crowded room, the buzz of chatter of laughter assaulting his ears. There was a cheer from the family when he entered. They'd been glued to the TV watching Celtic thrash their Glasgow rivals and when someone entered the company who had actually been at the game he was greeted as if he had played. 'Aw right Paul,' his Uncle Joe grinned, 'the boys sure smashed them today!' All the familiar faces were there but he sought out his mother first. She sat on the couch happy to see all of her children in one place. It was a rare enough occurrence these days. She smiled when she saw him, 'Tony, son. Good to see you.' He hugged her gently, feeling how frail she was becoming now that she had reached her eightieth year. Was this the woman he had to run to keep up with as she marched through the streets of Glasgow in his childhood? 'Happy birthday, Ma,' he said quietly as he handed her a small package containing a golden cross he had bought a few weeks earlier. 

A noise behind him told him his brother Geezer had arrived. 'Mon the hoops!' He called to no one in particular. Tony knew he was drunk before he turned around, the slurred voice and the volume told him that much. He loved his older brother dearly but his alcohol addiction made it hard for all who knew him at times. Geezer headed towards Tony, 'Aw right Bro! Fucked them again!' Before Tony could respond his brother embraced him and began to sing, 'A Sam Brown belt with a buckle big and strong and a holster that's been empty many a year....' Most of the people in the room were family and accepted his loudness and rough language as a part of who he was.  

Tony felt the roughness of his brother's unshaven face as they embraced, 'alright, Geezer? Did ye catch the match?' His brother grinned at him, 'Aye, pub wiz bouncing, loved every minute of it, Tony. Keep they basturts doon!' His opinions as always were strong and expressed in earthy language. Geezer focused on his mother for a moment who regarded him with that mixture of love and anxiety all mothers have for children who stray from the path. 'Aw right Maw! Happy birthday, I'll get ye a present when my money come in.' She smiled, 'Don't you worry son, I've got plenty of presents.' Tony looked at his brother and said quietly, 'What did the Doc sayYer test results in yet?' Geezer breathed into Tony's ear, ' I go tae the Royal the at ten the morra, ye fancy coming wae me?' Tony could feel the slight undertone of trepidation in his brother's voice, 'Aye, nae bother. Just make sure you're up and sober.' Geezer grinned, 'I'll be ready, don't you worry.' 

Tony sat on the couch chatting to various family members about the football, all the while he watched Geezer out of the corner of his eye as he laughed and drank whatever came to hand. He recalled their teenage days and how he had admired his big brother so much. He was good at football, fearless in a scrap and popular with the lassies. When they reached their late teens things changed, Geezer had discovered alcohol. At parties he was usually the first drunk and the first sleeping. There was a photograph taken at one of these house parties of him lying in a drunken sleep on a couch. Someone had thought it funny to blanket him with empty cans and bottles. Tony didn't find it funny and had to be separated from the guy who did it. 

In those days they followed Celtic everywhere and drinking was a part of the experience. Those old football special trains carried them to matches and the drink flowed freely. They all liked a drink but Geezer didn't know when to stop. He recalled one match at Tynecastle when Geezer had swiped a bottle of wine from a shop and was attempting to open in on the packed terrace behind the goal. He had humorously asked the guy beside him if he had a corkscrew before breaking the neck of the bottle on the crash barrier. There were a few odd looks from fans around them as he carefully drained the bottle in a few minutes. One older fan commented, 'fuck me, son, you'll cut yer tongue oot!' 

Things changed when he was in his late twenties, he stopped going to games preferring to drink in the pub or at home and watching it on tv. He couldn't hold a job down and eventually his life had spiralled out of control into full blown alcohol addiction. It dominated his days and Tony used to shake his head when he saw his brother reach for the Super Lager first thing in the morning. The thing which got to him most was that Geezer was a good guy, he funny, witty and had a heart of gold but the booze had sunk its claws deeply into him and wasn't for letting go. Tony could see how others judged Geezer when he was 'on it' and in truth he couldn't blame theme at times. He could be loud, foul mouthed and when this was combined with his unkempt appearance, it made him look like the type of guy you'd want to avoid. He was a source of worry to all the family but mostly to his mum. Watching Geezer's problems with drink was one of the reason's Tony had given it up completely. 

The following day Tony picked Geezer up and headed for the Royal Infirmary. It was a grey Glasgow morning as he parked in Wishart Street which lay between the old hospital and the Necropolis graveyard. As he parked the car an old song played on the radio. Geezer smiled, 'They're playing my song.' Tony listened for a moment as the singer sang in a not unpleasant voice...

'Well I'm tired of it all, it's the same thing every night
but the rhythm of the glass is stronger than the rhythm of night,
Wide eyed and legless, I've gone and done it again
Wide eyed and legless, this room is full of my shame....'

Tony opened the car door cutting the music as he did so. Geezer pointed to the maternity Department and then the graveyard on either side of the road with a smile. 'Arriving intae the world on one side of the road and leaving it on the other.' As they walked up to the Alexandra Parade entrance the two brothers talked quietly. 'Ye need tae cool it on the drink, Geezer, you're not getting any younger,Tony said. His brother replied in that fatalistic way he had developed, 'probably too late noo bro.'  Tony disagreed, 'It's never too late.' There was a silence which suggested Geezer didn't quite agree with him but couldn't be bothered arguing about it. He'd had tried to quit it a hundred times but it always dragged him back down again. 

Two hours later they were sitting in a cafĂ© sipping tea and talking about what the Doctors had told them. 'You heard the man, last chance saloon,' Tony had said instantly regretting the choice of metaphor, 'Yer body's breaking down, Geezer. You need tae chuck the booze or it'll do for you.' Geezer looked at Tony, 'Sometimes I don't gie a fuck Tony, other days I see the hurt it causes my Ma. It's hard, so fuckin' hard.'  Tony nodded, 'Cirrhosis isn't curable but ye can manage it if ye just stop doing yer liver any more damage. Will ye just try one more time? For me, for yer Ma, for yourself?' Geezer looked at him like a man who was just about to gamble all he had on an outside bet. 'Ok, I'll give it another go, you might need tae help me.' Tony nodded, 'I'll be there bro, you need to get other interests. Fancy coming back to the fitbaw Brendan's doing good things these days.' Geezer smiled, 'I'll get back tae the AA first then we'll see if I feel like heading back tae Parkheed.' 

They walked back to the car as the clouds broke and April sunshine brought a little warmth to the day. There was a hard road ahead but at least Geezer was taking the first steps. Whatever the future held, Tony would be there for him. 

(This story is dedicated to those of you who struggle with alcohol addiction and those of you who are related to them. Don't give up! HH)

Friday, 9 March 2018

Be careful what you wish for

Be careful what you wish for 

More years ago than I care to remember, my old man took my hand as we headed to Celtic Park to watch Celtic play Rangers. The London Road had that curious arrangement where fans of Celtic walked on the north side of the road and those of Rangers on the south. The songs and insults being traded across the road added to the excitement of going to one of my first big matches. A stout line of Policemen (It was all men then) kept the belligerents apart fairly successfully. Two things struck me that day long ago; I saw a man cross from the Rangers side to the Celtic side before fetching a covert Celtic scarf from his pocket. He shouted at his friend across the street who was wearing a Rangers scarf, 'Get ye in the pub after the game,' before adding with a smile'hope yeez get fucked by the way!His friend laughed and walked on towards the stadium. 

The second thing I recall from that day was that as my old man and I reached the old railway bridge which used to stand near where the Celtic ticket office is today, a brown beer bottle flew through the air like kamikaze pigeon and slammed into the road just a few yards from us. There was a shout of anger from the Celtic fans and the ever-alert Police were quick to avert any escalation in the situation. My old man shook his head and used a phrase I heard him use on a few occasions in his life; 'We don't like them son, but they bloody hate us.'  His views on Scottish society were born out of growing up in the 1950's when prejudice was an everyday fact of life.  

I've learned in the many years since that match that there are indeed many in our land who hate Celtic and all they stand for but also that there are decent supporters at all clubs who just want to watch the football without indulging in any form of hatred. The two pals who supported rival clubs probably did meet up for a pint after the game (which Celtic won) and the bottle thrower was literally one among thousands. The media hype, often using metaphors such as 'battle' or 'clash' doesn't help and modern social media of course allows idiots to spout drivel from behind the wall of anonymity 

So it comes to pass that Celtic are heading to Ibrox this Sunday for an SPFL fixture. It's been almost two seasons since the Rangers made it to the top flight of Scottish football after wallowing in the lower leagues like a six-foot teenager kept back in Primary school. Their arrival in the top flight coincided with Brendan Rodgers arrival at Celtic and it's fair to say the Celtic manager has had the upper hand in matches between the two clubs. Indeed, the sequence of results between the clubs has been; 5-1, 1-0 2-1, 1-1, 2-0, 5-1, 2-0 & 0-0. That sequence is cause for celebration for Celtic supporters who enjoy nothing more than beating the Ibrox side. Rodgers generally gets his tactics right for these games and the players, knowing what it means to the fans, raise their game accordingly. I hope the sequence goes on for years to come but in football games can turn on the vagaries of referees, the mistakes of key players or the habit teams have of simply not performing on certain days. 

Having watched Celtic for many years, it's clear that they have never been so far ahead on and off the field. Financially the club is in a very healthy place and despite a horrendous run of injuries, continue to dominate on the field. There was and remains a distinct feeling that Karma paid an overdue visit to Edmiston Drive in 2012. Former Ibrox Vice Chairman, Donald Findlay, said after Rangers fall, 'I suppose we did Lord it a bit.' That was putting it mildly, we had a club fuelled by cheap loans and tax avoidance schemes buying in big players to dominate Scottish football. We also had a support well versed in triumphalism never missing a chance to rub Celtic's nose in the dirt. It's not unexpected then that many among the Celtic support have revelled in their troubles over the past six years. Such is the nature of football rivalry the world over and more so with a rivalry as deep seated and on occasion as bitter as that to be found in Glasgow. 

The Glasgow Derby brings out the best in some and the worst in others. The noise, colour and passion is unsurpassed in British football but most of us who are veterans of these games have also witnessed the more unsavoury and visceral feelings they bring to the surface in some. We can hope that Sunday passes off reasonably peacefully but alas history tells us that once opened, the Pandora's box of idiots can't be easily resealed.  

Whatever happens on the field on Sunday, Celtic supporters should avoid at all costs developing that unhealthy sense of entitlement and expectation which leads to the sort of arrogance and hubris we saw from Rangers followers in the 1990s. Pride goes before a fall and I'm sure Rodgers will drum it into his team that every game brings its own challenges and every game must be won through guts and endeavour. Just as the players need to turn up and fight for every ball, so too the fans need to back them and be patient in those periods of the game when things go wrong.  

Football is a cyclical game, Celtic are currently dominating the derby fixture but some time, some place they may well lose one and when that happens, a sense of perspective is required. I hope Celtic win and win well on Sunday but as every Celtic side I've watched since my childhood watching Dalglish and McGrain play has learned, you need to turn up, man up to the physicality you'll undoubtedly find there and play your game. I'm confident Brendan will motivate the team to do just that and his Captain will drive the team on.  

It was said that Rangers players cheered when the Scottish Cup draw paired them with the Champions. Celtic Boss Rodgers who has kept a low profile this week as the press talked up Rangers' chances in the match said in that controlled manner... 'You need to be careful what you wish for.' He knows what is required on Sunday and he'll send out a team to emphasise the superiority of the Champions. 

I hope those of you heading for Ibrox have a great time. Get home safely afterwards and bring three points with you. HH