Stopping the Ten
‘Yer joking!’ said Matt incredulous but the stone face of his boss told him he wasn’t. ‘I’m not Joking Matt, you’ll be at your work next Saturday or don’t bother coming back.’ Matt held his tongue and watched as his rotund, red faced boss waddled off towards his office, he knew he’d have his usual sneer on his face as there was nothing Billy Weir liked more than annoying those he described to his bigoted friends as ‘Tattie munchers.’ Scott turned and looked around the warehouse shaking his head slowly. Tate knew the last game of the season was next week and that Celtic might just finally win the league after ten long, bitter years. He could have scheduled anyone to work the Saturday shift and he’d picked Matt. ‘Bastard,’ Matt thought to himself, ‘you know exactly what you’re doing ya rotten bigoted prick!’ His work colleague and fellow Celtic fan Tony McGee stopped his forklift truck in front of Matt and jumped out, ‘You’ll get yerself knocked doon standing there in like a spare prick at a wedding! Whits up wi ye anyway, yer dug died?’ Matt liked Tony, he was one of those guys who always saw the bright side of things but as Tony learned that Tait was making Matt work the Saturday shift the following week, he frowned, ‘That’s no fair,’ he said, ‘any number of guys would do that shift. He knows how wound up you are about stopping that mob winning ten in a row.’ Matt nodded, ‘Hopefully we’ll get a wee miracle and the Celts will win it this weekend then?’ Tony shook his head, ‘They’ve got Kilmarnock at Ibrox Matt. They clowns win there every time Haley’s comet comes round so I wouldn’t build up yer hopes.’ Matt shrugged, ‘Anyway, nothing we can do, back to work eh?’ Tony clambered back into his forklift and glanced back at Matt, ‘Still, we’re going tae Dunfermline on Sunday eh?’ Matt nodded, ‘Defo mate, you never know what will happen in fitbaw!’
The following day, Saturday 3rd May 1998, a stressed Matt McVie found himself in the crowded car park outside the Asda listening to the radio in his battered old Fiesta. Radio Scotland’s live commentary on the Rangers v Kilmarnock game was torture to him. Kilmarnock had, through luck and sheer persistence, got through the 90 minutes at 0-0 and now an unending period of injury time stretched Matt’s nerves to breaking point, ‘Blow the whistle ya prick!’ he shouted at the radio but Referee Bobby Tait seemed determined to let the game run on interminably. Matt’s wife appeared with a trolley full of groceries and tapped on the window momentarily distracting him from the game. It was as if he had been startled out of a trance so wrapped up had he been in the game on the radio. He jumped from the car and opened the boot and began loading the shopping straining to hear the commentary from Ibrox. His wife was about to speak to him but he cut her short as he heard the near hysterical commentary from the radio proclaim…’It’s a goal, the ball is in the net….’ He held his head in his hand, ‘I knew it!’ he roared’ Jammy bastards!’ 95 fuckin minutes and they score!’ His wife’s faced changed to that ‘I think you better calm down’ look she did so well but as the commentator on the radio continued his excited babbling Matt’s face changed….’In an astonishing finale to this vital game, Ally Mitchell has blown Rangers title hopes apart, and there’s the whistle, it’s all over, Kilmarnock have beaten Rangers by one goal to nil!’ Matt dropped the Asda bag he was holding as the reality sunk in, Kilmarnock had scored not Rangers! The game was over and incredibly Celtic were now in pole position to win the league. As the bag, containing among other things eggs, crashed to the tarmac Matt let put a roar and punched the sky, ‘Yeeessss! Ya fuckin dancer!’ His wife looked at him as flash of anger crossing her face, ‘You’ve broken the eggs ya big…’ But before she could finish her sentence he grabbed her, kissed her full on the lips and began to dance a clumsy jig in the busy Asda car park singing loudly…’Not by the Hearts, the Hibs or the Rangers, we shall not be moved!’ As passing shoppers looked at the odd sight of a man dancing and singing in the supermarket car park, his rather embarrassed wife couldn’t help but smile a little, ‘Yer aff yer bloody hied Matt McVie!’ Matt loaded the rest of the shopping into the car a smile etched onto his face. Celtic could now clinch the league the following day at Dunfermline perhaps missing the final game with St Johnstone wouldn’t be the blow he thought it would be? It all rested on Sunday’s game in Fife.
The following day Matt picked up Tony and his brother Frank and joined the long green and white convoy snaking its way across Scotland to Fife. The mood on the buses and cars was excitable and tense in equal measure. After a decade of misery Celtic simply had to win this game to spark the mother of all parties. Some of the younger fans could barely remember when Celtic had last won the league but now they were here to see their own little piece of history. Dunfermline’s little stadium was full to capacity and it seemed Celtic fans had somehow bought 90% of the tickets. The team came out to a deafening roar and seemed to respond to the backing of the huge away support. Matt stood behind the goal on the sun kissed open terrace as Simon Donnelly latched onto a through ball and slammed it past the keeper. The Celtic support exploded and Matt, Frank and Tony formed their own joyous huddle as they celebrated the goal. Celtic seemed comfortable in the game but 1-0 is never a secure lead and as the game wore on that nervousness which seemed to afflict their play so often this season returned. ‘Just hold on!’ Matt mumbled to himself as Dunfermline grew more confident. Then, late in that second half, as Dunfermline prepared to take a free kick tall, gangling centre-half Craig Falconbridge trotted into the Celtic box to support the forwards. As the ball was whipped into the box he made his move. The static Celtic defence failed to mark him as he met the ball and headed it towards goal. As Matt and thousands of other green clad fans watched in horror, it looped high into the air, over the despairing fingers of Jonathan Gould and into the Celtic net. Matt closed his eyes and exhaled, they weren’t going to blow it were they? They weren’t going to throw the title away when it was within touching distance? The game limped on to its inevitable conclusion. Celtic had failed to clinch the title they and their supporters craved so much. Matt saw a boy of about ten dressed in a Celtic shirt openly crying as they left East End Park. His green and white face paint was streaked with tears as his grim faced father tried to comfort him with the words, ‘We’ll do it next week son, don’t worry.’ Matt hoped they would indeed do it next week because after a decade of failure, Celtic owed it to these fans to finally deliver the goods. Everything would now be decided the following week when Celtic hosted St Johnstone and Rangers travelled to Tannadice. The stress was almost unbearable in this remarkable season.
The following week at work dragged past in a blur of tension and occasional ill-tempered exchanges at work. Most of the guys in the warehouse were followers of Glasgow’s big two although only one or two were of the extreme type who allowed the rivalry to fill them with hate. Matt passed the week as tense as the rest but an underlying disappointment filled him as he wouldn’t be able to go to the game. Tony spoke quietly to him the Friday before the deciding league match. ‘I’m really sorry ye canny make the game the morra mate, I wish there was something we could dae aboot it.’ Matt was philosophical, ‘Just win the game mate and stop that mob making it ten and I’ll be happy.’ Tony could sense his friend’s disappointment but a plan was forming in his mind. ‘I’m in till lunchtime on Saturday mate, we’ll see what happens.’ Matt looked at him, ‘Don’t dae anything stupid Tony, we both need our jobs here.’ Tony smiled, ‘Me? You know I’m Mr Sensible!’ Just then Archie Lennox an older man with no interest in football approached. ‘I hear you’re looking for me, Tony?’ Tony nodded, ‘Aye Archie, mon we’ll take a stroll tae a tell ye whit’s oan my mind.’ Matt watched them stroll off no doubt discussing work or some related issue and turned back to his own task. He’d be here tomorrow working from 8 till 4.30 and there was no way around that fact. He’d resigned himself to missing the most important game for a decade.
Saturday dawned bright on that May morning and Matt clocked in under the beady eye of Foreman, Billy Weir who wasted no time in listing all his duties for the day. He’d be busy completing the list of jobs before finishing time and figured Weir was making sure there was no chance Matt would be able to get away early to the game. ‘See that it’s all done now Matt.’ Matt nodded, a little smile on his face ensuring that Weir didn’t think he was winning. Tony appeared by his side as his boss wandered off to his office. ‘Aw right Matt boy! Baw jaws rattling your cage already?’ Matt smiled, ‘He disny have the intelligence to get under my skin, just another daftie.’ Tony’s eyes seemed full off mischief as he grinned, ‘Off to make our wonderful Boss his hot chocolate, he likes a wee cup in the morning.’ Matt watched Tony head for the small kitchen which was situated at the far corner of the huge shed. ‘No wonder he’s happy,’ Matt thought, ‘he’ll be off to the match at lunchtime and I’ll be stuck here.’ He turned and began the long list of tasks Weir had set for him.
At the morning break, as the few men working on the Saturday shift enjoyed their tea and the usual banter about the footy, Weir appeared at the canteen door, ‘Tony, that hot chocolate was top notch this morning, any more of it left?’ Tony got up immediately, ‘No probs Boss, I’ll bring you a mug in 2 minutes.’ Matt looked at Tony as Weir left, ‘You buying him hot chocolate noo ya sook?’ Tony smiled, ‘Oh ye of little faith!’ he said mysteriously as he left to prepare Weir’s favourite drink. Matt looked on confused as his friend disappeared, mug in hand. Later as the clock ticked near to midday Weir appeared at his office door looking deeply concerned about something. Tony looked up and smiled at Matt, ‘Operation Skid Mark is about to begin!’ As Weir ran to the toilet, his hand attempting to cover a damp brown patch at the back of his light coloured trousers, Matt looked at Tony, ‘What the f…’ Tony held up his hand, ‘Haud oan tae I see if the Boss is O.K.’ With that, Tony disappeared into the toilet and was gone for a full five minutes. He emerged helping his Boss, who was now wearing a spare set of works overalls, towards the side door to the parking area. Weir, true to form looked over his shoulder and shouted, ‘No one clocks out till all the jobs are complete, I’ll be checking on Monday!’ When he was gone, Tony reappeared. ‘Poor Mr Weir, really bad dose of the Gary Glitters!’ Matt looked on incredulously, ‘And operation skid mark?’ Tony smiled, ‘Easy mistake to make, I thought I could melt this chocolate intae a nice wee drink for the Boss?’ He handed Matt the wrappers which Matt looked at carefully. He almost choked when he saw the word ‘Laxative’ on the side of each wrapper. ‘Tony fur fuck’s sake, whit have ye done?’ Tony smiled, ‘He’ll be fine, smell like a sewer for a while but he’ll be fine.’ Matt was utterly confused, ‘Why would ye dae that tae Weir, I mean he’s a grade A prat but laxatives?’ At that point the side door of the shed opened and old Archie entered. Matt looked on as Tony waved him over. ‘Right Matt, here’s the deal. Archie finishes your shift and you square him up on pay day wi thirty bar. He finishes your jobs and clocks you out at half four. You get tae the gem and Weir’s none the wiser. Got it?’ Matt looked at Archie who smiled, ‘Wish I could have seen Weir wi his troosers streaked wi keech! Hahaha’ Tony laughed too, ‘Operation skid mark was a complete success!’ As they howled with laughter, Matt laughed too, it was perfect. Weir was gone and he could leave for the game with no worries about being caught.
A stressful, tetchy game entered its last 15 minutes with Celtic just one goal ahead of a useful St Johnstone side. Rangers were winning at Dundee United and any slips meant that Celtic would throw the title away. Tom Boyd picked up the ball by the big north stand and clipped it up the line to McNamara. As Matt and Tony watched from their seats near the 18 yard line, McNamara raced up the line and glancing inside saw the pacey Brattbakk arriving in the box like a greyhound. The stand stood as McNamara cut a low ball across the six yard line where the Norwegian striker was arriving at full speed. ‘Shooooot!’ shouted Matt as Brattbakk adjusted his feet and slammed the ball past Alan Main and into the net. In that instant, the stress, the anxiety and hurt of nine barren years melted away as Celtic and their fans celebrated as never before. They were Champions at last and had stopped the dreaded ‘Ten.’ All the anguish and waiting was over, they had at last risen from their slumber to become the Champions their fans knew they were. Matt and Tony, arms around each other’s shoulders sang their hearts out, team captain Tom Boyd hoisted the trophy aloft into the bright May sky. Matt shouted, ‘Thanks Tony’ to his friend who had made it possible for him to witness this moment. Tony hugged him and then turning to the pitch sang with all the rest….’Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain….’ Then as the players left the field, the supporters flooded onto the hallowed turf of their Paradise. This was their sacred space, their cathedral of football where John Thomson, McGrory, Tully, the Lions and Dalglish had all made their mark. Now it was submerged beneath a green and white wave of joy. It was a moment of sublime beauty to Matt and Tony as they stood on the halfway line drinking in the wild scenes of joy all around them. Matt smiled at his friend again, ‘God, it’s great being a Celt, Tony!’ His friend grinned back at him. He didn’t need to answer, of course it was great being a Celt.