Thursday, 24 July 2014

Majestic



Majestic
Watching the Queen at Celtic Park last night made me think of how much things have changed since she ascended the throne in 1953. As a wee lad I’d sit in the corner and watch family parties unfold amid much drink, laughter and singing.  The protocol was that a man would sing and then a woman and no one sung a song they knew to be another’s party piece. When my Old man got his turn he would often sing a song from his youth which was written to commemorate the stunning Celtic Victory in the Coronation Cup. Celtic, only really invited into the tournament to boost the crowds, stunned some of the best sides in the UK and saw off Arsenal and Rangers conquerors Manchester United, before beating the hot favourites Hibs in the final before 117,000 fans. My old Da would gesture for silence and then sing the following song….
 
Said Lizzie To Philip: The Coronation Cup Song

Said Lizzie to Philip as they sat down to dine,
"I've just had a note from an old friend of mine,
"His name is big Geordie, he's loyal and true,
"And his nose is my favourite colour of blue.


"He says that the Rangers are right on their game,
"And asks for a trophy to add to their fame
"I'll send up a trophy the Rangers can win".
Said Philip to Lizzie, "Watch the Celts don't step in."


Said Lizzie to Philip, "They don't stand a chance,
"I'll send up my Gunners to lead them a dance,
"With the Celtic defeated the way will be clear,
"For a cup for the Rangers in my crowning year."


But oh what a blow to the old boys in blue,
The Celts beat the Arsenal and Manchester too,
Beat the Hibs in the final and lo and behold,
All Hampden was covered in green, white and gold.


Said Lizzie to Philip when she heard the news,
"A blow has been struck to my loyal True Blues,
"Oh tell me dear Philip, for I ought to know,
"How to beat Glasgow Celtic and keep them below."


Said Philip to Lizzie, "There's only one way,
"And that's been no secret for many a day,
"To beat Glasgow Celtic you'll have to deport,
"The whole Fenian army that gives them support!"




Watching the fireworks explode over Celtic Park last night got me thinking that Celtic and indeed Scotland has travelled a long way since the Queen took the throne in 1953. Scotland was a fairly dour, Conservative sort of country where everyone was expected to know their place. For many of those who followed Celtic, that place was in the lower echelons of society. Sectarianism, obvious and subtle, was commonplace and those who went to the wrong school were often at a disadvantage. This was the era when St Ambrose (Coatbridge) Head Teacher, James Breen, marched into local Banks and demanded to know why they didn’t recruit youngsters from RC High Schools. His action embarrassed them into ending their petty embargo. He also recalled leading a group of pupils on a trip around an engineering works and seeing his boys return covered in spit.  I’m sure most of you reading this could tell family anecdotes of a similar nature from those days. We have, however moved on greatly in the past 60 years. Petty prejudice which was once barely noticed is now anathema to the vast majority of Scots. The selection of Celtic Park for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games would not have occurred 60 years ago but as Bob Dylan sang, the times they are-a-changing.
I for one though Celtic Park looked majestic as the fireworks boomed out above it. Never forget that the foundations of that stadium were laid by impoverished Irish immigrants in 1892. How they would marvel at the success their club has gone on to have. It is no longer the ‘outsider’, no longer do press reports speak of finding a good ‘Scotch’ team to defeat the ‘Irishmen.’ Celtic is the predominant Scottish Club and it looks likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
In honour then, of last night’s events, I shall endeavour to write an updated version of the ‘Coronation Cup Song.’ A lot has changed since 1953…
 
Said Lizzy to Phil in the Kerrydale Suite
So many nice folk here for we two to meet
I shook hand with Strachan and wee Ronny too
And big Dermot Desmond has a Guinness for you
 
Said Philip to Lizzy the Celts are in bloom
Come have a look at this great trophy room
Seems that the Celtic have lots to chalk up
Like 45 titles and of course that Big Cup
 
Said Lizzy to Phil I heard tell down the Pub
We made a mistake with our favourite club!
Remember big Geordie back in 53?
He’s up in Barlinie and with no EBT
 
Said Philip to Lizzy, a grin on his face
This new Celtic Park is a fantastic place
I’m really quite stunned by the trophies displayed
And I think that I might join the bold Green Brigade
 
Said Lizzy to Phil, now you're going too far!
I just can’t see you at the Brazen Head Bar
Just stick on some Hoops and we’ll party instead
You might get a Huddle when we’re back home in bed
 
Said Philip to Lizzy, Let’s open these games
Then get back to London and tell all the weans
A special announcement straight from you and me
We’re founding the Windsor district CSC
 
Said Lizzy to Phil, you’d look good in the Hoops
We could go teach the Huddle to all of our troops
And tell Charles that if he is fit for the throne
He must learn to sing ‘You’ll never walk alone! ‘
 
 

 
 
 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunflower


Sunflower

Those of you who saw the interesting and controversial German television series ‘Generation War’ may recall the scene where Red Army troops overrun a German field hospital and proceed to shoot the wounded soldiers left behind. One Russian soldier is about to rape Charlotte, a German nurse, when a female Red Army Officer stops him with the words, ‘We are liberators, not rapists.’ Charlotte is astonished to find that the officer is a Jewish woman whom she betrayed a couple of years before. In the most telling scene in the series she asks ‘Why did you save me after I betrayed you?’ The Officer thought for a moment and replied ‘because if we don’t forgive this will go on forever.

There has been precious little talk of forgiveness recently in our old world as the awful events in Gaza unfold and the innocents of flight MH17 lie in the sun kissed fields of eastern Ukraine. Seeing a small child lie by the side of the road covered with sunflowers placed there by a local woman was simply heart-breaking. It reminded me of the Simon Wiesenthal book ‘The Sunflowers: On the possibilities and limits of forgiveness.’ Wiesenthal, a Jewish holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter and author, recalls in the book that during his time as a prisoner in Lemberg Concentration Camp he could see the nearby German military cemetery. By each soldiers grave a sunflower seed was planted and as the months unfolded a virtual forest of tall sunflowers grew there. One day he is summoned to the local military hospital where a dying SS man, Karl Seidl, had asked to speak to a Jew from the nearby camp. Wiesenthal is shown into the room where the SS man is lying in bed, obviously near death. He whispers  to the rather astonished Jew that he took part in many atrocities in Russia against the Jews including herding over 300 of them into a building and burning it to the ground. Any who tried to escape were mercilessly mown down by Seidl and his SS comrades. Seidl is haunted by his crimes, knows his death is near and fears he is going to hell. He asks Wiesenthal to forgive him. The dying man before him has committed awful crimes and Wiesenthal ponders what to do next. He then walks quietly to the door and leaves, without saying another word. In the book he asks the reader to consider what they would do in such a situation.

In these days of instant communication the tragedy in Gaza seems to be unfolding before our eyes. The power of social media to inform, occasionally misinform and to help mould opinion is undoubtedly huge. Many on the outside feel an impotent rage at their inability to do anything to stop these dreadful things occurring. This is compounded by the seemingly callous lack of concern shown by the governments of nations who could affect the situation for the better. This rage has led to some to castigate countries, governments and even individuals for their attitudes. We saw Nir Biton, Celtic’s Israeli midfielder being condemned by some, sometimes in the coarsest of language, for tweeting an image which seemed to support the Israeli Defence Forces. The fact that all Israelis complete compulsory national service and that Biton will undoubtedly have family and friends in the IDF was of no consequence as some demanded he be thrown out of Celtic Park for voicing an opinion at odds with theirs. It reminded me of a Wolfe Tones song which contains the lyric…’So this is your democracy, be silent or agree with me.’ Biton may have been foolish posting his message at such a fraught time and I for one will never accept the behaviour of the IDF in Gaza as anything other than murderous, but he has a right to his opinions nonetheless. He faces a difficult time when he returns to Scotland and wouldn’t our crummy media just love it if he was ‘driven out’ by some of his own club’s fans?

Amid the strong words, the condemnation and invective, good people work quietly away for peace. They’re found in every land and are the hope for humanity’s future. Few of us will ever be put in the situation Simon Wiesenthal was in when the SS man asked him for forgiveness but some have and their responses can be surprising. Gordon Wilson, who lost his daughter Marie in the Enniskillen bombing of 1987 said at the time…

"She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, 'Daddy, I love you very much.' Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night."

It is astonishing that a person who lost so much can find forgiveness in his heart after such an experience. Such people remain one of the best hopes we humans have of moving on from our bloody squabbles. As the Russian Officer said in the German TV Series when asked why she helped someone who had betrayed her…

‘because if we don’t forgive, this will go on forever.’

I don’t mind admitting I’ve shed some tears this last week over events in our world. It seems the innocents always suffer and the guilty literally get away with murder. Life can seem so cruel and unfair but as Anne Frank wrote in her Diary a long time ago…
In spite of everything I still believe people are good at heart.’

I try to believe that, I really do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Fools Gold




Fools Gold
Big Archie Campbell wasn’t a man to be trifled with and wee Joe was literally shaking at the thought of having to deliver the bad news to him. ‘Why did I ever get involved wi a thug like that yin?’ he mumbled to himself as he hurried up Abercromby Street in the direction of the Gallowgate towards his Da’s house. If anyone could help him it was the old fella. He entered the close of the decrepit tenement building and climbed the worn stairs, which smelled vaguely of urine but he had grown up here and even the smell was reassuringly familiar to him. He stopped at his father’s door on the second floor and drew a deep breath before knocking gently. ‘Come in’ he heard his old man call in his familiar voice. Joe pushed the door open and headed towards the living room where the old fella sat on an ancient armchair watching horse racing on his small TV. ‘Aw right Da? You’ll need tae stop leaving the door unlocked.’ His old man’s face wrinkled into a smile, ‘Nothing worth stealing in here Joe.’ Joe sat on the couch opposite his Dad and studied him for a second. His illness had taken its toll and the man who was once so vigorous and strong now looked thin, grey and old. Joe recalled as a child having to run to keep up with his dad as he marched along the familiar streets of the east end. Now however, that strong physique, a result of years of hard labour in a fibre board factory, had been undermined by the microscopic fibres he had breathed in every day. His lungs were ruined and walking ten metres was now an effort for him. The grey haired old man regarded him, ‘Got my last fiver on this race, second favourite. Six tae wan.’ Joe nodded, a sinking feeling in his stomach, he had inherited his father’s love of gambling and that was the root of his current predicament.

The race finished with his old man grunting in the general direction of the TV, ‘Ach, three legged feckin donkey!’ Joe sighed, ‘Nae luck Da,’ His father shook his head before using the remote to turn the TV off and turned to look at his son, ‘Horses have been cruel tae me recently, I’m starting tae think that gem’s fixed.’ Joe nodded before cutting to the chase, ‘I’ve got a problem Da and I need yer advice.’ His old man could see a worried look on his son’s face and sat forward in his chair, ‘Whit’s the problem son?’ Joe outlined in a shaky voice how he’d got involved with local heavy Archie Campbell and one of his many illegal schemes. Campbell’s mules went to Belgium regularly on the Ferry and returned with thousands of cheap cigarettes and packs of rolling tobacco. Joe was one of the small fish who took a few hundred packets around the area to sell and had built up a regular clientele. He’d receive £500 worth of tobacco from Campbell in a battered holdall every two weeks and be expected to return the empty bag along with £400 in cash to Campbell. It left Joe with £100 profit for a couple of days legwork and this arrangement worked well for a few months. His problem occurred when he met a regular client in the Wee Man’s Pub and after completing the transaction was tipped off in whispered, conspiratorial tones about a horse which was a certainty at Lingfield that day. It was a strong favourite and as Joe enjoyed a few pints in the pub the thought of more easy money nagged away at him. He headed along the Gallowgate and entered the bookies, which was already busy and glancing at the bank of TVs on the wall above his head and noticed that ‘Fools Gold’ was even money favourite with the next best horse at 5 to 1. He quickly wrote out the line and paused at the box marked ‘Stake.’ He wrote ‘£50’ and paused again before exhaling and adding a second zero. It now read £500. Joe had placed all of the cigarette money on the horse thinking to himself that Campbell’s money was safe on such a strong favourite. 10 minutes later he stood staring blankly at the screen as the result of a photo finish informed him that ‘Fools Gold’ had, by a nose, finished second. Campbell required his money later that day and Joe had just lost it all.

His father listened to this tale in silence and when Joe stopped speaking he frowned at him. ‘Campbell is a grade A thug, Joe, you should never have got involved with a man like him. His Da wiz the same when I was your age, bullyin’ bastard, runs in the family.’ Joe nodded, his eyes fixed on his dirty and rather worn shoes. ‘Son,’ his father went on. ‘I’ll be honest wi ye, I’m skint and I’ve nae idea how we can raise £400.’ Joe and his da discussed every avenue open to them to raise the money and none seemed likely. Joe spoke in the voice of a man realising he has no way out of his predicament, ‘Campbell has eyes everywhere. He’ll know I gambled the money by noo. Wee Peter bumped him for £100 last month and got ripped for his trouble. It might be worse than that for £400,’ His father notice Joe’s voice shaking with what might have been apprehension or perhaps fear and tried to calm him. ‘Lie low Joe, head o’er tae yer Auntie June’s place in Maryhill till we get this sorted.’ His father advised, ‘I’ll see what I can dae. Stay here tonight and head over in the morning.’ Joe spent a sleepless night on his father’s couch, his dreams haunted by Campbell and the retribution he’d surely mete out. Such men ruled by fear and any compassion might be mistaken for weakness. Joe could expect no mercy.

The following morning Joe was up early and headed down Abercromby Street towards London Road and a bus out of the area. Halfway down the street he heard a familiar laugh and his heart jumped in his chest. 100 yards away and heading straight for him was Campbell and one of his more Neanderthal acolytes. Joe froze. Campbell hadn’t seen him yet, had he? In a split second Joe darted to his left and up the stairs of St Mary’s church. He pushed the heavy doors and let himself in, it was the first time he’d set foot in the place in years. There were a few people dotted here and there in the church and he tried hard to still his nervous breathing. He sat a few rows from the back near a man who sat, eyes closed, deep in prayer. Joe was literally shaking, if Campbell had spotted him then there was no place to hide. At least he might hesitate to get rough in a church especially with witnesses around. He clasped his hands together to stop them shaking. He hadn’t been this scared in his life. Campbell was a bad man who would surely hurt him? ‘Fuck sake, Joe’ he breathed to himself, ‘get a grip.’ His quiet curse must have been slightly audible in the stillness of the church because the man praying a couple of yards from him slowly straightened up and sat back in the pew. Joe looked away, avoiding eye contact, slightly embarrassed at having used bad language in a church. The man didn’t turn to look at him but said in quiet, almost gentle tones, ‘Something troubling you son?’ Joe glanced briefly at him before staring straight ahead and pondering his next move. What did he have to lose telling a stranger of his woes? He exhaled before replying in a whisper, ‘Eh….aye, I owe a bad man money. That’s aw, sorry I disturbed ye.’ The man, still not looking at Joe, replied, ‘What’s his name?’  Joe, a little surprised at the question, muttered quietly, ‘Archie Campbell, no a man tae  have  efter ye.’ The man nodded slowly as if he'd heard of Campbell. Joe breathed in nervously his mind whirling, a couple of minutes had passed since he had seen Campbell outside. He’d be gone by now or waiting outside for him. Joe muttered ‘Sorry tae have bothered ye, Pal’ to the man and stumbled out of the pew and walked towards the church door. He glanced nervously out the door onto a quiet and deserted Abercromby Street. Campbell, it seemed, had gone.

Joe stayed at his aunt’s in Maryhill for the next week and by borrowing and scrimping managed to gather together £120. He decided to offer it to Campbell as a down payment on what he owed and work off his debt by selling the illegal tobacco for free. Surely even an ignorant thug like Campbell could see the sense in that? He’d no doubt add interest for the delay and maybe give Joe a slap but as far as Joe could see that would be better than living in the fearful purgatory he found himself in. Campbell would find him sooner or later so he’d best get it over with. He headed back to the east end on the bus, getting off at the stop beside Campbell’s usual watering hole by the old Meat Market. Looking a lot more composed than he was feeling, he pushed the door and entered. He soon spotted Campbell at the bottom of the bar, five or six of his cronies laughing at his jokes and hanging on his every word. He was an intimidating man in every sense. He stood around six feet tall with powerful shoulders and a hawk like face marked with a cruel scar which curved under his left cheek and onto his neck. Joe walked up to the group his heart pounding, ‘Aw right Archie, can I have a word?’ Campbell slowly drained his whisky glass before responding, ‘Joe, just the man I’ve been looking for.’ Campbell looked at his cronies and flicked his head towards the other end of the bar, ‘fuck off.’ They lifted their drinks in silence and headed along the bar out of earshot. Campbell then turned his shark’s eyes to Joe who felt like a moth before a flame, ‘ Joe, our business is wan which requires a bit of tact. You’ve been a good wee earner for me but I’m gonny tell ye this wance and wance only. Ye deliver yer dues in person and ye don’t send any third parties wi the cash, dae ye understand me?’  Joe was utterly bemused but before he could respond Campbell went on, ‘I’ll drop this month’s tobacco aff tonight as usual and ye can square me up in a fortnight. Now off ye go.’ Joe wandered from the pub in a daze. Which third party had paid his debt? It had to be his old man there was no one else? He walked as fast as he could along the Gallowgate feeling a great weight had been lifted from him. He sprinted up the stairs to his da’s house and entered without knocking. He grinned at his Dad, ‘Cheers Da, yer a feckin star!’  He went to hug his father but stopped short seeing the mystified look on his face. ‘Ye paid Campbell for me? Where did ye get the money?’ His father looked at him, ‘Joe, I tried tae raise the cash but there was no way I could. I didnae pay Campbell a bean and I’ve no idea wit yer on aboot.’ Joe slumped onto his father’s threadbare couch, ‘If you didnae pay him, who did?’

The following Sunday morning Joe was heading down Abercromby street to inform Campbell that his next tobacco run would be his last. There was no shortage of poor folk willing to risk jail for a few quid and he’d give the new guy a list of his customers. He’d tell Campbell he was worried the cops were following him and he’d be glad to get Joe off his payroll. As he reached St Mary’s church the crowd leaving Mass spilled out onto the street. Joe waited for them to pass and noticed the man he’d spoken to briefly when he’d ducked in out of Campbell’s way the week before. The man was chatting to old and young alike and was obviously a popular man around the parish. As the crowd thinned out Joe squeezed past,. As he did so the man smiled at him, ‘Campbell off yer back now, son?’ Joe stopped, unsure of what to say and before he could respond someone else engaged the man in conversation. Joe watched him then walk towards a car and then ease away from the kerb and head down towards the London Road. Then it hit Joe: He paid the money! A guy he had met for ten seconds had paid his debt and saved him from God knows what. It had to have been him. Joe turned to a grey haired man who was closing the front gates of the church over. ‘Excuse me.’ The man looked at him, ‘Aye son, whit can I dae for ye?’ Joe responded, ‘The guy in the silver car there who wis talking tae every-wan. Who is he?’ The old man smiled, ‘I thought everybody knew him? That’s Tommy… Tommy Burns.’  
 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Hitting the Ground Running


 
Hitting the ground running
 
Seasons 1978-79, 1990-91 and 1994-95 stick out as unusual in the last 50 years or so for followers of Celtic for one important reason; the club failed to qualify for European football in those years and had to make do with domestic fare only. In terms of Scottish football, Celtic failing to qualify for Europe with the relative resources they have in comparison to other sides denotes a particularly poor season on the park. The reasons for those three years in the European wilderness are to be found in the previous season’s failures. 1977-78 season saw Celtic lose top performers McGrain and Stanton to long term injuries and that coupled with Dalglish leaving for Liverpool saw Celtic lose an astonishing 15 league matches to finish fifth in the League. It was a season which saw Jock Stein so shabbily bundled out the door by the old board following his astonishing 25 trophy wins in 12 years.  1989-90 saw the club stutter to a poor third place in the SPL miles behind Rangers and Motherwell. A cruel 9-8 penalty shoot-out defeat in the Scottish cup final against Aberdeen capped a poor year. While 1993-94 saw Celtic chalk up 20 draws in the 44 game SPL programme and this coupled with 9 defeats saw them finish a pretty miserable fourth place. Those three seasons with no European football to distract them did allow Celtic to concentrate on domestic matters but the club and the fans greatly missed the excitement those European nights under the lights bring.

Today, Celtic kick off another European campaign in that soccer outpost of Iceland. It is a mark of how Scotland’s co-efficient has fallen in recent years that our champions now fight it out with the minnows of Europe to gain entry into the Champions League. Celtic’s efforts in recent years have helped raise this but the majority of other Scottish clubs have been out of Europe before the schools return in mid-August. It remains vital to Celtic in financial terms that they progress to the Champions League group stages but more importantly to the fans it offers that glamour and excitement which domestic football sometimes lacks. This season will see Celtic begin the SPFL season for the first time in their history with no fixtures against traditionally tough opponents Hibs, Hearts or Rangers (however you view them) and there can be no denying that some of the more traditionally exciting Scottish games are not on the calendar. Champions league football is vital to keeping excitement and interest alive, especially in the darkening days of the  Scottish autumn. We may not be equipped at the moment to envisage making a huge impression on the big European footballing powers whose financial muscle dwarfs ours but those night’s at Celtic Park demonstrate that in terms of support and atmosphere we are definitely among the elite. That incredible support drives the team on and we can still punch above our weight at Celtic Park and teams of the highest quality know they have to perform to get a result there.

This time last year we were facing Cliftonville, Elfsborg and Shakhtar Karagandy on our way to what was an ultimately disappointing campaign in the Champions League but at the time we loved every second of our jousts with the big guns of Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan. We were found wanting on the pitch at times but the excitement and buzz around those games was a tremendous boost to the support and of course the club banked millions of pounds. In the past we may have been naively bundled out by sides like the street wise muggers of Juventus or well beaten by a Neymar inspired Barcelona but those are the risks you take in the toughest and best club competition on Earth. Most fans would rather be in among the big boys and run those risks than be pressing their faces up against the window and watching from the outside.

It has irritated sections of the support that the club has yet to strengthen the side given the importance of the upcoming qualifiers although it may be that some potential targets will hold off until Celtic make it, hopefully, to the group stages of the UCL. Rather than welcoming the signing of Craig Gordon, it has merely led to speculation that Fraser Forster’s time at Celtic may be drawing to a close. The new manager comes with a reputation of creating useful sides on a limited budget and this doesn’t suggest the board are minded to release huge amounts of money for his transfer budget. Celtic have a fine balancing act to pull off here, on one hand the policy of signing ‘rough diamonds’ like Wanyama relatively cheaply and developing them for sale has proved profitable. On the other the support are no mugs and recognise that the continual selling of our best players is weakening the side. In the two years since Celtic defeated Barcelona on that memorable night in 2012, the side has undoubtedly regressed. It is up the board to ensure that their ‘buy cheap-sell dear’ policy is handled intelligently and doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the quality of the side. Indeed, some suggest a lack of transfer money to build the side was one of the reasons behind Neil Lennon’s departure. Of course we realise the constraints of playing in the low income world of Scottish Football and accept that sometimes we simply can’t refuse the sort of money being offered by the English Premiership but the club must also remember the most important factor in the equation remains the Celtic supporters. Failure in these qualifiers will not sit easily with a support, many of whom rightly or wrongly, view the club as stockpiling cash. Of course prudent financial planning is required in these difficult times and we need look no further than Govan to see the results of arrogance and hubris. However the new man needs to mould his own team and the cash from any sales should be given to him in full to build for the future.

Tonight’s tie in Iceland is hopefully the first step on our journey to the Champions League. The rewards for success are great both in terms of excitement for the fans and finances for the club but the price of failure is equally great. Celtic as a club and support need European football for many reasons. It is true to say that the most vital games in Celtic’s season are these qualifying ties which come dangerously early in the football year. The team needs to be ready to put in a shift and get us through these qualifying games. Tonight they begin in a modest little ground which holds less than many Scottish Junior stadia. Should they wish to be in among the elite of European football again then they’d best hit the ground running.
 

 

 

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Man in the Mirror


 
The man in the mirror
Sometimes you get an interesting insight into the thought processes of others which can be quite enlightening. I attended a charity Sports Dinner a couple of years back at a Masonic Hall in Glasgow. The speakers were Tommy Gemmell, Willie Henderson and Bill McMurdo. The stories Gemmell and Henderson told about playing in that golden age of Scottish football were brilliantly funny, entertaining and gave some good insights into 1960s football. McMurdo, not being a footballer, relied on a more earthy approach which, while not being overtly sectarian, did pander a little to his perceived audience. During the interval I went to the bar and a chap in the queue smiled at me, ‘Great night Pal, eh?’ I nodded ‘Aye, great to hear those stories from the old days.’ The chap continued, ‘I know and it’s even better because we’re with our own folk, none of that mob here tonight.’ His cheerful demeanour changed when my brother approached to change the drinks order and used my name which happens to be Pat. The chap at the bar clamped up and avoided eye contact or conversation from that point onwards. There were also a couple of stony faced young men at our table that evening who said nothing all night and I was informed by their uncle in an almost jocular manner to ‘Never mind them, they just don’t like ‘Tims’ in the company.’ In fairness to the organisers of the event, the funds raised that night benefitted local schools, among them the local RC school so we can’t tar all of those present with the attitude of the chap at the bar or those at our table.  Such insights remind us of the powerful effect of tribalism and the conditioning process which encourages children to develop these attitudes.

As a teacher, I know the power of conditioning and use it in positive ways every day in class. We reward and praise those traits and behaviours we want to see develop (fairness, respect, hard work, etc.) and hopefully this can help minimise less positive behaviours and attitudes. Of course the home is the prime teacher of values and schools can only do so much if a child is subjected to stronger conditioning at home. I have struggled in the past to convince children that their embryonic prejudices about other groups in society are wrong and unhealthy. I may not have completely succeeded with them all but it is a teacher’s duty to challenge prejudice of any sort. In the case of those few people at the Sports dinner, they perhaps find comradeship with others and some form of social identity in such an exclusivist outlook to life but to limit your social interactions to ‘your own kind’ is surely unhealthy and makes life less interesting? 

There is a much told Celtic tale about prejudice which summed up the absurdity of such attitudes. A Celtic player came into the dressing room at half time in an away game and said to manager McGrory, ‘Oh Boss did you hear that crowd? Screaming at me that I’m a Fenian B****rd all through that half?’ McGrory tried to reassure him, ‘Don’t let that worry you, I get called that all the time.’ The player, one of many Protestants who have represented Celtic with such honour and distinction over the past 126 years replied, ‘Aye I know but you are one, I’m not!’

Of course no group is without its share of less enlightened members and it would be wrong to suggest that Celtic supporters are not subject to the same sorts of psychological conditioning which impacts on every other group in society and helps form attitudes and opinions. One of the key components of Celtic’s identity though was the feeling that the exclusivist employment practices they saw around them in Scottish society for much of their history were intrinsically unfair. Celtic could very easily have fallen into the ‘ghetto’ mentality of keeping to our ‘own kind’ but the founding generation correctly saw that football could help integrate the migrant community into the wider society. From ‘Sunny’ Jim Young in that early side through to John Thomson, Evans, Stein, Peacock, Gemmell, Auld, Dalglish, McGrain, Larsson and many more, Celtic have always maintained that a man’s ability as a player and character are more important than his background. When John Ure-Primrose became Chairman of Rangers FC in  1912 he led that particular club on a very different path and Scottish society is still dealing with the echoes of those days. Indeed Willie Maley in his book ‘The Story of Celtic’ marks out 1912 as the year things became more heated between Rangers and Celtic supporters. He cites the arrival of Belfast shipbuilders on the Clyde as having a role in this but even this cannot be seen out-with the wider context of the socio-political situation in the UK and Ireland. 1912 saw Edward Carson found the Ulster Volunteer Force designed to resist Irish home rule by force if necessary. It also saw Primrose, a man steeped in Unionist politics, take control of Rangers. They were different times, a different mind-set and while never excusing prejudice we should think as 21st Century people and not be chained to the past.

Much has been written in recent years about the exclusivist policy pursued by Rangers in those less enlightened times but the salient point for me is that when organisations as prominent as Rangers FC, run as they were by educated men, apply such ‘policies’, it gives tacit approval for the less well educated to espouse the sort of bigoted attitudes which blighted the lives of so many. That cultural conditioning of generations of Rangers fans must be viewed in the context of the club’s policy and it cannot be denied that the club did Scottish society a great disservice.  We thankfully live in more tolerant times although there is, and probably always will be, elements in every society who look for ‘others’ to blame for various ills.  Just as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said that ‘poverty is the mother of crime’ so we may also conclude that ignorance, educated or otherwise, is the father of bigotry. It is up to us all to guard against it and try to ensure that the new generation of Scots growing up today are not asked to drink from this bitter cup.

So the new football season is almost upon us and no-doubt the invective will soon be flowing again as ancient rivalries are resumed. We often mistake the bitter rivalries in Scottish football as symptomatic of our clannish ways but having lived part of my life in England, I can assure you that the naked hatred between some clubs supporters there is as bad as anything the big two of Glasgow ever managed. I once attended a match between Liverpool and Manchester United and the atmosphere was poisonous. So as the football begins, enjoy the spectacle and enjoy too those rivalries which all sports need. We can be raucous and loud without resorting to hatred so think also of the youngsters around about you in the stadiums and show them the way real supporters act. If we’re ever going to blunt the sharp edge of prejudice then it starts as always with the man (or woman) we see in the mirror each day.

Come on you Bhoys in Green!

 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A Better Way


 
                                                               A Better Way
I try very hard to keep my writing non-political and only focus on issues surrounding Celtic and Scottish football. Today, however, I’ll make an exception and talk about the upcoming vote on Scottish independence. This is undoubtedly the most important decision the people of Scotland have ever had to make in their entire history. The ruling elite who voted Scotland’s parliament out of existence in 1707 did so for mostly selfish reasons. Among these was the failure of Scotland’s attempt to found a colony on the Darien isthmus in what we today call Panama. The rich investors lost huge amounts of money and when the English Government, who wished to see Scotland under its influence, offered £400,000 in compensation to the Darien investors the glint of gold influenced many. England also closed its markets to Scottish coal, cattle and Linen in an act of virtual blackmail and the ruling Scottish elite bowed to the pressure and began negotiations which would lead to the unification of the parliaments. Few Scots saw this as anything other than a sell out and serious rioting occurred in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Copies of the treaty were burned in the streets, windows at the Scottish parliament were smashed and a mob controlled Glasgow for a month. It was to no avail, the people Robert Burns called ‘A parcel of rogues’ voted 110-67 to close the ancient Scottish parliament down and it met for the last time on 25 March 1707.

All of that is a million miles away from the position Scots find themselves in today. This hard working and inventive nation which has given so much to the world in terms of industry, medicine, agriculture, philosophy and the arts, finds itself wrestling with some of the highest levels of social inequality in the developed world. Scotland is not a poor country. We have a well-educated, hard working population and some of the greatest natural resources in Europe and yet recent report found that male life expectancy in poorer areas of Glasgow’s East end was just 54 while in affluent suburbs a ten minute drive away it was 82. How have we allowed this situation to arise? The simple answer is that the ruling elite of the modern age, with some noble exceptions, continue to perpetuate a system of government and wealth distribution which enriches the minority at the expense of the people. We currently have a cabinet of millionaires telling us that we’re all in it together and preparing us for more austerity. Meanwhile as the welfare budget is squeezed and the poorest in our society are blamed for their own problems, the Bankers bonuses continue to rise, despite the fact their greed almost destroyed the whole economic system. We, the ordinary tax payers of these islands, paid a huge price for the actions of a selfish minority and in their utter arrogance they had us pay to clean up their mess. American political thinker Noam Chomsky reminds us that things aren’t set in stone and that change is possible if we want it enough…

"There is no reason to accept the doctrines crafted to sustain power and privilege, or to believe that we are constrained by mysterious and unknown social laws. These are simply decisions made within institutions that are subject to human will and that must face the test of legitimacy. And if they do not meet the test, they can be replaced by other institutions that are more free and more just."

Voting for Scottish independence won’t change the international systems we have allowed the elite to create for themselves but it will be the first step on the road to creating a fairer society which uses the wealth of the nation to support and develop all of its people and not just the so called ‘elite.’ The world is weighed down by inequality and injustice and the Scotland I want my children and grandchildren to inherit can be a beacon demonstrating that there is an alternative to the rapacious and divisive capitalism which is causing great harm to the natural world as well as to humanity in general. I’m not suggesting for a moment that hard working people shouldn’t be rewarded for their industry, of course they should, but that must always be balanced by what is in the interest of the common good and of the planet.

The idea of a more just Scotland can never come about while the London-centric elite dominate our national discourse. There was a time when our political parties offered real choice before they were pressured into becoming little more than a regulatory bodies for the big corporations and their media empires.  We are told that we should spend £100b on upgrading our nuclear weapons capability while food-banks proliferate in our poorer areas. We demonstrated against British involvement in the Iraq war of 2003 in our millions and still our Prime Minister, a Labour Prime Minister no less, followed a right wing reactionary like George Bush into a brutal and bloody conflict which is largely responsible for the mess the region is in today. Our opinions meant as little to the ruling ‘elite’ in 2003 as they did to the ‘elite’ of 1707 who gave up our parliament and sovereignty for a wagon full of gold.

I hear siren voices which say Scotland can’t cut it on its own and that they would never vote for Alex Salmond. My reply to them is simply this: Not voting for independence because you don’t like Alex Salmond is like not buying your dream house because you don’t like the wallpaper. This isn’t about party politics or personalities, this is about a nation standing up and saying; we want the government we voted for and we want to create a fairer society. Scotland is rich in natural resources and inventive, talented people and that potential should be released and encouraged so that we all benefit from it. An independence Scotland would hold elections and we would see the political parties here, so long dancing to London’s tune, return to their roots and develop Scottish policies for the Scottish people.

The trappings of the age of Empire and the class system it supports are incompatible with a modern democratic state. The asset stripping of Scotland’s wealth to enrich a minority is also incompatible with a stable society. I’ll be voting Yes on September the 18th. Not because I’m selfish or anti-English, how could I be with family and friends there?  I long for Scotland to be an example to our southern cousins and inspire them to seek a better society. My vote will be yes because I want to say….

Yes to true democracy

Yes to a written constitution based on human rights and dignity

Yes to a fairer society

Yes to Scotland being a force for good in the world

Yes to an end to the obscenity of nuclear weapons on our soil

Yes to a society which values all equally

Being Scottish is not linked to ‘blood and soil’ as one foolish commentator stated. Nor is it about narrow nationalism. Rather it is about accepting Scottish values such as fairness, democracy, tolerance and decency. It matters not if your roots are in Poland or Pakistan, if they are in India or Ireland. If you can subscribe to these values then you are welcome to help build a new Scotland. A country we can all be proud of and which will be an example to all of what a country can achieve when its potential is unleashed.  This ancient nation should take its place among the independent countries of the world and work for justice and peace the world over instead of being dragged into imperialist wars which at the end of the day are fought to make rich men richer. There is another way, a better way. If we succeed on September the 18th we won't create a fair society over night but we will be preparing to make Scotland a better country for us all.

What do you say?

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 3 July 2014


 
One of those days
Do you ever have one of those days when you feel a little overwhelmed by the images posted online from around the world of the horrors we humans inflict upon each other? If it isn’t Iraq, Palestine/Israel then its Syria or some other place God seems to have abandoned. Today as I sat to breakfast,  the first image I saw online was of the charred remains of a Palestinian child. It was the first of many such images on my twitter timeline today. The picture of that child, someone’s beloved baby, sat rather incongruously among tweets about how Celtic would do in today’s friendly and moans about our latest signing. One can very easily suffer from compassion fatigue or become desensitised to such images if they are viewed often enough. One can often be left with a feeling of powerlessness as these horrors unfold a few hours flying time from home. It can also be quite depressing to see the depths we humans can sink to. You’d think we’d learned nothing from all those conflicts of the past.

Of course technology has allowed for the wide dissemination of images and information in a way and at a speed that would have seemed incredible just 20 years ago. That is of course a mixed blessing. On one hand we are better informed and more involved in debates about the big issues at home and abroad. On the other hand we can be continually exposed to images which are difficult to look at and we are occasionally forced to read the opinions of people with no obvious moral compass. Just as I was lamenting the state of the world today, one of my Twitter comrades reminded me to keep a bit of perspective on things. Most people are decent and the world has always had its troubles. We simply have more ways to view them today. There are still so many charitable, decent and kind people out there and we should never forget that. There are those my mum used to call the ‘ordinary angels’ of our communities who help the elderly, man the food banks, take time to talk to the lonely and much else beside. There are also those who literally put their lives on the line for others and inspire so many of us.

I wonder how many of you would recognise the names of Valeri Bezpalov, Alexi Ananenko and Boris Baranov? In 1987 there was a disastrous explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in what was the Soviet Union. Ten days after the initial explosions another potential disaster in the making was uncovered among the smouldering debris of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Water that was used to try and fight the flames unsuccessfully had become contaminated and then pooled beneath the reactor core. The reactor had had substances such as clay, sand, and boron dropped onto it by helicopters in an attempt to smother the flames. The resulting mixture was like lava and was slowly burning through the floor. Had it reached the water, the resulting fallout could have turned most of Europe into a nuclear wasteland caused by a mass steam explosion. The only way to stop this occurring was to open a valve and release the water. Doing so required someone to dive beneath the lethal radioactive sludge and open the valves. To do so would mean certain death from radiation poisoning but those three men volunteered and averted a localized disaster becoming a catastrophe for all of Europe. If ever the word ‘Hero’ was appropriate then it was for those brave men.

Similarly, when my oldest was choosing his Confirmation Saint he surprised me by opting for Maximillian Kolbe. Kolbe was a Catholic Priest who took another man’s place in a cell at Auschwitz knowing he was going to certain death. Such people remind us that the world can’t be such a bad place when it can produce such people. The ‘ordinary Angels,’ whom we all know in our families and wider lives and the people who are prepared for the ultimate sacrifice remind us that goodness isn’t finished just yet.

So I guess the point of this rather odd article is to remember that new technology allows us access to things which may get us down at times but it also has the power to cheer us and at times inspire us. This old world has always had its troubles and I suspect it always will. We should of course, try to be the change we want to see in society. Little things can make a big difference to some people. I recall the Priest in Church say one day, ‘Remember when you shake hands with the person next to you today that it may be the only human contact they feel this week.’ So if sometimes life gets us down, then we should try to remember that there are always friends, music, laughter and of course Celtic to lift our spirits.  

Have a good week and don’t worry, I’ll get back to writing about Celtic soon. It’s just been one of those days. J


There.... that's better :-)


 

 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


 

Until Victory
I watched a young lad of about 14 purchasing a flag outside Celtic Park one bright autumnal day last year. It was an Irish tricolour emblazoned with an image of Che Guevara and the words ‘Hasta la Victoria, Siempre. (‘Until Victory-Always’) A friend mumbled to me, ‘I doubt if he knows what that says or who Che Guevara was.’ He may have been right but that young Celtic fan was taking his first steps, as we all did at some point, in trying to understand the world, how it works and how it needs changing. I grew up at a time of great social and political change in the world. Making sense of it all and trying to formulate an opinion amid all the competing voices was no easy matter. I read Che Guevara’s story of his travels around South America (The Motorcycle Diaries) and saw a young man engaged in a similar journey of exploration, The poverty, abuses of power and exploitation of the poor made up young Ernesto’s mind that he would do all he could to change that world. Guevara’s father, a man of Irish and Basque descent, once said of his son’s restless nature… ‘The first thing to note is my son’s veins flow with the blood of Irish Rebels.’ There is no doubt that the disease, poverty and squalor young Ernesto Guevara saw on his journey around Latin America was the main driving factor in his growing determination to change society for the better. It was to be a decision which, in the end would lead to his death. One line from Guevara’s book which stuck in my head was…

‘There is no other definition of socialism for us other than the ending of the exploitation of man by man.’

It seemed logical and normal when I was growing up that most Celtic supporting families were generally left wing in their outlook. For the most part we came from the working class communities of Scotland and knew from our own lives about the inequalities in the UK. Perhaps the fact that the majority of us were from immigrant stock also informed our views. In those days the old Labour Party offered an outlet for such political feelings as it had yet to be diverted to the right in the Blair years. My old man would tell me about his youth in the east end of Glasgow when unemployed working class men would engage in brutal gang fights with other unemployed young men based on spurious ideas of territorialism and tribal identity. It galled him that the ferocious energy spent on maiming each other wasn’t channelled into changing the society which had thrown them all on the scrap heap. He would talk in bemused tones about how some of the Loyalist gangs of the thirties embraced Fascism and its racist ideology. ‘Imagine that,’ he would tell me, ‘Working class men living in poverty supporting the Black Shirts!’  He was adamant that ignorance and intolerance thrive amid poverty and poor education and that is as true today as it was then.

Of course the modern age with all its shallow distractions is more likely to see political apathy and disinterest from many. It is now 2000 years since the Roman writer Juvenal bemoaned that Roman citizens had given up struggling for justice and were concerned only with ‘bread and circuses.’ In the Scottish context football became the ‘circus’ which distracted many.  For the Celtic faithful, Celtic Park became our coliseum and the players our gladiators but there has always been a strong political awareness among many Celtic fans and I recall long away trips being enlivened by debates in which James Connolly was quoted as much as Jock Stein. Among the Celtic support there is and always has been that strong Irish identity and the club has been a focus for this from its inception. During the worst years of the troubles in Ireland it could be argued that Celtic (and Rangers?) offered a safety valve in Scottish society where many could blow off steam without being drawn too deeply into the conflict. Historian, Tom Devine, argues that Scotland’s Irish community was drawn mostly from Ulster and that Liverpool, in contrast, had a more mixed Irish settlement. This he states led to the ‘decanting’ of the more tribal aspects of Ulster’s community relations which echo stronger in Clydeside today than they do on Merseyside.

As a younger man I was a fan of some of the more political bands of the era. Not just the Irish music which commented on the historical and ongoing troubles in the north of Ireland, although that often reverberated through the house, but bands such as the delightfully named, Men they couldn’t hang, Stiff Little Fingers and even the Tom Robinson Band. These bands were in a sense also a part of my political awakening and led to me investigating some of the issues and incidents they sang about and made me think more about how things came to be. One song of the time ‘The Battle of Cable Street’  recall the working class solidarity which saw people of various identities stand together to prevent a Fascist march through the Jewish area of east London in 1936. The lyric got me thinking of what could be achieved when ordinary people join together in a common cause and put petty differences behind them…

"I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dock workers,
standing up together against the hated black shirts.
I shall never forget that as long as I live,
How working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism."

All of this may seem a little heavy in these days of social media and political apathy. Capitalism seems triumphant everywhere and politics offers a choice of parties who all seem to be in the pockets of the big corporations. However, all is not as it seems. There are people in every land struggling against exploitation and injustice. The black shirts may not be marching down our High Streets in their thousands as they did in the thirties but the poor are still among us, the food banks as busy as ever. The bedroom tax sitting alongside tax cuts for millionaires rightly irks some. We have allowed a privileged few to garner huge amounts of wealth while billions struggle to get by in our world and that can’t be right.

One aspect of being a Celtic fan which I greatly appreciate is the social conscience which I partly developed on the terraces of Celtic Park. Our founding ethos of charity and inclusion still resonates loudly and I for one will strive to see that it always does. We Celtic supporters may not always agree on political questions or the manner in which they should be solved but just about every Celtic fan want their club to be a positive force in society. Not all Celtic fans share my political outlook but most agree that a society should be judged on how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable members.

As for the young lad with the Che Guevara tri-colour; he may not know much about the iconic face on his flag but he is perhaps taking the first steps in exploring the big world of ideas as I did many years ago and who knows, one day he might inspire us all to create a better society.