Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Chance

The Chance

Glasgow 2012
Andy Molloy, dressed in his smartest suit, walked purposely along the emerald carpeted corridor towards the empty executive box. He liked arriving early and making sure things were in order for his guests. He opened the door and glanced at the pristine white table cloths, gleaming wine glasses and silver cutlery. He opened the curtains and sat facing the lush turf of Celtic Park. A few yellow coated stewards were dotted here and there in the huge north stand and all seemed ready for the visit of Rangers. Andy smiled; he had come a long way since he had spent his childhood in a long gone house which once sat a hundred yards beyond that big stand. He glanced at the palm of his left hand and ran his finger along two thick silver scars which cut across his palm. Few would guess how one of Glasgow’s most successful businessmen had acquired those scars. It was a story he had told no one. As he gazed across the smooth, green field of the modern Celtic Park, his mind drifted back to days long gone…

Glasgow 1972
Andy Molloy sat on the second floor balcony of the small council flat watching the river of people flow out of Celtic Park and up his street. The songs and laughter echoing off the walls told him that this had been a good day for the men in green. For a teenage Celtic fan, living in Janefield Street had its advantages. He could head over to a game at 5 to 3 and still make the kick off. Today however as Dalglish and co were beating Aberdeen, Andy was staying home to look after his old man. Since his mother’s passing the year before, he and his dad had tried to pick up the pieces of their lives as best they could but the hole in their lives without her was a gaping one. His father, already ill with a lung condition caused by inhaling fibres in the factory where he worked, had lost much of his interest in life since the woman he had been with since they were 16 had gone. Andy knew how hard his mother’s death had hit his old man, he had wailed like a child at her funeral in St Michael’s at one point calling forlornly to the large crucifix above the altar, ‘Why her, why not take me?’‘ His anger at the intrinsic unfairness of life had not subsided in the 18 months since.

Andy,’ a tired sounding voice called from the back bedroom, ‘How did Celtic get on?’ Andy got up from his chair and went back into the house, which actually seemed colder than the balcony overlooking Janefield Street. He entered the bedroom where his old man lay wheezing on an ancient bed, his lungs struggling against his illness and the effects of 30 years of smoking and damp housing. Above the bed a ghostly icon of Jesus with sad, understanding eyes watched over the room. His right hand, bearing the wound of crucifixion, pointed to his heart from which a red and yellow flame burned. As a child Andy used to experiment by looking at the picture from every corner of the room and no matter where he stood those eyes seemed to follow him. He looked down at his father, so strong and vigorous in his younger days now seemingly grey and fading thanks to the unrelenting grind of poverty. ‘They won 3-1 Da,’ he smiled at his father. ‘Dalglish scored again.’ His old man smiled a weak smile, ‘He’s a good yin that Dalglish, Jock’s got some good young players coming through.’ Andy nodded, Celtic added some sparkle to the lives of so many like his old man. Life was tough for thousands of fans but for just that couple of hours on a Saturday they could lose themselves watching Jinky weave his magic or new players like Dalglish turn defenders and guide the ball home with that poise and grace he had been blessed with. Those same fans looked forward to their football so much perhaps because it gave them a chance to be winners for a change. Andy made his father tea and they chatted for a while about Celtic’s prospects of winning their sixth consecutive title. He liked these chats as the old sparkle returned to his father’s eyes as he recounted past victories and looked forward to upcoming games. They talked for a couple happy hours before his old man slipped into a contented sleep.

Later that night, long after the crowd had departed from the area around Celtic Park, Barrowfield became a very different place. Andy scanned the darkening street knowing that simple things such as getting to the shops on Springfield Road and home again in one piece needed careful planning. The two main gangs in the area, the Spur and the Torch were fiercely territorial and any trespassers on their turf literally took their lives into their hands. The use of weapons was commonplace and it saddened Andy to see so many young men whose faces bore the tell-tale scars of violent encounters. Graffiti marked out the areas each gang dominated and although Andy wasn’t a member of either, he did know school friends who had been drawn into that violent and destructive sub culture. Like the majority of decent people in the scheme, he hated the casual violence he saw around him and did his best to stay low on the radar of the local ‘Neds’ as his father called them.

Andy stepped out of his close and turned left and headed along Janefield Street, the cemetery on his left and the long wall of Celtic Park on his right. Things seemed quiet but he scanned ahead out of long habit knowing that trouble could often be avoided before it began if you read the streets well enough. He reached the newsagents on Springfield Road and bought the bread and milk he needed before heading for home. A group of young men stood on the corner passing a green wine bottle between then. They eyed him in a hostile manner as he studiously avoided eye contact. ‘Where you fae ya wank?’ one sneered in a drunken drawl at him. Andy ignored the comment and tried to remain composed, his fight or flight response had already counted six of them and flight would be the only option open to him if they pushed it. As he began to cross Springfield Road the voice called out again. ‘You deef ya dick?’ An empty green wine bottle whizzed past Andy’s ear and smashed on the road in front of him, it was the starter’s signal for the chase. Andy dropped his shopping and raced towards Janefield Street. The group gave chase but the hunted always have that extra motivation which adds a yard to their top speed. One by one his pursuers gave up till only the mouthy drunkard was on his tail. Andy glanced briefly over his shoulder as he ran into Janefield Street and in that spilt second saw the glint of steel which told him it was best to keep running. He ran along street until he reached the corner where the long wall of the Jungle enclosure at Celtic Park met the Celtic end. Ahead he saw the last thing he wanted to see at that particular moment. 50 yards ahead, a group of about 20 young men armed with a variety of implements stared at Andy as he raced towards them. ‘Shit’ he thought to himself ‘the Spur are out.’ He was now caught between two very dangerous opponents. He stopped, cheeks red, puffing from the exertion of his running and glanced behind him at the burly, shaven headed young man, openly displaying a knife in his right hand. He had slowed to a walk, his face wearing a mean, mirthless grin. Andy’s only chance lay in the hope that his pursuer didn’t know any of the Spur. His heart sank when the he heard him call out ‘Gak, haud that cunt there, am gonny rip him.’ Andy was out of options and could expect no mercy. In desperation he glanced around him and seeing the wall at the Celtic end of the crumbling old stadium ran towards it. He had one chance now and that lay in getting over the wall. Seeing what he was intending the gang moved towards him. Andy reached the wall and in one leap grasped at the top of it. A searing pain filled his whole body and he gasped in agony. Celtic, in their wisdom had cemented broken glass into the top of the wall to stop people climbing into the stadium without paying and the merciless glass pierced his hand. Despite this he threw himself over the wall and landed in a crumpled, bleeding heap inside the dark stadium. A couple of bricks flew overhead and landed somewhere in the darkness. A voice called from the other side of the wall, ‘We’ll get ye ya basturt.’ Then all was quiet.

Andy looked at his left hand which hurt more and in the gloomy light the blood which covered it looked almost black. He removed his jumper and wrapped it carefully around the bloody mess. He walked unsteadily up the concrete stairs towards the terracing and looked down at the dark pitch. The stadium was silent and deserted as he contemplated what to do next. If the gang was persistent they could break into smaller groups and circle around the stadium, blocking his likely escape routes. Andy realised that he was safer staying where he was. Perhaps they’d get bored and go home. He wandered down the terracing at the junction of Celtic end and Jungle and stepped carefully over the green barrier and onto the track. If they came into the stadium looking for him, he needed time to escape. In his confused and frightened mind he figured the centre of the pitch offered him the best view of the whole area. The grass was damp and lush as he walked slowly towards the centre circle. When he got there, he sat down and cradled his left hand which was throbbing painfully. He rocked back and forth like a hurt child. This was the lowest point of his life. What sort of society allowed the poverty which spawned all of this pointless violence? He lay back on the damp Celtic Park pitch feeling its coolness on the back of his head. Looking up at the sky he could see what appeared to be a million stars glinting down, their beauty contrasting to the ugliness of the world he inhabited.

A voice startled him, ‘Are you alright son?’ Andy sat up and saw an elderly man walking towards him. He wore a smart suit and a hat which might have been popular 20 years before in the 1950s. Andy could see that he meant him no harm and mumbled, ‘I’ve hurt my hand.’ The old man helped him to his feet, ‘Let’s have a look at it in the light.’ He led Andy across the pitch and towards the tunnel of Celtic Park. He then guided Andy into what looked like a physiotherapy room and got him to sit on the treatment table. Most Celtic supporting boys would have been delighted to get inside Celtic Park but Andy was just relieved to be safe. The old man, who smelled strongly of tobacco, fetched a small wooden first aid box before proceeding to ease the blood soaked jumper from Andy’s hand. In the light Andy could see two deep gashes had been gouged into his hand and a host of smaller cuts. His hand was badly swollen too but the bleeding had at least slowed. The old man cleaned the wound with cotton wool and a clear liquid from a bottle kept in the first aid box. Andy gasped as the liquid burned his wounds, ‘Sorry son,’ the man said, ‘but we need to disinfect it.’ Andy said nothing as the man then bandaged his hand with surprising skill and gentleness. ‘That’ll hold it for now but you’ll need stitches son. I’ll run you to the Royal Infirmary.’ He led Andy through the stadium, which seemed deserted apart from the old man. As they reached the front foyer, a voice called from an office, ‘Is that you off Boss?’ The old man replied, ‘Yes Jock, I’m taking an unexpected young visitor to the hospital.’ A burly man in a black suit appeared at the office door. ‘What happened to you, son?  Andy relayed the events of the evening to the man whom he had recognised from his voice even before he had seen him. The big man listened in silence his face betraying his anger at the story Andy told him. ‘That’s disgraceful,’ he said looking at Andy, ‘What sort of society is this?’ He turned back to his office and returned with a note pad, ‘Give me your name and address son,’ he said in that tough miner’s voice few argued with. Andy told him although he was a little mystified about why he wanted it. ‘Right, Boss,’ said the big man, ‘best get him to a Doctor.’ The older man, filling a pipe with tobacco nodded, ‘Right son, let’s go. See you on Monday Jock.’

As the older man guided his car through the dark streets of the east end he asked Andy about his life and despite not really knowing who the older man was, Andy saw no harm in telling him about life in the mean streets around Celtic Park. The old man listened quietly as he guided his car along Alexandra Parade towards the hospital. Andy told him about his father and the gang issues in the east end. As they neared the hospital he said in a quiet voice to Andy, ‘I was raised in the Garngad son, the same things went on back then, so many lives blighted. I was lucky football gave me a way out. If you don’t have a gift like that then you have to use education to improve your life.’ He parked the car outside the casualty department on Castle Street. ‘Pop in there and they’ll stitch your hand. Remember, it’s never hopeless you can work hard and improve your life.’ Andy stepped from the car, cradling his still painful hand. ‘Thanks Mister, I didn’t catch your name,’ The old man smiled, ‘McGrory… it’s James McGrory.’ Before he left he pressed a £1 note into Andy’s hand, ‘get a taxi home son.’ Andy watched as the old man indicated and pulled into the light traffic on Castle Street. ‘McGrory,’ he thought to himself, ‘Jesus,  Jimmy McGrory.’

The following week as his Father slept, Andy answered a knock at the door and a smart suited man smiled at him. ‘Andy Molloy? Can I talk to you for a few minutes?’ Andy thought he must be a Policeman but in fact it turned out he owned a printing business on the south side. He sat in that modest living room in Barrowfield and outlined a proposition to Andy which had him mystified. ‘You want to offer me a job?’ The man smiled, ‘I’m offering you a chance Andy. I want you to learn the business from top to bottom, that means hands on work at the factory during the day and night classes at the College of Building and Printing. It’ll be hard work but my uncle say’s you deserve a chance and that you seem the kind who won’t mind hard graft. So do we have a deal?’ Andy was completely mystified, ‘Your uncle? Who’s your uncle?’ The man smiled, ‘You met him last week, my uncle is Jimmy McGrory.’
Andy sat in the quiet of the executive box as these thoughts swirled into his mind. He recalled how he had relied on his Auntie Mary to look after his old man as he threw himself into his new job. He did indeed learn every facet of the business over the following three decades. He had founded his own company the year Celtic got to Seville and had by any standard become a wealthy man. He never forgot the polite, pipe smoking old man who made it possible. Laughter out in the corridor broke into his thoughts and he stood and opened the door. His guests had arrived.  A dozen teenagers, all of them from areas like the one Andy had grown up in, bustled along the corridor. ‘In here lads,’ he smiled. They sat around the big table, drinking alcohol free wine and joking about the coming game.  Some followed Celtic, others Rangers but all would be starting work with his company in a few weeks. He hoped they had the will and drive to change their lives as he did back in the days when he lived in Janefield Street. He’d give them every support he could. The way he saw it, everyone deserved a chance.






  1. Replies
    1. As ever, thank you for taking the time to read it. Much appreciated HH