Touching a god
Barry shivered as he sat on his frigid green seat in the lower section of the big North Stand at Celtic Park. ‘Jesus, it’s cauld, ma arse is numb!’ His long-time friend Sniper looked at him, ‘Should match yer brain then eh? Stoap complainin’ anyway ya numpty, ye need tae dress fur the weather. You look as if ye think it’s July.’ Barry looked at his friend, ‘I dae dress for the weather!’ Sniper shook his head, ‘Long John’s Barry, ye need a couple of layers in the cauld.’ Barry regarded him with incredulity, ‘You’re no telling me that you’re wearing long Johns?’ Sniper nodded, ‘Yup.’ Just then their friend Mick appeared carrying three hot Bovrils, ‘Catering here is a feckin Joke, £1.70 for a Bovril? It’s boiling water and an oxo cube!’ Sniper shook his head, ‘A lot of whinging going on the day, time you bought something anyway Mick, Barry wiz just saying yer getting a a bit of a tight arse.’ Barry was indignant, ‘Did ah fuck ya big mixing, long John wearing plonker!’ Mick looked at Barry, ‘Long Johns?’ Barry nodded, ‘Aye, Buffalo Bill here’s wearing long johns, thinks he’s in the Wild West.’ Mick looked at Sniper, ‘Dae they have they buttoned up hatches at the back so ye kin have a Turkish delight withoot taking then aff?’ Sniper shook his head and took the Bovril Mick handed to him, ‘Best ask yer maw.’ Before Mick could respond a roar announced that the teams were coming out and they focused on the floodlit green rectangle before them.
As the temperature hovered around minus 6 degrees, Kilmarnock strung most of their team around their penalty box. It was turgid siege and as the friends watched Celtic huffed and puffed without looking like scoring. After 54 minutes the sucker punch duly arrived when Kilmarnock scored with virtually their first attempt on goal. ‘Hate these boring teams’ Barry moaned, ‘ye pay good money tae see the match and they kill the entertainment stone dead.’ Mick glanced at him, ‘It’s up tae Celtic tae break them doon, Barry.’ Sniper agreed, ‘Aye, we’ve been pish so nae excuses.’ It took until the 86th minute for Thomas Rogne to head in a Ki free kick and level the match. As they left the stadium after a forgettable 90 minutes, Barry shivered, ‘Hear it’s the cauldest December since records began.’ Sniper in his usual argumentative way replied, ‘Records began aboot two hunner years ago, we had a fuckin ice age before that so nane ay yer pish, Barry,’ His friend shook his head, ‘Jeez, you would cause a fight in an empty hoose ya big reprobate!’ Sniper grinned, ‘Don’t know wit a reprobate is but I’d rather be a reprobate than a masturbate like you.’ Barry and Mick laughed, ‘Aff yer rocker ya mad man.’
As they drove home in Barry’s battered Ford Fiesta they discussed the upcoming trip to Ibrox. ‘Got three tickets aff Brendan oan the bus so we’re good tae go.’ Sniper said quietly, ‘Am workin’ but I’m trying tae get the day aff.’ Barry said sympathetically, ‘I hope ye can make it mate, no the same without your mad havering at the bigot dome.’ Mick added, ‘Wit is ye dae at the shop, Sniper? Can they no get somebody else tae cover yer shift? I mean you’re only there over Christmas int ye?’ Sniper nooded, ‘Naw, it’s specialised work.’ Barry was mystified, ‘It’s a big department store, wit could be so specialised that only you can dae it?’ Sniper remained evasive, ‘I got special training for it, I need tae dae it.’ Barry glanced at Mick mystified before looking at Sniper. ‘Well keep asking for the day aff mate, we want you at Ibrox.’
Two days later Barry knocked on Mick’s door, ‘Christmas shopping time. I thought we’d head in tae Buchanan Galleries and see if we can see big Sniper. I’m dying tae know whit he does there. He’s clamped up aboot it and that just makes me mer nosey!’ Mick nodded, ‘Aye, that big plamf is hiding something.’ They parked in the multi storey car park and took the stairs to the mall area. The shops glittered and glistened and throngs of excited shoppers filled the stores. Excited children ran here and there as harassed parents tried to keep track of them. Mick and Barry wandered the Mall picking up gifts for their families. When the gifts were safely bagged, they headed for the huge John Lewis’ store where Sniper had his Christmas job. Despite looking around the store they failed to see him. As they were about to leave they noticed a group of noisy children queueing outside Santa’s Grotto, which was in fact a big plastic house with cotton wool snow on the roof. Mick smiled, ‘I must bring ma wee nephew tae see Santa.’ Barry nodded, ‘Aye the wee wans love aw that stuff.’ As they were about to leave the door to Santa’s Grotto opened and a small boy wearing a Celtic shirt under his anorak came out grinning, ‘Ma! Santa supports Selik!’ he beamed to his mystified mother who hustled him off. Mick looked at Barry, ‘Ye don’t suppose….?’
The two friends waited for around half an hour till the queue of children had gone and the Grotto was quiet. Mick knocked on the door feeling rather stupid as he said, ‘Can I have a wee word wi ye Santa?’ A gruff voice responded, ‘Naw, am oan my brek come back after wan!’ Mick pushed opened the door and saw one of the strangest sights that had ever met his eyes. The unmistakable figure of Sniper sat on a throne of sorts wearing the full Santa suit and beard. In his right hand he held a half bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine which he was swigging from. ‘Sniper, izzat you?’ said Mick with incredulity. Barry also peered into the Grotto, ‘I’ve seen it aw noo, Santa Sniper the children’s entertainer! Hahaha.’ The two friends laughed heartily as Sniper in his red and white suit glowered at them, ‘Aye fuckin laugh ya pair a dicks! I needed money for Christmas and they bams at the jobcentre sent me here, aw right, nae big deal!’ The three friends sat in the Grotto and shared the wine, ‘Sorry I laughed,’ said Barry, ‘but the last thing I expected was you in a Santa suit.’ Sniper smiled, ‘I’m the best Santa ever by the way. Any wee Tims I see get two gifts instead of wan!’ Mick laughed, ‘Aff yer heed ya rocket ye!’ Outside an impatient voice called, ‘Santa, you have children to see.’ ‘Fuck, ‘ said Sniper, ‘that’s my supervisor, I’ll get sacked for having pals in the Grotto!’ Mick calmed him, ‘Chill, we’ll handle it.’ Mick whispered briefly to Barry who nodded, before he exited the Grotto. The smartly dressed Supervisor narrowed his eyes at him as he approached. Mick smiled at the man,‘You in charge around here big man? Let me tell you, that Santa has been great to my Brother,’ Barry emerged with a gift and a stupid look on his face. Mick leaned close to the Supervisor and whispered, ‘No the full shilling ma brother, know wit ah mean, still a wean at heart?’ The Supervisor nodded and sputtered a rather embarrassed ‘Thank you,’ as Mick took Barry’s hand and led him from the store like an oversized toddler saying loudly, 'Mon you and I'll get ye a Happy Meal.'
Sunday January 2nd 2011 dawned cloudy and cold. Barry had given the tickets for the match at Ibrox to his friends but still remained unsure if Sniper would get the time off to come to the 12.45 kick off. He and Mick had told Sniper they would get him in the Broomloan Road stand if he could make it. Their seats were adjacent so if he got in they wouldn’t miss him. In Buchanan Galleries Sniper was deep in debate with his line Manager, ’But this ticket cost £35, ah canny miss the match!’ The Manager was having none of it, ‘Your shift is 10am till 6pm and we make no exceptions!’ Sniper reminded the man that Christmas was a week before and very few kids would want to see Santa in January but it was to no avail, he would have to work. He stomped into the Grotto and pushed the irritating white beard onto his face. He sat on his Santa throne in a foul mood and considered his options. Within 30 minutes the first child arrived before him, ‘Hiya Santa,’ smiled a boy of about 8, ‘I know Christmas is past but can you fix it for Rangers tae beat the manky mob the day?’ Sniper looked at him, ‘Listen tae me sunshine, Rangers ur shite, got it?’ With that he burst out of the Grotto and passing the Manager growled, ‘Stick yer Joab ya dick, I’m aff tae the match.’
At Ibrox a dignified minute’s silence was observed to mark the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster. It finished to a tremendous roar as both sets of fans geared up for battle. Mick and Barry sat near the front of the Broomloan stand, Sniper’s empty seat between them, ‘Big man would love this.’ Shouted Mick through the din as 7500 voices roared out defiantly across the Ibrox pitch, ‘Let the People sing their stories and their songs, the music of their native lands…’ A commotion to their left drew their attention and as they turned they heard a familiar voice call out to them, ‘Hope you kept ma seat ya pair a’ fuds!’ It was Sniper still dressed in his full Santa suit. Mick grinned as Sniper reached them. ‘Santa, ye made it!’ Barry slapped his back, clasped his hand and smiled as the three buddies joined in the singing… ‘This land is your land, this land is my land, from the northern Highlands to the Western Islands…’ The game thundered and roared around them as they were drawn into its mesmerising raw beauty.
Both teams had chances in a grimly fought first hour but the moment of decision arrived in 62 minutes when through ball from Joe Ledley saw Samaras race clear of the Rangers defence. Goalkeeper McGregor, seeing the danger raced from his goal as the three friends watched from behind the goal. ‘Come on Sammy!’ roared Mick as the big Greek reached the ball and nicked it past the stranded keeper. There was mild hysteria in among the away support as Samaras gathered the ball and from a tight angle, stroked the ball into the empty net. ‘Yaaaaaas!!’ roared Barry as he hugged the red suited Sniper, ‘Ya fuckin beauty!’ The big Greek ran to the crowd and was submerged beneath a wave of joyous Celtic supporters. Sniper, Mick and Barry were caught up in the melee, hands hugged voices roared and that magical moment was etched onto their memories forever. When the delirious crowd settled a little, Sniper looking delighted said to Barry, ‘I touched Sammy, I actually touched that big Greek god!’ Mick laughed as the away support sent another thunderous anthem roaring across the pitch, arms draped around each other they sang their hearts out… Ooh ah Samaras, said Ooh ah Samaras- Ooh ah Samaras, said Ooh ah Samaras!
7 minutes later Samaras won a penalty and sealed the game with a firm shot past the keeper. The three friends watched it all glad to be in each other’s company, glad to be part of that amazing band of fans, glad to be Celts. It was a day they’d always remember; the day samaras ripped Rangers apart and the day Sniper went to Ibrox in a Santa suit.