Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Green Angel


 
The Green Angel

Glasgow 1988

Ronan sat up in his bed and listened. Apart from the sound of his brothers snoring, the house was quite still. He was used to these nocturnal awakenings and had experienced them regularly in all of his 11 years of life. If it wasn’t the dreams it was the shadows. He lay down again, wide awake, looking through the pre-dawn gloom at the many posters and pennants adorning the walls of the room he shared with his two older brothers. They showed fit young men wearing green hooped shirts holding aloft trophies or just smiling at the camera. This was the club’s centenary year and there was hope that they would crown it with suitable success. Following the fortunes of Celtic was as natural in the McCarthy household as breathing or eating. Ronan refocussed and thought about his latest dream. In it an angel was conversing with his father as in the distance a huge fire roared and flickered into the dark, night sky. He closed his eyes and tried sleep but the vision from his dream kept forcing its way into his consciousness.

Get up Ronan, you’ll be late for school!’ a voice called to him. Ronan opened his eyes and glanced around the familiar room now illuminated with bright winter sunshine. He must have nodded off. His older brother, Anthony, was smiling at him, ‘You having those nightmares again? You look knackered.’ Ronan shook his head, ‘Where’s my Ma? What time is it?’ He struggled into his school uniform and pulled on his plain black shoes. His mother was in the kitchen, where familiar smells of frying bacon and toast drifted on the air. ‘Ma, can I talk to you?’ She turned and smiled at him, ‘Of course Ronan, what is it?’ He nodded towards the kitchen table and closed the kitchen door. ‘Ma...’ he hesitated slightly, ‘I had another one of my dreams and my Da was in this one.’ Her face changed as she sat in a chair by the kitchen table. ‘Tell me the whole thing from the start.’

As Ronan walked down the hill towards school, the chilly Glasgow drizzle caressing his face, he thought about the dreams he’d been having for as long as he could remember. He recalled as a small child his old great-granny in Donegal had told him that she had them too, said it was a gift, but to Ronan it felt more like a curse. He was permanently tired and saw some grim sights in his visions. Then there were the shadows. Sometimes if he was in a crowd he could see them hang about some people like dark, acrid cigarette smoke. No one else seemed to notice them and when he told his mother she frowned and actually blessed herself. It came and went this so called 'gift’ but at 11, Ronan still didn’t understand it. Sometimes he thought he was losing his mind and tried hard to ignore the dreams and the shadows which haunted him.

When school was over and he returned home, his mother was waiting by the door of their first floor tenement flat. ‘Ronan, I’ve been on the phone to your father and he’s coming home. He’s going to take you to Ireland, says you need to speak to your great-Gran about your dreams. She knows about these things.’ Ronan looked at her, sensing mild disapproval in her tone. Ronan responded, ‘So he’s not going on the rig?’ She shook her head, ‘come.’ She led him into the living room where the TV was on. The sound was muted but the news channel showed pictured of a gas rig off the coast of Scotland, flames spouting from one side of it. ‘There was a blow out, no one was hurt. Your father was due on the rig this morning but when I phoned him and told him your dream he made and excuse not to go, got them to check the helicopter so no one went today. I don’t know what your dreams are Ronan but they…’ she hesitated, ‘they seem to see things before they happen.’ Ronan looked at her, puzzled, ‘How can that be?’ She shrugged, ‘I don’t know, son.’

Ronan’s father, Dominic McCarthy, was a tough, bearded Glaswegian who made his living in the gas industry. He drove home to Glasgow as Ronan slept that night and was sitting at the kitchen table when his son wandered in. ‘Howz my boy!’ he grinned as Ronan threw himself into his arms. ‘Did you sleep well?’ Ronan nodded, no dreams just the welcome relief of a good night’s sleep. ‘Are we going to Ireland, da?’ Ronan said a little excitedly. ‘His Father smiled, ‘Aye, old Kathleen had best hear what’s going on. I don’t put much stock in her way of seeing things but she might be able to help us.’ Ronan was glad, as his dreams were increasing in frequency and some were quite disturbing for one so young.

Ireland was a place Ronan loved visiting. It was so different in rural Donegal from the bustling streets of his home city. He spent long summer holidays there running and playing on the wind swept beaches with his cousins or exploring the hills and forests. His older relatives told them the legends and history of the area and he’d play at being CĂș Chulainn, the great Celtic warrior while his cousin, RuaidrĂ­ would be Niall of the nine hostages. They would make dens in the woods and splash through the chilly steams which flowed down from the hills of Donegal. They were golden times for a boy growing up.

They journey from Glasgow to the small hamlet of Money Beg was somewhat laborious but as Ronan jumped out of the hire car his father had arranged to take them from Belfast airport to Donegal his heart was light. Donegal held good memories for him and he felt a sense of belonging here. His great grandmother’s cottage was a small white building which sat near the dark waters of Lough Nacung, to the east stood the brooding mass of Mount Errigal which dominated the area. Ronan breathed in the chilly, fresh air and followed his father up the path to the cottage. Old Kate McCarthy was waiting for them in the kitchen, warm tea and rye bread on the table. Ronan watched as his father embraced the old woman. She was no more than 5 feet tall and her wispy grey hair framed a face lined with deep furrows which spoke of the 85 winters she had lived through in the harsh Donegal wind. 

Her pale blue eyes regarded Ronan, her arms open to him. ‘My you’re certainly growing Ronan, so like your mother but your father’s eyes, no doubting that. Have some food and we’ll speak soon.’  The boy sat by the kitchen table and began to eat, his eyes gazing out at the cloud covered mountain a few miles to the east. His father and great-Gran sat by the peat filled fire in the small living room adjoining the kitchen, talking in low tones. On the wall by the fire was a cross of St Bridget made from woven rushes. His great-Gran was adept at making them and knew all the tales and lore which accompanied them. Their history went back into the Celtic mist even before Christianity was established in Ireland. When he finished eating she called to him, ‘Ronan, join me by the fire will ye?’

His father said he was going for a walk and left the boy alone with the old woman. ‘Tell me of your dreams,’ she said in a kindly voice as he sat in the old armchair facing her. Ronan outlined the dreams he could remember to her. They ranged from overflowing rivers to injured birds on his window ledge calling to him. She listened patiently and in silence, nodding occasionally. ‘Then there’s the shadows,’ he said a little confused, ‘I don’t know what they mean, I see them on people, ye know like a dark smoke around them.’ She listened again in silence and when he trailed off there was silence for a moment as if she was trying to formulate the right words. ‘Long ago…’ she began, ‘In the time of my great-Grandmother there were other people who had dreams like yours. They saw things, warnings perhaps, and were able to discern what the dreams meant. Some called them ‘Seers’ and sought their advice. Long ago they would foretell the outcome of battles and the like. The Church and the great hunger ended the time of the Seers. A few still clung on in more rural places but their day was over. Today a few are still given the gift but there is no one to tutor them, to help them learn the meanings of their dreams and visions.’ Ronan listened with rapt attention before saying in a timid voice, ‘So…you think I might be a seer?’ She continued, ‘More than that Ronan. These dark shadows you see around some people are usually warnings of illness. The darkness gathers where it festers. Some Seers were healers too and saw illness before people were even aware they were sick.’ Ronan thought of all the people he had seen the shadows around, a teacher at school, a boy in the street in Glasgow, a Policeman at Belfast Airport. ‘So I should warn them?’ he said. She sighed, ‘Few would take a child seriously and the burden of seeing these things would make your life a toil indeed.’ Ronan looked into the old woman’s eyes, ‘So what should I do? I’m so tired I can’t study at school and sometimes… I’m a bit scared to go to sleep.’ She reached over and touched his hand, ‘Long ago there was a well around here, it brought forth good water but one winter a child fell into it. Only good fortune and a faithful dog brought her cries to our attention and she was saved. We capped the well with a heavy stone and in doing so lost both the danger and the sweet water.’ Ronan looked at her as if she were speaking in riddles. She continued, ‘Your gift is like that well, Ronan. It brings both danger and the possibility of good. But like the well it can be capped, if that is what you wish.’

As darkness crept down from the hills and covered the land Ronan had a filling supper and then got ready for bed. The travelling had tired him as had the broken sleeps he had endured for years. His great-Grandmother had left him and his father alone for a couple of hours as she went collecting various things from her herb garden. As Ronan’s father tucked him in the old woman entered the small bedroom. His father kissed him and left them alone. She held a small cup in her hand, ‘This will help you sleep Ronin and it will also ‘cap the well.’ Think carefully before you drink it and decide if that’s what you want.’ She hugged him, mumbling in Gaelic in his ears words which he didn’t understand but he nonetheless felt the love in them. She closed the bedroom door and left him alone with the cup. Did he want to ‘cap the well’ as she put it?  He decided after long thought in the darkness that he did and reached for the cup and the sweet smelling liquid it contained.

Ronan saw in his dreams that night a man of around 40 leading a boy who looked like himself to the top of a high hill. On the hill sat an angel. She smiled at them and turned her face towards a great hall and pointed. It was not a threatening dream and when he awoke he felt refreshed. At breakfast he told the old woman about it and she smiled, ‘Tis your farewell to the dreams Ronan, the well has been capped. One day this last dream will make sense to you.’ He nodded, hoping it was true.

Ronan McCarthy’s great Grandmother was correct. His dreams returned to those normal for a boy of his age and the dark shadows he saw around some people were gone. As the years slipped past he’d forget about his childhood nightmares and become more focused on life.  The old lady had passed just a few months short of her 95th birthday and was given a fine send off by friends and neighbours. Ronan still visited Donegal and always made a point of visiting her grave which lay in the shadow of Mount Errigal where she had spent all of her life. As he grew to manhood and had a son of his own he was glad the dreams had stopped and glad the old Kate had helped him stop them as it allowed him to live a normal life. Whatever was in that sweet smelling potion she had concocted had done the trick although he sometimes thought she might have used clever psychology on him and the drink had a placebo effect. Either way he was free to live his life and for that he was thankful.

Glasgow 2015
Young Aidan looked up into the cavernous roof of Glasgow Cathedral with that wonder only children seem to possess, ‘Wow dad! Look at this, it’s so high!’  His father, Ronan McCarthy, smiled at him, ‘Aye son, to think they built these places with no electricity, no power but men and horses.’ They looked at the ragged battle flags of long forgotten wars, some still bearing bullet holes before descending to the crypt and the tomb of St Mungo. Later, as they exited the old Cathedral they wandered across the bridge outside which linked it to the old graveyard. Ronan enjoyed the time he spent alone with Aidan. He reminded him so much of himself at that age. As they walked in the brisk March wind they came to one of the highest hills in the graveyard which offered views across much of Glasgow. Ronan watched his son read some of the names on the ancient gravestones before turning and looking east. He froze, staring at what he saw there. His dream in Donegal more than 25 years before on the night he decided to ‘cap the well’ came back to him in a flash. An Angel, gazing towards a great hall…

Ronan smiled, the old woman had said one day it’d be clear to him and now it was. Aidan took his hand, ‘What are you looking at Dad?’ He gazed at his son, ‘Look Aidan, there’s an Angel watching over Paradise.’

 

 

Monday, 28 December 2015

The island of ignorance


 
The island of ignorance

I’m a 90 minute bigot,’ a workmate said to me a decade or more ago, ‘I go to the match and shout ‘Balde ya big black, Fenian bastard!’ but after the game is done I have a pint with my pals some of whom are Catholics.’  That attitude, expressed to me by an otherwise fairly mild-mannered man was offered with a grin as if it was perfectly normal behaviour. Would I describe him as a bigot even though he lacks the self-awareness to see how his actions are perceived by others? I tried to explain to him that his actions helped create the atmosphere where other, more pernicious, violent types of hatred might thrive but he didn’t get it.

I caught some of the Rangers v Hibs football match on TV today but decided to switch it off after a few minutes. Not that it wasn’t entertaining enough, it was just that the songs being sung by a sizable number of people convinced me that this bile had no place being broadcast into my home. It was ironic that the commentator apologised for swearing which was emanating from the main stand behind him but failed to mention the even fouler content of the home fans song book. Indeed he even praised the atmosphere in Ibrox. It is easy to find fault in a support labelled by Graham Speirs as the ‘most socially backward in football’ but there are in truth many Rangers supporters who detest this guff. They remain however, a silent majority and until they find a voice and speak up, it will go on. The Police too, who put so much time, effort and taxpayers’ money into their surveillance of the Green Brigade, seem uninterested in dealing seriously with the sort of bigoted nonsense we heard today. One wonders that had Jews or Muslims been the target of this bile would action be more forthcoming.

Those of you who read my ramblings will know I’d rather politics and sport were kept apart whenever possible and have on occasion questioned the wisdom of some of our own supporters song choices. I don’t consider Irish rebel songs to be sectarian but I do question their appropriateness at Scottish football matches in the modern era. However, the empty headed drivel I heard today from Ibrox wasn’t political; it was simply the same old tribal hymns of hate which gave the old club such a bad reputation. You have to wonder about the thinking processes which go on in the heads of people who find songs about being ‘up to their knees’ in the blood of others acceptable at a sporting event.

Social media was quick to respond to the singing at Ibrox with the condemnation of many being met with the usual ‘whataboutery.’ Thus the merry dance goes round in a circle and nothing is ever done to seriously challenge those who indulge in such overt bigotry. They seem not to recognise or care that they are echoing sentiments which should have been consigned to the dustbin of history decades ago. This is no longer the land where eminent people give tacit support to such puerile prejudice. This isn’t the land of Professor of Scots Law, Dewar Gibb, who could write without any censure that…

‘Scotland would be the most law abiding country in the world if it wasn’t for these Irish-Catholic pariahs who fill our jails.’

Nor is it the land where the Church of Scotland regularly petitioned UK Government to repatriate Catholic Irish from Scotland and when Government said ‘no,’ the Church then encouraged employers to employ those of ‘the Scottish Race’ Glasgow University Professor, Patrick Reilly spoke of ‘Himalayas of evidence’ of injustice against Catholics of Irish extraction in the post war years. Few seriously doubt that anti Irish Catholic discrimination was a reality for many in Scotland and much research supports this view. A sectarian society, as described by Professor Tom Devine, is one where there is an entrenched and popular hostility to individuals based on their religious beliefs. In the first 60 years of the twentieth century it could be argued that Scotland was such a society but Scotland has changed.

Change came in the shape of the collapse of ‘dinosaur industries’ such as ship building and engineering where petty bigotry thrived. This, coupled with huge expansion in higher education meant that the life chances of all Scots became more equitable. Working class people of all faiths and none faced similar struggles and had similar opportunities. Professor Devine also stated that the offspring of the Irish diaspora reached occupational parity with the mainstream population in the USA in 1901, in Australia in the 1920s and in New Zealand in the 1930s. Here in Scotland it was in 2001. Late in the day perhaps but a sure sign that the barriers were tumbling.  The Catholic population of Scotland, overwhelmingly though not exclusively of Irish extraction, still faces some echoes from the past. For instance, the 2011 census recorded that…

‘Within the 'Christian' group, people who recorded as 'Church of Scotland' (12 per cent) were much less likely to live in deprived areas than those who identified as 'Roman Catholic' (23 per cent).’

However Catholics now rightly take their place in every sector of Scottish Society and their forebears, some of whom founded Celtic FC, would be pleased at the progress the community has made. The vast majority of Scots of all hues recognise the innate fairness of all citizens having a fair crack of the whip and would have no truck with idiotic bigotry. Those who feel the need to engage in outdated prejudicial chanting at football matches are increasingly isolated on their island of ignorance. They are increasingly out of step with a society which rejects them and their divisive opinions. They may shout about being ‘the people’ but the sad reality for them is that their hollow ‘culture’ is an anachronism, a leftover from a bygone age.

It may be tough for some of these dinosaurs to swallow, but we are all ‘the people’ now and there’s no going back to a sterile past where life chances could be decided by which school you went to.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Faithful through and through


 
Faithful through and through
Most aficionados of Celtic FC will tell you that only Dundee United managed to defeat Celtic in domestic football during that marvellous 1966-67 season.  Both games were lost to United by the same 2-3 score line and  those results caused some ripples of consternation among the Hoops faithful. A few years later, Stein oversaw that incredible 4-1 defeat from Partick Thistle in the 1971 League Cup Final. Celtic, European Cup Finalists and conquerors of Leeds United a year before, astonishingly trailed Thistle by 4 goals at half time!  Indeed, Stein's final season at Celtic (1977-78) was a disaster as Celtic lost 15 league games and finished fifth and out of Europe. We understood though that the loss of Stanton and McGrain to long term injury coupled with Dalglish leaving greatly affected the side. Martin O’Neil’s Celtic defeated Liverpool at Anfield before heading north to face Inverness in the Cup and losing 1-0. Lennon’s Celtic side had some awful cup displays including defeats in semi-finals and a final by teams Celtic should normally beat. Where is all this leading I hear you ask?  Well these examples merely serve to illustrate that all teams, even very good teams, can lose football matches and no one has a divine right to win.

Celtic currently sit top of the SPFL despite not playing particularly well for periods this season. They have played 18 games won 13, drawn 3 and lost 2, scoring 45 goals and conceding 14. Celtic’s form is remarkably similar to last season when they finished the 38 game League Campaign with 92 points. Having lived through the traumatic times of the 1990s when Celtic failed to win a major trophy for 6 long years, I don’t consider this season’s record as poor. We suffered defeats, humiliations and disappointments in the 1990s which although painful at the time actually helped us celebrate the championship breakthrough when it finally came in 1998 with more gusto. As a poet once wrote…

‘For what in life is pleasure if we do not consort with pain?

It’s the rod by which we measure the prize we seek to gain.’

There was a real camaraderie among Celtic supporters in those days, particularly the faithful supporters who travelled all over the country to support the team with passion and humour. In those days I was a regular on the Celtic Cross CSC and we had some great trips despite suffering many disappointments. Those hungry years strangely enough bonded us more closely to the team as we could see that guys like McStay, Grant and Burns were playing their hearts out for the club. In the end we got some reward for sticking with the team as the McCann revolution levelled the playing field and made Celtic more competitive. The new millennium has seen Celtic win 10 of 15 Championships played. It has also yielded 6 Scottish Cups and 4 League Cups. That is 20 major trophies in 15 years. However you judge the standard of the football the team are playing, the last 15 years have been very successful for Celtic. Indeed since the demise of Rangers there has been an increasing tendency to judge Celtic’s progress on European terms rather than any domestic successes. This mind-set has been fed by elements of the media who trumpet loudly Celtic’s European misfortunes while concurrently playing down their domestic dominance. Ronny Deila had a decent first season winning the SPFL title and the league cup. Indeed only some mystifying refereeing in the Cup Semi-Final against Inverness denied him at shot at the treble. His European results have been mediocre to say the least but it was accepted last season that he was building a team and a style of play and required time.

This season began with him losing the rock at the centre of his defence when Virgil Van Dijk and Jason Denayer left the club and that is a considerable hole to fill. So far this season the various combinations tried at the back have been shaky, especially in Europe, but good defensive lines need to play together for long periods to develop an understanding. Despite this, Celtic sit top of the table and still in all the domestic cup competitions. We accept that in the great cycle of football we aren’t particularly brilliant at the moment but when you follow a club you accept that you’ll have to take the rough with the smooth and stand by the team through thick and thin. We argue, row, debate about the way forward but are always united in our desire to see the Celts progress.

There is a vociferous minority however who make social media an utterly depressing place when Celtic lose or even just play badly. The negativity and insult poured out by some onto the Manager in particular is well out of order. I find it hard to recall a Celtic Manager in history who won two trophies in his first season and sits top of the league in his second and has had to endure sustained calls from a minority to have him fired. There is almost a sense of entitlement among a small minority of our supporters which mirrors that of ‘Rapeepo’ and it is not edifying to watch. Saturday’s loss to Motherwell was undoubtedly poor but all teams, all people, have a bad day at the office now and then. That makes 2 defeats in 18 league matches, hardly a crisis. How would these folk have survived the early 1990s when Celtic’s finishing positions in the league (1990-95) were as follows… 5th  3rd 3rd 3rd 4th 4th ? All I can say is thank God Social media wasn’t around then.

Today I noticed a petition had been started online to have the Manager sacked. This is rock bottom for me, one of the most clueless things anyone claiming to be a Celtic supporter has ever done. What purpose does it serve? It’ll be lucky to get a few hundred signatures and will be totally ignored by the club and most fans. It states the following…

‘’Ronny Deila has tarnished the reputation of the club in Europe with poor performances in both the Europa League and UCL. Winning the league and domestic cups are no longer enough for a club like Celtic looking to expand and become bigger and better. Celtic need to perform at a much higher level than they are under Ronny Deila. #SackRonnyDeila’’

So it’s all Ronny’s fault, not the board who year on year sell off of the best players? So it’s all Ronny’s fault, no blame whatsoever for the underperforming players who continue to make schoolboy errors on the pitch. So it’s all Ronny’s fault that players he didn’t even sign are performing poorly or not at all and that his Captain and leading scorer are injured? There are no doubts elements of Ronny Deila’s tactics and man management which have been suspect but he is the Celtic Manager and deserves better treatment than this silly petition which may or may not have been created by a Celtic fan. It certainly has those with no love of Celtic, in the media and elsewhere, gloating. Deila himself stated that media is having an unhealthy influence on things…

"There are always ups, very high and very low, it's never something in between. But if you see the overall situation when you are leading the league, into everything (League Cup and Scottish Cup) then I cannot understand everything is so unbelievably bad. It's about getting clicks on the internet and it's about selling newspapers, because it is unbelievable. There are hundreds of media and everybody needs a story and everybody gets caught into this and it affects everything. It affects the players, it affects the club and we need to stay calm inside. That is the most important thing. We need to be together and that's what I feel. I feel united with the players and with the staff and the people in the club.’

Celtic supporters are savvy enough to know the media mind games but also savvy enough to know that when things are not quite right on the pitch that is when the team needs them most. Whatever happened to loyalty? Whatever happened to faithful through and through? The simple answer is that some have developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement and that really is something new among Celtic supporters. Victories need to be earned and the big prizes are given out in the Spring not December. We win together, we lose together but above all we stick together. We also need to see the big picture and have a little patience.

I know many are struggling to see progress under Deila but the vast majority of them would, despite their reservations, never turn on a fellow Celt. Celtic Managers such as Brady, Mowbray, Barnes, Macari and yes even Billy McNeil and Tommy Burns went through rough patches in their careers but were never subjected to the sustained flak Deila is getting. Perhaps that’s because social media is a relatively new phenomenon and offers a forum unavailable 10 years back or perhaps some people just have less patience these days. I’m not saying criticism of Celtic players, Management or board is unacceptable as healthy debate is good for any club. However some of the nonsense spouted, including on that petition, are just not the Celtic way.
We are surely better than that.



 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Only one King Billy


 
Only one King Billy

Watching Billy McNeil walk proudly, if a little gingerly, down the Celtic way to unveil his long overdue statue yesterday was a touching moment.  Flanked by his family and a few of the players who helped him conquer Europe, he was embraced by the Celtic family with all the warmth and affection his contribution to the club has earned him. Billy served Celtic for all of his adult life with honour and distinction. His footballing achievements are immense but more than this he was Celtic to the core and fought for the club on and off the field. As a player Billy led Celtic to a golden era which saw him win more than 20 major trophies. All of this was achieved in the face of tough opposition in Scotland and that is a measure of how good Celtic was in that period.

There is a tendency among those of a certain vintage to think that things were better in their youth. You know the sort of thing; the summers were warmer, TV was better and children were happier. Some argue that football in days gone past was more exciting too. In terms of Scottish football there is more than a grain of truth in such claims as any statistical analysis of given periods will prove. The golden era of Scottish football which might have been plausibly claimed to be from the around 1960 to 1988, a period which saw Scottish clubs excel in Europe and 7 different clubs win the Championship. (Celtic, Rangers, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee & Dundee United) Despite Celtic winning 9 in a row in that era, there was genuine competition for the title in most seasons and Celtic clinched a few of those titles in the last games of the season. Competition is the key to driving up standards and making clubs more able to deal with the rigours of European football.

That period saw Scottish clubs reach 8 European finals with Celtic, (1967 & 1970) Rangers, (1960, 1967, 1972) Aberdeen, (1983) and Dundee United (1987) all flying the flag for Scottish football in Europe, No nation the size of Scotland can boast such a record. Indeed when one looks at countries with a similar population (Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, etc.) it’s easy to see that Scotland has a proud record in comparison.

During that period Scottish clubs jousted with the giants of European football and claimed many a famous scalp. Aberdeen defeated sides such as Bobby Robson’s talented Ipswich, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in Europe. Dundee United played Barcelona on 4 occasions and won all 4 games. They also battered teams such as Werder Bremen and Borussia Monchengladbach. Dunfermline beat Valencia and Everton, while St Johnstone defeated SV Hamburg over 2 legs. Celtic and Rangers were of course the leading lights and between them defeated teams of quality such as Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Fiorentina, Benfica, Red Star Belgrade, Leeds United, Borrusia Monchengladbach and St Etienne. Not forgetting Dundee, who reached the European Cup Semi Final in 1962-63 before losing to AC Milan.  Over 35,000 packed old Dens Park for the second leg which Dundee won 1-0. They also beat AC Milan 2-0 in the UEFA Cup at Dens Park.

All of these facts serve to illustrate that a strong case can be made for claiming that period as one of Scottish football’s great eras. For Celtic to win the title more than all the other clubs combined in that time illustrates how good they were. They were competitive times with good sides striving to win the major prizes. An often unremarked truth is that the Rangers side of the late 1960s was one of the best in their history and yet they couldn’t overthrow the Stein dynasty. In a wider sense the achievements of McNeil and his comrades on that day in Lisbon in 1967 had a direct bearing on the calamities at Ibrox in more recent years. For some, to see the club in the east end founded by impoverished Irish migrants conquer Europe was hard to swallow. Much of the debt which eventually killed Rangers was built up as they sought to emulate the achievements of the Lisbon Lions. Ironically McNeil’s statue faces south-west towards Ibrox, a poignant reminder of their folly and failure.

As you pass the statue of Billy McNeil in the years ahead remember what it represents. Of course it honours this great Celtic player but modest as he is he would say that honour is shared with those team mates who helped him to create Celtic history.  As big Jock gazes down the Celtic way towards his Captain he would no doubt smile and say in that gruff Miner’s voice, ‘Aye, you deserve it Billy.’  Those supporters who saw you play and those who didn’t will no doubt agree to that. In an era of fine players you were one of the finest and a born leader. The stars aligned in those times and bequeathed you a fantastically talented group of team mates who followed you into footballing immortality.

Thank you Billy for the memories of great days you helped create but above all thank you for caring about Celtic as much as we, the ordinary fans do. A select few deserve the tag ‘Celtic Legend’ you are one of them.

 




Thursday, 17 December 2015

The field of gold


 
                       The field of gold

Immortalised in time one afternoon in Lisbon

when the sun smiled down upon that field of gold,

upon eleven lads with the blood of Bruce in their veins,

and the wildness of wind swept Scottish hills in their eyes

Framed against the clear blue sky you stood in stark relief

Holding high above your head our dreams, our hopes,

our very hearts in that shimmering, shining, silver cup,

How our tears could have filled that great trophy to overflowing,

tears with their roots in dark, bitter times of hunger and despair

transformed that bright May day to tears of purest joy…

 

Immortalised in bronze upon the Celtic Way you stand

a beacon for a people, a message from the heart to say

‘This is what you can do if you believe, if you fight,

if you never give up and hold fast to your dreams’

That greatness which you wear so lightly

is dignified when you allow yourself to be little,

to shake a hand, to share a smile with ordinary folk

who will cherish those moments forever,

That is the mark of the man they call ‘Cesar’

Who stepped out onto that field of gold

and led the Celts to greatness.


 

 

 

 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Grace


 
Grace

The growing crowd milling about the front of Celtic Park was in good spirits as today was the day Celtic would be presented with the Championship trophy. Near the front entrance of the stadium Joe McIntyre stood with his four year old daughter Grace. Today would be her first trip to Celtic Park and she was dressed appropriately in her Celtic shirt with her name on the back and her hair tied into two pig tails with large green ribbons. Her blonde hair and green eyes made her look like her mother but her stubborn streak was definitely a McIntyre trait. Joe looked down at her with a smile as she regarded the names of supporters from all over the world whose names were carved onto hundreds of tiles which surrounded the statue of Celtic’s founding inspiration, Brother Walfrid. He thought briefly of his old man bringing him to Celtic Park for the first time 30 years earlier. It had been an exhilarating experience for him sitting on a barrier near the front of the old Jungle, his old man holding him tight in case he fell. He could still see in his mind’s eye the Hooped shirts of Celtic and the tangerine of Dundee United battling it out on that sunny day long ago. Paul McStay was his instant hero with his elegant turns and crisp passing. He wondered if wee Grace would get the Celtic bug and one day have a player inspire her as McStay inspired her old man.

Joe sat Grace on the low plinth of Walfrid’s statue and took out his phone to catch a few pictures of her. ‘Gies a smile wee yin,’ he said ‘Yer Ma wants tae see a nice picture of you at the fitbaw.’ Grace obliged and Joe’s phone captured her image, the bright May sunshine highlighting the shades of her blonde hair. He took her by the hand and led her through the crowd to the statue of Jock Stein where he positioned her beside the panel which read ‘Football without the fans is nothing.’  Again she obliged by smiling for the camera. As Joe walked the few yards away from his daughter to get a better picture, he was distracted by a voice to his left, ‘Joe! How ye doin’ Buddy! Long-time no see!’ He recognised his old friend Kenny Gilchrist in an instant. They had been school friends, played in the same football teams as kids and of course were both Celtic daft. As he shook Kenny’s hand he could see Grace looking at the writing on the plinth of the statue, her finger tracing the golden letters. He called to her, ‘Stay there Grace, Daddy will be over in a minute.’ Kenny glanced at her, ‘Jeez Joe, is that wee Grace? She’s her ma’s double. I think her Christening was the last time I saw ye?’  As the two friends chatted, Grace wandered behind the plinth of the Jock Stein statue. Joe listened to his friend telling him about his own family happenings trying not to be rude but his eyes flicked away from Kenny to where Grace was. ‘Sorry mate,’ he said, ‘I need tae get her.’ Kenny nodded, ‘Nae bother Pal, I know whit weans are like. listen I’ll head anyway the game will be starting in a couple of minutes. I’ll phone ye and we’ll get oot for a pint soon. Good seeing ye Joe.’ With that he turned and walked towards the Lisbon Lions stand. Joe headed towards the Jock Stein statue and called out, ‘Right Grace, let’s go. The match will be starting soon.’  When she didn’t appear he shook his head, ‘None of yer hide and seek nonsense ya wee menace, come on.’ He looked behind the statue and to his horror, she wasn’t there.

Never in his life had Joe experienced such a feeling of dread deep in the core of his being. ‘Grace! Where are you?’ he shouted, his voice a mixture of fear and panic. He scanned the crowds milling around the stature. He walked swiftly around the statue, his eyes looking everywhere for her. He called out repeatedly, ‘Grace! Daddy’s getting angry, where are ye?’  He half ran in a meandering circuit of the Stein statue bumping into several people in his desperation to see her.  ‘Get a  grip, Joe’ he muttered to himself, ‘Don’t panic- Think!’ 

He decided in that instant he needed help and turned to group of six or seven Celtic supporters standing talking nearby and said in a voice shaking with emotion, ‘Guys can ye help me? I’ve lost track of my daughter, she was here a minute ago.’ He held up his phone which showed the picture of her he had taken by the Walfrid statue just moments earlier, ‘This is her, her name’s Grace, blonde hair, she’s wearing a Celtic top and jeans.’ The older man of the group looked at him with a concerned expression before taking control of the situation. Joe’s demeanour convinced him in an instant that this was a serious situation.  ‘Of course mate. You stay here because she won’t be far and she’ll be looking for you. Shout the nearest cop or steward and fill them in.  Harry, you and Scott head towards the Jock Stein stand and if ye don’t see her stand by the stairway to the bus park and that path that goes tae the Gallowgate so she cannae get oot the area. Tony you and Geezer dae the same at the Lisbon Lions stand. Me and Paul will go down the Celtic way and check there. We’ll block her exit that way. Tell every cop and Steward you see what the situation is and get them looking as well.’ He scribbled a number on a piece of paper and handed it to Joe, ‘Send her picture tae ma phone and I’ll send it tae everybody in our group. Don’t panic pal, we’ll find her.’

Joe watched them move off purposefully in different directions before quickly typing in the number the man had given him into his phone and sending him Grace’s picture. He spotted two Policemen and shouted at them through the crowd of supporters. The headed in his direction and he told them the whole story. One of the Policemen immediately got on his radio and alerted the control room. ‘Don’t worry pal,’ he said tersely ‘every Cop and Steward around the stadium will be looking for her. He quizzed Joe about her description and what she was wearing before passing these details on to his colleagues, ‘Control, be advised, four year old, Grace McIntyre, blonde hair, green eyes wearing Celtic shirt and blue jeans currently lost in vicinity of south entrance to Celtic Park.’ As Joe watched the Policeman relay the details his heart was breaking. He mumbled quiet words to himself. He wasn’t a religious man and his prayers was simple, ‘Please God, help us find her. Please…’

A hundred yards away from Joe, although it could have seemed like a million miles to him, little Grace McIntyre was looking for her Daddy. She thought she had seen him walk away from her at the Statue of the man with the big cup and followed a man who looked like him. She had lost him in the milling crowd and found herself on the pavement by the London Road. She looked around wondering why her Daddy would leave her. She was about to step onto the road to look for him at the big silver building on the other side when a man spoke to her. ‘Grace! Don’t go that way, you’re Daddy isn’t there. He’s up at the statues waiting for you.’ She looked at the man with his kindly, smiling face and close cropped hair. ‘Why did he leave me, why did he go away?’ she said in a voice close to tears. ‘He didn’t leave you,’ the man said with a smile, ‘He loves you very much and he’s very worried. Now follow me and we’ll go see him.’ He turned and walked slowly back up the Celtic way. Grace watched him go and thought for a second about what to do before following him.

Joe McIntyre was close to tears as he scanned left then right, straining his vision for just a glimpse of her. He glanced up at the front entrance of Celtic Park as the Policeman waiting with him stepped to his left to speak to a Colleague.  As Joe turned to look down the Celtic Way a group of supporters parted and there she was standing looking at him. His heart leapt in his chest and he raced towards her, ‘Grace! Oh Jesus, Grace.’ He knelt and pulled her close, ‘Where have you been my wee darling? I was so worried.’ As he hugged his daughter, tears falling freely from his eyes, the Policeman looked on with a look of utter relief, ‘Control’ he mumbled into his radio, ‘Grace McIntyre has been found, repeat Grace McIntyre is safe, well and with her father.’ With that he turned for a second and wiped something from his eye.

The Policeman asked Grace why she had wandered off and quickly ascertained that she thought she was following her father. ‘The man told me he was here,’ she said. ‘What man?’ asked Joe with a perplexed look on his face. ‘I don’t know the man’s name Daddy but he told me you were waiting so I followed him.’ The Policeman sighed, ‘All’s well that ends well. I’ve got your details Mr McIntyre and I’ll be in touch. Don’t let her out of your sight again, especially in a crowded area. Enjoy the game now.’ With that he turned and walked away. Joe took the time to thank the relieved group of Celtic fans who had helped him look for his daughter, ‘I can’t thank you guys enough.’ The older man nodded, ‘We’re just glad she turned up pal. Give her a big hug from us all.’ They headed towards the Jock Stein stand as a roar from the stadium announced that the teams were coming out onto the field.

Right you,’ Joe said to his daughter as he carried her towards the entrance to the south stand, ‘let’s go to the match and don’t you ever wander off again.’ Joe kissed her cheek lightly glad beyond measure that she was safe in his arms. As they headed towards the entrance Grace said to him, ‘There’s the man, Daddy, there’s the man who told me the way to go to find you!’ Joe looked around, ‘Where Grace? I want to say thanks to him.’There, Daddy’ she said pointing. Joe looked around at the dozens of faces, young and old, hurrying to the turnstiles. 'Who Grace? Which one?' She wriggled in his arms, ‘Put me down Daddy, I’ll show you,’ she said. He placed her on the ground and she held his hand tightly and led him to a spot near the front entrance. ‘That’s him Daddy,’ she said. Joe followed her gaze and saw that she was pointing directly to the statue of Jimmy Johnstone. Joe was mystified, ‘You mean the man looked like him?’ She shook her head, ‘No Daddy, that is him.’ Joe gazed up at the familiar face of Jimmy Johnstone, immortalised in bronze. He wasn’t sure what to make of his daughter’s claim. She was just a child, a child with a big imagination but whatever occurred on the Celtic Way that afternoon he was simply glad to have her back and would never let her out of his sight again.

He led her back towards the stadium and they joined the queue at the South Stand turnstiles. He glanced over towards that statue of Jimmy Johnstone which stood in classic pose, ball tied to his toes and muttered quietly to himself ‘Thanks wee man. thanks.’  The bright May sunshine glinted off the bronze of the statue and Joe looked at his daughter and smiled.


 

 

 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

On Erin's green valleys

 
On Erin’s Green Valleys
Old Tony took his seat in the Jock Stein stand just as he had since it had opened in the 1990s. His history following Celtic was much older than that though as he had first travelled over as a 14 year old to watch Billy McNeil head Celtic to glory in the Scottish cup final of 1965. Like many Irish boys his old man had filled his head with tales of Tully, Evans and John Thomson. He had gotten the Celtic bug early and in the 50 years since watching McNeil win the cup for Celtic he had travelled over at least 10 times each year from his home in Derry. Always smart and well turned out, his thick grey hair well cut, he would regale me with tales from his many years watching Celtic and of course his experiences during some of the most turbulent years of Irish history. The dedication of fans like Tony is second to none and some of the insights he gave me into his life give an impression and a flavour of times long gone….
29th January 1972
Hibs were having the best of it during a high quality first half at a packed Celtic Park. Arthur Duncan was turning Jim Craig inside out on the left wing and the Celtic defence was struggling to hold out. Edwards and Stanton were dominating the Midfield and the bulk of the big crowd could see that the visitors were up for it. In 22 minutes Stanton’s pass found Gordon looking well offside. As the Celtic defence hesitated he raced towards goal and as Williams rushed to meet him, returned the ball to Stanton who smashed it high into the Celtic net. The big crowd were furious with the Referee and a crescendo of boos and whistles echoed around Celtic Park. In the packed Jungle Tony Doherty turned to his friend and fellow Derry man Danny Power, ‘Sure he looked well offside there Danny.’ Danny wasn’t listening though, like hundreds of others in the Jungle he busy was hurling abuse at the linesman who had kept his flag down. His broad Derry accent had some of the local Celtic fans smiling. ‘Here you, ya stankin wee skip-rat runt that was well offside, look at ye, head on ye like a bastard calf!’ As the crowd settled down, Celtic seemed to wake from their slumber and drove at the Hibs defence with Hood and Dalglish looking more dangerous.
Half time came however with no equaliser and Danny turned to his friend and fellow Bogsider with a frustrated look on his face, ’Big Jock’ll need to kick some arses in there. Craig is getting the piss taken outa him by yon winger.’ Tony had to agree, Hibs were the better side in the first half but there was still 45 minutes to turn it around. As the tinny public address system above their heads blasted out ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ they discussed the chances of Celtic saving the game a fellow fan passed them a can of lager each, ‘There ye go lads, you’ve travelled a long way to support the Celts.’ It was not an unusual in the Jungle for supporters to share their ‘cargo’ with fellow fans and the two Derry lads, well used to having a few pints, were constantly amazed by the Glaswegian tendency to drink at every available opportunity. As they opened the beer they discussed events in their home city, ‘Is yer man going on the march tomorrow?’ Tony asked referring to Danny’s older brother, Paddy. ‘Aye, sure he wouldn’t miss that. They’re expecting a big turnout.’ Tony nodded, ‘Hope there's no trouble but sure the DYH won’t miss the chance to stone the Brits.’ Danny agreed. The wilder elements of what had been christened the ‘Derry Young Hooligans’ were at the forefront of most confrontations with the RUC or the Army. Their discussion was cut short by a roar announcing that teams were reappearing to begin the second half. The two young Derry men re-focussed on the game. Following Celtic was their passion and their frequent trips to see the team play were a great release from the stress of living with the pressures of home where the troubles hung over their city like a dark cloud. They’d had some hair-raising experiences on their trips to Glasgow but nothing which compared to the situation at home. A month earlier as they’d travelled on the ferry for the Old Firm game there was an epic battle with Rangers fans on the same boat. It took every policeman on the ship and a few of the crew armed with a fire hose to break up the fight. As Celtic kicked off the second half, the Jungle found its voice and bellowed out…
‘In the war against Rangers, in the fight for the Cup
When Jimmy McGrory put Celtic one up,
We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again
On Erin’s green valley look down in thy love.’
Whatever Jock Stein had said to the Celtic players at half time had the desired effect. Celtic took control of the game and drove at the increasingly beleaguered looking Hibs defence. Hood scored in 54 minutes as Celtic Park erupted and only fine goalkeeping from Herriot kept Celtic from taking the lead. Dalglish, Johnstone and Hood all came close as Hibs were pressed back. Then in 74 minutes Jim Craig sped up the right flank and fired a low cross into the box. The ever alert Lennox moved towards the ball with two Hibs defenders shadowing him. To the utter bewilderment of the Hibs defenders, Lennox let the ball pass through his legs to the unmarked Deans who smashed it home. Celtic were in the lead and as the Jungle roared two young lads from Derry were loving every moment of it. Celtic had turned around a marvellously entertaining game of football.
After the game the two friends joined the rest of the supporters on their bus and headed for a Pub in the Gorbals where good food, a few beers and a sing song was order of the day. It was their regular stop during visits to Glasgow and the locals always made them welcome. They stayed there till closing time before boarding the supporters coach for the trip south to Stranraer and the dawn Ferry back to Ireland. It was a punishing schedule following Celtic from so far away but they thought it was worth it and made the trip at least a dozen times each season. Tony and Danny sat at the back of the coach discussing the game. Celtic not only provided them with moments of sporting brilliance but a release from the constant pressure of living in a virtual war zone. Scotland had its moments but of course even the wilder excesses of Glasgow’s football fans was nothing when compared to the scale or ferocity of what had unfolded in the north of Ireland over the past few years. For two lads barely into their twenties it was a harsh and violent time to be alive. Celtic was one of the brighter lights in their lives and watching Stein’s fine side transported them far away from the troubles even if it was only for a while.
They’d follow a familiar route home taking all the necessary precautions to arrive safely. They’d avoid displaying their colours too openly once the coach got back to Larne, especially if they passed close to any hard core loyalist areas. The coach drivers, who took Celtic and Rangers supporters to Scotland, were very skilled at choosing the right route and avoiding problems. The drive through the north, dropping fans of in various towns where Celtic had followers, was always interesting to Tony. It taught him that his country was indeed beautiful but also that it was a divided land. Even in some of the smaller villages they passed through, flags and painted kerbstones marked out the territories in what was to Tony a depressing picture.
As the coach travelled along the A2 towards home, the traffic got heavier and eventually came to a halt. They had got to within 10 miles of Derry and now sat in a long column of stationary traffic. This was very unusual for a Sunday afternoon when traffic was usually very light. The bus driver opened the bus door and peered ahead. ‘Police and Army checkpoint,’ he said before sitting back in the driver’s seat shaking his head and attempting to tune in the radio. The fans on the bus, sleepy headed and bleary eyed from their travelling and no doubt the night’s drinking in Glasgow began to stir. ‘What’s the hold up?’ one asked. Before any answer was forthcoming the radio finally functioned and the recognisable tones of a BBC News reader was saying…
First reports from Londonderry say that there are several fatalities although it’s likely the final total could be higher…’
There was stunned silence on the bus. Whatever had occurred at the Civil Rights march in Derry was serious, deadly serious. Most of those on the bus had friends and family members on the march and there was a worried, sombre mood among them. There was no way to contact people at home and nothing to do but sit it out and hope and pray that their family and friends were safe. Tony looked at Danny, ‘I hope to God everyone’s alright.’ Danny, grim faced, didn’t answer, he just nodded mutely.
 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

At the rising of the moon


 
At the Rising of the moon

A steady drizzle was falling over the hushed streets of Glasgow’s east end as Thomas trudged towards the meeting point. He puffed on his white clay pipe which was his constant companion. He had etched his initials onto it to ensure no disputes over ownership. Over his shoulder he carried the tools of his trade; a thick handled pick and a shovel. Dawn was slow to come on such grey days and a few smoking chimneys told him he was not alone in feeling the chill of this November morning. From the closes and Wynds of this, the poorest part of Glasgow, others trickled out to join him on his walk. Some pushed wheelbarrows while others brought a variety of tools required for the work at hand. Padraig Coll, a stout labourer who hailed from Belfast, joined Thomas on his walk. ‘Morning to ye Thomas. Not a pleasant day for our labours.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye to be sure Padraig but there’s much to be done and little time to do it.’ As the trickle of men reached a fenced off area adjacent to Jeanfield cemetery they could see that a hundred or more had already gathered around a horse drawn wagon upon which stood the familiar figure of John Glass. Thomas McGarrigle and Padraig Coll joined the small crowd of men and listened as Glass spoke. ‘Our first task is to fill the quarry and the old mine workings. We already have tons of earth on site boys so go where the Foremen send you and put your backs into it. Tis a fine endeavour you undertake this day and you have my thanks.’ With that the crowd of men entered the site for a day of hard labour.

The quarry hole in the centre of the site was over 20 feet deep and wide as a large church. The bottom of the quarry was covered in slimy water of uncertain depth and a stout rope was kept nearby in case anyone fell in. At the far end of the site a hand pump was being operated to try to suck some of the water from quarry. Thomas and Padraig were assigned to the wheelbarrow squad who formed a continuous line from a huge mound of earth to the very edge of the quarry hole. Like a line of worker ants the men shifted tons of earth and dumped it into the vast hole. As they worked Padraig Coll, a man noted for his fine singing voice and encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish folk songs, began to sing a familiar air…

‘Oh tell me Sean O’Farrel, tell me why you hurry so,

Hush me Buchal, hush and listen, and his cheeks were all aglow

I bear orders from the Captain,  get you ready quick and soon

For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon!’

From around the site as the wheelbarrows squeaked along the planks laid over the mud and the hammers and picks swung in familiar rhythm, scores of voices joined the chorus…

‘'At the rising of the moon, at the rising of the moon

The pikes must be together, at the rising of the moon

Thomas barely looked up from his work as the men grafted and sang in that quintessentially Irish way. These men knew what a day’s work was and were in demand in the factories and docks of Britain because of it. Less than a mile north of where they laboured, the great Beardmore’s Iron works pumped black, acrid smoke into the Glasgow sky. Much of the muscle which kept the great steel works moving came from the poor Irish community which supplied the men who were giving up their one day of rest to make ready the land by Jean Field cemetery.

As the morning progressed and the large pile of earth began to diminish a huge Shire horse was brought in to haul timber across the site. As the small man leading the horse neared the wheelbarrow squad they parted to let it pass. The big animal lumbered past them and as it reached a point near the edge of the quarry the earth began to crumble under its hooves. ‘Watch out!’ shouted Thomas as the earth gave way and the huge horse reared up before crashing into the quarry below. Thomas reached instinctively for the small man who controlled the horse and grabbed him by the jacket just in time to stop him joining the animal in the sludge of the quarry. As he did so his favourite clay pipe fell from his mouth and into the quarry hole. It was a small price to pay for saving the small man from joining his horse in the pit below where it lay in obvious distress, neighing forlornly.

A brief discussion was held and it was decided that as the horse had clearly broken a leg and was beyond rescue that they should put it out of its misery. A runner was sent to fetch a certain Mr Cleghorn who dealt with sick and wounded animals. He duly arrived carrying a long slim case which contained a rifle. The situation was explained to him and after a brief look at the horse lying 20 feet below him in the quarry he nodded sadly before he opened his case and assembled his long rifle. As the labourers paused in their work to watch, a loud, echoing shot split the quiet morning air and the horse’s suffering was over. Work resumed, although the men were a little quieter.

Padraig Coll turned to Thomas, ‘That was bad luck but we must continue nonetheless.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye, and my best pipe was lost in that hole too.’ Coll smiled, ‘Sure a pipe is easy to replace, yer man who lost his horse had a tear in his eye.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye, you’re right Padraig. All in a good cause though.’ As the earth was shovelled into the pit the horse was soon covered and lost from view. The hard work continued all that long day until darkness once more shrouded the city.

And so it was that community gathered together for 8 arduous weeks to create their field of dreams and give a fitting home to their team. The old stadium, barely 400 yards away was lost as a greedy landlord demanded a huge sum of money to rent it. This grated with many as greedy landlords back in Ireland had done the same to many and driven them from the land. The people had built that first stadium too and now they gathered again to build a second Celtic Park. There were those who would like to have seen the new club stillborn but it was people’s club and the people would never desert it. For men like Tommy and Padraig seeing the turf laid and the grandstand rise gave them immense pleasure.

As they walked home when their labours were over, Padraig smiled, ‘I look forward to seeing the Bhoys play on the new field. Tis a grand thing we’ve built here.’ Tommy nodded, ‘It is indeed and to think they’ll be running out over a ground which holds so much of our sweat and of course, O’Malley’s horse.’ Padraig Coll regarded him with a grin, ‘Sure it holds your pipe too, Thomas.’ Thomas McGarrigle nodded, ‘Aye, it does and I hope it brings them luck.’

Postscript: Glasgow 1994

Tony McCready eased his van carefully through the gates of the muddy building site. He stepped out to regard the huge steel frame of the North Stand rising into the east end sky. His workmate and lifelong Rangers fan, Andy Carrol, gazed at it too, ‘Looking impressive Tony but will your lot fill it?’  Tony replied, his eyes still on the huge skeleton of the stand, ‘I think we will Andy.’ A gruff voice cut across them, ‘Tony, get yer arse intae that trench and check they pipes. The concrete will be here at nine!’ Tony nodded towards the foreman and walked towards the trench cut into the muddy ground a few yards from where the Jungle terrace used to be. He clambered in, his boots splashing muddy water onto his jeans. As he examined the joints on the sewerage pipes something caught his eye. He reached into his toolbox and removed a small screwdriver and dug gently around a white object embedded in the wall of the trench. It came free in his hand and he dipped it into a bucket of water to clean the mud from it. ‘What have ye got there, Tony?’ asked Andy. Tony examined the small object carefully, ‘Looks like a smoking pipe?’ He noticed some letters etched onto it and what appeared to be a harp and a shamrock, ‘Looks Irish and it says, T. M, on it?’ Andy shrugged, ‘Well we’ll never know who dropped it but that’s your initials anyway so ye should keep it as a souvenir.’ Tony nodded, ‘Aye, I will. Wonder who T.M was though eh?’

Tony wrapped the pipe carefully in a cloth and placed it in his tool box. He’d find a spot for it somewhere at home and it’d remind him always of his time working on the new stadium. He turned back to the task at hand and playing his small role in the rebuilding of Celtic Park. He longed to see it finished and to hear those familiar songs echo around the new stands. He would always be proud of the small part he played in Celtic's rebirth.

Just as Thomas was a century before.