She could hear him fumbling with the key as she lay in the darkness. The blinking red numerals of the clock told her it was 2.23 am and she sighed before slipping from the warmth of her bed and onto the cold floor. She glanced at her son, sleeping in the warm bed, tousled haired and oblivious to the world. She pulled her housecoat around her and stepped into the dark hall to open the door to him. The rancid smell of stale beer hit her before she even saw his drunken, befuddled face. ‘You fuckin move yer arse intae that kitchen and get my dinner oan’ he drawled as if it were perfectly natural to dine at such an hour and speak to your partner in such a manner. He pushed roughly past her into the living room, clicking the switch which flooded the room in harsh light. As she walked resignedly to the kitchen she could hear him open a beer can and then attempt to put the stereo on. She had unplugged it against such an eventuality as Rebel songs at 2am where not what the sleeping neighbours wanted to hear. ‘Sandra, wit the fuck’s up wi this stereo?’ he called loudly. She sighed and ignored him, hoping he’d give up or fall asleep. He didn’t and she flinched as she heard him rise from the couch. ‘You fuckin deaf ya cow,’ he snarled as he approached her raising his hand. She tried to protect her head as the blows rained down.
When it was over and he’d staggered back to the living room, flopping noisily onto the couch, she found herself crouched on her knees by the cooker, sobbing quietly. Something caught her eye and she looked up, it was her seven year old son who stood, sleepy eyed in his green Celtic pyjamas, gazing at her, ‘Wits up wi ye ma? Did he hit ye again.’ She sniffed, said nothing and held her arms open. He ran silently to her and wrapped his arms around her. ‘I wish I had a magic wand,’ he whispered into her ear, ‘I’d make him disappear and you and me wid live in a big castle. You’d be a princess coz that’s wit ye deserve ma.’ She held him close in the darkness of the kitchen, he was her reason for going on, the one bright light in her life. As she hugged him she could hear the snoring from the living room beginning. At least they’d have peace for the rest of the night.
They’d all told her of course. Don’t go moving in with a man who hits you, he won’t change, they never do, you’ll live to regret it. Of course, she didn’t listen. No sooner had she moved in than the abuse got worse. The sporadic and periodic violence was bad but the constant attacks on her self-esteem were worse. You’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re not going oot in that outfit ur ye? Can you no cook ya useless cow. All of this dripped on her like cold water down her back and left her feeling utterly worthless. He’d check her phone and isolate her from her pals who stopped visiting due to his behaviour. When wee Scott had arrived she thought he’d change but he didn’t. He had made his son so many promises and kept none of them. From school trips he didn’t pay for to jaunts to the park cancelled as he lay in bed with a hangover. As Scott grew he’d asked his old man repeatedly to take him to see Celtic but it never seemed to happen. He would watch his school friend who lived up the same close, leave for the football hand in hand with his dad but his turn never came. There was always some excuse but essentially his old man couldn’t be bothered. He’d rather be in the pub or the bookies than share a few hours with his son.
Then on a wet and windy February day he had gone too far. He had hit his son. Something inside Sandra snapped, ‘Right you bastard, that’s enough!’ she said to herself, ‘This stops now!’ She lay in bed that night thinking and had an epiphany of sorts. She finally realised that it was all about control. The faults weren’t hers, they were his. His controlling behaviour and violence were all symptoms of his inadequacies not hers. All of his frustrations in life were taken out on her. As he lay in a drunken sleep she had quietly woken her son and packed the bare essentials into a couple of holdalls and left. As she walked into the wet street, struggling with her bags, she thought how surprisingly simple it was just to get up and go. ‘Where are we goin’ Ma?’ Scott asked looking up at her with a puzzled look on his face. ‘We’re goin’ tae yer granny’s for a while son,’ she replied. The little boy mulled it over for a second, ‘Ur we no goin’ back tae ma Da’s hoose?’ She pursed her lips, ‘Naw son, we’re no.’ He slipped his hand into hers, ‘That’s good Ma, his shouting scares me.’ She knew then she was doing the right thing.
The next few months were far from easy for Sandra and her son as they squeezed into her mother’s small spare room but at least the fear was gone. It had lingered over her like a dark cloud and she had forgotten what it was like to be free from it. Her friends had rallied around her and her confidence was returning, albeit slowly. Of course he’d showed up but she had the courage to refuse to let him in the house and called the police when he got abusive and tried to force his way in. It took a while to sink into his thick skull that she wasn’t coming back but in the end he’d gotten the message. He had shouted up her window, ‘Don’t come crawling back tae me when you cannae pay yer bills ya cow.’ He’d wandered off down the street and out of her life.
A few months later it was Scott’s eighth birthday and a few of his school friends crowded into his granny’s small living room for his party. Sandra was happy watching him play and laugh with his friends. Her mum handed her an envelope, ‘A wee late present for Scott,’ she grinned. Sandra opened it and took out the birthday card inside. Two green, credit card shaped pieces of plastic fell out onto the table. Puzzled she looked closely at them. Her mum cut across her thoughts, ‘Scott’s been wanting tae go tae see the Celtic for ages so I got him and you a season ticket.’ Sandra’s eyes widened, ‘Wit? I’ve never been tae a football match in my life Ma, I widnae know whit to do!’ Her mum nodded, ‘Well somebody has tae take him and you could dae wi getting oot the hoose yerself.’ She then added almost as an afterthought, ‘First game of the season is on Saturday.’ Sandra looked at the two, small green plastic season cards. ‘Oh well’ she thought, ‘At least Scott will love it.’ She glanced around at him laughing with his pals, ‘Yeh, you deserve it son.’ When the party was over and the hyper children departed with goody bags and gap toothed smiles she called Scott to her. He bounded onto her knee, ‘That was a great party, Ma!’ He smiled. ‘Good’ she replied, ‘I’ve got one last last present for ye. We’re goin’ tae see Celtic on Saturday.’ His eyes lit up, ‘Wit? really? Aw Ma you’re just the best.’ He threw his arms around her neck and she pulled him close. She could feel tears welling in her eyes but they were happy tears for a change.
Sandra and Scott walked under the huge bulk of the North Stand at Celtic Park looking for their turnstile. The noisy crowd seemed in good spirits and she was surprisingly just as excited as Scott about attending the game. He had been well warned about holding her hand and not wandering off but was too excited to worry about such adult concerns. After figuring out how to activate the turnstile with the card she clicked into the ground for the first time in her life. Scott's bright eyes were everywhere, taking it all in. They walked down the entrance towards the noise and light of the stadium and Sandra glanced around looking for her row. A cheery faced steward pointed her to row M and she and Scott shuffled past the other fans to their seats. Only once they were in place did she really look around the emerald bowl of Celtic Park. It was an awesome spectacle to her but more so to her son who clutched her hand, spellbound by the assault on his senses he was experiencing for the first time. He gazed around him, eyes wide. Just then, away to his left the Green Brigade started up a chant and the boom of their drum echoed through the stand…
‘In the heat of Lisbon, the fans came in their thousands
To see the bhoys become Champions, Sixty Seven.’
Sandra breathed it all in, she was surprised how much she was enjoying her first taste of Celtic Park. A huge roar went up as the teams entered the field. Celtic glowed in their famous hooped shirts. A late arriving man dressed in jeans and a Celtic shirt shuffled past Sandra and positioned himself in front of the seat to her right. As he glanced at the teams warming up he dropped his season ticket. Sandra bent to pick it up just as he did and their heads gently collided. She smiled, ‘God! Sorry!’ He smiled, ‘No problem, my fault.’ They stood and he looked at her, ‘I’m Tommy by the way. You sitting here this season?’ Sandra nodded, her cheeks a little flushed, ‘Yeh, me and my boy.’ Tommy nodded towards Scott who was totally focussed on the Celtic team entering their huddle. ‘Looks like he’s going to enjoy it.’ Sandra nodded, ‘His first match today, mine too.’ Tommy smiled, ‘Really? I hope you both enjoy it. I’m addicted, been coming here since I was six.’ They settled into their seats as the players got ready to kick off. The new season was about to get underway.
For Sandra a new season of sorts was beginning too and she was moving on from darker times. She focussed on the pitch as Scott shouted his first sentence as a Celtic fan…’Mon the Celtic, intae them!’