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.