Saturday, 27 February 2016

To play football the Glasgow Celtic way


 
To play football the Glasgow Celtic way

A lifetime watching Celtic imbues one with the idea that Celtic sides have certain qualities which are passed on to subsequent generations wearing the hoops. Fighting spirit, defiance in the face of adversity and of course playing football which excites the fans. The best Celtic sides were not only capable of playing attractive, attacking football, they also battled right to the end of every game and showed the same sort of commitment the fans on the terracing show as they spend their time and money following the team around the country and Europe.  Even in relatively lean years, Celtic sides always fought to the end and on occasion won unexpected victories due to this resilience. From the Coronation Cup and the 7-1 game in the 1950s to the 4-2 game in 1979 and defeating Barcelona in 2012, Celtic demonstrated the power of giving your all for the team and defying the odds.

Currently the team seems to lack the mental and physical resilience to come back from setbacks in games and impose themselves on some of the teams who get in their faces. It’s an old cliché that you have to win your personal battles on the pitch before the team can win the game. Scottish football is a physical challenge as well as a footballing one and the traditional combative style adopted by most teams seems to ruffle the feathers of some of our players. Good Celtic teams like the Lisbon Lions or the Centenary Double winners could play some great football but they also knew how to scrap and grind out wins when the opposition got physical. We remember players like Auld, Murdoch and Hay as cracking footballers but trust me they could look after themselves and their team mates if things got heated. Of course football has changed and officials are far less tolerant of the tough tackling which went on in the past but the physical aspect of football remains a vital battlefield in every game.

Watching Celtic these last few years has tried the patience of even the most patient fans. Yes, there has been success in terms of trophies and this season sees Celtic looking to win the title for the fifth successive season but the quality of player and the quality of the football on view has undeniably fallen. I have always been an optimist when it comes to Celtic, a glass half full sort of person, but the disconnect between the fans and club is reaching the point where in excess of 10,000 supporters with season tickets choose not to attend games. You could argue that the weather or games being freely available on the internet affects attendances but for many the truth is that the football on display doesn’t excite them. Tommy Burns’ side failed to win the league but we filled Celtic Park and roared them on because they gave their all and played exciting football, football in the long attacking, entertaining Celtic tradition. Can we say the same of today’s Celtic side? Bertie Auld famously said that Jock Stein would remind them as they got ready to go out to play that the fans had tough lives and worked hard all week. They come to Celtic Park to be entertained on a Saturday and the team had a duty to entertain them.

Of course the team follow the manager’s instructions and the formation and tactics are his responsibility. Ronny Deila is fast approaching the moment of decision in his tenure at Celtic Park. It would seem absurd to sack him if he delivered another Championship and a Scottish Cup and doing so might just buy him the time required to have another crack at Europe. Celtic fans sometimes have unreasonably high expectations of what the club should achieve in Europe but be that as it may, another faltering European campaign in the summer could be the straw which breaks the camel’s back.

Players too need to step up to the mark too and one hope’s that they are united in their efforts as the Souness experience at Newcastle demonstrates how players can get rid of an unpopular manager by simple dropping their playing levels. I’m not suggesting for a moment that that’s the case at Celtic Park but watching some of Celtic’s lethargic displays in recent months some of the players look a little unsure of what they should be doing. I watched Leigh Griffiths at a recent home game race up the right flank and flash a great ball across the box. No one was there to convert it as the current system of play suggests that Griffiths himself should be the spearhead in the box. Whatever the issues affecting the performance of the team, they need to be remedied quickly. Not only to save the Manager’s job but to rise to the challenges which undoubtedly lie ahead.

In the coming seasons we will see Aberdeen build a new stadium with all the impetus that will give them. Hearts will build a new main stand and raise the capacity and revenue available there and a resurgent Hibs may well return too. The new club playing in Govan will probably gain entry to the top league for the first time and despite ongoing doubt about their finances will present a challenge within a couple of seasons. Celtic should be streets ahead of such opposition given their financial clout but are distinctly vulnerable at the moment. There is no shortage of talent at Celtic Park but there is a malaise about the style of play and the direction the club are taking. The selling of top players in recent seasons has undoubtedly affected the team but the fans can accept the financial realities we operate in but many rightly feel that despite this the product on the park should be much better than it currently is. In all my years watching Celtic I have never seen so many supporters openly state that they are bored by what they are seeing. Celtic of the past could raise us to the heights or see us hold our heads in despair but they were never boring!  Nor have I seen so many of our supporters so ready to turn on the team if something goes wrong on the field and this is a symptom too of frustration at the level of our current performances. Players are human and hear the jeering and this can in turn lead to some going into their shells and lowering the overall performance of the team. However, as Didier Agathe once said that frustrations among the support being verbalised aren’t a sign that some no longer care they’re a symptom that they care too much. For when Celtic supporters sit in silent apathy that will be a real sign that things are desperate.

Whatever the next six months hold for Celtic and their Manager, they can be sure that the hard core Celtic supporters will be there to back the team. Even the most committed supporters though aren’t blind to the issues on the field. They want to see more attacking, entertaining football. They want to see 100% commitment from the players and above all they want to see the team play football the Glasgow Celtic way.

As the Green Brigade banner famously said, ‘we’re in here for you be out there for us.’

 
 
 

 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Dr Who and the unkown Slovakian


 
Dr Who and the unknown Slovakian

May 1998 was a time of tension for Celtic supporters as the club stumbled over the line to claim their first title in ten long and bitter years. After Harold Brattbakk had slammed home the clinching goal against St Johnstone in the last game of the season there was an explosion of joy. All the pent up disappointment and frustration gave way to a wave of euphoria which had Celts the world over smiling for days. Of course, Celtic being Celtic the joy was soon replaced with concern as Manager Win Jansen exercised the get out clause in his contract and walked away. His much publicised breakdown in relationship with Jock Brown was generally reported as the reason. Celtic supporters then endured a long summer of speculation about who would take over the management of the team. Many of the players jetted off to the World Cup in France unsure of who would be leading them in defence of their title in season 1998-99.

When Fergus McCann announced in July 1998 that Dr Jozef Venglos was to be the new Celtic Manager we saw the gutter press in Scotland at their ignorant, disrespectful best. The Daily Record led the way with the infamous ‘Celtic sign a blank Czech’ headline which not only showed huge ignorance of his coaching record but got his nationality wrong too. They joked about his age despite the fact Jock Stein and Bob Paisley both managed at the highest level when older. One disrespectful ‘Journalist’ even challenged Dr Jo to a race and had his picture taken outside Celtic Park in his track suit. All of this and the summer of discontent before it led to some Celtic Supporters actually booing Fergus McCann as he unfurled Celtic’s first League flag in a decade. Elements of the gutter Press had of course turned their venom on McCann since his arrival at Celtic Park and the character assassination he endured culminated in him being compared to Saddam Hussein. Dr Jo must have wondered what sort of country he had arrived in.

 
His late arrival meant that there was little time to sign new players before the serious action began on the field. Some Celtic players arrived back from France 98 looking a little worn out and a bonus row was also rumbling along in the background. In truth Celtic’s early season form was patchy.  Dunfermline were brushed aside 5-0 in the opening game but in the Champions League Qualifiers, Celtic faced a Dinamo Zagreb side which combined the sublime skills of Robert Prosineki with the physicality of Mark Viduka. A battling first leg win was followed by a bitterly disappointing capitulation in Zagreb in the second leg. Celtic did begin to show some decent form as the autumn arrived and brought with it new players in the shape of Johan Mjallby and Lubomir Moravcik. Again the ill-informed in the Scottish press had their say. High Keevins in an article which still haunts him said….

"I don't know what I find more laughable; the fact that Celtic cannot find £500,000 from their biscuit tin to sign a proven talent like John Spencer, or the fact that they then spent £300,000 on one of Dr Jo's old pals, the unknown Lubomir Moravcik!"

Jim Traynor, a man prone to the odd gaff, also put his foot in it by stating

"If anything the signing of Lubomir Moravcik at a cut price has merely caused them further embarrassment."

With Rangers and their expensive signings heading for Celtic Park that November there was great interest in seeing how the new boys would do. Derek Johnstone was another pundit who displayed a complete lack of knowledge about Celtic’s new arrivals when he stated after hearing the team news, "Josef Venglos will live to regret his decision to play this unknown Slovakian ahead of Mark Burchill in such a vital Old Firm Game." The Celtic fans headed for the game more in hope than expectation as they had lost at St Johnstone the week before. They were rewarded with a fine performance in which the sublime skills of Moravcik were allied to the movement of Larsson to rip the Rangers defence apart. As the supporters roared themselves hoarse, Celtic smashed five goals past their great rivals to record an unlikely and unforgettable victory.

In an interview after the destruction of Rangers a reporter asked Moravcik crassly what it felt like going from ‘zero to hero?’ The little Slovakian stared at him and replied through an interpreter, ‘You tell him I was never a zero!’

Celtic lagged behind Rangers in the title race but approached the New Year with optimism. They again faced Rangers in the Nerday fixture at Ibrox and fought out a worthy 2-2 draw. Indeed had Referee McCluskey awarded a penalty when Kancheslskis clearly fouled Mahe in the box Celtic might well have won. Venglos himself admitted that too many draws, especially in the first half of the season made the gap between Celtic and Rangers a difficult one to close. Undaunted Celtic won 15 of their next 17 games but as Rangers arrived at Celtic Park in that spring of 1999 retaining the title won the season before looked a forlorn hope.

Much has been written out the match that took place at Celtic Park in early May 1999. Celtic were without Gould, Boyd, McNamara, Rieper, Moravcik, Burley, McKinley, O’Donnell and Mjallby due to injuries and this made them particularly suspect in defence. In a game which kicked off at 6pm to suit Sky TV, tensions were high. Rangers could clinch the title with a victory and Celtic did not want that occurring in their home stadium. Referee Dallas played a huge and controversial role in this match and his sending off of Stephane Mahe as well as the awarding of a soft penalty to Rangers were lost amid the mayhem as several fans invaded the pitch to have it out with him and some other fools threw coins one of which hit the hapless official. One supporter even fell from the top tier of the stand onto fellow fans below and was still cursing the Referee as he was stretchered away!  Rangers won the game and the title and there was more trouble as their players mocked the Celtic huddle after the match. It was a sorry day for Celtic and indeed for Scottish football. That such a game kicked off in the evening on a Bank Holiday undoubtedly allowed many supporters to drink far more than was wise. This had an effect on the behaviour of some and the Celtic support could not deny that much of the poor behaviour emanated from within their own ranks. The cultured Dr Venglos must have wondered what the hell was going on.

With the title gone Celtic would again face Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. An injury ravaged side fought hard but a slack moment in defence allowed Rod Wallace to score and the cup was gone. A season which put Celtic supporters through the emotional wringer was over and Manager Venglos decide he would move on. His tenure was an interesting one but when faced with a powerful and free spending Rangers side, a hostile media and most importantly of all, a crippling injury list at key points in the season, his side fell short.

Dr Jo left with our thanks for his efforts. This cultured and experienced coach, who turned 80 this week, was hampered by a variety of circumstances during his one season with Celtic and one wonders if he might have achieved more given another year or two. Football though is an unforgiving and impatient game and Managers are judged on results. His tenure was brief and in the end unsuccessful. I’m sure he must have shaken his head at times at the antics of our press corps but in the end he was judged on results. The following season would see John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish lead Celtic through another emotional roller coaster trip before Martin O’Neil arrived to restore Celtic’s fortunes.

Thanks for your efforts Jozef and happy birthday.
 

 

 

Monday, 15 February 2016

The hardest part


 
The hardest part
Big Pat wasn’t having any of my excuses, ‘He’s out of his depth, he has to go!’ he said his face reddening. ‘That performance against Ross County was inexcusable.’ It’s fair to say Pat’s opinions of Celtic Manager Ronny Deila are shared by a fair percentage of fans, a minority of whom are happy to lay into the manager in the coarsest of language. Much as the style of play he is attempting to adopt at Celtic isn’t setting the heather on fire nor inspiring the fans, Deila is a convenient focus for the dissatisfaction felt by many Celtic supporters. That focus in my opinion should look at the wider picture of what is going on in Scottish and European football.

Celtic made the decision in 2005 to curb their debts which stood at around £30m at the time. Martin O’Neil who had taken the job in the summer of 2000 on the promise of some serious backing from Dermot Desmond had delivered the goods on the field. His big money signings such as Lennon, Hartson, Sutton and Valgaeren blended with existing talents such as Larsson and Moravcik to make a powerful side. However as Martin left, the club wisely saw the way the wind was blowing and put in place a wages structure and transfer policy which was in truth more sensible. In retrospect the calamity at Ibrox in 2012 occurred because they didn’t act with such prudence. Celtic in 2016 now pay less in overall wages than they did 15 years ago and in the harsh world of professional sport reductions in salary usually come with a reduction in the quality of the players you can attract.

Gordon Strachan performed minor miracles during his tenure and in four seasons delivered 3 titles, 2 league cups and a Scottish cup. He also got Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League on two occasions at a time when the club was downsizing. Despite this he was on the receiving end of abuse from a minority of fans who disliked the style of play or who simply disliked Strachan. Some have short memories when they praise him for speaking positively about Celtic on English based football shows.

The financial crash in 2008 had an effect on Celtic and their support as it did on many other sectors of society. Celtic's average crowd in 2007-08 was around 57,000 by season 2009-10 it had fallen to around 45,000, a reduction of around 20%. This also entailed a reduction in revenue and undoubtedly hastened the club’s current policy of buying promising young players and developing them whilst simultaneously selling their best to the cash rich EPL. In the low finance environment of Scottish football this seems an inevitable consequence of being a big fish in a small pond. Someone worked out that it would take Celtic 35 years to earn the TV revenue a side relegated from the EPL would receive for one season! In trying to compete with the big boys of Europe, Celtic is seriously disadvantaged but having said that teams with less revenue than Celtic often make it to the Group Stages of the Champions League so we can improve in Europe.

Neil Lennon’s time in charge of Celtic saw the team generally dominate in Scotland with the odd flourish in Europe. His Champions League record was in truth fairly good and he guided Celtic through the Group Stages twice. Even he though was aware of the continuing downsizing going on at the club and of the team which defeated Barcelona so memorably in November 2012, Forster, Wilson, Wanyama, Ledley, Matthews and Watt were all sold. Building a team is clearly very difficult when key players are moved on each season. Compound this by signing inferior players and the squad quality decreases. It’s a vicious circle which has seem Celtic slip from a decent European side to the current, let’s be honest, mediocrity in European terms.

So into this situation walked the charming and promising young Norwegian manager Ronny Deila, a man who made his name developing young players and building teams on a small budget. Given Celtic’s situation he looked like the ideal candidate to try and build a side. His first season saw him win the title and league cup, normally more than enough to satisfy the Celtic support but poor displays in Europe had many questioning his ability. Deila is the modern head coach in the sense that his job is to work with the players and build up a pattern of play which wins games.

It does not appear that he has much say in the various players purchased and foisted on him by the club as it pursues its policy of signing cheap ‘potential’ stars and developing them. The scouting staff and deal makers, from John Park to Peter Lawwell, bear much responsibility for signing players who have in truth contributed very little to Celtic. Players such as Balde, Pukki, Boerichter and Ciftci cost the club a combined fee of millions and were no better than players already at the club. It has been argued by many that a couple of proven, experienced players who would improve the team would be more profitable than gambling on half a dozen projects.

This season Deila’s side has again come up seriously short in Europe and Virgil Van Dijk’s sale was the inevitable consequence of that. Harsh financial conditions suggest Celtic need an extended run in Europe, preferably in the cash rich Champions League or someone will need to be sold to balance the books. Domestically the Club is being seriously challenged by Aberdeen in the SPFL and lost the League Cup as Ross County knocked them out at the Semi Final stage. This enraged many supporters one of whom pointed out that Dingwall, Ross County’s home town, has a population of under 6000. Deila received more flak and few took into consideration failings elsewhere in the club. The under-performing players, who, with a couple of exceptions, showed a distinct lack of fight in the Ross County game, escaped the level of abuse the manager took as did the board who have, via their policies, overseen a serious erosion in the quality of the squad at Celtic Park.

Deila remains the focus for the discontented among the Celtic support many of whom want him to go. Ironically, few can suggest a manager of substance who might be willing to work under the restrictions Deila endures. The manager is not deaf to the criticism and said recently in a very honest interview…

You don’t want to wake up at times, You just lie there. Sometimes you don’t sleep either, just lie there thinking, but that’s why I am here - because I really care and want to turn things around. The hardest part in life is when you don’t know what the answer is. But when you know the way forward you can do that. For me, it takes 48 hours to get the disappointment and reflection out of the body. That’s how it has been in my football career. Many times I have sat after games and thought that I don’t want to do this anymore, because it is so painful to lose.’


It is painful for those of us who love Celtic to bear defeat too but there can be no doubt that Deila has to deal with a huge amount of pressure at the moment. A hostile media cut him no slack and encourage the more vociferous of his critics among the Celtic support just as they did with Fergus McCann in the 1990s. Make no mistake about it there are some in the media who love nothing more than sowing discontent at Celtic Park. Some of our supporters should bear this in mind when reading the opinions of those with no affection for Celtic.


High expectations of what the club should achieve in Europe also lead to a tsunami of criticism when it goes wrong. Older supporters recall fine Celtic sides with players such as Burns, McLeod and McStay failing to stay in Europe beyond Christmas for 20 years but they stuck with the manager as long as domestic success was forthcoming. The modern era may see Scottish football as less competitive than it was in the past and demand more of Celtic than the baubles on offer in Scotland but how realistic is this with the financial constraints the club works under? Supporters rightly point to teams such as Malmo playing in the Champions League while Celtic, a richer club, failed to make it. Whether it is fair or not, Europe is the rod being used to measure Deila’s tenure at Celtic. A more sobering thought   is to look at the current team and ask how many would be chosen ahead of the 11 starters who beat Barcelona in 2012?


Ronny Deila is entering the defining period of his managerial reign at Celtic. To survive many would demand that he delivers another title and makes progress in next season’s European campaign. He arrived at Celtic Park with a reputation as a team builder and we must see his team knit together more competently in the months ahead. The demands and expectations at Celtic will always be high and rightly so but supporters should perhaps cut Deila some slack until we see how this season pans out. He has made mistakes but then so have many others at the club who don’t live with the scrutiny he does.  This season is entering its crucial phase, let’s back the team to the hilt and we’ll see what the future holds for Ronny Deila in the summer.


When the Celtic support and team are fused as one, they take some stopping.
 


Saturday, 13 February 2016

The second unluckiest footballer in the world


 
The second unluckiest footballer in the world

On the 12th day of April 1967 a crowd of 75,000 squeezed into Celtic Park to watch the European cup semi-final first leg between Celtic and Dukla Prague. History records that Jock Stein’s Celtic side took a massive step towards their date with destiny in Lisbon with a fine 3-1 win. On that same day a fine player and former opponent of Celtic passed away. The death of Sam English barely made it into the Scottish sporting press that week entranced as they were by Celtic’s audacious assault on the European Cup. Later that same week less than a hundred mourners turned out at Cardross Crematorium to mark the passing of Sam, a man inextricably linked to one of the most tragic events in the Celtic story.

Those of you who are of a Celtic persuasion won’t need reminding why 5th September 1931 was a day of lamentation for all who follow the green.  On that day Rangers met Celtic at Ibrox stadium and in the 50th minute of a tense match an accident occurred which took the life of Celtic’s wonderfully gifted young goalkeeper, John Thomson. The young Fife born keeper was just 22 years old and on the cusp of a career which promised great things. He had already played over 200 games for Celtic and distinguished himself as a graceful, athletic and fearless goalkeeper. He had also broken into the Scotland side and looked destined for greatness. Of course that awful collision with young Rangers forward Sam English ended Thomson’s life and also had a profound effect on the young Irishman for the rest of his days.

No one who has seen the film of the accident or read the reports of the official inquiry can reach any conclusion other than that a dreadful accident occurred at Ibrox on that September day 85 years ago. English had chased a through ball with characteristic speed and Thomson, seeing the danger had launched himself bravely at the ball. No one was to blame for the consequences of their collision. It was just one of those sets of circumstances which sometimes lead to injury but on that particular day led to tragedy. English was selected by Bill Struth to play in the Rangers team throughout that season as it was felt that he should get on with his career. Both he and Rangers Captain Meiklejohn visited John Thomson’s parents and there was no ill will whatsoever. Indeed Mr and Mrs Thomson had a letter published in a local newspaper in the days after John’s funeral which stated clearly that Sam English was blameless in the death of their son.

However, despite scoring a club record 44 league goals that season, English was finding it hard to cope with a moronic minority at many away grounds who would greet his appearance with shouts of ‘murderer.’ It cannot be denied that a small minority of Celtic supporters were also guilty of this harsh barracking of English. Such treatment of a young player already dealing with the trauma of Thomson’s death was cruel in the extreme as well as demonstrably untrue. Such ignorant people exist in all times as anyone who frequents modern social media will testify. In the end Sam English moved to England to further his career and make a fresh start but despite a bright beginning to his career at Liverpool, he appeared to be still deeply affected by what had occurred at Ibrox in September 1931. In the modern world he may well have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. In the 1930s men were expected to soldier on and maintain a stiff upper lip. His promising early form deserted him at Liverpool and he moved on to a succession of smaller clubs until finally giving up playing the game at the age of just 28 and returning, as many players did then, to the trades they knew before football gave them a modicum of fame. He once described his career after the accident with John Thomson as ‘Seven joyless years of sport,’ and commented to one reporter that he was the ‘second unluckiest footballer in the world.’

In 1965 Sam English began to exhibit the symptoms of motor neurone disease. This horrible illness attacks the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This means messages gradually stop reaching muscles which begin to progressively waste away leading to cruel loss of function which progresses with a relentless certainty. Ironically on the day of his death in April 1967 the star of Celtic’s victory over Dukla Prague was the marvelous Jimmy Johnstone. As we know only too well that wonderfully gifted footballer was to develop the same illness later in his life.

Today Celtic supporters rightly honour the memory of John Thompson. His career was cut cruelly short but enough was written about his athletic prowess to convince us that he was indeed a marvelously gifted and courageous goalkeeper. Indeed if John Thomson was less courageous he might well have pulled out of going for that 50-50 ball with Sam English but John was utterly fearless in his defence of his goal. He had been injured in similar circumstances earlier in his career but continued to give his all for Celtic and the fans loved him for it.

Perhaps we should also spare a though for Sam English a young man caught up in a set of dreadful circumstances which so affected his life. No blame should ever attach to his memory for those events of so long ago.

 

 

 





 

Friday, 5 February 2016

McCallum's Penny


McCallum’s Penny

Glasgow: April 1967

Lion faced old Joe Hogan sat up in an agitated manner in the hospital bed when he saw his grandson appear at the end of the ward. He had waited all day for his him to arrive and bring him the news he waited for so patiently. He beckoned Frankie come closer with a rather weak wave of his hand. Frankie looked at his grandfather as he walked through the ward and approached the bed. Was this pale, feeble looking old man once the vigorous and strong man who would carry him on his shoulders and play rough football games with him and his brothers in Glasgow Green? With his father killed in an accident in the Shipyards, old Joe stepped in and made sure the Hogan boys had a secure childhood.  Now entering his ninetieth year, old Joe had a waxen look about him and the doctors were clear that his age meant there would be no operation, no saving him from the illness which would surely now end his long and varied life. ‘Frankie,’ he rasped in a tired voice, ‘did we do it? Did Jock and the boys do it?’ Frankie sat on the chair by the bed and took his grandfather’s hand noticing how cold it felt. ‘The game finished an hour ago, grandad, it was nothing each. We’ve made it! Celtic are going to Lisbon!’ The old man slumped back on the pillow a satisfied smile on his face. ‘Thank God, I knew we could trust Jock to see us through.’ Frankie nodded, ‘It wasn’t pretty but getting to the final was the only thing that mattered.’ The old man’s eyes flickered open, ‘Who else is in the final? Is it Inter?’ ‘Not sure yet,’ replied Frankie, ‘They beat Sofia 1-0 but it’s level on aggregate. They’ll need another game tae settle it but my money’s on Inter, they’ve beat Real Madrid this year already.’ The old man nodded, Aye, son, they’re nae mugs.’ As Frankie watched his old man slip into sleep he heard him mumble, ‘But Jock will see us alright…’  He sat by the old man’s bed for another half an hour listening to the rasping sound of his breathing.

The Docs had told him his grandad would do well to make it through another week but he was a spirited old guy and was so keyed up about Celtic’s run in Europe.  His passion for Celtic was the one constant in his long life and he would enthral Frankie and his brothers with tales of seeing McGrory, Thomson and Patsy Gallagher. It was astonishing to think that old Joe had followed Celtic since the club’s inception in 1888.  Frankie chatted quietly to the duty Sister before slipping out of the hospital and out into the noise and bustle of Castle Street. He’d return to see the old fella soon and he’d bring Paddy and Scott too. Time was short and it was important the brothers had the chance to say their goodbyes to old Joe.

As Frankie made his way home, old Joe lay on the bed seemingly lost in sleep but his dreams were carrying him back to a day long gone…

Monday  28th  May 1888

Joseph Hogan ran through the grey streets of the east end as fast as his 10 year old legs would carry him. ‘Come on Anthony, we’ll miss the start!’ he called in an accent alien to his home city. His younger brother ran after him down Dalmarnock Street, ‘Will ye slow down Joseph!’ As they neared the tall picket fence erected around the newly constructed little stadium the crowds were heavier. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, it seemed, had come out to watch the new club play their first game. The two boys scanned the crowds excitedly, ‘Where’s my dad?’  said Joseph. They stood watching the crowds milling about the new football field some were calling Celtic Park. A roar from behind startled the two brothers and they were scooped up in the strong labourer's arms of their father, Patrick Hogan. ‘Here now ya pair of scallywags come and give yer oul fella a decent welcome.’ The two boys hugged their old man before he placed them on back onto the wet cobblestones, ‘Now let’s be getting inside and see if the bold Celts are up to the task.’

They followed their father to an opening where a man was collecting money in return for entry to the neat little ground. They made their way to a spot near the small retaining fence opposite the little grandstand where those with more money sat in some comfort. As the teams came out a mighty cheer arose from the thousands gathered around the field. Joseph looked up at his Father, ‘Look at their shirts Da, they have a Celtic Cross!’ His old man smiled, ‘and why not indeed, many a fine Irish lad in that side?’  The game began and play thundered from one end of the field to the other. The Rangers Swifts were soon pushed back and the Celtic won a corner kick. Mick Dumbar, star player of the fine Hibs side of the era placed the ball carefully and swung a crisp cross into the penalty box. As Joseph watched spellbound, Neil McCallum rose above the Rangers defence and headed the ball powerfully into the goal. Celtic had scored their first ever goal and the two Hogan boys cheered wildly like all the other supporters of the new club gathered in Glasgow’s impoverished east end. Maybe, just maybe they’d have a team to match the mighty Hibs or Queen’s Park. The battle raged on and as the two young boys watched engrossed as Celtic fought their way to a fine 5-2 victory. As the players trooped off the crowd roared their approval. Few could have dared believe that the new club could perform with such verve and style.

Patrick Hogan led his boys around towards the new grandstand in the hope that they might catch a glimpse of the new sporting heroes of the east end Irish. As they stood with a few hundred others the players and various officials began to emerge. ‘Look Da, there's Brother Walfrid, he was my teacher last year!’ shouted Anthony Hogan, his eight year old eyes sparkling, ‘and there’s Neil McCallum!’ As they boys looked on the young Celtic forward shook the hands of many well-wishers and accepted many slaps on the back. As the crowd parted the scorer of Celtic’s first ever goal stood directly in front of the Hogan boys, ‘Did you enjoy the sport young fella?’ he asked Joseph who gazed up at the Celtic winger a little star struck. ‘Aye, Mr McCallum,’ he responded a little shyly, ‘I’ll be coming to all the Celtic games now with my Dad.’ The popular player ruffled Joseph’s hair, ‘Good lad, now here’s something to remind you of the day.’ He pressed a penny into Joseph’s hand before moving on through the crowd and becoming lost to their view. Joseph’s old man looked down at him, ‘Now I’d be keeping that coin safe Joseph, No telling what this new club will do and here’s you with a penny from the first scorer!’ Joseph held the penny tightly. There was no way he was letting go of it.

May 25th 1967

Frankie ran up the grey stone stairs of the Royal infirmary filled with joy like a child who has had his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Celtic had done it! They had mastered the finest defence in football with a display of awesome attacking prowess. The old fella would be so proud. A startled Nurse stood aside as he raced past, ‘Don’t worry doll,’ he shouted as he passed, ‘Just watched the mighty Celts conquer Europe, yeehaa!’ She stood dumbfounded watching him race up the stairs. As he reached the Ward his grandad was in he tried to compose himself but the grin etched on his face would take weeks to erase. He pushed the door and entered the Ward. He strolled along past the rows of beds replete with chattering visitors and patients. He figured he could spot the Celtic fans by the looks of sheer joy on their faces. He stopped at his grandad’s bed and his smile froze on his face. It was empty. As he looked around a little confused and saw that the staff nurse was approaching him, walking in that brisk, business-like manner they adopted at important times. The look on her face told him all he needed to know. He shook his head, ‘No, no…not today of all days!’  Frankie Hogan felt the tears rolling down his face before she broke the news to him, ‘Mr Hogan, can you come with me please. We need to talk.’

In the quiet of the mortuary he stood before the old fella. The nurse left him alone for a few moments to say his goodbyes and he gazed on the familiar face of his grandfather. The old man’s lined face looked worn out but he was at peace. ‘Well Granada,’ Frankie began, emotions welling in his chest, ‘we did it, we beat Inter 2-1. You’d have been so proud of them the way they played. They destroyed them.’ He sat by the trolley and took the old man’s frigid hand. ‘They were magnificent,’ he whispered.

As he held his grandfather’s hand he felt something hard protruding from his closed fist. He gently opened the old man’s hand and saw an old style penny with an image of Queen Victoria on it. He turned the coin over and smiled through his tears.

It was dated 1888.