Sunday, 4 December 2016

No Pasaran


No Pasaran

Tony Reid shoved his Celtic scarf inside his jacket, trapping it between his body and his left arm. It didn’t do to walk through Bridgeton on such nights with your colours on display, especially if those colours were green and white. He noticed the crowds around the doorways of the pubs at the Cross, tonight would be a busy night for them. It always was when Celtic met Rangers in the east end of Glasgow and tonight’s game had a lot at stake. A Celtic win would claim a title win which for most of the season looked very unlikely. Anything else would hand the flag to Rangers; it was all or nothing on a bright May night in 1979.  He walked along London Road past the Dunne and Moore yard which supplied the city with soft drinks. The lorries inside the yard were lined up in neat order, each one stacked high with hundreds of crates of ‘ginger’ as Glaswegians called the fizzy stuff.

Tony crossed the road and headed up Abercromby Street to his childhood home where his old man was waiting for him. He glanced at St Mary’s Church as he turned left into Stevenson Street; that was where Celtic had been founded. The Calton was a tough place to live in the 1880s and it was still a tough place now in 1979. The collapse of industry in Cities like Glasgow brought the blight of mass unemployment back and that in turn fed into the social problems he saw around him. He despised the petty bigotry he met on a daily basis. His old man, a committed socialist, had told him that this was caused by the capitalist system which sought to keep ordinary workers divided. He turned right into Tobago Street, walking past the Police Station where he had been held overnight when he had been ‘lifted’ for the only time in his life. He had been arrested for being part of a disorderly ‘gang’ ten years earlier when he was 15.  The truth was the gang had long disappeared when the cops showed up so they grabbed Tony and a couple of his friends who were doing nothing more criminal than playing football. When Tony made this point, one of the cops, a hulking, mean man with a Highland accent, had delivered a right hook to Tony’s face which left him with a black eye. His father had listened to his story when he picked Tony up from the Police station the following morning and nodded, ‘Those bastards think they’re above the law.’ 

Tony entered his father’s close, the smell of stoor and urine assaulting his nose. The old tenement was due for demolition soon and just two of the eight houses were occupied. He walked up the stairs noticing how worn they were. How many footsteps did it take wear stone out like that?  Someone had scribbled ‘7-1’ on the wall outside his father’s door with a pencil. His old man wouldn’t mind that. He used they key his father had given him to let himself in, ‘Ye in Da? It’s me, Tony,’ he called as he closed the door behind him. ‘Aye son, in the living room.’ Tony felt the chill in the flat even if it was May in Glasgow. He entered the living room where  Tommy Reid sat by the coal fire, a tartan blanket over his knees. In the corner his small black and white TV was showing images of Britain’s new Prime Minister. ‘It’ll go bad for the workers wi this clown in power,’ his old man said nodding towards the TV. Tony glanced at the hawkish face of Margaret Thatcher on the screen, ‘Think ye might be right there Da. Quoting St Francis last week but that yin will no be good news for folk like us.’ He watched his old man for a second, his once jet black hair was now grey and the many lines on his face spoke of a hard life. Chronic back pain brought about by an accident at work had left him on the ‘Pat and Mick’ as he called long term sickness benefits and made walking for sustained periods difficult. At 59 he wouldn’t be a worker again and that had robbed him of a little of his dignity. Being unable to stand on the Terraces of Celtic Park because of his back trouble was another blow to him as he had followed the team since boyhood and passed on the affection he had for the Celts to Tony. ‘Think the Celts will do it tonight?’ his old man asked, glancing up from the TV. ‘Aye Da, they need tae. Billy will get them fired up and I’d fancy us against anyone at Paradise.’

They sat for an hour drinking tea and talking about football, politics and life in general. Since his mother had passed he made a point of seeing his old man whenever he could. The old fella didn’t get out much and Tony made sure he had his milk and papers as well as putting on his lines at the bookies for him. As it neared six o’clock Tony stood, ‘Need tae get moving Da, meeting the guys in the Four Ways soon. His old man nodded, ‘Good luck son, I know the Celts will get stuck in. If the Ref gies us a fair shake we’ll be OK.’ Tony leaned over and hugged his old man, ‘Right Da, I’ll drop by the morra and fill ye in on how it went.’ His father looked at him and nodded, ‘Mind whit yer Granda used tae say?’ Tony smiled and glanced at a photograph on the fireplace which showed three grinning, men from long ago, rifles slung over their shoulders. They wore rather scruffy uniforms and stood on a dusty road in the glare of a Spanish summer’s day. The middle of the three was his grandfather, Charlie, a veteran of the Spanish civil war. Tony turned back to his father and clenched his fist, ‘No Pasaran!’ His old man smiled, ‘That’s the spirit the Celts need tonight.’

A river of humanity flowed along the Gallowgate towards Celtic Park. Tony Reid was swept along with it, happy to be with great Celtic army which had backed the team so well in what was a strange season. Celtic had stuttered along losing too many games and looking very inconsistent. In December the snow had come as Celtic sat in the lower half of the table. That fierce winter of 1978-79 had seen Scotland grind to a halt for weeks on end as snow storms and freezing temperatures held the land in an icy grip. Celtic didn’t play a league match for almost 3 months and had to play virtually 2 games a week to catch up on lost time when the spring finally arrived. Their rise up the table had been meteoric and now it all came down to the final fixture with their oldest rivals; win this match and the title would be theirs.

As Tony reached the packed turnstiles at Janefield Street the crowd began to sing even louder than before. It was a song his father would have sung in the old days, a corruption of a hymn Tony had sung each March in school…

‘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 Valleys look down in thy love’

As Tony finally gained entry to the stadium and climbed the concrete stairs to the Celtic end he felt the butterflies in his stomach flutter. This was it, it was do or die. He squeezed into his usual spot near the front of the terrace, spotting the usual bunch of his friends standing where they always did. A huge roar told him the teams were entering the field of play. That emerald rectangle would be their field of dreams for the next 2 hours. What happened during this game would decide whether Celtic would face a barren season or pull off one of the most incredible comebacks in Scottish football history. The Jungle was in full voice and their songs spread around the three quarters of Celtic Park filled with green clad supporters. A deafening roar filled the bright, spring air as the game began. This was it; this was the defining moment. ‘Come on Celtic!’ roared Tony Reid as the play surged towards the Celtic end, ‘Intae them!’

Less than a mile away old Tommy Reid sat by his window listening to the roars from the stadium which drifted over the now quiet east end streets. He opened the window to let some air in noticing how much louder the noise from Celtic Park was when he did so. He had forgotten to tell Tony to bring him batteries for his radio and had no idea how things were going in the season’s decisive game. He had taken his medication for his back pain and sat in an old armchair which was frayed but comfortable. He missed going to see his team but it was simply too painful to stand at the match. It had been such a large part of his life; you worked hard for five days and on Saturday you went to see the Celts and had a few pints with your mates. That was his ritual for decades and how he missed it.

The tablets often made him drowsy and he nodded off with the sounds of the distant struggle at Celtic Park still filling his head. He slept for what seemed a moment but the gathering darkness told him it had been much longer. A voice called to him from the Street below, ‘Da! We done it! We fuckin done it!’ It was Tony shouting up at his window. Old Tommy focussed his eyes and looked down to the street. Tony was there, a delirious smile on his face. He stood with a dozen or so of his friends all in their Celtic shirts and scarves. One waved a flag as they began to sing and jump up and down under an old Celts window…

‘We are the champions, we are the champions,
We are the champs, we are the champions
‘We are the champions, we are the champions,
We are the champs, we are the champions!’

Other Celtic fans passing joined the small band and chanted with them, filling the street with song. The old man smiled down on them tears falling from his eyes. He was lost for words and just grinned at them, his fist clenched into the salute he had learned from his father. It may have been a political gesture during the Spanish civil war but it fitted days like today well. Celtic would fight to the final whistle, give their all for those fans who often had nothing but then again when they had Celtic, they had everything.

Old Tommy nodded and mumbled almost to himself, ‘No Pasaran, Tony, no Pasaran!’


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