Sunday, 26 February 2017

Full Circle

Full circle

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I post pictures of players, characters and incidents which illustrate the history of the remarkable football club we follow. Of course I also post many pictures of the magnificent supporters who give life to the club and have been its beating heart since 1888. A week or so back I posted a picture of a fresh faced, teenage girl holding a Celtic scarf above her head. The fashion and hair-cuts told me it was the 1970s and the picture illustrated so well that bond of affection so many of us have with Celtic. It was amazing for me to be contacted by a fellow Celt on Twitter called Joe Dolan who was in turn genuinely astonished that he had just seen a picture of a girl who was to become his wife. It was a real blast from the past for Joe and stirred memories of times long gone. We chatted about the girl in the picture and I soon learned the story of Jacky, an Easterhouse lass with a passion for Celtic.

Joe, in common with many Celtic supporters got the bug young. He first watched the side play in that wonderful year of 1967 and as he grew he was soon following the Celts everywhere. Those of you of a certain vintage will remember the ‘Football Special’ trains which would take fans up and down the country to away games. Joe and his friends made good use of them to back the bhoys and his lifelong love of the Hoops was soon established. At home games he’d frequent the old Celtic end and it was an education of sorts in those days for any lad being introduced to the rough comradeship of the terraces. It was a time when alcohol played a big part in terrace culture and few women would be found in what could be a tough and very masculine world.

However as 14 year old Joe attended just about every home game, he soon got to know the faces of the regulars around him at Celtic Park. One was a girl called Jacky who attended games as part of a big group of Celtic supporters from the sprawling Easterhouse scheme which perches on the eastern edge of Glasgow. In the 1970s Easterhouse was caricatured as a place of gangs, violence and despair. For those who didn’t frequent such places, it could sound a daunting area but for those who lived there, it was also the home of many decent, hard-working folk who did their best in difficult circumstances. Joe soon got to know Jacky and saw her not just at home games but also on their frequent trips on the ‘football specials’ to see Celtic away from home. It took him a while, but he finally asked her out at Cappielow in May 1974 in a game played a few days after Celtic had completed the Double by beating Dundee United in the cup final. There was no internet, no mobile phones in those days and most relationships began with someone having the courage to simply ask the other person out. Joe was glad he did.

Joe and Jackie were engaged in 1975, married in 1976 and saw the arrival of their daughter, Jenny in 1977. Their passion for Celtic never waned although running a home and keeping a wee one made money tighter and watching the Hoops was not the weekly routine it had been before. As Jenny grew and Joe got a steady job in the Fire Brigade things improved and Joe was soon introducing his daughter to all things Celtic. Jacky went to College and also took a job as a Steward at Celtic Park. As a passionate Celtic fan she loved mixing with the fans and occasionally getting to meet some of the player she had idolised. She would tell Joe of her work in the executive area of the main stand where she would find seats for players’ wives and chat to characters like Bertie Auld or Jimmy Johnstone.

Jacky was also a politically aware young woman who was heavily involved in trade union activism and was for some years the only female delegate on the local Trades Council. She was also one of the organisers of the Scottish Committee for peace in Ireland and made a presentation to Gerry Adams at a ‘Go for Peace’ meeting in Govan in 1995. She even shared a drink from a silver Quaich with the Sinn Fein President at that meeting an event she remembered fondly. Little known to many who attended that meeting though were the problems she was having with her health. She had been diagnosed with cancer in 1993 and after extensive treatment seemed to be on the road to recovery. However as time went on and Celtic toiled during the season they played at Hampden as Paradise was rebuilt, she worried that she might not get back to her beloved Celtic Park. She fought as she had done all her life though and returned to her Stewarding duties in the new stadium, this time in charge of the temporary stand which sat behind the goal where the old Celtic end had been for over a century.

In videos of the time on YouTube she can occasionally be glimpsed among the fans behind that goal doing her job but also sharing their joys and despair about events on the field. She had stories to tell Joe about the Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame and their antics at a Rangers game. Or the time she had to stop Pierre Van Hooijdonk jumping into the crowd after a goal. She was with her people and was never happier but alas the illness which she had fought so courageously returned and her health deteriorated rapidly. Celtic were great to her and allowed her to carry on the work she loved doing at the stadium, they even had a steward appointed to look after her as her health waned.

Jacky Dolan died on a cold autumn day in 1996. She was just 38 years old.

Following her funeral hundreds of her friends, family and comrades from the Trade Union movement gathered at one of the lounges at Celtic Park to show their respect for this courageous and well respected woman. Celtic showed how they valued her by hosting the event without charge. The following weekend Celtic hosted Aberdeen and Joe recalls the U2 song ‘With or without you,’ which Jacky had requested be played at her funeral, belting out of the Celtic Park public address system in her honour. He admits that the tears flowed as the teams came out. It was fitting that Paolo Di Canio’s goal won the match that day. Jacky would have liked that.

The story had come full circle. The Easterhouse girl who used to stand on the terraces and cheer her team on was remembered fondly by those who knew her and those who loved her at the home of the club which meant so much to them all.

Today Jacky, like so many others who loved Celtic, is remembered on a brick at the stadium which is just under the banner of Jock Stein adorning the corner of the stand which bears his name. Her name is just above that of that other friend of the poor, Brother Walfrid. She’d like that. People like Joe and Jacky are the heart and soul of Celtic. Since the club’s inception at a meeting in St Mary’s in November 1887, it has been the place of many fine players to bring it honour and win it plaudits. However, it is the great mass of ordinary supporters down the years who literally built this club and who sustain it still. They infuse it with passion and raise it to levels it could never have attained without them. They truly are Celtic and Celtic is them.

I often write of the great players it has been my privilege to see playing for Celtic but today I honour an ordinary fan; a woman like so many others down the decades who made the best of what were often hard lives. For two or three hours on a Saturday we could all be transported away from our cares and worries as we watched the team we hold dear play football the Glasgow Celtic way.

God bless you Jacky and rest in peace.

Jacky Dolan (1957-1996)

                                                         This one's for you......


  1. A beautiful story. Ordinary people, united in our love for an extraordinary club.
    Thank you.

  2. Heart warming story. Must take a walk round this side of the stadium at the next home game. Born,live,love and die Celtic.

  3. I really miss all my celtic friends that are unfortunately not with us anymore, always in my heart

  4. Brought tears to my eyes remembering my comrade Jackie. Here is a piece I wrote on her first anniversary

    1. Thank you Jeanette, a heartfelt tribute to a lady I never met but wish I had. She sounds like a thoroughly decent person who put others before herself. Such folk are the backbone of so many working class communities. She would be proud that so many remember her with such affection. HH

    2. a touching story jeanette, you came immediately to mind, before i realised you wrote the tribute, you did her proud,hope you are well.HH

  5. Lovely story it's what makes celtic so special

  6. Fantastic story about one of those amazing characters that make Celtic "more than a club"

  7. Yet again a beautiful and touching story . Fans are lifeline off the club. HH jacky. RIP