Celtic memories

 

by Andrew Else

“You can feel the hatred in the air”

 

I can’t say I had ever previously (or ever since) heard this phrase used as a selling point to a sporting event. Clearly I was venturing into unchartered territory.

 

The year was 2004 and I had just commenced the customary post-uni, pre-responsibilty sojourn to the UK. My first stop was Glasgow, Scotland, where I reconnected with folk that I hadn’t seen since a family holiday over 13 years previous. My Mum had left these shores over 30 years ago, and although many of her friends and family followed her to the sunny place, there were still plenty of relatives around to show me all that the European City of Culture (1990) could offer.

Being of the same age (give or take), my cousin Michael took it upon himself to show me these offerings. Firstly, he took me to the pub, next, he took me to the football.  As with most of my family, Michael is a Celtic fan. Actually, is fan the right word? Put it this way, at the time, he was 20 years old and had seen The Hoops live in London, Brussels and Seville, was a long-term season ticket holder…and the walls of his bedroom were painted green and white.

I had arrived in Glasgow just before Christmas, which meant I was instantly thrust into the world of family gatherings. You must remember that since it is single digit degrees outside, most of these events involve sitting around in the lounge room talking (loudly) and laughing (even louder). There are no games of backyard cricket, no kick-to-kick and no way you can be without a drink. As the hours roll on, talk turns to football. Now obviously this is more than common in our town, except in this instance, you don’t have the knockabout uncle that goes for Collingwood, the loveable aunty that goes for the Dees and the 8 year old cousin screeching ‘Buddy’ in a piercing, primal way that instantly takes you back to those running, bouncing goals. In this lounge room, everyone follows The Bhoys, and everyone has an opinion…a serious opinion. As I watched these opinions grow more fierce, I noticed a change in my cousin. Michael had gone from Jack-The-Lad to a wide eyed, fire breathing passion pit. I think he was lambasting the goalkeeper, but I’m not so sure.

 

Through my Uncle’s lending of his season ticket, I was able to attend a game in between Christmas and Hogmany. Celtic ‘gubbed’ Hibs (from Edinburgh) 6-0 and I was very satisfied with my day out. Since Michael’s seats were in the next bay (probably not a bad thing), I sat in my uncle’s seat , where I was immediately struck by the fact that the crowd around me was almost exclusively male. Not only that, the average age would’ve been 55 (including my 22 year old self).

 

In the days following the Hibs game, it became apparent to my uncle that I had appreciated my experience and that I was keen for more. At the dinner table the next night, Michael floated the idea of me using my uncle’s ticket again for the next home game….Celtic v Rangers. Now I knew that this was something altogether different, and I acted accordingly. I started to engage in a textbook display of the ‘oh no, I couldn’t possibly’ dance. Not once did I smile, I shook my head with purpose, I lifted my hands, pointed my palms to the table and moved them back and forth, back and forth..’I know how important it is Uncle Will’….’It’s live on TV anyway’…’You’ve been so generous already’. Fortunately, Uncle Will was agreeable and said I was free to use his ticket, with the disclaimer that I owe him ‘Big Time’. He didn’t smile when he said that. I know now where Michael gets ‘that’ look from.

 

Michael was nervous in the lead-up to the game. He says that he has trouble sleeping, trouble focusing on Uni and by all appearances, trouble putting together a coherent sentence. Finally, on January 2, the day arrived.

 

As we drove to the ground for the midday kick-off (the early start nominally lowers the level of ‘anti-social behaviour’), I am struck (as I was for the Hibs game) on the neighbourhood Celtic Park is located in. I will just say that Abbortsford in the 30’s couldn’t have been less appealing. Due to this, when you park your car in street, a kid aged between 6 and 9 will run up to you and say ‘watch yer motor mister?’ At this point (I learned), you hand over a pound coin or two. Apparently this ensures that your car will not be touched for the rest of day…

 

Walking up to any ground is always a wonderful experience for me. Whether it is trekking up Napier st with Dad and carrying my milk crate to stand on, ambling through Birrang Marr or bracing the icy wind outside Southern Cross, the feeling of excitement is always there. On this day in Parkhead it was no different. There was singing, flags waving and that buzz you get before a big game. There was one major difference though: not one opposition fan. Being a derby game, one whole side of the ground is sectioned off so the away fans can come in and out without incident. This side of the ground is guarded by mounted police and, once in the stadium, these fans have to wait until the area is clear before they leave.

 

Pre-game, the usual songs of ‘Fields of Athenry’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ are played over the tannoy. I am impressed by the singing, the colour and the passion. To my right are the Rangers fans and as you can see in the photo, they are separated by police from the base to the top of the stand. While the Celtic fans sing, the Gers fans whistle, wave their flags and sing chants of their own. Both sets of fans have been brought to task over the years for sectarian singing, but I can’t really tell from where I’m sitting what the boys in blue are coming up with.

 

Having taken up the same seats as the Hibs game, I can instantly see that everyone is much more serious this time around. This feeling is instantly reinforced less than one minute into the game as an obvious (even for me) call of offside against the home team causes every one of the middle-aged men around me to leap out of their seat and direct language the colour of the opposition’s shirts towards the man in black. Soon though, the game settled into a rhythm and it became clear that Celtic (thankfully) were the better side.

 

By the 19th minute, Celtic’s dominance was reflected on the scoreboard, with a goal by Petrov (the days of the team being filled of Glaswegians have clearly long gone). Cue bedlam. I would love to be able to describe the waves of green and white exploding before me, but in fact all I could see was a barrage of tweed and raincoats engulfing my vision as my new found cronies enveloped me in a tobacco and whisky-scented blanket of joy. The men around me, who had probably been to hundreds of these contests, were jubilant.

 

The second half was a procession. Varga and Thompson (an Englishman) scored to make it 3-0 and it was a happy day. I know that for a fact as the tannoy played the ‘Happy Days’ theme tune at the conclusion of the game. Needless to say everyone around me knew the words.

 

As we walked towards the car, Michael was pumped. One aspect of the walk out of the ground was, again, the absence of opposition fans. Obviously in this scenario it makes perfect sense to separate the fans, but I did miss that little buzz you get when you walk around the MCG and catch a glimpse of the opposition. This emotion can range from pity (Roos fans) to vengeance (Blues/Pies), and it certainly doesn’t require any words to be said, but I could now see it for the privilege that it is.

 

Once we got in the car (which obviously hadn’t been touched, given our 2 Pound investment), we engaged in what must be a worldwide tradition of flying the scarf out of the window. With the green and white colours piercing the freezing Caledonian winds and The Pogues blasting out the speakers, we set about planning our evening. Or at least I think that’s what we were doing. Most of Michael’s contributions ranged from ‘on ye go Big Man’ to ‘oh ho eeeeaasssaaaaay’ to ‘hoo aboot a few cheekys…mon the hoops!’

 

As we got closer to our destination, we set upon a red light. As we stopped, Michael realized that we’d pulled up to ‘The West End Inn’. With the front all decked in blue, it was clear that the strains of ‘Dirty Old Town’ would not be appreciated. Quick as a flash, the stereo was off, the scarf was reined in, and after a nervy ten seconds, we pulled away.

 

Quite an experience.

About Andrew Else

Andrew has self-reported to this site as a lifetime Essendon supporter. He also played local footy for Lara and Melbourne Uni Blacks.

Comments

  1. I remember seeing the Hoops win the ’85 Cup. I’d somehow come to Glasgow with my mate Frankie Donnelly, a mad Celts fan (still is, in fact – Frank runs Celtic Decor, a painting/decorating business in Melbourne’s Eastern ‘burbs).
    Memories, for a variety of reasons are sketchy. We were certainly in a pub pre match, the Duntiglennan in Clydebank, near the notorious Gorbals I think – with a mass of men variously called Pat or Jimmy. Sometimes amongst the din I’d notice a nod and wink towards me which would indicate another trove of drinks. One emotional bloke, mistakenly overwhelmed that I’d crossed the world to be with him, foisted his treasured Lisbon Lions scarf on to me! Now I had serious cred. My name appeared to be “Lad”.
    I recall the mosh as the gates were pushed down outside Hampden while officials battled to deal with the 60,000+ plus who’d arrived all at once.
    Green dominated the terraces, with just a wedge for Dundee United.
    I’m sure Dundee led but, with Roy Aitken pushed forward and Paul McStay and Frankie McGarvey being saluted, the Bhoys came back to win.
    I clearly remember hoping Celtic would not score again. The push down, in to the crash barriers, was suffocating. (This sadly, was to be the year of terrace disasters).
    I reckon we got the train back to London that night, saluting the Bhoys in the words of Pope John XXIII –

    Hail Hail, the Celts are here,
    What the hell do we care,
    What the hell do we care,
    Hail Hail, the Celts are here,
    What the hell do we care now…

    For its a grand old team to play for,
    For its a grand old team to see,
    And if you know the history,
    Its enough to make your heart go,
    Nine-in-a-row

    We don’t care what the animals say,
    What the hell do we care,
    For we only know,
    That there’s gonna be a show,
    And the Glasgow Celtic will be there.

    Sure it’s the best darn team in Scotland
    and the players they are Grand,
    “We support the Celtic”
    ‘cos they are the finest in the land.
    We’ll be there to give the bhoys a cheer
    When the League Flag flies,
    And the cheers go up ‘cos we know the Scottish Cup
    is coming home to rest at Paradise.

    ——————————————–

    I’m not going to the “friendly” – they are invariably rubbish. Ironically, my son’s going along to his first Celts game, barracking for the Victory.
    No doubt, though, I’ll flick on to FOX at some stage and be transported back to that Wonderland in ’85.

  2. johnharms says:

    Black and white TV disguised the green of the hoops so we just assumed Celtic was Scottish Geelong in our household. That’s when I was about 9. They became ours. Not that I have followed them closely – just a passing interest.

    I do love Glasgow as a city though, and travelled there briefly in 1993. I love that it is the city of St Mungo. Mungo means to forage around in the rubbish. (Hence the generations of Maccallums I suppose – political reporters in Canberra).

    St Mungos Museum of Religious Life and Art was one of the more interesting places I visited in Britain. Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross is there. one of my favourite works of art.

    Andrew, I really enjoyed your yarn. Thanks.

  3. Phantom says:

    JTH,

    I like all the hoops.

    Queens Park Rangers (now back in the Championship) the Rabbitohs, Celtic as well as you know who.

    I was, however shattered recently to see Joffa (Jockka) in a Celtic top and scarf. Uuurrrrgggghhh!

  4. QPR now in Premiership….first game home v Bolton 13/08

  5. Phantom says:

    Right Crio. It’s been so long I forgot how to say Premiership.

    Not much noise coming from the recruitment department. We may be Yo Yo’s.

  6. smokie88 says:

    Great yarn, Andrew…
    Football in Britain is certainly a different experience.

    By the way, was this young fella there at the game?…..

  7. Phantom says:

    Eh, smockee,

    I deena av a fookin clu wet the-wooz chantn, boot ewis bangn me boots in taem.

  8. Dave Nadel says:

    Great piece, Andrew It brought back memories of the time I attended the New Years Game at Parkhead. That was January 1973 when they had won nine championships in a row and the Celtic fans sang “Hello, Hello, Nine in a Row” to the tune of a Gary Glitter song. They also sang “jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh What fun it is to f*** the Huns on New Years Day” In 1973 most of the crowd stood, packed like sardines.

    It was all very similar to where I spent winter in Melbourne – the outer at Victoria Park. Except that they didn’t search you coming the the turnstiles at Vic Park in the 70s. Mind you, despite the searches, which were for alcohol as well as weapons, Brian, who was a mate of my host, Jimmy, had managed to smuggle in a hip flask of scotch, which was much appreciated in the cold of a Glasgow January.

    Of course Joffa supports Celtic, many Pies fans do. We also support South Sydney. It isn’t about hoops. It is about working class clubs who in the twentieth century (particularly the first half of the twentieth century) were powerful football clubs representing powerless communities. The fact that they have been taken over by millionaires like McGuire, Russell Crowe and whoever currently owns Celtic doesn’t change the past…or our loyalties.

    I hope to get to another New Years day at Parkhead (Parkheid) before I die.

  9. Andrew Else says:

    Thanks knackers’

    The best chant I’ve heard of was in the 90s after Rangers keeper Andy Goram was diagnosed with schizophrenia:

    ‘Two Andy Gorams, there’s only two Andy Gorams….’

  10. Phantom says:

    If you are into working class clubs Dave you had better switch from the Boutique Pampered Pies to the Cats.

  11. Dave Nadel says:

    Read my post properly Phanto – I said (the present) …..”doesn’t change the past…or our loyalties” And I don’t see all that much working class about the chosen club of Geelong Grammar and College graduates, sponsored for almost a century by the most violent strikebreakers in the US (Ford) and playing on a ground sponsored by a”labour hire” (scab) company.

  12. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Touche Dave !

  13. Mark Doyle says:

    A good story Andrew. A reminder that footy culture is the same in most parts of the world.

    I have no interest in Scottish soccer, but for me Glasgow has produced some great folk singers like Dick Gaugan. I also think that other great singers such as Eddie Reader and Dougie MacLean might be from Glasgow.

    With respect to the banter on which club is the most representitve of the working class, I am reminded of robust debate in the CPA 30-35 years ago about the what and who is working class. There was also a great satirical skit on the TV show “The Frost Report” with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett about class. Can anyone tell me where in the AFL rules or the Australian constitution or some other set of rules that requires membership of either the working class, the middle class or the upper class to be a footy supporter?

  14. Andrew Else says:

    Was down the Celtic end tonight with Joffa 5 rows in front.

    I would say that I had mixed emotions when he put the gold jacket on, but i didn’t. I still couldn’t stand him.

    Thankfully, he wasn’t given much attention. About 8 years too late I’d say.

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