Archive | May, 2017

Celtic was my First love and It will be my Last

25 May

My title is a paraphrase of a 70s John Miles song called simply “Music”, a cracking and memorable tune. I would share John’s adoration of music, I doubt he’d share my adoration of Celtic. But then again, many don’t and that’s ok, we all fall for our own clubs for whatever reason.

What I want to try and relay to these folk who for some reason despise Celtic, despite the admirable and crucial reason Brother Walfrid set up the club, which was to attempt to feed, clothe and help the poor and destitute folk of Glasgow  ( many Irish and of Irish descent), this ideal that continues 129 years on, it is primarily for me the deeds of the Lisbon Lions 50 years ago today that started my love affair with Celtic Football Club.

I was eight months old when Billy McNeill held the Big Cup aloft, alone among chaotic scenes in Lisbon’s Stadium of Light. It would be for my fourth birthday or slightly before when Celtic came into my life. My mother’s sister was living in the UK having married a Dundee United fan. Ma came home from her visit to my auntie with three football shirts for three sons (my sister was about 18 months glint away though in dad’s brown eye).  Arsenal, Celtic and curiously, Stoke were the shirts.  As the baby of the three, the green and white hooped one was mine, immediately.

Having taken possession of this random top, my Dad, a fine full back, comfortable with either foot and who played for Ireland Schoolboys in 1950 against Johnny Haynes, started to tell me about Celtic. He spoke of the great Jock Stein, of the sparkling football he read about (televised football, indeed televisions at all, were a rarity) and he explained to me that Celtic had been the first British team to lift the coveted European Cup. He told me of this wee wing wizard named Jimmy Johnstone, aka Jinky. Dad told me he was small, brave, strong, but utterly mesmerising. My Dad didn’t follow any team, but he loved good football and skilful footballers. Jinky fitted the bill for Dad, that did for me.

I immersed myself in Shoot Magazine, pasting up any Shoot pic I could get on my wall. I never missed a Football Focus or an On the Ball in case some highlights of a Celtic game were shown. European nights on BBC’s Sportsnight sometimes showed a few minutes of Celtic. I can still see Atletico Madrid kicking the shit out of Jinky in 1974 (I think was the year) and having three sent off in a 0-0 draw. Maybe this was the catalyst for my insane passion during games as Atletico’s barbarism enraged me. Celtic lost the second leg.

I can see another Sportsnight clip as the late and tragic Johnny Doyle rose like a salmon to head Celtic 2-0 in front over Real Madrid. Celtic lost 0-3 in Madrid. These clips and the scarcity of televised action added to the mystic passion I had for Celtic.

Then in 1981, my birthday present as a 15 year old was a trip to Paradise to see Celtic take on Trapattoni’s Juventus in the European Cup. It was then that I got the tradition, fervour and pride of Celtic on  European night. I was transfixed. Juve possessed Zoff, Cabrini, Scirea, Tardelli and Bettega. Nine months later, most of that team would win the 1982 World Cup. Juve also had Liam Brady. The reception he got at Celtic Park will stay with me forever. Celtic won 1-0. Of course they did. This was a European night in Celtic Park, this is what happened. Murdo McLeod scored late on. I didn’t need the Aer Lingus flight home as I floated back with the memory of a Tommy Burns midfield masterclass.

This 1981 team and every team since is inspired and maybe intimated by the Lisbon Lions. It took to about 15 years ago to finally see the 1967 final from start to finish. I was gobsmacked with what I saw. 2-1 was a ridiculous score. Celtic absolutely annihilated a massively successful Inter team. It was wave after wave of Celtic attacks and goal chances that poured in on Inter’s goal. Keeper Sarti threatened to break our hearts but the relentless skill, passing, confidence and guts of Stein’s team overhauled a half time deficit to utterly murder the defensive Catenaccio game so loved by Helenio Herrera’s Inter. Jinky was my hero, but while he was excellent in that final, as all eleven were, the performances of Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch really caught my attention. Auld was silky, elegant, lovely touches and balance, while Murdoch was simply a Rolls Royce and Mercedes combined. What a performance he gave. I’ve watched this game back dozens of times. It us truly brilliant and is surely the greatest performance in a European Cup Final. Watch it and come back to me before rightly mentioning Barcelona in 2011 and the Milan team of Gullit, VanBasten, Rijkaard and Baresi.

So as the 50th anniversary today of Lisbon comes to a close, I make no apology for all my tweets and Facebook posts. This will never happen again, where 11 young men from a thirty mile radius of each other will conquer Europe. So thanks Ronny, Jim, Caesar, Clarky, Big Tam, Jinky, Willie, Bobby Murdoch,Bertie, Stevie and Bobby Lennox and Big Jock. .  Thanks man and dad for the shirt and education.

But Thank You Celtic.