The Celtic Way

I’ve always had a slightly selfish, ambivalent streak as far as charity events go. By this I mean, like most other people, I’m happy to turn up & chip in, but I’ve never really had much of an interest or inclination in becoming involved, always citing some excuse or other & hoping that whatever I contributed, usually financially, was being matched elsewhere by someone with the aptitude & skills required to actually pull a complex, multi-dependency event together successfully. As I’ve gotten older, and particularly through seeing the examples of what’s gone into pulling together events that my kids have been involved with through schools & clubs locally, I’ve had a little more insight into the challenges & obstacles that need to be overcome to make major events a success for all involved, and consequently I’ve been slightly more willing to come out of my comfort zone and help a little. I’m never going to be a front man kind of guy, that’s just not me at all, but the value of just giving up a few hours of your own time now and again to help those that help real people day-in, day-out has dawned on me a little more as I get to an age and place in my life where you possibly become a little more reflective, a little less ballsy, and a bit more vulnerable to situations where you start to realise the very thin lines that exist between being able to help with charitable endeavours if you can, and being in a position where family or friends might need help from these very same types of organisations at some point.

Saturday was an interesting case in point for me: I’d been aware for some time through a friend I’d met via Celtic’s online/ social media community that plans were afoot for a further Foodbank Collection at Celtic Park: the fact that foodbanks need to exist in any modern, supposedly civilised society is a source of national shame for us all, but its good to see people banding together to help those in society who might need a helping hand whether temporary or longer-term, and this cause in particular resonates with many of us who have an inkling of the history & origins of the Club. It wasn’t until a few days before however that it struck me, following reading a few appeals via social media for helpers on the day, that it would be easy for me to come through to Celtic Park (I was coming anyway FFS!) and offer an extra pair of hands to support those who, lets face it, were doing a damned sight more than most of us every day to help people who really need support. One brief text later, I knew where & when to be on the day, with a very rough idea of what I’d be doing.

I’m involved with one of the online Celtic social media accounts which gave me an opportunity to help a little in advance of the day by getting some of the key information about the day into the public domain: an event like Saturday’s is wholly dependent on the goodwill of others to make it a success, and the best way to ensure that is available is publicity. The good thing about the reach of the various Celtic-related social media platforms, official and fan-managed, is the sheer number of potential attendees at Celtic Park you can reach in the run-up to a game to help get the information out for people to read & decide whether they are able to contribute. That’s a key thing for me for future events: it literally takes seconds to retweet or repost information that could potentially help increase awareness & therefore the chances of a successful day, all of us with social media accounts can play a part with very little effort to help with that.

My awareness of the previous Foodbank Collections at Celtic Park was vague and a little limited: I could recall them happening, but I wasn’t sure exactly how ‘official’ they were in terms of active Club support, and I recalled some social media chatter about how difficult the logistical side of organizing, collecting, transporting, sorting & distributing the collected items could be. This time round, I was aware that the Celtic FC Foundation were heavily involved and, via a friend of mine involved in the organisational effort, got a little prior insight into the sheer range of organisations from the Greater Glasgow area who stood to be potential beneficiaries of a successful day. I turned up at Celtic Park on Saturday probably a little unsure of what to expect of the day: I left pretty humbled.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny spring day in Glasgow, and this was my first learning: don’t come overdressed as you’ll be standing about in that heat for a LONG time, and bring a bloody hat if you’re bald! As I write this I’m doing a pretty decent impersonation of an overweight matchstick…the main collection point was to be at the Clover on the Celtic Way, and when I turned up at noon I found a smiling bunch of volunteers & Celtic Foundation staff, and an already-growing pile of shopping bags which people had deposited on the Clover. If you’re a regular attendee to Celtic Park, you’ll probably know that the period three hours before kick-off isn’t peak-time normally, with majority of fans arriving much later depending on their travel plans & pre-match drinking habits! However on Saturday the Celtic Way was already pretty busy with both fans & people manning various stalls the Foundation had organised to coincide with a Healthy Hoops event. It was enough to keep me away from the burger van I can tell you!

Within a few minutes I had my instructions for the day: myself and a small team (Krys, another Paul, Chloe & Isla) were dispatched to one of the two remote Collection Points at the other main access routes to the ground (ours was behind the Lisbon Lions Stand) and told to wait on the influx of fans with (we hoped) bags of items for the Collection. By about 12.30 we were in position, and over the first hour or so we had a steady stream of visitors turning up with bags & boxes of groceries, toiletries, Easter eggs, and in some cases hard cash. We had a particular moment of surprise when a car pulled up about 1pm and the driver deposited four laden cardboard boxes of every kind of household item under the sun with us. An absolutely amazing effort.

We’d been told to expect the arrival of a Golf Cart pulling a trolley which would allow us to fill and transport the items we collected back to the main Collection Point, however half an hour or so into our shift I got a call to tell us that the police had objected to this strategy & we would have to fall back to Plan B, which was to pile the donations up and await the arrival of a couple of vans from beneficiary organisations, which would arrive just after 3pm and we would fill them up direct from there. Lo and behold, that strategy was similarly abandoned as, yes you’ve guessed it, the police objected to that too! Another learning from the day: never underestimate the capacity for Police Scotland to invent nonsense traffic issues that hamper foodbank collections.

While the plans were changing rapidly, the steady stream of people arriving to donate was increasing: it was incredibly humbling to see so many fans, from all walks of life & ages from the very young to the elderly, getting involved in supporting the event so generously. There are too many individual acts of kindness I witnessed on Saturday from the donating fans to list them individually, but there were some very kind words as well as some very generous deeds. We’d started over time to spot people walking along Janefield Street with bags and moving out towards them to relieve them of their burden and return it to the collection: another learning here- many people bring plastic bags to football games for reasons other than foodbank collection, and not all of them appreciate 6ft4 guys with shaven heads trying to grab those off them! My favourite moment of the day was seeing the other Paul, at the urging of Tara from Glasgow NE Foodbank who was coordinating the efforts on the day & had popped round to check on us, try & grab a shopping bag off a blind man who, understandably, wasn’t for giving it up as he was walking home from the shops rather than donating to us! You live and learn…

By 3pm the steady stream of people had slowed to a trickle, amongst them one guy who was quite alarmed to see guys in luminous vests taking carrier bags off people as he assumed “yir takin’ folk’s cargo’s aff them!” Thankfully he had nothing to worry about as he’d clearly finished his…word then came through that The Feds had relented & yes, the golf cart & trolley would be arriving to pick up the donations, which was just as well as the thought of carrying them all round to the Celtic Way had the more dainty-framed of us (hi Krys!) a wee bit stressed. Within a few minutes we were joined by our colleagues from the Collection Point at the Jock Stein Stand who had just had their donations uplifted, and between us the trailer was soon filled and on its way back to the front of the stadium. As we walked back we heard the explosion of noise coming from inside as Stuart Armstrong scored the first goal, with everyone diving into their pockets for their phones to see if we could find out about it.

The final part of the day for me was at the Clover, where we helped unload the trailer for the last couple of vans who were waiting on us arriving. I didn’t see the full collection at its peak but I’m reliably informed the Celtic fans helped fill at least 17 vans with household items each- truly phenomenal. The logistical side of this had run like clockwork with the first of the vans rolling up the Celtic Way around 3pm and by the time I left at about 3.30pm there were only a handful of bags left to be loaded. A logistical triumph! I was in the ground and in my seat before half-time, tired, sunburnt, but very proud of the Celtic support and what I’d witnessed from them over the previous three hours or so.

Altogether, Saturday was a great experience for me & left me very humble at both the actions of the people who coordinate these organisations and what they do to help people daily, and also at what I’d seen for myself in the way the Celtic supporters had risen to the challenge of supporting the day. As I said earlier, I’d much rather live in a country where foodbanks weren’t required, but whilst they are, events like Saturday can really make a difference

A Man For All Seasons

Ah, that joyous day that comes once a year for Celtic fans…the Season Ticket Renewal announcement. After a very difficult and at times downright aggravating season, it’s been good to see that, this year, the Club have taken account both of the prevailing economic challenges most of us are facing, and also taken a degree of responsibility in acknowledging the patchy Return on Investment which we have had this season, in announcing a prize freeze across the board on Season Tickets.

I’ve highlighted many times I’m not a typical consumer, in that I’m more than likely to buy my season ticket regardless of outcome of on-field or off-field events: I’ve become a ‘lifer’, my brief absence from the club during my post-marriage ‘20’s resulting in me being even more determined now than ever to ensure that I get to as many games as possible between now and my eventual inevitable demise, hopefully at the record age of 150. Having said that, economically I still have to justify my outlay, as anyone does, to my family, in terms of what I spend following football v what that money could do as an alternative if I didn’t go. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford what I’m paying at the moment but I fully understand & appreciated the privileged position I’m in with that, when others who’d love to go can’t. From an economic perspective then, I think the club are doing ok with the prices announced today, but I’d still like to see a more innovative & dynamic strategy employed for marketing & getting tickets to those who maybe can’t afford a ST but, along with their friends & families, would like to be at as many games as they can. There’s some good ideas in the current package to help, but some smarter thinking in Celtic’s PR & Marketing offices could definitely do more.

I also understand, to a degree, the reluctance of some to buy or renew ST’s based on (a) mistrust of Scottish football authorities (b) mistrust of Celtic’s board or (c) a reaction to the general malaise that’s developed because of the perceptions arising amongst the wider support of some combination of the actions of (a) & (b) combined. I continue to have my frustrations on both, but increasingly I’m personally becoming convinced that the only way to achieve change in anything is to actively participate in it. I’m never going to tell anyone how to make their choices on how they spend their money and what they spend it on, but equally I don’t expect others to be telling me to do so either. Boycotts and withdrawal of financial support to force change are well-travelled paths with varying degrees of success, but ultimately are a fully valid means for anyone who wants to express their dissatisfaction to do so. If people are considering withdrawing their ST money from Celtic, that’s really unfortunate, but ultimately its their choice and I’m not going to be the one to tell anyone otherwise.

My only note of caution, whether it’s a palatable one or not, is that the party that stands to benefit most from a further decline in Celtic’s financial position is exactly the same one that sits at the root of most of the problems that have befallen Scottish football in the last 30 years (or, depending on your viewpoint, a version thereof of that party, playing at the same venue, with the same strips, and the same thoroughly unwholesome support base). Like it or not, that’s what we are dealing with. It’s a Catch 22 situation, and not a very pleasant one at that.

 
My wholly personal view is that there’s never been a more important time to back Celtic (if you can afford to do so), and I’m more than probably going down the blind faith & optimism route slightly by believing that we can get a coaching team & recruitment infrastructure in place that, for the first time in a few years, that can give us an entertaining & successful product on the park, can reflect value for money in what we invest and that we start to see a Return On Investment that can be measured not just on balance sheets but on the field of play, that realistically positions us as an ambitious & innovative club playing in a small pool but genuinely and actively trying to compete in a bigger one, and that conducts itself in the right way with its fans.

And finally, to the lucky people planning on taking up places in our innovative and eagerly awaited Safe Standing area: I’m seated directly above you, so try & keep the noise down ☺

Come in, Come Out Of The Rain…

I’ve been threatening to do this one for a while. Over the last few years, I’ve intermittently written a series of blogs on some of the records that, for a multitude of reasons, have had an impact on me down the years, usually positively. I’ve also managed to weave in numerous references to albums, and singles, and bands, into pretty much every other thing I’ve ever written, appropriately or otherwise. But, as I said, this is one I’ve referenced multiple times as ‘the unfinished blog’, usually in response to a Twitter reply after me posting, as I do with monotonous regularity, a YouTube link to one of the songs off this. So after changing my Twitter profile picture to the cover this week, and then being followed by someone who very kindly told me he’d done so purely because of this, I felt this was probably the right time to go ahead and finally, belatedly, finish it. So here we are. Sparkle In The Rain, and why I love it.

Conventional wisdom has it that Simple Minds had their Golden Period of fantastic album output between 1979-82, an incredibly productive period covering five (or six if you’re a pedant like me) albums of varying style but incredibly high quality: Life In A Day, Real To Real Cacophony, Empires & Dance, Sons & Fascination/ Sister Feelings Call, & New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84. Conventional wisdom, however, is very wrong: for a start, the first album is pretty pish, save a couple of fairly jaunty singles & the odd Roxy’s rip-off. However, from the second album onwards, they were soaring: RTRC & Empires are pretty glacial, echoing Kraftwerk & Eno, and foreshadowing New Romanticism a good year or two before it hit the mainstream. Sons & Sisters are pretty much one album, marketed bizarrely as two, but containing some of the greatest synth-pop you’ll ever hear. And New Gold Dream….nine songs, every one nothing less than a classic, almost a perfect pop album. But for me, that landmark 1982 belter wasn’t their peak: it was what came next, blending the experimental past with the stadium rock future they were beginning to aspire to. Sparkle In The Rain is the underrated, oft-forgotten classic that shows the band that Simple Minds could, should have become, if they hadn’t been seduced by the Hollywood Dollar and the Enormodomes.

I’ve been mocked mercilessly on Twitter in the past for calling Simple Minds 80-84 era the “Celtic Kraftwerk”, but to me it’s the best description I can muster. They were immense. Every album & single from that period means something, evokes images, throws shapes, whatever you want to call it. The run of singles from the albums preceding Sparkle In The Rain is up there in terms of quality with pretty much any band of the era: I Travel, The American, Love Song, Sweat in Bullet, Promised You A Miracle, Glittering Prize, Someone Somewhere In Summertime. By the time they started recording Sparkle, U2 had just hit big with War, & Big Country with The Crossing. The influence of these other Big Music Celtic bands, along with the likes of the Bunnymen alongside the on-going Bowie obsession, pushed them down a road that took them away from much of what had gone before. Sparkle caught them before they lost the plot: in a lot of ways it’s the last truly exciting & fresh thing they ever did.

I’ve a hugely personal reason for being grateful Sparkle In The Rain exists: the Barrowland. It’s a well-known tale that the venue was in virtual disrepair before some bright spark suggested filming the video for the first single off the album there: Waterfront, which evoked images of the Clyde & was pretty much the most ‘Glasgow’ thing Simple Minds had done to that point. Its unlikely that we would have subsequently seen the Barrowland become, quite simply, the best gig venue any of us will have had the opportunity to experience in our lives, if it wasn’t for that film shoot. I’ve spoken to a few people who were there who enjoyed it for what it was at the time, not realising they were bearing witness to the rebirth of what would go on to become a world-famous byword for atmosphere & a firm favourite of everyone who would have the privilege to go on and play there. From my own perspective, I’ve lost count of the bands I’ve seen there, the amazing gigs & experiences that came with them, the difference it’s made to my life. I’d need a separate series of blogs to do that justice. But it all started with the Waterfront video.

Beyond the Barrowland, my other abiding memory of Sparkle In The Rain at the time was the immense jealousy I had of my mate Kevin Cumiskey, who had ventured into Edinburgh to buy his copy on release, while I picked mine up from the tiny Record Department at the back of our local John Menzies store. As a result, Kev had managed to get a hold of the limited edition white vinyl copy, while mine was standard council-black. It literally took the shine off my copy, I was convinced his sounded better, as if magically the production went up a notch running through a white groove rather than a normal one. 32 years later, its still a topic of conversation on the rare occasions we meet up, with me negotiating to buy it from him, and him shaking his head & laughing at me in much the same way he has all these years. I could have bought an alternative copy on umpteen occasions down the years, but I won’t rest until I own that particular one. If he doesn’t leave me it in his Will, I’m going to be devastated…

The singles off Sparkle In The Rain were magnificent. Waterfront I mentioned above: that big thudding bassline that would become so recognisable over the years, the first appearance of the crashing drum sound, the repetition in the lyrics almost designed for communal stadium sing-alongs. It was a proper hit single, in a way that Simple Minds had never achieved before: previously they had released great singles but they weren’t really that commercial, they were effectively really strong album tracks that just so happened to be the best tracks to release. With Waterfront though, it sounded like a statement of intent. Speed Your Love To Me is still probably my favourite Simple Minds song, it’s really an amazing pop tune, propelled along by a brilliant guitar riff and a fantastic rhythm section. Jim Kerr actually sounds like he’s singing at the absolute edge of his range all the way through the album, and on that song in particular there are a couple of points where you think he might just lose it, only for him to just about keep it on the rails. I also still covet the brown leather blouson jacket he wore in the video. The Extended Version, which appeared on the 12”, is pretty much perfect, with added Kirsty MacColl. More on her later. The third single, Up On The Catwalk, opened the album with a crescendo of snares and the obligatory driving bassline. Aided by an absolutely bonkers lyric (Michaelangelo/ Robert De Nero) it was a joyous, loud, exciting bundle of noise.
Did I mention that Simple Minds had an absolutely amazing rhythm section? By far the biggest reason for me anyway in the subsequent artistic, if not commercial, decline of Simple Minds was the departure of Derek Forbes on bass. Christ, that guy could play…

So, Kirsty MacColl. She sings backing vocals on Sparkle In The Rain, and, as always, she’s brilliant in the context of the songs she’s adding colour to. But that’s not why she’s so important in my story. She was hired by Steve Lillywhite, at the time the go-to producer for any aspiring Celtic rock band, to reinforce the sound he was trying to create. They fell in love, and went on to marry and have kids together. Which is great. But, crucially, he’d go on a few years later, in a moment of inspiration, to suggest to Shane MacGowan that she would be the perfect voice to blend with his on a duet they were working on for the new Pogues album. So, if Sparkle In The Rain hadn’t existed, then Steve & Kirsty wouldn’t have hooked up, and Kirsty wouldn’t have met Shane, and Fairytale Of New York wouldn’t have existed. Think about that for a moment. Terrifying, isn’t it?

Another personal reason for me being grateful for the existence of Sparkle: I probably wouldn’t have gotten to listen to Lou Reed until much later in life. The album has a cover of Street Hassle which, to be perfectly honest, is the weakest song on the album. However, it was enough for me to go and seek out the original and from there start to delve into the rich history of Lou’s other solo stuff and, eventually, the Velvets. I might have got there at some point anyway, but I distinctly remember Sparkle as being the catalyst for me finding it when I was 15, probably at least a couple of years earlier than I would have otherwise.

Side One of Sparkle In The Rain is brilliant. It’s not quite Hatful Of Hollow good, but it has a right good go. Up On The Catwalk, followed by Book Of Brilliant Things, Speed Your Love To Me, Waterfront & closing with East At Easter. BOBT is a strange wee song, on the album its quite a hard-rocking tune, full of drama and indecipherable lyrics, its always been a favourite of mine. They would go on to transform it into a behemoth of a stadium rock tune on the 85/86 Tights & Beret Tour which kinda finished it for a long time in my eyes, but I really enjoy going back to listen to it now. East At Easter isn’t my favourite on the album, it slows things down considerably from the breakneck pace the opening four songs set, the saving grace is, again, you can tell Jim Kerr is putting everything he had into the vocals which gives you something to be interested in, otherwise it’s a fairly dull tune. I used to quite often listen to that side of the album on repeat, usually playing along on air drums…

Side 2 is considerably subtler that side 1, much closer to the New Gold Dream-era sound than the stadium-yearning tunes that precede it on the album. Street Hassle is a fairly straight cover, Kirsty’s backing vocals helping raise it slightly above ‘dirge’ level but its not brilliant by any means. Thereafter the pace picks up nicely to mirror side 1. White Hot Day is an underrated gem, melodic and upbeat & featuring some absolutely brilliant guitar by Charlie Burchill. “C” Moon Cry Like a Baby begins with an absolutely brilliant Michael MacNeil keyboard riff and some slightly unsettling heavy breathing by Jimbo, but develops into a quite excellent wee pop song. Very 1984 if you know what I mean, but I still really like it. The Kick Inside Of Me is, after Speed Your Love… up there as probably one of my favourite Simple Minds songs. It verges on being unhinged at points, with the guitar drifting in and out of feedback and the bass & drums going like the clappers while Kerr literally screams over the top of it. Its not even remotely punk, but you can tell that this is a band that has tried for a long time by this point to suppress its rougher edges, and is having a blast letting them come to the fore albeit briefly. The closer, Shake Off The Ghosts, follows the tradition set on New Gold Dream of having a dreamy, rhythm-led instrumental there to break up the conventional songs. Simple Minds did great instrumentals back then: Theme For Great Cities being the perfect example.

My first Simple Minds gig was during this period, at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1984. I don’t remember a great deal about it other than Jim Kerr wearing a rather fetching blue suit, and Derek Forbes being absolutely brilliant on bass. Far more memorable was seeing them during the New Year ’85 run of shows at the Barrowland, which still rates as top three in the greatest gigs I ever saw. They played a career-spanning greatest hits set, in an absolutely frenetic atmosphere, culminating in the arrival onstage of Bono to duet on New Gold Dream: we’d heard rumours he was in town but as with most of those had assumed it to be complete bullshit. But on he strode and the place went batshit crazy. I went on to see Simple Minds many times over the coming years but nothing matched the intensity, atmosphere or sheer joy of that gig. And I’m including seeing Johnny Marr play twice with them in that assessment.

So, Sparkle In The Rain. On the downside, it set the path that Simple Minds would follow for the next 15-20 years as they chased the dollar in stadiums, and churned out some quite frankly dreadful albums in the process, before belatedly coming to their senses at least slightly & embracing the period that really defined them as a truly great band. On the upside, it’s a band at the absolute peak of their powers, distilling the experimental and commercial in a balanced way they would quite honestly never achieve again.

And then, The Breakfast Club….

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A Long Time Ago, In A Cinema Not Far Away…

When I bought my current house a few years ago, I ended up, after a long time of envy & longing, with a spare room big enough to claim as an office- in reality, a man cave. Plans were drawn & redrawn for how this room would be furnished, with a particular emphasis on the artwork. I had a very fixed vision in my head of creating my Wall of Heroes, a series of canvas pictorial representations of some of the key cultural & sporting icons who had shaped me up to this point: at last count, and in no particular order of importance, this has grown to accommodate the cream of the crop as far as my childhood & adulthood idols go: Bowie (Aladdin Sane-era), Angus Young, Hooky & Barney, the Roses, Morrissey (representing the entire Smiths as the Salford Lads Club picture was out of stock at the time), George Best, and Our Lord The Blessed Henrik. However, there is only one canvas that has the honour of a whole wall to itself, standing out as it does as the first and longest-standing cultural game-changer in my life: Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and Han, blaster pointed over my shoulder as if to forewarn anyone thinking of causing me grief to think again. Star Wars, 38 years and counting as my first movie love.

As an 8-year-old kid back in 1977, I only really knew about this mysterious, glamorous space adventure that was coming to our shores from the occasional newspaper & TV reports as it swept across America, leaving a horde of excited kids & exasperated, skint parents in its wake. It was about 6 months between the US & UK releases back then, with no pirated home videos yet available to the masses, so everything I learned about the movie came from TV, papers, comics, Freemans catalogues, wherever I could get a wee bit info here and there. I knew who the bad guy was, some scary dude with a big head called Darth Vader, and had a sketched outline in my head of the good guys, as well as a strange little tingling sensation as I got to see pictures of the goddess-like Princess Leia.

I finally got to see the film in early 1978, a few weeks after it came out in the UK. My mum took me as a post-Christmas treat, which had formed part of my Christmas present: as a single parent family, going to the cinema was a big deal for us, as it involved a day trip into Edinburgh & expense we couldn’t normally afford. However my mum had pulled the stops out to make sure we could go & have our tea out afterwards, which again was unusual & the mark of a truly special occasion. On the day, we went in with the intention of seeing the 2pm show, but my heart sank when we arrived at the cinema (the ABC on Lothian Road) to find a queue halfway round the block and attendants telling the people towards the back they had no chance of making the 2pm. My mum went inside, emerging with a bag of sweets and a movie programme (yes, they used to have programmes!) and we made our way to the back of the queue, safe in the knowledge we were likely there for at least 2 hours, in freezing cold January rain, waiting on the 4pm showing.

We made it in for 4pm, just, and the rest is a blur: truth be told, I missed most of the subtle nuances that I’d come to obsess & debate over as an adult, just simply blown away by the scale & the noise & the sheer pantomime of it all. And, of course, by Leia. I treasured the programme for years after; its still in a box somewhere in my mums attic, along with the only two figures my mum could afford to buy me for my birthday that year, Luke & Vader, who hurriedly joined my improvised Rebel Force consisting of several Action Men, a model tank & my childhood teddy bear who ably stood in for Chewbacca as we fought to save the galaxy in my back garden all summer in 1978. Home video was non-existent then, and TV only showed movies 2-3 years after they left cinemas, but I remember the ITV premiere of Episode IV (as even then, us cool kids knew to call it) was only a few weeks before the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was due in cinemas. To say it whet the appetite was an understatement: by the time Empire was due, I was bouncing off walls with excitement.

Empire came out in May 1980, and I remember I was due to see it the week it came out but had blown the chance of that after being grounded for sneaking through to Glasgow with my pal to go to the Scottish Cup Final the week before: he’d told his mum & dad he was coming to mine to watch the game, I’d done likewise to my mum, while in reality we’d jumped on the supporters bus & travelled to the game, which Celtic won 1-0 over our then-rivals. All would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the pesky riot which broke out at the final whistle….anyway, this meant that I didn’t get to see Empire until the end of the following month, my birthday. By that time I’d read a few of the comics & novelisations & regarded myself as something of an expert in the ways of the Force. Even then, I was unprepared for the impact of Empire: it blew me away, not this time just down to the bombast, this time it was the story. The Han/Leia romance, Yoda & Luke, Han in carbonite…and Vader. Malevolent, terrifying, the baddest bad guy I’d ever seen on screen at that point. How the actual fuck could he be Luke’s dad??? My first philosophical discussions with myself were all based around this simple fact. I remember flying out to Germany the week I saw it, going to a football tournament with 40 kids, my first time away on my own, and all I could talk about with any enthusiasm or coherence was Empire. No wonder nobody wanted to sit beside me on the plane coming back.

Christmas 1980 was the first in the long-running “Have I Got The Millennium Falcon This Year?” saga. I knew in my heart of hearts my mum couldn’t afford it given she’d worked two jobs to send me on the football holiday, and I never asked for it either, but I secretly hoped some benevolent soul would take pity and give it to me. I’d have given literally anything for that. As I got older, and into the teenage years where you’d potentially slash someone for suggesting you’d like a toy for your Christmas, I still held onto the forlorn hope that I’d find it under the tree one year. As I moved out of my teens, into my early 20’s & married, I still dropped the subtle hints which, to this day and even after two fantastic kids who sadly like their mother wouldn’t recognise a subtle hint if it hit them between the eyes, it’s still an unrequited love. I could have afforded many times to buy it myself, either in toy or Lego form, but it just wouldn’t be the same. One day, one day…

By 1983, I was less obsessive about Star Wars, mainly as music and, latterly, girls had started to take up more of my time & interest alongside football. I wasn’t that bothered about Return Of The Jedi at the time, although yet again I was taken to see it by my mum at the end of June as a birthday treat and thoroughly enjoyed my day. It was a satisfying way to package up the trilogy in my mind, and I enjoyed the movie a lot, even with the Ewoks. I’d gotten past the stage by then of overtly courting & promoting the Star Wars universe as I’d calculated that (a) this would make me somewhat less attractive to girls, which I was already paranoid about & (b) more of a geek than I already appeared due to my glasses, obsessive musical interest & overall rubbishness in communicating with girls (see Point A). I got ready at that point to put Star Wars away & move on with the rest of my life…

I never really did though. Put the blame on VCR, as Buggles once said. By the time the movies came out on home video (none of your Lucas Special edition pish in those days, just released into the wild as nature intended), I had my own VHS player in my bedroom (my mum worked for Mitsubishi by now & got massive staff discounts on hardware) and the first three videos I bought from my first wages working in a bingo hall in Broxburn were the Star Wars trilogy. That’s when obsession kicked in. I only owned those three films, so I watched them relentlessly, to the point I could pretty much recite them verbatim on demand. These were my Bedroom Years, awkward teenager listening to The Smiths & watching sci-fi films is such a cliché, but that was how I spent my pre-girlfriend days then. As I got slightly older, and involved with members of the opposite sex, I weaned myself off the films slightly, but they were always there, throughout the 80’s and early 90’s as girlfriends came & went & then eventually became a wife who, unbelievably, liked to do other things outside watch Star Wars. Watching the movies became almost furtive, something done late at night or when Mrs T was out, and for a while I even flirted with Star Trek (TNG only!) but I couldn’t let those movies go. I never expected to see another one: the Trilogy was perfect as it was.

1999. I’d heard rumours of the prequels, then the title, The Phantom Menace, then the casting announcements, then the sickening realisation that the US would see it two months before the UK. Easily sorted: the US premiere coincided (kinda) with my 30th birthday: how about we take a holiday on the east coast to celebrate my big birthday? Don’t worry about the itinerary, I’ll sort that out…and so it was myself & Mrs T headed to New York for the first time, the first ‘big’ holiday we’d allowed ourselves since getting married, and in my mind only, totally contrived as an excuse to see Star Wars before my pals. I even booked a hotel in close proximity to the Ziegfeld Theater to ensure I could see it in as iconic a venue as possible, rather than the Times Square multiplexes. After a fantastic couple of days in NYC, interrupted bizarrely by an incident in the hotel involving a lesbian stalker, I finally sat down, excited like a stupid kid, to watch the movie I’d waited 16 years for…and it was pish. Total, unadulterated pish. To this day, I have no kind words or redeeming thoughts about the film. I’d flown the Atlantic, spent thousands manufacturing an excuse to be there, endured Macys & Saks & Bloomingdales…utter pish. Back to home, and to the trilogy.

I had a strange little interlude in 2001 when, through a friend at work, I ended up at an advance preview of the Star Wars exhibition that opened in Edinburgh that year, including a brief meeting with C3P0 himself, Anthony Daniels, who was opening the exhibition. From memory, he was, like his character, a bit of a dick. I also ended up being excruciatingly interviewed for BBC Scotland news that day, which thankfully was only broadcast once given how much of a total geekish prick I sounded on the day.

By 2002, I’d seen TPM again (and still hated it) but out of loyalty I went along to see Attack Of The Clones, nowhere more exotic this time than the Odeon Cinema on South Clerk Street in Edinburgh, taking a day off work to see it on the first day of release. It was marginally better than the first in the new series, but still pretty pants. The only redeeming feature for the geek in me was, of course, Yoda-With-Lightsaber, which thoroughly delighted me in a way it probably shouldn’t have. By this time, being internet-savvy in relative terms, I was aware of the general fanboy chatter around the whole saga & was growing to resent the name Rick McCallum in ways hitherto reserved for Graeme Souness. But hey, it’s a trilogy I reasoned, and being a prequel series I knew exactly where the story was going to end up. There was still fun to be had in getting there.

I went to see Revenge of the Sith, the then-final Star Wars movie, on the day of release in May 2005, coincidentally a couple of days before I flew out to New York again, this time for a U2 gig & subsequent Black Sunday watching Celtic collapse at the final hurdle at Fir Park, which I’ve previously documented in another blog. By this time I was a responsible grown-up, with a 4 year-old kid & a big mortgage & an important job pushing paper from one side of a desk to another. ROTS at least tried to take me back to the joy I’d felt watching the original trilogy: the story strands, although by this time much more convoluted than they needed to be, at least started to pull together, and the inevitability of Anakin’s descent into Vader, and the sheer horror that came with it, was quite moving. As a standalone movie its not great at all, but as a lead-in to the original trilogy it works well in setting the scene for what was to follow, although it actually preceded it by decades…again, a satisfying end to the series, something to share with the kids as they got older and started to understand what dad liked to watch when mum wasn’t watching Eastenders. I was happy at that point to say goodbye to it all again, and gently descend into middle age with the occasional rewatch & fond memories.

However…as I write this, over ten years after ROTS was released, and a week before The Force Awakens comes out, I’m back to being an unreconstructed fanboy. I’ve spent the last year voraciously reading & watching any snippet that has crossed my Twitter timeline on the movie, getting a lump in my throat at “Chewie, we’re home!” & getting involved with endless debates with similarly-geekish friends & acquaintances. And not a single fuck was given. I’ll be there next Thursday morning at the IMAX in Edinburgh, grinning like a Gary Mackay-Steven, hoping for the same kind of experience I had in 1977 but, even if it ends up like 1999, I’ll still be happy I’ve had this thing in my life all these years.

Oh, by the way…V…IV…VI…III…II…I. And I’ll be more than happy if VII comes in around the middle.

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Three Is The Magic Number.

There’s a lot of talk amongst Celtic fans just now about the possibility of this season yielding the domestic Treble of League, Scottish Cup & League Cup. Our next two games will go a long way toward determining our fate in the two cups, with an increasingly congested SPFL programme ahead to decide the outcome of our League challenge. It’s a tricky thing to achieve, especially for a Celtic side notoriously prone to concentration lapses & with a pretty dire recent record at Hampden. I’ve only ever seen us achieve the Treble once, in 2000/01: that season proved memorable for me in ways that can never be repeated, as much as I enjoyed the football I had some other stuff going on which, as hard as it is to believe, hugely outranked it in importance.

Martin O’Neill arrived at Celtic in early June 2000. At that point morale amongst the support was pretty low, having endured the largely painful preceding season of the Barnes/ Black/ Dalglish fiasco, Henrik’s leg-break, & the notorious Inverness defeat that was to keep tabloids & TV stations in raptures for decades to follow. I should have been brimming with enthusiasm at the arrival of one of the most admired & coveted managers in Britain, soon to be followed by multi-million pound signings the likes of which had never been seen at Celtic Park. I should have been, but I was distracted by some major challenges at work, which were making me spend 4-5 days a week down in That London. As well as that, I found out I was going to become a father for the first time. Never a dull moment round our place that summer…

The early part of that season for me was a bit of a part-time exercise if truth be told: I wasn’t able to attend midweek games because of work, and my weekends were pretty hectic & revolved around making sure my wife was ok & slotting in football if I could. I didn’t go to the 6-2 game, coming at the end of a particularly long & very stressful week I decided to watch it on the TV instead & spend the time I would have getting to & from the game at home instead. Great decision that one. As the season wore on, & the lead at the top of the table started to grow, I started to entertain fanciful notions that this might turn out to be a very special year for Celtic, recollecting that the last treble had been completed in 1969, the year I was born, therefore it was only natural & fitting that 2001, bringing with it the arrival of my progeny, would bring another. Thankfully I wasn’t conceited or anything.

The only midweek game I managed to make it to in the first half of the season was at Tynecastle, as we put a team out basically consisting of the youth team plus Lubo & horsed the Jambos 5-2 in the League Cup. The scoreline barely tells the story: it was one of the most entertaining & thrilling Celtic performances I can ever recall witnessing, certainly away from home, as a young team playing totally without fear utterly dismantled a fairly decent Hearts side in front of their own fans. I enjoyed that one immensely!

2000/01 brought with it another major event that had a big impact on me at the time, and still does. I was asked to be Godfather to my friends daughter, still probably one of the greatest honours I’ve ever been given. The godparent thing may be ceremonial mainly, but its very humbling to think that someone values you enough to ask you to take that role with their kid. I’m not sure I’ve been that great in the role to be honest, I’m not particularly great at keeping in touch with my friends & my recollection of birthdays is especially rubbish, but I still take the responsibility seriously & it’s a source of no little pride to see her turn into a confident & accomplished teenager.

My musical obsession at the time was Radiohead, with Kid A & Amnesiac neatly bookending the 2000/01 season in release dates. I was a big fan of the transition from anthemic guitar stuff to brooding, plinky-plonky soundscapes that began on OK Computer, and Kid A was the plinkiest & plonkiest mainstream album I could have anticipated. They played a big top tent on Glasgow Green in late September, with myself & my trusty sidekick Iain undertaking an eventful pre-gig pub crawl around the Gallowgate/ Barrowland area, culminating in an utterly mesmerising gig & a spectacularly failed attempt by Iain at blagging a backstage pass for afterwards. I still listen to Kid A regularly: it conjures up memories of travel, endless flights to and from London, the Underground, the hustle-bustle of the commute, lonely nights in hotel bedrooms eating really bad food & drinking lukewarm beer, stressing endlessly about work and home. I’m glad I don’t have to live that way now, but listening to Kid A strangely makes me realise it wasn’t anything other than a good time in my life. There’s a song on there, How To Disappear Completely, that I still tend to go to if things are getting too much: I read an old interview with Thom Yorke where he told the story of how he wrote it after a particularly bad bout of stage-fright, and it helps me to listen to it when I’m feeling anxious or have a sense of dread about anything on the horizon, usually professional-related. Music as therapy, cheap but effective.

By soon after the turn of the year, the Treble was on: the League was looking pretty much won, the League Cup semi final was coming up, and we started to make progress in the Scottish Cup. By that point I was on a ‘confined to base’ work pattern ahead of the new arrival, due early February: my boss at the time had given me some very sound and long-lasting advice about the real priorities in life, and as such had banned me from leaving Edinburgh until after the baby had safely arrived, something I was and remain very grateful for. This meant amongst other things that I was able to be at the League Cup semi-final against Rangers, managing to pick up a few tickets from a Falkirk-supporting friend of the family who had invested the previous year in Debenture seats at Hampden for him & his sons before realising he wasn’t likely to get much use from them outwith Internationals. The agreed protocol with the by-then heavily-pregnant Mrs T was that if she called, I came home immediately: I didn’t drive back then, so this would involve rushing to Queen Street Station as quickly as I could, from wherever I was, to get the next train home. The phone went about 6pm as I stood in a bar in St Vincent Street prior to heading down to Hampden: I froze then, extremely nervously, answered as I moved towards the door. “Is everything ok? Is it happening??” I spluttered, absolutely bricking it as I stood on the pavement outside the pub. “This was a test. Enjoy the game!” came the reply.

The game itself was brilliant: Henrik’s lob over Klos, arguably better than the 6-2 goal given he then rounded him & blasted it into the empty net on the volley, and the mass brawl at the end when the game was already won, were particular highlights. The 3-1 win got us to our first Final under MON & set us up for the home League game against them the following Sunday. A pretty humdrum game was eventually settled by a right-foot toepoke by Alan Thompson from 6 yards out right in front of their supporters: back-to-back victories against the Huns were always good fun, but those two stick in the memory more than most. I got home that night, tired & emotional, and announced that, after much deliberation, if the imminently arriving bambino was a boy, I’d be happy to call it after my wife’s father, which we had been debating for some time. After an initial few minutes of happiness from Mrs T, she saw through my dastardly plan: “Wait a minute…who scored for Celtic today….you bastard!”. Well, it was worth a try: I was still banking on slipping Henrik onto the birth certificate when I registered the birth anyway…

Her waters broke the following Thursday morning. After the usual to-ing and fro-ing with the Maternity Unit, she eventually was kept in the hospital on the Friday morning & the process of inducing the birth began. By this point it was clear I wasn’t going to Dunfermline for the Cup game on the Saturday. After a very long & profoundly difficult labour, my daughter was born on the Saturday evening, 17th February 2001. Anyone who ever doubts just how superior & more resilient women are to men, witness childbirth. My pre-event gags about comparing it to “a really bad shave” were swiftly forgotten as I became engaged in what essentially is trench warfare. It’s terrifying, stressful, bloody, clearly excruciatingly painful, and the most amazing experience I will ever be a part of, however small. The moment when she arrived was heavenly- this wee thing that’s a part of you emerges, and your life changes forever. Unfortunately I didn’t get long to savour the moment, as my wife was rushed from the labour ward into the operating theatre next door to deal with some internal bleeding that was worrying the doctor. I have a vivid recollection of sitting there, my newborn daughter in my arms, nobody else there but us, then glancing up to see what looked like a scene from Platoon as I glanced round the room where my life had changed forever. A scary hour or so ended in good news as the doctor came back to tell me that they had resolved the issue successfully with my wife, and I went off to call my family with the news of my daughter’s arrival. We drew 2-2 at East End Park, Henrik got them both.

In the lead-up to the birth, my wife & I had been watching a BBC drama called Glasgow Kiss, a complicated love story about a Celtic–supporting Glasgow football journalist (I know, I DID say it was fictional) and the newspaper executive sent up from London to implement corporate restructuring on his paper. The theme had a lot of resonance for me as at that point I was spending a lot of time down south doing the same in reverse, representing a Scottish company taking over an English one. Anyway, the key thing about this was the lead female character was called Cara, and when it came to finding a name for our daughter, that’s where we settled. My second daughter would grow to resent this romantic little story some years later, when she found out she was named, by my eldest, after her school pal’s dog.

Almost a month to the day after my daughter arrived, we had the League Cup Final against Kilmarnock. I was in the Debenture seats again that day, and had the added bonus of blagging my way into the Hospitality area for pies & free drinks before the game and at half time. We won the game 3-0, Henrik with a fabulous hat trick & despite a ludicrous sending-off for Chris Sutton. The first leg of the Treble was won. The second was to follow a couple of weeks later, when we finally wrapped the title up in a very nervous lunchtime kick-off against St Mirren at home, with the eternally effervescent Tommy Johnson, TB’s last signing for Celtic, fittingly scoring the winner. I can’t remember ever being as happy for any single player as I did that day- never universally popular, and probably quite limited as a player, he was however someone I really enjoyed seeing in the Hoops & it was great to see him have his day in the sun. A week later we beat Dundee United 3-1 in the Scottish Cup semi-final & set ourselves up for a tilt at the Treble v Hibs.

In the couple of months following the birth I’d hauled myself back onto the corporate treadmill, and was back to spending extended periods during the week away from home. This put a heavy burden on Mrs T, who understandably was ready to pretty much throw the baby at me when I arrived back on a Friday night to give her some well-earned respite. I enjoyed the fatherhood thing: I could essentially play her good tunes (albeit quietly) and talk to her about anything I wanted, her wee face pretty much making the grind of work & travel melt away when I saw her. I even got quite adept at nappy changes, and when I was there the nighttime feeds became opportunities to watch the Star Wars movies together without maternal interference (original trilogy obvs). To this day I still see my role as a sort of “Cultural Ambassador” one, introducing them both to good bands, decent movies, and entertaining books. That, and the whole rearing them, keeping them safe & secure, making them good contributors to society, stuff. But the cultural aspect more so…

I didn’t get a ticket for the Cup Final. Well, not initially. My source for the other Hampden games that season had given his debenture seats to a Hibby doctor he worked alongside, and I had missed too many games to qualify for an allocation from the club. I flirted with the idea of buying one for the Hibs end then decided against it & resigned myself to watching it on the TV. I got a call around 8pm on the Friday night from my pal Dave, a Hibbee: his wife had queued all afternoon at Easter Road on his behalf to pick up two tickets from the last remaining in the Hibs allocation, and he was offering me one, along with a mutual friend of ours, Terry, who was also a Celtic fan, back from Norway for the weekend & desperate for a ticket. After quickly getting the thumbs-up from my wife, I accepted the offer with thanks. I was going to the game!

I met Dave & his pals, all of whom I knew well from previous exploits, in the Queens Park Social Club the following lunchtime. I’d settled on a green shirt to wear in the scorching Glasgow sun that day, reckoning that was passable to fit in amongst the Hibs fans. There were a few other Celtic fans in the company that day & we were mocked mercilessly yet good-naturedly by the packed bar full of Hibs fans, clearly enjoying their day but under no illusions as to the scale of the task they had taking on a seemingly unstoppable Celtic side. As we headed off toward the South Stand just before kick-off, I noticed a commotion at one of the turnstiles: a Celtic supporter, short-sleeved Hoops & shorts on, getting manhandled away from the Hibs end by a steward. As I got closer I realised it was a guy I knew from home, Frankie, and he recognised me & held his arms out pleadingly ”Paul, can you fuckin’ believe it, they’re no goany let me in dressed like this!” Ten minutes and the purchase of a “Hibernian Scottish Cup Finalists 200/01” T-shirt later, I’d got him into the ground & headed off to find Terry & take our seats. As we sat there chatting, the guy next to Terry turned round & asked where he was from. “Partick”, said Terry. “Partick? That’s quite unusual for a Hibbee!”. “Aye, it is” said Terry, as the realisation dawned on the guy’s face. He didn’t speak to us again. The game itself was pretty straightforward for us, a 3-0 win with 2 again from Henrik & a Jackie Mac goal. The Treble was won!

I ended up in The Dolphin on Dumbarton Road that night, celebrating with Terry & friends & a pub-full of delighted Celtic fans. I ventured back to Queen Street via the underground in time for the last train, phoned my wife to tell her I’d try & get a taxi home from Linlithgow, but she informed me the baby was still awake anyway so she’d come & pick me up & hopefully the car journey would settle her down for the night. I don’t remember much about the journey home but I vividly remember seeing her wee face in the back of the car at the train station, grinning at me, and convincing myself that she knew just what a momentous day it had been. I sat the following morning reading the papers, Cara alongside me, and savoured the year I’d had since finding out we were going to have her. There may be further Trebles ahead, I certainly hope so, but none will ever mean as much to me as my first one did.

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Arrivederci Its’ One-On-One….

I’ve spent the last week or so listening pretty regularly to Joy Division, largely prompted by BBC4 showing the feature-length documentary on them during their regular Friday night music slot. There’s actually not that much unusual in that- I listen to them a lot anyway, as anyone who follows my inane ramblings on Twitter can probably testify to. As is always the case, starting on a Joy Division binge eventually takes me forward into New Order, always more ‘my’ band due to my age & the profound impact that they had on me alongside The Smiths. New Order take me back to happy times, I can track major events in my life quite easily from Power Corruption & Lies right through to Get Ready & beyond (I try not to think too much about Waiting On The Siren’s Call though- masochism is one thing, but come on…). There are some songs in amongst that catalogue which rank alongside any of the most formative & important in my life: Blue Monday, 586, The Perfect Kiss, Thieves Like Us, Fine Time, Regret…. it’s a very long list. But there’s one little oddity that keeps popping up, keeps reminding me of everything that was good about being young & going out, and having fun doing stupid things, and having amazing friends, and insulting international footballers in nightclubs, and that’s World In Motion.

World In Motion sounded like a wind-up: Britain’s coolest band (don’t even try to dispute that one, you’re wrong & always will be), recording a song ‘about’ football (yeah, course it was), written by a comedian (arguably), with backing vocals by half-a-dozen footballers (Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Steve McMahon, Des Walker, John Barnes and, sadly Hoddle-less, Chris Waddle), being released as the official England World Cup Song for Italia ’90. I don’t think I was alone in saying that whoever came up with that idea at the FA must have AT LEAST been taking some amazing-quality drugs, nobody could have concocted that clean. On paper, it was a disaster waiting to happen; on vinyl, it was, and remains to this day, a stone-cold classic.

The first time I heard World In Motion was when my pal Martin turned up at my house one night with a cassette, he’d taped it off Radio One during its first play the night before. We both sat there agog at what we were hearing- basically a batshit-crazy dance tune with terrible, albeit very knowing, lyrics & potentially the shittiest rap you’ll ever hear outside a parody song- it shouldn’t have worked. It was brilliant. I copied the cassette on my tape-to-tape (god bless you Lord Sugar) and listened to it incessantly until the single was released the following week. Buying it felt like an act of treachery as a Scotsman, but bear in mind the equivalent for our national team that year was recorded by a motley crew featuring members of Runrig, Love & Money, The Silencers & Fish out of Marillion. Let that sink in a minute, and then consider current respective success of the Scottish & English FA’s in marketing their product. It all started there I tell you…

So we were traitors to our country, but for Martin & me, not a fuck was given. We loved that song & weren’t slow in telling anyone whom we felt needed to know. Some years later I was to regret my devotion to it a tad after Celtic lost in the infamous “Super Caley Go Ballistic…” game, given my entire faith in the ability of John Barnes to manage the club successfully was based wholly upon the fact that we had the only manager in British football history who had been in a band with Barney Sumner & Hooky. I can still do that rap incidentally- every word, with the accent, and the swaying dance with the imaginary ball under my arm from the video. I even glance round at the right bits to see what Keith Allen is doing behind me. If you’re in the Queen’s Park Café after the League Cup Final, assuming we win I might show you. But I probably won’t.

Our championing of England’s World Cup song wasn’t universally popular amongst our pals, and it memorably got us into a situation with some proper footballers (I use the definition loosely) one night toward the end of Italia ’90, when we were in a nightclub in Dunfermline of all places, from memory at one of our pal’s stag night (him & a few of his bodybuilding pals standing around the edge of the dance floor looking steroid-y, the rest of the dafties reaching for the lasers & getting dismissive looks from all the beautiful people). I spotted a guy in a Scotland polo shirt that looked strangely familiar- then it hit me…Gordon Durie. Just back from another hopeless World Cup debacle. In his squad polo shirt. Alongside him, three of the most unlikely people I expected to see in a nightclub: Davie Dodds, Jim Duffy & Bobby Russell. For the purposes of personal liability against litigation I can’t reveal exactly what subsequently went on, but I can safely say that:

• The old NTV gag of “Congratulations Mrs Dodds, we think it’s a baby!” is REALLY funny face-to-face;
• Jim Duffy doesn’t take comments about his mercifully short Celtic career very well;
• Bobby Russell gets a wee bit arsey when someone asks him why he’s feeling his “daughter’s” arse in a nightclub;
• And Gordon Durie doesn’t like questions about whether he’s lost his entire wardrobe en-route from Sardinia necessitating him wearing his Scotland top to go out.

Anyway the point to this story was the tension-filled encounter was interrupted in a timely yet grossly inflammatory way by some wag running off to persuade the DJ to slip World In Motion onto the decks, the timing of said tune coming on resulting in a minor international incident spilling out into the street between mouthy teenage idiots & grumpy second-rate footballers. Neither big nor clever, but I still smile when I think of Davie Dodds’ face…there’s a sentence you won’t read very often.

Anyway…World In Motion. The best football song ever. Maybe one of the best pop songs ever, certainly one of the most random ones. And don’t let anyone tell you a word of it is about football. “Winks

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I Know It’s Over

I’m aware there’s a multitude of articles & blogs out there this week articulating all kinds of opinions relating to this Sunday’s game at Hampden. I thought long & hard before adding mine to the growing pile, but ultimately writing for me is a kind of therapy, and if ever I was in need of therapy ahead of a football match, given the never-ending media hype about it, then its this one.

As I’ve documented elsewhere before, I grew up in West Lothian in the 1970’s & 80’s, not by any means the worst place for a kid to come to terms with the world around them, but occasionally blighted by the undercurrents of religion & it’s extremely ugly by-product, sectarianism. The religious division was exacerbated by most of my friends from the area around my home being Catholic, meaning that when we were packed off to school aged 5, they went down the hill to the local RC primary, while myself, the wee unchristened heathen, went up the hill to the non-denominational primary. By the time I’d got my head around why this was the way things had to be, I’d made new friends & became aware through them of the levels of distrust & hatred some kids had instilled in them about people of other religions, which to be honest I still find mind-blowing nearly 40 years later. A couple of years later, when I started to get actively interested in football beyond kickabouts in the playground, & particularly interested in Celtic, I started to understand first-hand how people failed to be able to separate the tribalism involved in following a football club, from identifying it with the religious preferences of themselves and their families. The peculiarity of the relationship between football & religion in Scotland, how people allow themselves to be defined by it, still seriously fucks with my head.

My first Celtic v Rangers game was in May 1979: Celtic 4, Rangers 2. There are some fantastic stories about relating to that game, and indeed very recently an excellent book devoted to it, so I won’t even try to compete with that. However I do remember the overwhelming sense of confusion, the crushing, the sounds & smells, the joy of victory & the knowledge that nothing would ever quite be the same for me again. Thus began 30-odd years of going to those games at Celtic Park, at Ibrox, at Hampden: each of them I went to has a story, a significance to something that was going on in my life at the time, books-worth of material no doubt should I ever get the urge to go down that (albeit limited potential interest) road. But the abiding memories for me are mixed- the fun side of those games came at a price. The smashed bus windows on the way home, the police baton charge up Janefield Street & the horror that ensued, being beaten up in chip shops for wearing your scarf, being spat upon at school (try being one of 4 Celtic fans out of 210 people in your year, now that’s character-forming!), even on one memorable occasion getting a knock-back from a pretty & hitherto very friendly girl at school with the immortal words “I can’t, you’re a Fenian, my dad would kill me”!

Over the years, and particularly as I became less enamoured with the tribalism of football generally & shifted my interests (toward girls & music, obviously!) I came to enjoy the Glasgow derbies & their associated nonsense less and less. My interest in attending away games waned, and even attending home games involved planning with military precision to avoid potential aggravation should public transport be involved, making attending more of a chore than a joy more often than not. My aversion to buying newspapers or listening to radio phone-ins arises purely from the overload of listening to people with nothing to say saying too much about these games. In some ways, the detritus around the game took too much away from the joy I get from attending football in the first place, the social aspect curtailed, the friendly & fun chat replaced by bile & intolerance (and yes, on occasion I accept my culpability on that score & remain deeply embarrassed by it). In short, coming up to 2012, the romantic notion that this game was the ultimate thing for a fan was, to put it mildly, well beyond my comprehension. In particular, by comparison to the 10 years of high-level European football we had just gone through, & the teams & players that had appeared in front of us at Celtic Park and abroad, the notion that we preferred playing any Scottish team, never mind our supposed lifelong rivals, was plainly in tatters.

The events across the city in 2012 have been articulated in forensic detail, and I’ve no wish to regurgitate them here. From my perspective, that put the tin lid on things. The waning interest I had in Glasgow derbies was extinguished fully when Rangers were liquidated. I understand the need of the massive supporter base (theirs and, on occasion, ours) to fill the void with another club: I understand how much they want it to be the same, I’d go as far as to say that if the shoe were on the other foot (obviously the left one here, if the bigots do indeed have that one correct). I’d probably have wanted something similar in 1994 if we’d gone to the wall. Be all that as it may, we didn’t, and it isn’t the same. The only real remaining link is through the memories & aspirations of The People: they want it so badly, they aren’t prepared to accept the new reality, they want the old Rangers back, with the sugar-daddies & the trophies & the Establishment on their side, & the Grand Institution restored. I understand that’s never going to happen, and I’m happy about that. But I do accept that the Rangers fans need something to believe in, a “return” to former glories: I know how they feel, I’d love The Smiths to reform- but I want the twenty-something Morrissey & Marr, the romantic dreamers with the jangly tunes & the bleak lyricism, not the fifty-something’s who all hate each other & write spiteful autobiographies. They, like me, have no chance of getting what they want.

Sunday’s game was always going to happen, the only question has always been when. I’ll be there, as I would for any semi-final involving Celtic. I’ll take precautions with my travel planning, as I know there will be an unruly element with minimal interest in the football itself kicking around. My pals who don’t support either Celtic or the current incarnation of Rangers are looking forward to the spectacle, the blood-and-thunder, the red cards & the goals. I’m of the same attitude I always am to semi-finals: I’m looking forward to progressing, hopefully with a clean bill of health for our players in both fitness & discipline terms, and to a cracking day out at the Cup Final should we make it. I don’t dread the game, I don’t dread facing them, and I really don’t care enough about them in a football sense to do either. I’d like to see the Celtic support animated in support of the team, funny at the expense of our opponents’ off-field travails, enjoying the Hampden occasion, not getting dragged into the enmities that now belong to a different age. The easiest way for the Celtic support to demonstrate they are playing a different club is not to treat them like the old club. As potential wind-ups go, I can’t think of anything more fitting.