Over the years I’ve heard many things about football that have made me smile, even laugh out loud, made me ponder and reflect. I’d like to share a few with you in this article.
Do you remember the 6-2 game? A beautiful sunny day at Celtic Park, a full house, a tense atmosphere … did Martin O’Neill really mean it when he claimed Rangers were the benchmark? Well, we would find out soon enough. Sutton scored in the first minute, Petrov got the second a few minutes later, and Lambert fired in the third soon after … Celtic Park in delirium: Celtic three goals up inside the first ten minutes, Bobby Petta running Ricksen ragged. Finally, after those ten minutes, most of us were able to sit down for the first time since the kick-off. The season-ticket holder beside me could hardly speak so overcome he was, but he wanted to say something. He patted me on the shoulder, struggled to find the words, and eventually spoke: “Can I ask a favour? Don’t wake me up!”Listen to DOMINIK DIAMOND with A Celtic State of Mind here:
John Greig, “Rangers’ Greatest-Ever Player”, was never a particular favourite of Celtic supporters, and nobody loathed him more than a certain ticket collector at Glasgow’s Queen Street railway station. Back in the 1970s quite a few Rangers lived in or near Edinburgh and travelled back and forth daily: Ralph Brand, Willie Johnstone, Jimmy Millar and, of course, Greig. The collector liked – or, at least, tolerated – the others but never John Greig. One day the Rangers’ players arrived at the platform just as the train to Edinburgh was ready to leave, and Greig could not find his ticket:
“I have it here somewhere; I’ll show it on the train, Jimmy.”
“I’ll miss the train. Come on, you know me; you see me every day.”
“Jimmy, you know me; you know my face. Come on, my face is my ticket…”
“Do you want me to punch your face, then?”
I attended the 1984 Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen, when Aberdeen won in extra time against a ten-man Celtic side. Roy Aitken got ordered off in about 30 minutes and it put Celtic in a considerable disadvantage: having to play the rest of the final a man short, having to play against the current Scottish champions, having to fight back after losing an early offside goal to a side that had recently won a European trophy. Things looked desperate as we watched big Roy troop across the Hampden pitch towards the dressing room. The supporter beside me broke the silence: “Does that mean big Roy’ll miss the replay?”
Later, in that same final, Paul McStay equalised to force extra time. We were standing in the Celtic end amid scenes of jubilation, prolonged joy. The man beside me, who knew that I wrote about Celtic, was the first to recover some composure. He surveyed the joyful scenes, the singing and the dancing all around us and said, “Tom, if those bastards could read, you’d be rich!”Listen to DES MCLEAN with A Celtic State of Mind here:
I’ve mentioned my cousin Tommy before but he was working in the docks down in Govan when the 1970 World Cup was held in Mexico. Brazil were due to face Italy in the final and Tommy was desperate to see it on television but his shift finished just after the kick-off. So, he was doomed to watch the game in a pub … in Govan, of all places. It was a Rangers’ hostelry: Union Jacks, Red Hands of Ulster, pictures of Rangers’ heroes, the lot … And, of course, packed with Huns of every size and shape. Tommy got a beer and found a seat well away from the TV screen and watched the game quietly.
Give the other patrons credit; to a man they were cheering for Brazil … but the favourites were struggling a bit, unable to break through the Italian defence for a leading goal until the second half. One of their forwards set off on a mazy run, beat half a dozen defenders, and ended up tapping it past the Italian goalkeeper. What a goal! The pub erupted: beer was spilt, tables overturned, chairs toppled over; toasts were proposed and drunk, hands clapped, praise uttered … You get the picture!
Meanwhile, the camera was following the jubilant scorer as he raced behind the goal, chased by his colleagues… he skipped around the photographers, ran along the touchline in the direction of the Brazilian bench, hands raised in triumph … in the Govan pub several thousand miles away the fans cheered him on, clapped in admiration … until the scorer slid to his knees, lowered his head, and blessed himself. Silence in the pub, tables and chairs quietly re-arranged … Silence and then one voice: “I thought he was offside.”Listen to KEVIN P. GILDAY with A Celtic State of Mind here:
To end on a more serious note. I researched a book about the World Club Championship by going to Buenos Aires, among other things to interview some of the Racing players. One highlight was meeting Umberto Maschio, the Racing playmaker and a genuine legend in Argentina. I’ll be honest here; I really did not know how great a player he was at the time, until I looked him up later in the reference books. A grave, dignified man, he had been capped for both Argentina and Italy, and had played for both in World Cups, but here we were talking about 1967 … We spoke through an interpreter, and I asked him which Celtic players had impressed him: “The captain, McNeill … he scored a brave header in that goalmouth at Hampden … Yimmy Yohnstone, superbo, magnifico, the best … and Murdock (he had trouble pronouncing the name), he was a player. I considered it an honour he was delegated to mark me: I would go left, he was there in front of me; I would go right, and he was there again; I would go deep but could not get free. We played chess, Murdock and me, chess with muscles. Muscles, but always clean, a strong player but a gentleman…”
I had to stop him and break the news that Bobby Murdoch had died only a month earlier. Umberto lowered his head: “I am saddened to hear that. If you are ever to speak to the family, would you tell them that I remember him with affection … and that I will remember him in my prayers.”
At the end of the session I felt I had to thank him, and asked the interpreter to convey my thoughts: “It was a pleasure and an honour for me to speak to such a distinguished player. Thank you.”
His reply was graciousness itself: “No, it is I who have to thank you. When you are old, it is good to be remembered for the things we did, Bobby and I together, when we were young.”