Honestly, the sun always shines on the Glencoe Car Park Run.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

George McCluskey: A Celtic Love Story

When one thinks of the power of love George McCluskey isn't the first name which springs to mind. Many won't even know his name never mind the influence he had on helping a shy Scottish lad free the shackles of teen torment and take a step towards maturity.

Expressing one's inner feelings is never easy, especially for young working-class Scottish lads.

Too often they follow the pack and carry the fear of losing face in front of their peers.

I remember hearing Kenny Rogers singing Coward of the County when it first came out and thinking it was a catchy tune with a good wee story.

I shared that information with my closest friends.

They called me a poof.

Lesson learned. I kept my eclectic musical tastes to myself from then.

That only changed once I fell in love. Head over heels love. Not the puppy love infatuations of school or summer romances. Those brief flirtations passed with remarkable regularity after I changed schools from an all-boys Catholic school to a mixed-sex non-denominational.

This love was the real thing.

We'd been going out for a while and spent every moment together, apart from when I went to watch the Celtic.

As the months passed I knew she was the one for me.

I loved her...but couldn't utter those special three words.

In the movies it all looked so easy, and as Dr Hook became the soundtrack to our blossoming romance I wished I could make it More Like The Movies for her.

Even in teen movies the lead characters oozed confidence, charm and sexy sophistication and said the words I love you with such consummate ease I thought there must be something wrong with me.

I tried practicing in front of the mirror but it just didn't feel or sound right.

If I said it like this:

'Ah luv ye.'

then any hint of romance was lost in the translation and it sounded more like a threat.

When I tried saying it like this:

'I love you.'

I felt like a poof.

I wrestled with this dilemma for what seemed an eternity.

And then George McCluskey came to the rescue.

Until that moment George had been a bit part player in my life.

To some he is best remembered for scoring the winner against Rangers in the 1980 Scottish Cup Final. It wasn't the most spectacular goal of his career but has a claim to be one of the most important.

And it all stemmed from a fluffed Danny McGrain shot at goal.

George stuck a leg out and deflected the ball past the despairing Girvan Lighthouse Peter McCloy as he got caught wrong-footed.

Cup winning goal aside my favourite memories of George on the park came against Partick Thistle at Firhill in November 1981.

Frank McGarvey was having a stinker that day and couldn't hit the proverbial barn door.

At one point George, having noticed his striking partner was below par, laid on an open goal for Frank, but poor Frank missed that too.

However, not only did George carry Frank that day, he also belted in a screamer from thirty yards past the helpless Alan Rough.

A little side note to that day in November 1981.

Over at Hampden Dundee United were playing Rangers in the League Cup Final.

There were no smartphones or Internet back then, but a few fans carried little transistor radios. The kind you had to hold a certain way to pick up a decent signal, and even then nothing was guaranteed as the optimal position changed throughout the day. You could have a perfect signal one minute and nothing at all the next.

Loud cheers went up around Firhill, meaning only one thing: Rangers were getting beat.

Word filtered through that Ralph Milne had put United one up.

Even the Partick Thistle supporters joined in the 'Let's all laugh at Rangers' chants.

Louder cheers went up shortly after and news spread of Paul Sturrock putting United two up with a thunderous free kick.

With Celtic beating Partick Thistle and Rangers losing a cup final it seemed a fine day.

Imagine my surprise when the pink Evening Times printed a scoreline of Dundee United 1-2 Rangers.

A misprint surely?

United were two up.

Turned out Sturrock's goal had been chopped off for someone apparently being in an offside position.

An honest mistake perhaps.

Or, as even the younger fans of all clubs have since discovered, Rangers might have been a poor team during that era but they still had friends in the right places.

Some things never change.

Mind you, not much attention was paid to Rangers by anyone else back then other than singing Let's All Laugh At Rangers on a regular basis.

It's fair to say they were among the poorest ever Rangers sides, even though they were managed by one of club's greatest ever players.

Sound familiar?

To make matters better the early eighties was a golden era for Celtic strikers.

With McGarvey, McCluskey and the prolific Charlie Nicholas we were spoiled for choice.

Some fans only know Nicholas from his stumbling punditry on TV. But the Charlie of the1982-83 season scored 50 goals in all competitions and would walk into the current side.

Of course, it was rare to see the three on the park at the same time. One of them had to warm the bench more than the others.

The unlucky one most of the time was George, but he never let it influence his performances on the park.

And it was during one such substitute appearance George McCluskey gave supporters a night they'll never forget, even though most of us never saw what happened due to a TV blackout.

But before that fateful night there was the small matter of a European Cup first leg to be played.

In September 1982 Johan Cruyff brought his Ajax side to Celtic Park.

At 35 years old he was supposed to be well past his magnificent best.

But he strolled through the game, pinging the ball around with a masterful array of passes and setting up a goal with a deft touch worthy of the best.

He only put one foot wrong all night when he tripped Tommy Burns inside the box.

No one who saw the trip could blame Cruyff. Tommy was just too quick and too clever for him.

The final score of 2-2 meant Celtic's hopes of progressing to the next round were greatly diminished, but the appreciative Celtic Park crowd gave Cruyff a standing ovation nonetheless.

In the cold light of day no one gave Celtic a chance to go to Amsterdam and get a positive result.

As with every evening I wasn't watching Celtic I spent the night of the return leg in the arms of my girlfriend and soulmate, Macy.

Of course, my mind was elsewhere, but there was no live TV footage of the game.

There was also no internet to seek out a live stream.

There was only radio.

Mine was a tiny battery-operated radio that required constant fidgeting and manoeuvring to pick up anything resembling a listenable signal.

As Macy and I lay on the bed kissing and cuddling she was a bit miffed at my reluctance to stick on the usual Dr Hook tape to which our growing passionate embraces had become so familiar.

Gone were the romantic lyrics of When You're in Love With a Beautiful Woman, Sexy Eyes and If Not You.

Replaced by a background of white noise and muffled sounds of -

Crackle....Here comes McGrain on the overlap....crackle... two...

Another great tackle by...crackle...Sinclair...

Crackle...crackle....George McCluskey...crackle...substitute...crackle...Davie Provan...

Meanwhile on my bed things were stirring in the exploration studies.

The combination of her perfume and my fluking her bra off with one hand had taken the relationship to a whole new level.

Never mind first or second base I was heading through to the next round.

With her bra removed and pert young breasts pressing against my bare chest something special was definitely happening. I could feel my love growing, literally.

Then it happened.

All I heard was:


Those lucky enough to be at the game saw Danny McGrain pick the ball up thirty yards out and hammer a woeful effort towards goal. It was a tad similar to his strike in the 1980 Scottish Cup Final when George McLuskey stuck out a leg and diverted the ball past the hapless Peter McCloy.

This time, however, the outside of the Ajax box was so crowded the ball struck Charlie Nicholas who laid the ball off to Frank McGarvey who in turn played a cute pass to substitute George McLuskey.

George slotted the ball low past the Ajax keeper and into the net.

As my radio went crackle crazy I leapt from the bed semi-naked and jumped around the room like a mad man, screaming, 'Ah love ye! Ah love ye! Ah love ye!'

My mum shouted upstairs to keep the noise down.

Macy looked a bit embarrassed and bemused, not knowing whether I was talking about her or George McCluskey or if I'd just lost the plot altogether.

As she pulled the quilt up to cover her modesty I approached her and said tenderly in as crisp and clear English as I could possibly muster, 'I love you too, darling' and immediately felt like a poof.

Her eyes lit up, and so did mine when she returned the sentiment, pulled back the quilt and invited me back in.

The final whistle followed shortly after and the impossible had been accomplished.

Celtic had beaten Johan Cruyff's Ajax in Amsterdam and qualified for the second round of the European Cup.

It's a night I'll never forget.

It's the night I came of age...even if I didn't lose my virginity for another month.

So next time you hear people talking about the power of love, remember it's okay to love another man, especially if he plays for Celtic and scores a vital winner.

I've since learned girlfriends, wives and friends may come and go over the years, but one love is constant and will always be there through thick and thin, sickness and health, richer or poorer.

The love of Celtic Football Club is an undying love, and games like those above remind us why that is so.

Here's a link to that special game. Enjoy.

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