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

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Oh Love Street In The Rain

I wake on an armchair, head banging like a Lambeg Drum and neck feeling like it's been gripped all night by Mick McManus. I'm in a council house not too far from home judging by the layout. But nothing is familiar other than the Westclox on the wall above the mantlepiece. It's the same as my mum's and it's telling me to forget any wet dreams of a hot shower. I've fifteen minutes to get my arse to work. I tiptoe into the kitchen, trying not to wake the two bodies on the couch and run the cold water tap over the plastic basin full of mugs, plates and scummy water. My mouth fits around the tap and I drink half my body weight in water, then splash the other half on my face. A quick spike of my hair and I slip out the back door as if I'd stole the last bog roll.

The Carman Hills on the horizon confirm I'm somewhere up Bonhill. If I jog at a steady pace I'll make it to work in ten minutes and straighten myself up a bit in the process.
 Nothing clears my head like an early morning run. Doesn't matter how heavy the night before -- blood gets pumping, adrenalin takes over and the competitive edge kicks in, even when I'm just racing myself.

No sooner have I upped the pace and one of my slip-on sannies flies off my foot and on to the road, reminding my why they only cost £2. Picking the shoe up I have a flashback to arguing with my girlfriend last night. No doubt I've said something I shouldn't, like always. Probably something to do with the football, or her mates, like always. Fuck it, no doubt she'll be up to nip my nut tonight about it, like always

I curl my toes to try and keep my feet in my sannies as I pound the pavement to the same beat as the thumping in my head. Then it hits me. Jesus Christ! Never mind last night. Doesn't matter what happened last night, or the night before that. Personal crises have no bearing on today.

Today's the day Celtic win the league...hopefully. I slow down at the bottom of Bank Street, partly to think about the potential gravity of the day and partly because I'm fucked. My legs are willing, but my heart's giving larger palpitations than usual, whether that's from running or the thought of the game I'm not quite sure.

Hearts are still overwhelming favourites, though, and might have something to say about us winning league. If it was a three-legged race they've already got two feet standing on the finishing line. All they have to do is stumble over it, which, going by the unbeaten run they're on, doesn't look likely. But I'm a bit daft that way. I've got the Celtic faith. Hearts luck can't last forever. They're not even the third best team in the country. Aberdeen and Dundee United are better. Dundee can beat them today. In fact, Dundee can pump them today. Mind you, Dundee are shite. I might have faith, but I'm not that kind of daft. 

I start walking up the hill towards the shopping centre, sweat running down my face as if I've played the full ninety minutes. I've got things to think about. Davie Hay's got things to think about, too. We need to do our bit at Love Street. It won't be easy but, if we play like we know we can, winning four goals to nothing is possible. It's more than possible. It's probable. What am I talking to myself about? Why the fuck am I going to this stupid job? There'll be other jobs, but only today can Celtic win the league. I should be heading to Love Street. The jingle of loose coins in my pocket gives me an idea and I head to the phone box the top of Mitchell Way. Thing better be working.

I've got my ten pence ready, waiting until I hear the pips. 'Alright, big man. What you up to? Want to go to the game? Aye, I'm on my way to work now, but don't worry, I'll think of something. Brilliant. See you soon, Bobby.'

I have two options. Three if I consider doing nothing. But doing nothing isn't a practical option today. I can wait until after tea break, stick fingers down my throat to encourage the re-emergence of my rolls and square sausage, then dutifully inform the manageress I'm too ill for work and have to go home. 

Or I can be honest and tell her I need to meet my Da at Love Street today, hoping she understands the importance of the situation to my general health and mental well-being.

'Sorry about the mess, Gordon.' My colleague fills the mop bucket while I'm putting my jacket on. 

I hobble downstairs to the shop floor as if I'd just came second best in a fifty-fifty with Roy 'Feed The Bear' Aitken.

'Thanks for letting me go home, Christine.' She's too busy ushering customers around the pile of sick at the checkout to pay much attention to my pantomime performance. 'It must've been something I ate. I'm sure I'll be okay for Monday.'

Once out of sight of the shop my resurrection is almost complete. I head into Ahmed's for a packet of Rizla and a few cans of Tennents for the train. 

I’ve only been to Love Street once before. 11th October 1980. An unremarkable game probably not remembered by many. Celtic won 2-0 on their way to winning the title that season.

That game stands out for me as it's the last one I attended with my Da. At the time I was thirteen and usually made my own way to games with my mates. I only got to Love Street that day because my five year old brother, who my Da took to the games after I became too big for a lift over the turnstile, was ill.

Sitting with a can in my hand I keep a low profile on the train to Paisley. I do a bit of foot tapping as I look out the window but I'm not yet ready to go Roamin' in the Gloamin' or March with O'Neill. Bobby is belting out tunes with a donkey-hoarse voice. He gives me a wink with the 'Oh it's good to be a Roman Catholic' line, even though he's a Protestant. Industrial wastelands whiz past quicker than Jimmy Johnstone on the wing and I wonder if my Da will be at the game today. Of course, he'll be there. He couldn't miss a day like today. He's a man of faith. I wonder if he can pull a few harp strings with the big fella to swing it in our favour. 

The train slides into the station and I wonder where we can build a couple of joints and buy another few cans and half bottle of Eldorado. It's at least a fifteen minute walk from Gilmour Street to Love Street so we don't want to get caught short.

We reach the ground half an hour later with drunken memories of a hangover and take our place level with the eighteen yard box opposite the Main Stand. It might not be Celtic Park but today it feels like home. It feels like The Jungle. I have a quick look around but there's no sign of my Da.

My heart sinks a bit when the team take the field wearing the green away strip instead of the famous hoops but I don't say anything. I gee myself up. 

'Come on the Celtic!' I shout. My high-pitched teenage voice is drowned out by the roar of hope and expectation from the ever-growing Celtic support cramming in to the away end, the middle end and the home end.

We need a miracle of five loaves and two fishes proportion and an early goal would be a start.

Six minutes gone. Brian McClair rises above everybody in the box to meet an Owen Archdeacon corner. One down. Three to go. I can see a few punters with trannies to their ears. I don't want to know what's happening at Dens Park yet. Let's get our job done first.

'Come on the Celtic! Get into this fuckin' mob!'

Thirty minutes gone. Still one nil. We're playing alright, but we need goals more than we need silky fitba. Still no news from Dens.

Paul McStay finds Maurice Johnston in acres of space.

'Come on, wee man!'

Two down. Two to go. I don't want to think about it too much, but can't help it. We might just do this.

Danny McGrain's in our box facing Paddy Bonner with two St Mirren players closing him down. Somehow he hits the ball over his shoulder straight to Murdo McLeod on the edge of the box. Murdo lays off a first-time ball to Danny who’s turned, always on the move forward. 'Go on Danny! I shout. He’s still one of the world’s most attack-minded full-backs. Danny plays a first-time pass to Paul McStay who's popping-up everywhere wanting the ball. Paul cuts inside and looks up for options. Danny's still overlapping down the right. Roy Aitken gathers the ball from Paul and passes to Danny who’s now in the St Mirren half. Another first-time pass from Danny down the line finds Brian McClair. With a gallus flick he nutmegs the incoming St Mirren defender and lays an inch-perfect pass to Johnston in the box. Mo finishes with his first touch. Sublime.

I'm pushed forwards, sideways and settle on a safety barrier several steps down, there's a roar in my ear and I'm hoarse from shouting too. I'm jumping about hugging people I don't know. I look for Bobby to tell him that's the best team goal I’ve seen Celtic score, and one of the best goals ever.

Another part of me begins to believe. We're the Pope's eleven. We can do this.

Great run by Archdeacon. Paul McStay skelps it into the top corner with the outside of his boot. That's the all-important fourth goal, and it's not even half-time. 

Celtic have done what they had to do, and done it in a style worthy of champions. I grab Bobby and shout at him above the bedlam: 'Fuck sake. If we played like this every week the league would've fuckin' been won last month.'

At half time we go for a pee and finish the wine, and reality sets in. Dundee aren't doing the business for us at Dens, it's still nothing each with Hearts over there. 

I'm feeling sick with nerves. Not knowing is worse than knowing. As the second half begins the players on the park seem to have eased up but it doesn't stop us adding another.

'Yes!' I jump up, but it's a bit half-hearted now. 'Well done Brian McClair.' I talk to the old guy next to me and nobody in particular. 'That fifth gives us a bit of a cushion, just in case St Mirren sneak a flukey one.'

Torrential rain starts. It's an omen of sorts. It must be. I wouldn't want to be behind the goals today, or in the enclosure under the Main Stand where I stood with my Da on our last game together. That's probably where he'll be.

Our Father, who art in Heaven

Hallowed be thy name...

Right, fuck that. It's too early for the prayers. I look about in front of me for inspiration, a sign even. A small group of older men have burst into a wee chorus of my Da's favourite song.

Oh Hampden in the sun,

Celtic seven Rangers one. 

All my days I will sing in praise 

of the Celtic team that played the day.

I join in the singing as if I'm joining my Da, my memory travelling backwards-- him telling me how on his way back from the League Cup Final in 1957 an eager Rangers fan, on seeing my Da's scarf, confidently approached him and asked about the score. This was during a period when Celtic were not at their best, so there was more than a hint of confidence about the request.
 With a straight face my Da informed him Willie Fernie had scored for Celtic with a last minute penalty. 

‘Jammy bastards,’ the man said. 

‘Aye, jammy bastards alright, that only made it seven. It should’ve been more,’ came the punch line. 

The song dies out and my attention is drawn back to the park. The rain is running off the terracing roof above us but we're snug enough were we stand. Nothing much is happening on the pitch. The only thing moving is the clock and the drink filling my bladder. There might as well be a wee guy walking around the track wearing a 'The End Is Nigh' sandwich board.

I can hear someone behind going on about how we lost the league at the Aberdeen game or the Rangers game. I turn around and tell him to shut up, the league's not lost yet.

'Come on Dundee!' an old guy next to me shouts.

He's steamin' right enough. But I'm not far behind him in that field of expertise so I join him in shouting. 'Do something for fuck sake!'

The St Mirren fans know it's hopeless. They've been well gubbed, but for the first time today they start singing – The Sash. Normally, we'd accept the challenge right away, but today it's like fog in the brain, a half-hearted chant is flung in their direction, before grumbling away to dirty bastardin' silence. Even the police patrolling the ground are smiling. 

I wish to God I had a radio. I can't even see those I seen with one earlier.

Something's happening. Pockets of fans around the ground are erupting. It must can only mean...surely to God.

I'm jumping, I'm up in the air scrambling forwards, somebody has their arm round my neck, somebody is kissing me on the forehead but I still don't know why. My mind's telling me something I can't allow myself to believe. Not without proof. Like a doubting Thomas I need to see or hear it for myself.

The whole place is jumping.

Bobby appears from nowhere and grabs and hugs me. 'Dundee have scored! They've fuckin' well scored!'

The tears come, but I don't mind. And neither does anyone else. All around me grown men are bubbling like weans. It's a sight to behold.

We jump among the thronging, jubilant crowd; upstairs, downstairs, tears streaming down faces of men and boy alike, feeling part of something, something special. 

Even the idiot who was moaning about where we lost it has become a wise man. He's greeting, too. 

Fuck sake. I hope that's not pish I'm standing on. I've lost a bastardin' shoe.

Everybody's got an eye on each other, waiting, making sure that it's not a dream, getting ready for the final whistle. I'm hopping about trying to find a shoe worth a pound.

There it is, about five steps away. I crouch down, keeping my eyes on the prize.

The place erupts again.

Instinct kicks in. I jump up and join the celebrations. I haven't a clue what we're celebrating but I'm certain it's not a Hearts goal. I'm hearing mixed reports. It's either full-time at Dens or Dundee have scored again. Don't care either way.

By the time the jumping stops I'm about ten yards away from my starting position, and fifteen away from my shoe.

'Come on, Ref. Blow your fuckin' whistle.'

Thousands of Celtic fans are flooding onto the park and the players are running for the tunnel. 

Bobby finds me and makes a grab for me and tries to drag me towards the park. I hold up my shoeless foot. He laughs like fuck and pulls a nip of a joint from his pocket. A few puffs later the terracing's empty enough to reveal my shoe.

We scramble to join the Celtic fans singing in the rain around the tunnel, but by the time we get there the call has already gone out to clear the park so the team can come back out and do a lap of honour. 

I scan the enclosure under the Main Stand for a sighting of my Da. I don't see him, but I feel him. I know he's here. He's here with his Da, and his Da's Da, and his Da's Da's Da. They all love Celtic. I love Celtic. If I'm lucky enough to have a son he'll love Celtic, too. It's in the blood and, on days like this, the blood sings.

Soaked we traipse back off the park to where we started. But nothing can dampen our spirits. Not even this Chernobyl rain dripping off my nose.

The team lopes back on to the park. They can't believe it either. The fans remind them.

'Walk on...Walk on...With hope in your heart..’

There's not a better sight or sound in football than Celtic fans doing You'll Never Walk Alone, but I can't join in, not yet. I've a smile as big as the great escape we've just pulled and cant get this other wee tune out my head:

Oh Love Street in the rain,

The Celts have won the league again...

God bless you, Da. You'll never walk alone.


  1. Fantastic read mate. Remember that day till I die.

    Hail, Hail

  2. Aye, that day's a keeper for me too.. HH

  3. A great read. Comparing it to my own experiences of special days (stopping 10, for example) and knowing the venue may have been different, but the excitement and euphoria are just the same. Can't think where the phone box was at the top of Mitchell way was though - same side as Junior's? :)

  4. They were on the Main Street next to the old video shop. I don't even know what's there now. Is it a dentist? Back in the day it as a frozen food shop called Galloways, the same as the butchers.

  5. been out of the Renton for almost 6 years - am now in perth WA.

    1. To paraphrase from the story above: my Da and my Da's Da, and my Da's Da's Da are all Rentoners. Same goes for my mum's side of the family. I was brought up in Tullichewan.

  6. I once woke up in a house in Bonhill and said Mass!

    Or was it Brucehill?

    Either way it was a right good Mass!

    Great Story Old One

  7. Cheers young fellow. I wake up in Bonhill most days now, having moved there last year.

    Just sent you an email about anthology