50 – Stewarding Stuart (The Celtic Connection part 1)

They’re there, and they are always there. God bless everyone of them.”

The late great Tommy Burns talking about the Celtic support and their passion and enthusiasm for the club. More about that quote further on.

My history with Celtic is lifelong. It wasn’t that I was at every game, and I couldn’t even tell you my earliest memory of games. But I do remember many journeys from Easterhouse to Celtic Park. Normally with my elder brother Gary, and a whole bunch of other locals that pretty much make up the Easterhouse Rocket Launchers (don’t ask). It’s funny how 40 odd years later we still sit beside each other at Celtic Park.

pic courtesy Celtic Wiki

My dad would have called himself a supporter but didn’t really go to many games. Gary did. No 4 up the Celtic end was our normal place, again pretty much near 143 in the Lisbon Lions lower. Half times would involve watching for the gate into the Jungle opening to sneak in. It was chaos, madness, bedlam and absolutely wonderful in there. As an early teen it’s where you wanted to be. The passion, the enthusiasm the sheer energy that flowed from those steps that caused many a team to stumble.

Crowds of us on the bus, or the train or whatever to get there. Fans making there way in from all directions to gather in a small piece of land in the east end of Glasgow – my city.

It always seems to be sunny at those games, but its funny how our memory can do that to us. The songs would be screaming out, the euphoria flying the adulation pouring forth. I remember sneaking up in the queue with Gary to get my lift over. The turnstiles then seemed to be custom designed to allow east end kids free admission so it would have been rude not to .

Before every game the jungle would roar out songs to every player and let them know how adored they were. In return the players would acknowledge the adulation with a hand wave and/or a clap. I loved my trips to Paradise, as infrequent as they could be in those days.

One of the many games to stand out was on 7th May 1988. It was our 99th season and we had just won the league. We were playing Dunfermline Athletic, who had just been relegated. The league trophy was presented that day and there was a bit of a carnival atmosphere. I was in the jungle from before kick off in this game and there was even more of a party atmosphere than normal. The Dunfermline fans raised a banner saying ” Jim, we’ll be back. P.S. Happy birthday Celtic“. (The Jim being Jim Leishman their manager).

The place erupted, the jungle singing “You’ll be back” at them and the football became almost secondary. (We actually won the game 1-0).

1988 was a difficult year for me personally. I was 18 years old and my life had already gone off the rails real quick. I had had two jobs, cutting meat in Alex Munro Butchers, and then cutting wood in East End Sawmills, but in May I was 18 and unemployed. I was also already heavily addicted to Temgesics, Speed, Lsd, Temazepam, hash and well basically just about any drug going. It would only be a few months later that I was arrested for my involvement in drugs.

Life was garbage. It was already one day melting into the next. Crashing from one house to another and sometimes going days without a sleep.

Anyway, back to Celtic. That game stands out as the only one I ever remember the opposition supporters saying something “nice”. It was 100 years since Brother Walfrid “set up Celtic to “Supply the East End conferences of the St. Vincent De Paul Society with funds for the maintenance of the “Dinner Tables” of our needy children in the Missions of St Mary’s, Sacred Heart, and St. Michael’s. Many cases of sheer poverty are left unaided through lack o f means. It is therefore with this principle object that we have set afloat the Celtic’.” Founding meeting takes place in St. Mary’s Church hall, in Calton.Brother Walfrid site

It was brilliant and there more than a few of the Jungle surges, where, when something on the pitch was being celebrated, there was a whole press from the back of the terracing to the front . You dug your feet in and stood your ground. Here is a link to an excellent Celtic Wiki post on the Jungle 

Exactly one week later I went to my first Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park. Celtic played Dundee United and won 2-1 after Frank Mcavennie scored two goals (including a last minute winner) to cancel out Kevin Gallagher’s lead for United. At that time I was sent out to live with my aunt and uncle in Whiteinch quite a lot. The hope was a change of scenery would break the hold of the drugs – it didn’t.

That day, my uncle John, my cousin Paul and, I think Scott Butterworth and I all made our way to Hampden. I don’t remember much about that game, other than how my uncle John really tried to bring normality in my life and to him a Scottish Cup Final was what every young man should be doing that day. There was a guest of honour  that day but to be honest she was very low on my list of priorities. She got the red card treatment from both sets of fans, so I suppose there was a bit more supporter unity at that game as well.

Life went on and got worse but those two games, especially the Dunfermline game linger long.

More about the in-between years can be read in other blog posts, but i want to just do a couple on my journey with Celtic. In my next post I will talk about my return to Celtic Park when I got out of prison and how it went beyond my wildest dreams, and yet my life continued downhill..

When I was contemplating this post, the famous Tommy Burns quote was all I could think of. To my great delight I discovered that it was actually said in an interview after the last minute winner at THAT Scottish Cup Final.

Tommy was known for his faith, his family and his football, in that order as he says. That quote has come back to me a lot in my current position, and especially in relation to church life and those who practice and outwork their faith in Jesus, but more about that in another post.

Just because its my blog and I can, here is a clip of that interview.

I have referred to the excellent Celtic Wiki page for some information on these posts.

This POST is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.

Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.

I have now released an early edition of my story, Completing the Tenner

I have also published two poem books: Simply Jesus  and Five Weeks in May

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You can purchase these direct from Amazon (please use Amazon Smile link below and Amazon will contribute to ECC at no cost to you), They are all available in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

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