ACT 1 – The Three Wise Men lose their way
The boardroom was deserted now; the crumbs of cheese and onion crisps, discarded crackers and remnants of party hats and streamers the only echoes of the laughter and conversations of the festive get-together of a few hours previous. The remaining bubbly in the fluted crystal glasses was flat now, the bottles empty and a few discarded paper plates sadly sporting only dry lifeless lettuce leaves and four or five sad little curling cucumber and cheese sandwiches. The turkey, sausages and cakes that had filled the silver plated trays were long gone, hardly a trace left on the green ,white and orange cloth which protected the immaculately polished Canadian redwood engraved table.
The trophy cabinet stood silent but smilingly showing off cup after cup, trophies, medals, pennants and a hundred mementoes of games long gone, players now departed and stories still fresh in their thousandth telling.
Pat stared at his reflection in the glass, imagining picking up just one of the prizes, his chest bearing the hoops as he turned from the steps to raise the silver cup in triumph and salute towards the banks of 60,000 Celtic supporters. Just once! What he would have given for that? Just once!
He breathed in deeply as his reflection looked back, bringing him back to the reality of his cleaners’ uniform, his broom, his oh so grey hair, and the task of returning the room to its pristine state. He started sweeping, wiping, polishing, stacking and bagging.
As he opened the door to leave, the far away gentle strains of an Irish ballad drifted on the evening air bringing that involuntary little tap to a subconsciously musical left foot.
He closed the door behind him, a sort of mellow respectful close at that and purposefully returned to the reception area, chatted with Mick on the desk and headed to do one final check of the offices. The manager’s door lay slightly ajar and Pat could see the Guv’ner sitting back in his chair, calmly listening to the chairman as he outlined the options for the approaching transfer window.
The chairman went quiet and the manager turned to the chief exec.
“What are you going to do with that magnificent budget then oh sharply pressed man? You’ve got my list of targets; I think you might as well rip up all but the last page and get us another couple of benchwarmers, because that’s just about what the treasure chest will cover”
The chief exec didn’t say anything. He was as disappointed as the Manager. The chairman would have twiddled his moustache if he had one, but he knew that it was never a good idea in this world to ape slavishly the style of your boss; and anyway a moustache would have given him a sort of Adolfian look which might have been a bit too close for comfort.
“Look I’m only passing on the strategy of our esteemed majority shareholder, benefactor, all round good guy and let’s not forget – a billionaire!” He slabbered profusely as he paused; the pause not just for affect, not just to allow acknowledgement of his mastery of influential language with which he infused his listeners, but particularly to check for any physical betrayal of a negative perception of Mr ‘twice a year’ Celtic.
Nothing obvious jumped out and so wiping his chin, he continued.
“Money’s tight. The world is depressed. But you know that the man himself will look after you two. I mean look at the bonus system. That was his idea to separate your remuneration from the performance of the team. Close shave eh? It might have been gruel on yer tables this Christmas if he hadn’t done that. The man is a saint, I tell you A FECKIN SAINT”.
Pat quietly ghosted back out of earshot and headed for the dressing rooms. Nothing new was to be heard there, after all he’d heard every discussion with every manager and board since the days of Jimmy McStay. It would have been no surprise to see Bill Murray sitting in the boss’s chair filming Groundhog Day or in the chairman’s place reprising his role as Frank Cross in Scrooged.
Closing the door to the outside world, he sat down where the manager usually placed himself, put his chin on his hands, and whispered to himself “Feck it. Nae players coming again! Whit’s happening here?”
He shook his head.
He could still hear the voices of Lennon and Lambert, Larsson and Sutton, Thompson and Hartson as they came in after another night of European magic. He could still hear the sound of Gordon Strachan and Tommy Burns laughing in triumph as Naka, Jiri, Jan, Skippy and Aiden had put AC Milan or Man U or Moscow Dynamo to the sword. He doubted if he would ever hear or see their likes again.
The dressing room usually comforted him but now it was cold and a little unwelcoming.
Two days to Christmas and if there were no new arrivals in January, the whole ground might even end up as deserted and quiet; it was bad enough already with recession and unemployment eating into even the core attendance; But there was an air of disenchantment almost an unheard of apathy from those who did come, bringing with them a depression in atmosphere that clung to the match-day like a suffocating cloud. He knew it wasn’t really his problem, but it was his team, and he couldn’t just turn the lights off, go home and forget about it. That would have been like forgetting to breathe and probably just as fatal.
He felt the shiver of age and defeat start at his ankles and begin to engulf his body.
“Ach what can ah dae?” he thought as he went round switching off electricity points and lights, closing the windows and removing the final tabs from the advent calendar.
“Maybe” he speculated under his breath “There will be a miracle as well as a chocolate behind the wee pieces of loose cardboard.”
But it was just the same as every year. Same old scenes, same old chocolates, chocolate orange at that. He looked at the calendar for a moment and again shook his head.
“My God, tightwads without a trace of conscience. It’s the bloody same calendar as last year, the torn tabs replaced by prit-stick. Wouldn’t bloody surprise me if the catering in the boardroom was last years as well”.
He swept one final look, his eyes resting for a second on the aluminium doors to the players possessions. Holding back the tears he looked at the one with no-name, no key, and no owner. It had been discontinued in a mark of respect. His eyes welled with tears as he went just to touch it.
He screamed in pain, swearing and cursing as a sudden shock ran through his arm triggering a fair impression of a Michael Flatley chorus line as he hopped and shook his arm, careering off benches and walls till the excruciating spasms settled down to just intolerable.
“For the love of Mary. That is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.” he said to no-one, and then looked around just to make sure that no-one was there.
“Feckin electricity! How in the name o’ the wee man has power started shorting through that. I’ll never get a sparks at this time of the year. Ah better huv a keek masel, cannae leave it like that.”
He was sort of glad that he had something else to keep him there. He hated leaving the ground with its ghosts, its angels and its history to the darkness of the night. But he didn’t want to appear ‘sad’ by just sitting there like a lovelorn beau.
He headed back to his wee cubby hole in the bowels of the greatest stadium on earth, home to the greatest team on earth, who performed the greatest show on earth, to get the circuit tester and big insulated gloves (which in keeping with the environment were the greatest circuit tester and big insulated gloves on earth). As he turned the final corner a shadowy figure suddenly pulled back from rummaging in the big green plastic corpy bin.
“Pat!!” The chairman shouted with a start “I thought you had gone home. I’m just making sure that everything is ship-shape and Bristol fashion before heading back to the good lady for yuletide”.
“That’ll be the bin bag a jist threw out wae aw they party plates ‘n’ cups ‘n’ stuff ye’ll be hawdin behin’ yer back.”
The chairman looked shifty! And as shifty does as shifty looks, he shifted, uncomfortably for a few seconds before regaining a semblance of composure. After all he had negotiated with great powers, sent armies to death and destruction, and convinced the world of the existence of mere figments of America’s imagination. No way was some wee upstart Glasgow cleaner going to cause him a problem.
“Come on Pat, you of all people know of the reputation that a club of Celtic’s standing has to maintain. That bin was overflowing and apart from the leakage of potentially poisonous waste and the nauseous stench, it really is a bad day when Celtic Football Club doesn’t put its best foot forward for all the world to see. It’s a question of standards Pat; you should know that after all a reputation is so hard to acquire but very easy to lose. So you see I was merely moving the contents to a new bin. Simple really. We must not let our standards slip.”
Pat licked his lips before replying.
“Sorry mister chairman, ye see when ah threw the bag intae the bin, it wisnae even half fu’. Fur a wee minute ah thought ye wur tryin tae retrieve the unused paper cups and plates tae reuse them and save anither couple o’ bob?”
The chairman was not happy and, chin dripping again, cuttingly responded
“Ho Ho Ho! What a ridiculous manipulation of the truth. Have you been drinking Pat? We really can’t have that you know”.
‘The best laid schemes’ may indeed ‘gang-aft agley’, but this one had worked better than a Mcgeady triple step over versus Aberdeen, and Pat had the wee supercilious mandarin by the short and curlies.
“Naw, nae drink fur me mister chairman, but since yer intae a bit of tidying up ye might as weel take this wae yer ither stuff. It’s jist the Advent Calendar that ye reused frae last year. Imagine that, stickin wee bit’s o’ cardboard back on. Whit’s the world comin tae at a’. If ye find the culprit ye might want tae ask him if he’s a secret drinker. We cannae huv that noo can we?”
Shiftiness returned with a vengeance and the long forgotten nervous tic appeared once more in the chairman’s left eye as he took the calendar, threw it into the bin-bag and marched purposefully off, passing three empty waste bins before turning into his office to do whatever football club chairman do with full refuse bags.
Pat had a wee snigger tae himself and staring down the now deserted corridor, he just mumbled “erse” to no one in particular.
He was back in the dressing room in less than two minutes.
He looked around the lockers, peeked down the back but couldn’t find any electrical connection.
The circuit tester didn’t respond to any potential leakage through its frame.
Pat pulled of the gloves and like a wizened electrician testing for a live wire, he tapped the outside lockers with his finger; once; and very quickly. Nothing! No current, no shock, and most of all no encore of his earlier St Vitas dance.
He looked back fondly at the one that he had touched earlier. He tried the tester.
This was no electric current. This was power beyond the ken of man.
The circuit tester flew out of his hand like a WMD so beloved of Mr chairman and he was thrown back against the far wall. The tester had taken most of the force and Pat was spared the spasmic attack this time.
It was only that specific locker, one in a bank of twenty that exhibited the force field.
Pat pondered again.
What was inside? Who had created the barrier? And why had no-one found out about it before?
Pat pulled out his trusty screwdriver and removed all the surrounding cupboards, other than the one underneath the offending container.
No wires, no batteries, no cells, no aerials! Nothing, it was just another ordinary container. Whatever it was that was providing such power was obviously what was inside.
“Surely not” thought Pat “It couldn’t be wan o’ them missing WMDs. That wid explain a lot mind ye. They took his name off the locker, they erased his number and they had supposedly lost the key. Naw!”
Pat dismissed the idea. But how was he to open the damn thing without flying around the room like a Gary Caldwell pass?
It was a showdown!
The man from the Gorbals versus the metal locker (made in China)!
Pat braced himself and attacked.
He grabbed the locker in a bear hug and the force shot through every cell, every organ and every limb as it tried to break his hold. This was a dance with the devil. There could only be one survivor and ricocheting of benches, walls, tables and pillars, the two protagonists fought for the every existence of their souls.
Pat’s arms were being stretched in torture, his eyes were bulging and the clasped grip of his hands and fingers were weakening and loosing with fatigue, blood, sweat and tears of the battle of body and will. He had little left to resist with as with one final heave the Deus ex Machina hurtled them both towards the ceiling where his grip gave and they fell to the floor, broken, spent but still alive staring in equal measures of defiance and admiration across the tastefully tinted tiled surface.
Pat pulled himself to his feet. He was done. He had lost.
The locker lay crumpled creased but unbreached believing prematurely in its own triumph. It tried to straighten up; with a snap and creak its door bust from its hinges and as the brightest light in the universe exploded forth, the sweetest smells filled the air and the magnificent strains of the Seraphim echoed in the chambers of Paradise, Pat could see what had been so preciously guarded, so jealously protected and so valiantly fought for.
This had been no dance with the devil. In fact it had been almost the complete opposite and it was his faith that had won in the end.
There would be no need for new players in January, for Pat now held the secret to a Celtic revival in his hands. A revival that would match and then surpass its birth; and one that would add another mystical parable to not just the history but also the future of Celtic.
“So that’s where they went to. I always wondered” whispered Pat inside his head for fear that evil eyes would read his lips and evil ears would hear his words.
He looked once again at the Celtic treasure he held in his hands, and this time there was no screaming surge of pain. This time he felt the sacraments flow.
“Faith, hope and love” he whispered again “And the greatest of these is love!”
He turned to leave. This time with not a regret. He’d be back and he, Pat Murphy, through the power that had been granted him would restore Celtic to where they rightfully belonged. The force was now unstoppable.
As he closed the door behind him and locked this greatest of arenas, he stared up at the black curtain of a Glasgow December sky.
But suddenly it cleared. The moon shone brighter than the sun, the wind and rain stopped and a shooting star stopped in its tracks to shine down on the earthly paradise, silhouetting Pat in his white dungarees against the black taramacadam of the car park.
“Jist like Bethlehem except there’s nae wise men here, just yon three chancers and wan o’ them only appears like a blue moon. Think I’ll nickname him Brigadoon!”
Pat, for reassurance checked that his precious cargo was still safe in his pocket, followed the path lit up by the brilliant heavens above and with a wee verse and chorus of “we’re on the one road”, a wee skip and click of his heels, he headed home.