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Paradise : Losing my virginity!

Misty-eyed revisionism is something most football fans are accused of. We remember the greats, forget their foibles and laud their high-points. But that’s OK and is the lot of a football fan. Celtic fans are no different from any others. Well, except a certain lot, but we don’t talk about them anymore as their club no longer exists.

This got me thinking about my first ever Celtic game. It was 1986 and I was 9 years old. I had only just recently progressed to being interested in football, moving on from Spiderman and His Amazing Friends to playing football in the car park at the bottom of the street. This was before every house had two cars and a Bunzl van. We’ll talk more of Spiderman later.

Growing up in Croy meant there was an inevitability about which team you would support. However, I was brought up in a mixed faith family. Not that any of my parents practiced their faith but the decision a parent makes when a child is but 3-months old sticks with them for life in the intolerant minds of some in Scotland; for better or worse. With a protestant father and catholic mother I had the balance of not being brought up in indoctrination, either faith or football, and this allowed me to make my own decision.

I chose Celtic.

So, it was on the 15th of February, 1986 when I was to make my first pilgrimage to Celtic Park. The Bob Crampseys amongst you will know immediately the vital statistics from that day. Celtic played the lower division amateurs Queen’s Park. It was a Glasgow derby and I was going on the supporters’ bus with a promise of a lift over the turnstiles and a hot chocolate.

The game was turgid, I remember that much. I remember Celtic won 2-1 and were lucky to do so. I didn’t understand why the obvious gulf in class between the sides (supposedly) so the angst from the support when Queen’s Park took the lead was lost on me a wee bit.

Now, before you begin to marvel over my amazing memory I should call out that thanks to the brilliant celticwiki website, I have been able to stimulate the old grey matter by reading a cut out from the match report as well as some other factoids. You can do so here.

The game was a sideshow to the main event. Santa had brought me a Celtic strip for my Christmas and this was its first outing at an official game. I wanted it on show, so wore it over my jacket like some junior German child on a school exchange scheme to Scotland.

The badge, I remember the badge well.

I was promised a badge too, and when we got to the man selling hats, scarves and badges, I made a beeline for the little silver trinkets attached to the rectangular corkboard. There was insignia everywhere; the Celtic crest, Celtic crosses, tricolors and even green St Andrews crosses.  I asked my dad about one which said, “1690 we want a replay.”

His reply? “Has nothing to do with football.” He was a 100% right. I got a badge with the classic Celtic crest on it. Somehow I don’t think it was a licensed product.

As you would expect, being 9 years old, I jumped the turnstile. My brother was there too. He didn’t have much of an interest in football then and his current love for the game is borne out of winding up anyone daft enough to rise to his bait on Facebook. He is highly capable in this regard.

The things I remember most about the game was sinking a watery hot chocolate that was nothing like the nectar you could get from Ricky Martin’s bookies. My brother must have had ten ‘brovils’ as he called them. Quite why anyone would drink that offal shite is beyond me. Complete and utter keech.

So, onto the game. Celtic scrapped through 2-1. The goals were scored by Brian McClair and Roy Aitken in an action packed second half. Or should I say quarter of an hour as all goals came between the 50th and 62nd minutes.

That didn’t matter. I had seen Celtic win. The team that day makes for interesting reading. The image below gives you a full match report. I can recall almost none of it and would have sworn Pat Bonnar was in goals. But, Dixon Blackstock’s report is a more reliable source than my primary 5 aged brain.

I do remember the bus home. The rush to get back to hear the scores coming in from the other games. The Jimmy Sandison show; I think. Well, it was certainly the case of every other bus home so surely this one. His nasal affected whine, sounding half-ned and half-respectable journalist, dominated the speakers of the Canavan’s coach that trudged back to Croy, out of Glasgow’s east end and through Stepps to home.

The really interesting things when contrasted with today are the crowd, under 12,000 and the gate receipts being £17,000. First of all, just how small these numbers are is remarkable when compared to today’s standards, but also that a paper would print the takings alongside the scorers and the match report.

The ramshackle stadium was a mess. I was in the Rangers end for this game. Must have had lower turnstiles. The sheer scale of the terracing allayed to how low the stadium has probably been lost on a lot of people, but you cannot deny the progress in both attracting fans to games, and the comfort with which we watch football today, has been remarkable. And the pitch in the header picture to this article just does not look conducive to playing football the Glasgow Celtic way.

Of course, progress has casualties and in those days it took me a couple of seasons before I braved The Jungle. I am pretty sure that if we had a standing area like that the fans in there would be at it from the get-go, really helping bring the atmosphere up from its, at times, morose depths these days. That and the ability to go from side to side and watch the game in the attacking half during both 45s was brilliant.

1986 was the start of a love affair with Celtic that no divorce, betrayal or ‘unnamed third party’ can, or ever will, end. It becomes part of you. That day was my first real step into being a Celtic fan. It has never left me.

With two young boys in the family now – and I have just bought them the Spiderman and His Amazing Friends DVD off of Amazon – time will tell as to whether they follow my path to Celtic but one thing is for sure, it won’t be on a freezing February in a Baltic stadium to watch a 3rd Division team in a crappy cup game.

Unless we draw Sevco in the cup that is…


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