It was a typical Glaswegian spring evening as the bitter north wind carrying with it the last of the winter’s chill piercing rain, swept down streets, round corners, up closes and battered and rattled windows and doors like desperate men searching for sanctuary from the banshees of the night!
The old man sat in not only his favourite chair, but also his only chair in the spartan living room with only a few strategically placed sepia toned and now fading pictures to remind him of the vibrancy of his youth and family and friends now gone.
The glass fronted coal fire under the mantle was lit, but the heat it generated no longer powered the moribund central heating, so he kept its glass door open to allow the little heat it radiated to at least prevent his breath freezing in front of his eyes.
A television, his one luxury sat in the corner giving light and a flickering meaning to a sad substitute for a valued or valuable life. He watched without seeing and heard without listening as wars raged, disasters befell, politicians screamed, and people lived, laughed, died and were forgotten.
It was that time of night again when he would pull himself up from his chair, struggle slowly step by interminable step up the thirteen stairs to his bed, cover himself up for the night, save coal, and fitfully and sleeplessly await daybreak, most of the time not really caring whether he was still there or not when the sun rose.
Half-way to his feet, the news-reader announced
“Tonight in the Stade de France, Barcelona won Europe’s and arguably the world’s major club prize for the second time in their history.”
The old man stopped in mid-creak and sat back down again. Over the years although Celtic were his one true love, he had also held Barca in some affection. At first it had been because of its history and its fans -‘Les Cules’; but then one man, one player, a unique man, a unique player…..Henrik Larsson joined the club. That made them a bit more special.
The newsreader continued,
“Barcelona struggled for much of the game, with their much lauded stars either playing ineffectively in unfamiliar roles or territory, or failing perhaps through the burden of expectation to perform to their much vaunted capabilities. That is until, in a moment of inspiration they introduced to the fray, on his last ever appearance a certain Henrik Larsson……”
In almost perfect synchronisation the old man’s body seemed to become alive and alert, his mouth smiled, his eyes widened, and like a shot of adrenalin to the tired athlete his mind became alive in a way that he hadn’t experienced in years.
“Henrik Larsson is the King of Kings………Give me joy in my heart Henrik Larsson…….There’s only one Henrik Larsson….” he sang, his head and shoulders bobbing in time!
As the words and melodies came back he sang louder and louder, his two arms raised to shoulder level now, swinging and half swiveling at the waist. And then with the gusto and energy of a teenager he sprung from his old sagging chair and did a little jig and lap of honour around the living room floor.
“Please don’t take my Larsson away……”
And as he jigged, the wind calmed, the rain ceased, and the dreich evening clouds dissolved into a delighted shepherd night as the revealed sun spread its fire across the horizon.
“Right pub I think” said the old man to one of his family frames “they should all be there tonight!”
He fairly belted down the road that night, causing wires to be red-hot as the curtain twitchers in the street phoned each other with the news that
“Glory be to God, it’s a miracle, the old git across the road must have been to Lourdes and it has worked!”
Doors opened as women in their hundreds dragged reluctant spouses and offspring to the novenas and devotions in praise of the Gorbals’ miracle, and the lads in the Barras started selling genuine blessed pure alabaster mementos from Nineveh at fiver each and two for a tenner!
The old man was right, when he got to the pub, they were all there! Even his long gone family and friends were there.
“So this is where you went to. You’ve been gone for ages” he said!
Most of them as usual were crushed in their customary pose at the bar vying for who could shout the loudest to get the landlady’s attention.
There was Harry ‘what a waste of money that Larsson is’’ after his debut against Hibs.
Tony ‘I think Harold will prove better in the long run’ after ten-in a row went down the pan;
Jimmy ‘I cried in Lyon’ when his leg crumbled;
Pat ‘Liverpool never knew what had hit them’;
Matt ‘The night in Boavista will live forever’;
Paul ‘He deserved a winners’ medal in Seville’;
All of us, ‘what an arse he made of the Amoruso, Konterman, and Klos with the ‘goal of goals from the king of kings’’.
There was of course also baldy James ‘What do you reckon he done wae his dreadlocks?’
The memories and flashbacks of Cup finals, hat-tricks, broken jaws, last minute winners, were all there. They flowed faster and were more intoxicating than the Guinness!
Youthful days recalled became youthful days regained and as the evening came to a close, the much younger old man with family arms linked, made their way back home and two steps at a time they bounded up the stairs to their rooms.
As his eyes closed and the land of imagination beckoned, he thought to himself.
“Was Henrik better for us than us for him? Stupid question really! All I know is that I’m quite looking forward to tomorrow!”
And there they all were again on the London road; there they all were again on the V for Victory road, there they all were again on the one road, but most of all there they all were again on the road to rediscovering forgotten dreams, discarded hopes and neglected ambition.
Or perhaps the one road IS the road of dreams, hopes, and ambition!
And to get us back on that one road perhaps it takes not just a goal-scorer extraordinaire; not just a player who knows that without the team and the fans there is nothing, and plays without quarter that way.
Perhaps it takes a man who is not only capable of uniting a support that can be the most fervent, the most vocal, and the most devoted but can also be the most fickle, critical and dismissive.
Perhaps it also takes a man who is capable of raising the sick from their beds, the jakeys from the gutters and the sinful from their vices.
Perhaps it is a dream-maker, a Celtic sandman, and perhaps we all know who he is!
I know because it happened last night in the Gorbals.
I know also because I not only witnessed it…. I was that old man!