2003 – A Spain Odyssey

Good old Helen of Troy! Renowned from classical times as the face that launched a thousand ships. A mere thousand ships…what a puny effort!

36 years ago the simple word ‘Lisbon’ launched ships, and trains, and boats, and planes, and cars, and bikes, and an armada of every type of vessel possible as well as generating a million stories upon which, had Homer been around at the time, he would surely have based both his Iliad and Odyssey.

The simple reality of that word ‘Lisbon’ in the pantheon of followers of Celtic Football Club is remarkable enough in its basic truths and will, as long as there are Celtic supporters with memories, hearts and an instinctive devotion and identity with what is lovingly called ‘The History’, with apologies to Mr Spock, ‘live long and prosper’.

However, the legend that is ever nourished by the reality of Lisbon, and in kind like all good legends, enhances and glorifies the virtues of that reality, will not only live, breath and thrive, it will also as it has done for the last 36 years, grow in stature, impact, reverence and not least in the multiplication of the numbers who both attended or just believed they attended the Estadio Nacional on that 25th day of May 1967.

Even for those who were too young or not born at the time, our ancestral tree is apparently populated on every branch with hosts of forebears whose common denominator was the completion of  by hook or by crook and fair means or foul, that journey and the invasion of Portugal’s fair capital all those years ago.

Much mockery is spread on these tales and claims.  To the annoyance and frustration of a multitude of emotional eunuchs the fact that with each advancing year the acclaim, recognition and commemoration continues to both exist and grow, seems to be preposterous, and ridicule is poured on the ever burgeoning numbers who have the simple desire to not only state but truly want to believe that ‘I was there’.

These people who mock are soulless creatures of the night with no recognition what the essence of ‘The History’ actually means.  It is they who deserve to be pitied and ridiculed.  It is they who live as Scarfe-like disfigured caricatures of stereotypes, who persist in swaggering up and down streets throughout the world in July dressed like night railway workers in their fluorescent halters, proclaiming their allegiance and fealty to King William of Orange, the apprentice boys, and The Battle of the Boyne, not from 36 years ago, not even 136 years ago, but 313 years ago.

And unlike the simple and naïve self-deception of the ever more ubiquitous claim that ‘I was there’, there is an evil motivation, a destructive and stunted intellect, a castrated heart, and a sub-human despair upon which feeds the bigoted and fetid putrefaction known as orangeism and its homunculus-in-arms – inhumane bigotry.

Let them come and ask and examine the reality of the much more profound truth and the redemptive quality of man’s capability of demonstrating humanity to his fellow man that lies behind that inconsequential self-deception of ‘I was there’.  Let them examine why so many wanted to be there; let them truly with both open mind and open heart try to really understand and recognise the benevolence and welcome comfort provided by ‘The History’.

A ‘History’ that was rooted in poverty and despair, nurtured by hope, belief and achievement; that flowered in a realisation of identity and commonweal and has prospered ever since in the simple innate belief in man’s capability and desire to strive and sacrifice for the sake of others.

Sentimental?  Perhaps!  Romantic?  Yes!  Dramatic?  Undoubtedly!  True?  Indisputably!  Desirable……….? Well, I dread the outcome of the stark alternative.

And the beating heart and graceful soul at the centre of all of this is Celtic Football Club, pumping through the arteries’ of every conscientious supporter the story and the message, the hopes and the dreams, or simply ‘The History’.

And it is because of that ‘History’ that 12,000 fans were drawn to Lisbon. It is because of that History that 30,000 fans think they went to Lisbon. Most importantly it is because of that History that 80,000 fans DID go to Seville.

So what is this phenomenon that was set in train all those years ago by Brother Walfrid.

What is this ‘History’ that we want to be part of?

It is more than just a club, more than just a team, more than just a bunch of unrivalled supporters, more even than the events great and tragic, the personalities magnificent and mundane, the seasons prosperous and barren, the tears joyful and jerking.

The ‘History’ has a meaning that is given substance by our identification with it.  This substance is the essential and at times ephemeral virtue that made people like Jock Stein, Danny McGrain, Tommy Gemmell, Willie Wallace, Ronnie Simpson discard the taunts and arrows of hatred that came their way because they played for Celtic Football Club, because they were regarded as traitors and turn-coats.  These were underrated men who were more than footballers.

Through them and through Brother Walfrid and through the thousands upon thousands of heads and faces that crowded the floating bridge between Scotland and Ireland in the years following the famine whose lives were enriched and in many cases saved, irrespective of creed or colour by the actions of Celtic Football Club, this ‘History’ is real and solid.  Even in those where that knowledge may lie unrecognised, it is through this that they were either born or chose to join the Celtic family.  It is this that makes ‘The History’. It is through this that thousands upon thousands of us live out our hopes and our dreams.  And like all hopes and dreams, they are not necessarily fulfilled, but that does not make them any less real.

I have been lucky; I have had that hope and dream three times.  Lisbon, Milan, and now Seville.  In the case of Lisbon and Milan I wasn’t there.  I had acquaintances and friends who were and I am utterly and unashamedly jealous.

So when Seville came around, it would have taken something special to have stopped me from getting there.  But I didn’t just want to get there – after all the spirit of Lisbon like (as the song goes) ‘the name Albert Kidd lingered on’.

I didn’t want to plan it in the sense of just flying in seeing the game and flying out.  I wanted something haphazard about it.  I wanted a degree of difficulty.  I wanted something more than just a game.  I wanted a pilgrimage, I wanted an Odyssey, and I wanted a one of those dreams that just for once would come so true.

Degree of difficulty, you’ve got to be joking.  Comparatively mine was a piece of cake.

Admittedly I cut it fine getting to London and only picking my Spanish rail tickets up on the Saturday in Hammersmith 4 minutes before the RENFE offices shut for the weekend.  Yes I flew to Barca, lost my phone, camera, and reading glasses, slept on streets, in Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Valencia. Didn’t get a ticket and watched on a big screen in Plaza Triana with approximately 30,000 others, eventually made my way back, etc etc

But my tales fall into insignificance in comparison with the true devotees. Those whose cars and vans broke down in Perpignon, and Montpellier. The hitchhiker who had got the train to Paris and somehow had ended up in Barcelona. The Croatian from Zagreb I met on the Madrid train; he was on crutches recovering from a bust leg which was still plastered up. He had a Celtic shirt on but could only say three words in English (which to be fair is three words more than I can say in Serbo-Croat, but there again I don’t travel two thousand miles to watch Dynamo Zagreb). By the way he knew all the songs, so we sang together and drank together and I think I also taught him a few more words.

Remember Goldfinger and the scene where Pussy Galore and her flying school spray the knock out gas and the streets end up with bodies everywhere.  Well I think they flew over Seville in those glorious nights before and after the Final.

They could have used Seville as a mock up exercise of the aftermath of a nuclear war.  80,000 and one arrest (the rumour was it was for being sober!).

The Cathedral has and will probably never again see anything like it.  There was a continuous Mass (as in Holy) being celebrated in one of the 4 chapels.  I spent some time in the Cathedral as I had found that at the back of the Sacristy was a private toilet and washroom.  It was very unchristian like of me not to tell anyone else about it.

Each Mass was filled to overflowing by a constantly replenished queue of green and white clad communicants.  Wafers were undoubtedly in big demand!

And still they kept coming, crowding into every square and avenue, every bar and restaurant, some with tickets most without, some with hotel rooms, most without.  I personally had the luxury of getting a couple of hours in one of those cashpoint lobbies.  But I didn’t want to sleep.  I walked and walked, along the banks of the Alphonse Canal, stepping over hooped bodies.  I strolled along the edge of the Rio Guadalquivir stopping almost every 10 yards to marvel at the parties that just kept going on and on.  Every Spanish bar as far as the eye could see stayed open and was full to overflowing.  The only bars that seemed to close were the Irish ones – Flaherty’s and Trinity.  Still they were open early for breakfast – that’s breakfast as in ‘a Pint of Guinness and something to wash it down with’

Thousands upon thousands upon thousands just kept flooding into the town.  For two unforgettable unmissable days and nights Spanish became the second language of Seville.  And what a city, what a people.

And what’s more with some sort of remarkable serendipity I bumped into Tony and Gary with whom I occasionally share a glass or two in Sharkey’s!

I could go on and on and on and at some time or other I probably will!

But to sum up….I think the only words that could approach doing it justice are those of St Martin himself

Astonishing! Simply Astonishing!…….

And all caused by something equally if not more astonishing ….‘The History’

 

2003 – A Spain Odyssey

or

(You’ll be marking your Lotto, while we’re getting Blotto)

 From north and south, from east and west, by boat and train and plane,

By car and foot, by barge and bike, we made our way to Spain,

We moved by day, we moved by night, by land and sea and air,

We hitched, we hiked, we thumbed, we stowed, somehow we all got there.

 

Flight after flight descended in the blazing Spanish sun,

Not one or two or three or four, but thousands on each run,

A tidal wave of Bhoys and Ghirls, a flush of living green,

Coursed through the streets like streams in spate to flood the sun drenched scene.

 

As every train sped on each track, its whistle blown on high,

It warned the world the Tim Malloys had drunk the buffets dry,

We came from every sovereign land and every nation state,

We came with Celtic in our hearts, we came to face our fate.

 

From Hong Kong, Hobart, New York too, Karachi, and Lahore,

From Melbourne, Perth, Johannesburg, from north to southern shore,

We came from right we came from left we came from up and down,

From every street and every lane we filled the whole damn town,

 

From ‘Catedral y Giralda’ to Rio Guadalquivir,

We drank the red, we drank the white, sambuca, stout, and beer,

From Santa Juste to Santa Cruz through to Real Alcazar,

Appeared just like the Gallowgate, each inn a Celtic bar.

 

What of the game? Well such is life, the facts for all to see

Were that The Celts scored only two, and those cheating bastards ..Three!

But though we lost, each Bhoy in green – a hero every one,

Proved once again that when in Hoops, these colours never run!

 

A flood of tears I saw that night, from wean to OAP,

But tears that sprung from bursting pride, I know ’cos one was me,

And singing voices once again resounded till the sun

Arose and seen our Spanish hosts who thought ‘What if they’d won!’

 

We came, we saw, we conquered hearts, we left without the prize,

But left with something dearer still, with smiles and sparkling eyes,

And though we lost the final there, ‘twas not a bitter pill,

We’ll ne’er forget that shining jewel, we’ll ne’er forget Seville.

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