Date : 24th October 2010
Time : 15.00 ish
Location : Glasgow’s Gallowgate
Funereal just about described the atmosphere, although comparatively speaking most funerals would have seemed like a fifth avenue ticker tape welcome home for moon landing astronauts. Possibly the death march of Napoleon’s armies from Russia got close, with the exception that no-one, well not unwillingly anyway was likely to die of malnutrition or turn on his companions and draw lots to see who ate who before they reached the sanctuary of the Barras.
It seemed as if half the city was walking in sympathy as mourners stretched from the Forge past Hagies, the Drover and the Wee Man’s along the Gallowgate as far as Glasgow Cross, their demeanour suggesting that many thoughts lay in a deadly embrace with the humour of the original scaffold that gave the thoroughfare its name. Giving a mocking contrast was the incessant fizz-bang-crackle of hun inspired bangers, rockets and other non-denominational fireworks (Roman Candles were notable by their absence) set off in the rat runs that lay between the Gallowgate and Glasgow Green.
“Just how many people…” I lied to myself “ realised that the name Bridgeton was just a biblical and rough translation from the Hebrew – Sodom and Gomorrah”!
Perhaps I was doing them a disservice; perhaps someone important had died; a well loved publican maybe, or a favourite footballer. It was neither of course and far more important.
Their ecstacy was the ying to our despair. Their bountiful land of verdant fields of every food and drink known to man sucking their nutrition from our wilting emaciated last gasp of rootless futility.
It was only an hour or so since our depression had set in, but its virulence was extensive and rapid.
The ribbon of quiet was punctuated by the occasional discarded attempt to strike up a conversation. The hush, no more than a concentration of incredulity at a so recently resuscitated optimism now sadly asphyxiated.
Tens of thousands tramped and shuffled, heads bowed, lips set hard and heads shaking almost in synchronisation as the game, the turning points, its result and most importantly the paucity of performance played over and over again and again in the forbiddingly dark communal cloud above our heads; a cloud that in defiance of the eternal proverbial comfort for temporarily embarrassed optimists, contained no silver lining.
There was no rebelliousness in the air, not a song, hardly a voice raised in anything but acceptance that Celtic had been outthought, out manoeuvred and maybe even just outed by a team that would be lucky to scrape into the Europa League; in local parlance the judgement was damning and final – we had been gubbed.
And the worst of it all was that from the heady days of Martin and Gordon, no one seemed to really appreciate just how far we’d fallen and even if they did, where the solution lay in starting the climb back from a level of mediocrity that we hadn’t seen (and refused to accept) since the ninth decade of the previous century.
There was an honesty about that walk, a depressing soul destroying tramp of honesty that reflected not so much Rangers’ superiority, for on the day they didn’t outplay us (thank God as it was Celtic Park), but they did hump us 3-1, and in doing so finally brought home to many who could see a sudden resurgence in form, that the answer wasn’t simply “get this player in” or “get that player out!”
For how many years now had some of the more deluded (including myself) believed that Rangers were about to implode ; how many of us had confidently and condescendingly admonished them for their profligacy and if not certain demise, at least a foreseeable future of grubbing around in the bins for the scraps that they could gather. Oh they were going to suffer the pains and anguish of football malnutrition while we stole off into the sunlit green and pleasant uplands on our magic carpet of ‘the bottom line’ while they languished under our boot for oh let’s say ‘a generation of domination’. It was us who were going to lording it up dressed in our finery while they cut their cloth until everything became see-through and nothing could be hidden from the prying eyes of the public, the taxman and the bank.
And to be fair they did indeed fall upon times as hard as many predicted but feck me as Lord Sod of Sod’s law fame took hold of our own fortunes, what did we do? Well even the plan to stay just one step ahead of them failed as well, and as we handed them silverware and a stash that the Northern Bank would have found suspicious we kept waiting for the miracle of the money trick to manifest itself.
Aye that was a great laugh as with every January, April, August or just every AGM we stamped our feet a little harder on our own personal icy slope and basked in the reflected warmth from the bonfire of historic arrogance that was about to reduce everything down Edmiston way to no more than the blackened, charred lifeless ashes of Glasgow’s very own Anschluss.
And as we waited and waited, one title followed another out of our every so healthy ledgers, trotted off down the M8 and while the hat-trick hasn’t yet been delivered, who would put their shirt on the pattern being disrupted.
Something obviously went wrong, but paradoxically was that something obvious and when and where did it occur? Who if anyone was to blame and worst of all, was this place we now found ourselves more than a symptom of a temporary reversal? Was it more than institutional bias? Was it greater than an incompetent board, a hostile press, an administration that couldn’t run a bath?
Was it simply down to managers and players who failed because they did not play at a level that was good enough?
Or are we now approaching an end-game? Do we now find ourselves at the bottom of the hill, staring back up that icy path to the cloud-shrouded heights, not so much of the Champions League but with envy at even the heady atmosphere of the group stages of the Europa League?
Have we now found our destiny as a club that now sees its unique history hit the buffers of unavoidable change generated as the money men of the big leagues, television, UEFA and FIFA see us (and our peers) as in interesting curiosity and whose only interest in Scottish Football is selling TV dishes, inviting us for friendlies, and getting a vote to maintain their places at the head of the bloated table of self-interest.
Most importantly do we now set aside our history and see ourselves, not as what we are and what we want to be, but as merely what Rangers fans and their club are not. Are we on the brink of becoming their alter-ego and existing only because they do? Are we staring into the Abyss where each of us are daring the other to jump while desperately ensuring that if we are going to go, we will go together?
I had thought about many of these questions before, but as we tramped along the Gallowgate I wondered if there really was anything to look forward to that could ever approach the gifts that I had been fortunate enough to receive in the past. Would the kids who were inexplicably quiet ever be likely to see the great stadiums of Europe or the great teams entering Celtic Park while 60,000 mischievously drowned out ‘Zadoc the Priest’ and left the visiting ‘dignitaries’ open mouthed at the intensity of a demonstration that said, “We are not a football team…..we are a movement …..a community ……..and don’t feckin forget it….by the way have a drink!”
Perhaps it would be the children of the children there who the future awaited as we thrilled them with a stunning 92 minute winner against Motherwell, or Stenhousemuir, or even Rangers…..and that that would be the pinnacle.
Eventually I got back to the Gorbals and Sharkey’s. Now in conversations the starkness of our position was more hard-set yet frothing with bemusement. Not one person “television” or ‘at-the-game’ thought we should have won.
Eventually I got my stool in ‘intellectual corner’ and surveyed the carnage of the cyber-Celtic-world.
The indiscriminate strafing of blame was well underway with all the usual suspects (although Lenny got off lightly) being fingered as the cause of ‘Celtic-our part in our downfall’. Everyone was fair game for where we now found ourselves.
But then I wasn’t really sure if anyone really understood exactly where we had found ourselves. I wasn’t even sure that I had a grasp on that. If I could get that out of the way, then maybe, just maybe if there was a path back to some semblance of standing in the European game and if we were really to take the echo of history and build on its foundations to soar upwards to the future we would be able to recognise it. After all more than most, we had been there before and surely that knowledge of the path we had taken on our descent would be a good starting line for a renewed attempt on the summit.
Something had to be done and I thought that I might know what.
I got on my stool in intellectual corner, booted my notebook into life, cracked my knuckles and prepared to reveal all…….when