Read The Road to Lisbon Online

Authors: Martin Greig

The Road to Lisbon (2 page)

BOOK: The Road to Lisbon
2.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I leave him there, still hovering over the bowl. Not smiling anymore.

The road to Lisbon.

Two hours on a plane. Seventeen-hundred miles. The European Cup. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Estádio Nacional. The marble terracing, the perimeter moat, the
eucalyptus trees. The coliseum waiting for the lions to be unleashed. And unleashed they will be. This is more than a match. This is attack v defence. This is me v him. Stein v Herrera.
Stein’s Scots v Herrera’s world stars. This is the match I have been waiting for, the moment when everything I believe in will hopefully be expressed on an immaculate patch of grass in
Portugal. This is about those 11 names on the board but it is about more than that. It is about who they represent. Who I represent. They will travel in their thousands. Planes, trains and any
vehicle, roadworthy or not. Anything with wheels will be pointed in the direction of the Portuguese capital. People who have never been beyond Glasgow Cross will be digging out maps of mainland
Europe. They will be hanging off cross-channel ferries, careering down country roads in France and serenading bemused Spanish senoritas with their songs.

Ay Ay Ay Ay

Simpson is better than Yashin

And Lennox is better than Eusebio

But Johnstone is better than anyone

Then, the friendliest, most boisterous occupation the city will ever have seen.

I can hear them now, outside the entrance to the stadium, milling around, that low murmur of voices, tense, exhilarated, rising to a roar as their heroes emerge.

It is time. I throw my jacket over my arm and close the office door softly. As I pass down the corridor, my secretary calls me back.

“Mr Stein, it’s very busy out there. Would you like me to organise for the bus to get you at the side entrance? It’ll save you time.”

I look at her and smile.

“No need for that. This is the best bit. The day I slip out the side entrance of this place is the day I chuck it.”

I walk through the front door, emerge blinking into the glorious afternoon sunshine and a huge roar rises up to greet me. The hairs on the back of my neck rise too, my back
straightens. I look at their faces. Young men, mainly, hundreds of them. Young, working-class men who have invested their money, their time, their hopes and their dreams, everything in this
football club. In its players. In me. Celtic, the centre of their lives, the core of their beings. I plunge in among them. I sign every piece of paper and politely acknowledge every goodwill
gesture because I know that these people will make the difference. These people believe in me and believe in my team. My wee team.

“Good luck, Mr Stein. We are with you every step of the way,” cries one young man, his face flushed with excitement.

I shake his hand and look into his eyes.

“Thanks for your support, you have no idea how much we appreciate it.”

“We’ll see you over there, Mr Stein,” he shouts after me. “We’ll see you in Lisbon!”

I get on the team bus bound for Seamill and sit at the front with Sean. As the coach pulls away I glance in the rear-view mirror at my team. My wee team. I see the rows of heads,
laughing and joking. I look past them through the back window and see Celtic Park framed there. Then, I whisper to myself again . . .

Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld and Lennox.


I approach Paradise, daring to daydream of adventure and glory.

I wander through the large crowd of well-wishers that has gathered in the car park. We are all charged with this strange new excitement that has been around ever since we reached the final.

Mark – my shadow lately – is easy to pick out due to the fact he’s waving a copy of Aquinas’
Summa Theologica
at me. Total redneck in front of all these

“M-m-mind we were discussing God’s essence as being identical with H-H-His existence?” he asks with his familiar stutter.


“W-w-well I think I’ve c-cracked it!”

“I’m pleased for you.”

Now I am known to visit church now and again myself, but tell me later. Much later. Three and a half thousand miles later.

I am rescued by a massive, throaty roar as the squad emerge, but they are off-limits and club officials usher them towards the waiting coach heading for Seamill, the Clyde coast retreat;
Celtic’s Lourdes, they call it. I try to pick out the 11 I feel certain he will start with in Lisbon.

Tommy Gemmell, the gallus full-back with the distinctive hooter waves enthusiastically towards us. Jim Craig smiles and gives us the V-for-victory sign. There’s Bertie Auld with his
trademark grin, giving the thumbs up.

“Wee Bertie. He’s a hard wee bastard.”

“Aye. H-h-he would kick his granny.”

“He’s a definite.”

Bobby Murdoch, the engine of the side, waves over, a down-to-Earth guy despite being world-class.

“Boaby’s arguably our best player.”

“B-b-better than Jinky? You must be kidding me!”

“Alright, alright. I said arguably.”

John Clark, the classy left-half, looks serious and thoughtful. Then there’s Billy McNeill. Cesar. Our captain. Straight back, dignified, commanding – a massive presence beside Wee
Clarky. They’re both on the team-sheet, for sure.

I see Willie Wallace, our prolific inside-right, Stevie Chalmers, the classic Celtic centre-forward, and big John Hughes coming out in a cluster. Any two from three.

“If B-B-Big Jock wants to rummel them up he’ll go with Y-Y-Yogi. But I’ve a f-f-feeling he’ll play S-Stevie and Wispy,” says Mark.

“For once, I think you’re right.”

There’s the goalie, Ronnie ‘Faither’ Simpson, with that wizened face; Scottish Player of the Year. An absolute stick-on.

Not just fine footballers, but fine men too. Men you are glad to believe in, proud to have represent you. Men who all hail from either Glasgow itself or the surrounding area. It’s a bloody
miracle. Who do they think they are taking on the might of Inter Milan!

There is Bobby Lennox, always cheery, loves the fans – as skilful and graceful an outside-left as you will ever see, and with the kind of pace that defenders hate. That makes 10 . . .

Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone bursts from the stadium’s main doors, and a crescendo of good-natured ribaldry goes up from fans and players alike. His shirt tail is hanging out and he
grins as he dashes across the car park, stopping to shout over to us. He is hustled away by a steward as a familiar chorus, to the tune of
Ging Gang Goolie
fills the air:

We’ve got Jimmy-Jimmy-Jimmy-Jimmy Johnstone on the wing, on the wing.

We’ve got Jimmy-Jimmy-Jimmy-Jimmy Johnstone on the wing, on the wing.

He gets onto the coach, waving at us, and I wonder at this cheeky, reckless, ginger-haired midget who strikes terror into the greatest defenders in Europe. Mesmerising, flamboyant, imaginative,
and in terms of sheer skill, utterly sublime.

Mark can’t contain himself.

“Jinky’s the m-m-man. If we do this, Jinky will be the man. Eh Tim, know what I mean? Know what I m-m-mean?”

“I think, if I hear you correctly, you are saying Jinky’s the man!”

We burst out laughing and join in again lustily.

Jimmy. Oh Jimmy Johnstone, oh Jimmy Johnstone on the wing!

That’s my side. It’s got everything. Balance, ability, courage, fitness, strength, invention and belief. Belief in one another. Belief in their captain. Belief in their manager.
Belief instilled by their manager. Jock Stein. Big Jock. The Big Man. My hero.

Finally he emerges from the stadium, shaking hands. Including mine. The hefty steward doesn’t even try to stop him. He knows better. My mouth is dry. I am struck temporarily dumb. Then I
find some words.

“Good luck, Mr Stein. We are with you every step of the way.”

“Thanks for your support, you have no idea how much we appreciate it.”

He says it like he means it. He does mean it. I catch the look in his eye as his huge paw envelopes mine. A look that says he wants to win it for the people that matter. Really matter. Us.

“We’ll see you over there, Mr Stein,” I shout after him, as he hurries towards the coach. “We’ll see you in Lisbon!”

I turn to Mark. Offer him my hand.

“Want to shake the hand that shook the hand of God?”

He bursts out laughing, grabs my hand and then hugs me. We bounce up and down manically like the couple of star-struck kids we are.

I walk Mark to his home in the Gorbals. Gives me a chance to score some blaw. Afterwards I will head back over the river to court. We cut through Glasgow Green to avoid any
Tongs but a few of them are hanging around the wee bridge, guarding their border.

“Tim! W-w-what are we g-g-g-gonnae do?” Mark hisses urgently.

“Keep your knickers on. Get ready to do whatever I do.”

The leader is a serious-faced individual with a terrible scar who looks a bit like a youthful Jack Palance. I recognise him from the summer, when the Tongs ruled the waltzers during the
carnival. He knows who I am. But he lets us pass unmolested. A miracle.

“H-h-how come they didn’t have a g-g-go?”

“It must be ’cause of the gemme. It’s mesmerised everyone.”

The Gorbals seeps into my nervous system like a narcotic. It’s only a year since we flitted from here to nearby Toryglen but already I sense the hostility from the
younger team, not helped by my lengthening hair and increasingly outlandish clothes. But I’m six foot and known.

A Gorbals tenement seethes and teems and pulsates and throbs and hums and buzzes and screams with human life. The air is continually punctuated with the sounds of people. Doors slamming,
children shouting, couples fighting, babies crying, dinners cooking, radios blaring, the groans of copulation. Wakes, receptions, parties and sing-songs. Now lots of these buildings have been
demolished and the land they stood on lies vacant or is being prepared for high-rise developments.

“I love this place. But they’re murdering it. They’re murdering the Gorbals. The whole community.”

“So w-w-what?”

“Don’t you care?”

“It’s alright for y-y-you. You don’t have to live here any m-more.”

“Fair enough. But what about those auld yins?” I say, nodding towards a boarded-up, half-demolished tenement, where some former residents have congregated. “I saw them dragging
auld kitchen tables and chairs into that parlour for a bevvy, just so that they could be together again. Except the parlour no longer has a ceiling, or a roof. Poor bastards. They’re

“Of w-w-what?”

“Of what’s gonnae happen to them. Of where they’re gonnae go.”

“They’ll get a n-nice house in the schemes.”

“They don’t want to go to the schemes. They want to stay in the Gorbals. Where the spirit is.”

A wee old woman is walking by pushing a pram full of laundry to the steamie, a rain-mate on her head. She has overheard and turns to me with tears filming her eyes.

“They’re knocking down the greatest place on Earth, son.”

“You see?” I ask Mark, vindicated.

He shrugs his shoulders. Mark has a boyishly handsome face, light-blond hair and intense, clear-blue eyes.

“You realise what’s going on here? Why they’re really knocking this place down? They’re tearing apart the auld Irish neighbourhoods. The Calton, the Gorbals, the Garngad.
Splitting us up.”

“They’re s-slums, Tim. They need to be torn down.”

“No. We’ve got ourselves educated, radicalised. They’re scared of us. They hate us.”

“You’re being p-p-paranoid.”

“Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re no out to get me. Understand this. An entire era is about to end, auld Glasgow is about to slip over the horizon. And
something precious will be lost forever.”

Just then we happen by a gaggle of bedraggled, malnourished children, playing in a filthy puddle. They watch plaintively as an ice cream van, painted baby blue and tinkling a cheery tune, motors
slowly by.


I run and bang the side to catch the driver’s attention. He stops and clumps towards the serving hatch.

“Five pokey hats pal.”

“You want raspberry?”


“Two and six, my china.”

I give the children the cones and they skip off merrily back to their puddle.

Mark looks at me. Now it’s my turn to shrug my shoulders. Deep down I know he’s got a point . . .

. . . The darkness. I am 11 years old. The Gorbals. Fifty thousand people crammed into the most densely populated place on Earth: a ghetto of less than a square mile of filthy,
rat-infested, jerry-built slums. Our tenement blackened and browned by poverty, worn down by four generations of hard living. The January gloom, the relentless cold. The stink of sewage. I can
it, for Christ’s sake, snaking down the stair. I don’t belong in this place. Hold on a minute – who do I think I am – better than these people? No. Nobody belongs
in a place like this. But they see it in my eyes, hear it in the way I try to talk that bit clearer and use a bigger vocabulary, tell it by the fact that I go to the library, the fact that I ask
the old Jewish intellectuals in the bathhouse about Marx, the fact that after the summer I’ll be going to Holyrood instead of St Bonaventure’s. The fact that I paint.
You think your
shite disnae smell!
. . .

. . . We amble to Hell’s Kitchen Cafe. Steam, the smell of hot fat, orders being shouted in warm, rough accents and The Who’s
So Sad About Us
blaring from
the wireless. We sit by the window, the bustle of Gorbals life comfortingly close. I choose, Mark takes ages, I make lines with spilled sugar. Eventually he makes up his mind and the waitress comes
over; fake gold, a fag on. Friendly but unhygienic.

“Hullo boys, what yous for?”

“Two rolls and sausage, and a mug of strong tea for me; just a plate of soup for the lady,” I grin.

She flashes a row of crooked teeth at me and goes.

Mark’s nose is bothering him. Wants a bloody heart-to-heart.

BOOK: The Road to Lisbon
2.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Stolen Fury by Elisabeth Naughton
No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
Blue Love by MJ Fields
Velvet Rain - A Dark Thriller by Cassidy, David C.
Out of Her League by Samantha Wayland
Piercing by Ryu Murakami