Authors: Martin Greig
“How are things between yourself and D-D-D-Debbie?”
It’s been 12 days and . . . 22 hours since it happened. But the question is: was it actually a break-up? I don’t really know because she avoided me for a week and then went to
Saltcoats on holiday. Now I’m off to Lisbon. Bloody hell. I cast my mind back. Analyse the events for the hundredth time, events in this very café . . .
. . . She walks in. That familiar feeling. Excitement. The universe is fretted with meaning and I know this because Debbie Sharkey is my girl. Because she is in the same room
as me. Because she exists.
She comes over, a serious expression on her face. She looks businesslike and determined in her raincoat. I regard her figure. She is wee and slim, so her breasts are fuller than you remember.
Sometimes my eyes are drawn there, in unexpected appreciation.
She smiles weakly. Sits down. No kiss. Excitement turns to dread.
“You okay, Debbie?”
“What would you like?”
“Cup of coffee over here please, Agnes!”
Smalltalk follows, skirting the issue. What issue? What is it that is troubling me? The coffee is brought over and Debbie stares into it, stirring relentlessly. Usually her eyes, which are
hazel, large and clear, fix whoever is addressing her, impressing upon them her quiet self-assurance, honesty and genuine interest in others which I’ve always loved. Not today.
“So what’s this good news of yours?” she asks languidly.
“I’ve got a new job, at Hargreaves!”
“Hargreaves on the Clyde?”
“Aye. They do refitting for merchant vessels. What’s wrong? You don’t seem too impressed.”
She sighs slightly, then looks at me directly. “Tim, this will be your fifth job in two years.”
It’s actually my sixth, but I won’t correct her.
“You obviously don’t like it. Working, I mean.”
“You think I’m lazy?”
Her gaze returns to her coffee. “No. I just think you hate working in the yards.”
She’s right, of course. I’d be happier painting. I’d work 80 hours a week doing that – for two bob an hour.
She looks away from the coffee cup and stares out of the window abstractly. I love it when she wears her lovely chestnut-coloured hair up like that. She has a button nose and her chin and mouth
sit ever so slightly pronounced forwards. I hate to boast but people say that we make a very handsome couple. She’s got a hundred times more class than the wee hairies Rocky knocks about
Rocky. At that moment I become more aware of his presence in a nearby booth. It might be my imagination but I fancy that he’s trying too hard to make out that he’s oblivious to us,
talking self-consciously loudly to Iggy and Eddie about banalities.
I need to ask. I don’t want to – Christ knows I don’t want to – but I need to broach the subject.
“Is there something wrong, Debbie?”
Finally she makes eye contact, falteringly.
“I’m really sorry, Tim. But I’m having . . . doubts.”
I try to swallow but my mouth has gone dry. I take a gulp of tepid tea.
“About . . . us.”
I should be moved to a torrent of protest, to great feats of logic and persuasion. I possess a canon of evidence as to why we should be together – two glorious years’ worth. Yet I am
silent. Only later will I realise why; because deep down I know that you can’t persuade people to feel such things. Because I know that it’s hopeless.
She rises quickly.
“I’ve got to get out of here.”
“But we need to talk.”
“I know. But later. Somewhere else.”
She comes back for her handbag. It’s then that I detect it. A glance, no more than that, in which they catch one another’s eye. I know that the bet is lost. I feel a wave of rage.
For a split second I fantasise destruction; my smashing the fuck right out of the place, banjoing Rocky, teeth and blood, fearful faces, then self-pity and booze. Anger, livid and ugly, finding its
release like poison being drawn from a boil. Then, later, the darkness, except worse this time, much worse.
But my wrath is restrained by the realisation that I might simply be being paranoid – it has been known. I need real proof. And even if it is true, maybe deep down I don’t even blame
them . . .
. . . Mark looks subdued. I feel bad for thinking he was just being nosey. There is sadness in his eyes. He cares about me. Cares about a lot of people in fact. I’m
always doing that. Thinking the worst of folk.
1966-67. We hit the ground running. Manchester United in town for a friendly. Charlton, Stiles, Law, Crerand and Best. Charlton strutting, elegant, an aura of
greatness; Stiles, all toothless tenacity, the opposite of Charlton, but just as vital; both fresh from World Cup glory with England. The incomparable Denis Law. Greased lightning has nothing on
the leaping Lawman, but it is his aggression, his lionheart that makes him the player he is. Crerand, the midfield warrior with the unsinkable spirit. I had him in my Celtic reserve team; I honed
his character, polished off the rough edges, sent him in to buy me chips on the way home from training. Look at him now. I would gladly take him back. But the question now is, would he get in the
team? My wee team. Then Best, the incarnation of a football god. The long hair, the glint in his eye, but substance as well as style – speed, control, courage, mental and physical toughness;
an artist as much as a footballer. United have everything; a great manager too. Matt Busby. A fellow Scot and a former miner. A kindred spirit. A man whose hopes and dreams lay in ruins on an
airstrip in Munich eight years ago. A man who lost the core of a great team, but never lost the life-force; who glimpsed the other side, but fought his way back, to health and, ultimately,
greatness. A man I am honoured to be in the presence of on this sun-kissed day in the east end of Glasgow.
“Should be a close one today,” says Matt, before kick-off.
“We’ll see Matt, we’ll see.”
But it is not close. We annihilate them. We are faster, stronger and more ruthless. McBride scores and then Murdoch adds another. Bill Foulkes’ own-goal sums up their
disarray, before Lennox adds another. 4-1 going on 10.
I watch Charlton look at Stiles, Stiles look at Crerand, Crerand look at Law, Law look at Best. And Best shrug his shoulders.
“It’s just a pre-season friendly, don’t read too much into it,” I tell the Press.
I lie. Manchester United, the great Manchester United, do not play friendlies. It is not in their nature. Every match is a battle. We won the battle fair and square. “Well
done, Jock,” says Matt after the game. “Your boys are in good shape.”
“I think this could be a season to remember, Matt. A season to remember . . .”
The fixture calendar has pitted us against Clyde on the first day of the league season. I have not even considered it yet. It is irrelevant. Our season
starts against Rangers in the Glasgow Cup.
“Forget about Clyde, forget about the league,” I tell the players. “The summer is over and the season starts now. Today. Against Rangers.”
We may have won the title last year, but the memory of our Scottish Cup final defeat still rankles. It’s sat in my stomach all summer. Like a poison that’s gradually
seeped through my whole system, disrupting my sleep, destroying my holiday. Always there. Whenever I closed my eyes all I could see was Kai Johansen sauntering to the edge of the box and firing in
the winner. That moment. It’s not just about losing. It’s about losing to Rangers. It fuckin’ destroys me. Overwhelms me. It’s personal. But it fires me up. By God, it
motivates me like nothing else in this world.
Never again. Never a-fuckin-gain.
Rangers have strengthened over the summer, but we are stronger, too, more confident and better prepared. Before the game, there is none of the usual pre-match banter. The players
drift around quietly, going through their preparations. They can see the fire in my eyes. The madness. They know what this means to me. This is war.
I spell it out to them.
“Gentlemen, I want you to think back to the Scottish Cup final last season. I want you to remember Johansen’s goal. I want you to remember how it felt. Remember your
disappointment, but then think about how Johansen must have felt. Johansen doesn’t score. It was a one-off, but he will want to do it again. The crowd will want him to do it again.
He’ll be charging over the halfway line like a bull. We must be ready for him. Every time he gets up a head of steam, we will be on top of him. Bobby Lennox, you will be up against him, but
don’t track him when he goes forward. Sit in that space and when we get the ball back, we will get it to you. Use that pace to tear them apart, Bobby.
“Now, go out there and win. Fuckin’ tear them limb from limb. Destroy them. Or you’ll have me to answer to.”
Billy McNeill opens the scoring and then Lennox starts to enjoy himself. As Johansen pushes forward, Lennox bursts from the traps like a greyhound, time after time. At the final
whistle, Lennox grabs the match ball. The hat-trick hero. 4-0.
The season has started . . .
Iggy has a habit of ‘borrowing’ motors. Jaguars, Triumphs, Rovers, Austins, Fords, ice cream vans – he isn’t fussy. He even nicked a steamroller one
time, just a half-hour nocturnal jaunt round a building site.
“Nice throttle action but the steering’s a bit on the heavy side,” he mused.
I suppose he just loves cars but knows he is never going to own one. A couple of times the polis put the chase on him but he was too daring, too resourceful, too quick.
Iggy’s skills meant he was recruited to help the South Side mob on a few jobs. When I heard about this I was worried sick but he played it all down as though he was taking part in Sunday
trips down the coast. I think he was seduced by the excitement of it all, the fun. The dough – I don’t think he was particularly interested in it. He ended up giving it away to poor
souls or to his poor parents. Anyway, he started to avoid me, tired of my lectures.
On Wednesday he was at the wheel of a 1965 Mark II Humber Sceptre, waiting to cross the Jamaica Bridge into the city centre. The traffic moved off except for the vehicle immediately in front. It
was an unmarked car and the cops inside had decided that the face and the paintjob behind didn’t go together.
I take my seat in the public gallery. He is drowning in an oversized collar and tie. Nice to see not one of his big-shot compadres are here. I’m the only one. Got to make sure he’s
okay. Got to look after him. Can’t have him ending up like his poor wee brother. Killed climbing a scaffolding trying to escape from the polis when he was 13. The thought of
“Ignatius Patrick McCargo, you are hereby to be remanded in custody . . .”
That’s it. No Iggy at Lisbon. Just me worrying about him getting sent down for a long stretch. You fucking
As he is led away he looks up at me, a picture of innocence in his ill-fitting suit and grubby plimsolls. But I know that he’s no innocent. I know that he embodies the madness of the
Gorbals, even though his family didn’t move there from the Calton until he was 14.
I remember the first time I met him. I was walking along Thistle Street one spring evening, feeling quite merry, when I heard the distinctive tuneless chorus of Gorbals community singing.
Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be . . .
The sound was getting steadily nearer. Intrigued, I turned round. A double-decker bus was crawling along behind me.
The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.
The driver was a striking looking little fellow. With a mop of thick, jet-black hair that almost obscured his vision, and a wide, inane grin, he exuded cheerfulness and mischief. His features
were all slightly too large for his face, like the product of a cartoonist’s pencil, and he was clearly drunk. This was the bold Iggy. He brought the bus to a standstill alongside me to let
an old woman off.
“Thanks, son. You’ve saved my poor auld legs.”
“No bother, missus,” he slurred, touching the peak of his hat which was tilted ludicrously to one side of his large head. The bus was heaving with people. Everyone singing and having
a good time. The party bus.
His attention turned to me.
“Standing room only – no spitting, swearing or calling the driver an eejit!”
As I considered my next course of action my attention was drawn by shouting from down the street.
“HAUW! HAUW! HAUD THE BUS! HAUD THAT FUCKIN’ BUS!”
A fat, sweating man dressed in the drab green of Glasgow Corporation Transport –
peaked hat – was racing up Thistle Street as though his life depended on it. This was the
real driver. Iggy, it would transpire, had stolen – or “borrowed” as he would later insist – the bus while the driver, on his way back to the depot, had popped into
for a swift half. While he was in the lavvy Iggy had swiped the driver’s hat and keys, which he had imprudently left on the bar-top. Iggy then
proceeded to nip outside and drive the vehicle away, stopping regularly just like an official service to take on board passengers, most of whom were drunken revellers like himself.
“RIGHT EVERYBODY – GET FUCKING OFF!”
Such was the real driver’s shame at the theft that he didn’t report it, and instead merely relieved Iggy of his duties. Iggy shambled along Thistle Street and his passengers all duly
shambled along after him. The pied piper of Gorbals Cross. He stopped and turned to me.
“Are you coming?”
The road to Lisbon.
Where did it start? It started in the darkness. The blackness of a coalmine in Lanarkshire. The moment that lamp went out and the blackness closed in. When I could see nothing. Not
even the hand in front of my face, nothing but the inside of my head. And the ever-present threat of death, lurking in every darkened crevasse. A growing sense of fear. The fear of a 16-year-old
boy. Terror. Silent terror. Then, finally, the flicker of something else. A determination, a will, a desire to overcome. To stand tall and take my place in the company of men. Real men. Men whose
characters were hewn from the black walls of that mine. Men who needed each other, trusted each other, thousands of feet below the ground. Petty feuds and religious rivalries were left on the
surface. They silently taught me how to be a man myself.