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Authors: Martin Greig

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I watched Zurich carefully, scrutinised every player, their strengths and weaknesses, technical abilities. I concluded that they were a busted flush. What they showed at Celtic Park
is all they have in their locker.

I tell the players the night before the match.

“Gentlemen, here is what is going to happen. Zurich will play the same way they did in Glasgow. They will play their ‘sweeper’ system. They will chase and harry,
kick and scream. The game will be a carbon copy of the first leg. You may expect them to attack because they are at home. But you would be wrong. They will defend like their lives depend on
it.”

I look around at the faces staring back at me. Furrowed brows. Confusion.

“Any questions?”

Jimmy Johnstone slowly raises his hand.

“Boss, I hear what you are saying, but they are at home and they are 2-0 down. Surely they will come and attack us?”

“First of all, never fuckin’ question me. When I ask a question, it’s rhetorical. You think I haven’t thought this all through? You think I don’t know
what European football is all about? Remember, I’m here to talk and you’re here to listen. So fuckin’ listen. And never interrupt me again.

“You are confusing your own mentality with theirs. If we were 2-0 down and were facing them at Celtic Park, then we would attack. But they are not us. They do not have the
players to do what we can do. They will defend. Defend like their fuckin’ lives depend on it. I have never been more certain of anything.”

I stop speaking. The players look at me. They will scurry back to their rooms and discuss it among themselves. They will question me.

The game ends 3-0 to us. I stand at the edge of the park, meeting every one of my players as they come off. No ‘Congratulations.’ No ‘Well played, lads.’
Nothing. Just a firm handshake. And a stare. A stare that says, ‘I told you so.’ A stare that says, ‘Believe in me.’ A stare that says, ‘Don’t ever question my
judgement and authority again.’ A stare that says, ‘This is the start of something. Something special.’

“I’d prefer a Real Madrid or an Inter Milan in the second round. I feel we can beat the big shots,” I tell the Press afterwards. They look at me. Disbelievingly. I
hold their gaze. Raising the stakes. Demanding respect.

The road to Lisbon.

A season to remember . . .

~~~

I am lying on the couch dreaming of her, sweating into my simmet. I come round to find she is sitting in the lotus position on the floor, fixing me with her deep azure eyes,
which are framed by Twiggy-esque lashes, teased outwardly by thick black mascara. She is wearing a chocolate and cream silk headscarf which tones in with her flowing summer dress. Her hair spills
out at her crown, soft and gorgeous, catching the light in its myriad of hues.

“Sorry,” she says. “I just love watching people sleeping. It makes the finest subject. It’s the only time that the human being is truly unaware and unselfconscious. And
you are very . . . interesting to look at.”

“Thank you.”

She flips the pad, which had been resting on her lap, to face me.

“I took the liberty of sketching you. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” I say, sitting up awkwardly to view the drawing, trying to disguise my arousal. She smiles, knowingly. The sketch is in black soft pastel. She has expertly approximated
my dormant face with minimal strokes and shading.

“Gosh – that’s excellent; you have made me look quite respectable!”

“Your tattoo, ‘Cumbie forever’. What is this?”

“A gang.”

“The artist who is also the street-fighter. How enigmatic!”

I feel a flash of tired irritability, taste the dry sourness in my mouth. An image of us stoating around the Gorbals like urban princes flashes into my mind. We owned the joint, stole what we
couldn’t afford, but never from anyone who couldn’t spare it. We weren’t liberty-takers. And no-one ever got a doing who didn’t deserve it.

“I’m finished with all that now.”

“Ah, but still proletarian experiences you can draw upon, no doubt. For your painting.”

Yeah, and maybe at my exhibitions they will feed me fish from a bucket.

She gets up, walks over to the sideboard and lights herself a
Gauloise
from a table lighter.

“Where is everyone?”

“Outside, enjoying the sunshine. They’ve gone to Primrose Hill to play football.”

“The great unifier.”

“I told them not to awaken you after all your driving. You looked so peaceful.”

She throws the cigarette packet at me. I grab it. She throws the table lighter. I gasp as it lands on my loins. She smiles wryly, amused, walks over and sits beside me. I light up. She smokes
like a movie star. I choke and splutter on the thick tobacco. I feel shabby, awkward and inadequate alongside her.

“Barbara seems rather taken with Mark.”

“The poor lassie. She’s in for a big disappointment.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing.”

She slaps the pad upon my lap.

“Anyway, it’s your turn now.”

“Sorry?”

“To sketch me.”

“I’m not great with pastels.”

“Well I have pencils next door.”

“An easel?”

“Yes. I shall pose on the chaise longue.”

She leads me through to where several works in various states of completion lean against the walls and furniture. The room has a kind of shabby luxury to it. Rubber plants festoon the window
sills, matching the rich verdant garden outside. Sunlight streams through alder branches and dapples an ancient sofa and chaise longue. There are brimming bookcases, wicker chairs and shelves
crammed with Victoriana. A large table dominates the centre of the room, with gnarled carvings on its stubby fat legs, crouching like a prehistoric reptile. An Afghan bong and oriental rugs lend
the room the impression of an opium den.

I don’t really know what to make of her art other than I rather like it. Most of all I enjoy an impressive work of abstract expressionism, which is simply a series of quite thin vertical
stripes in vivid colours over an 8 × 4ft landscape canvas. When you step back it is really striking yet when you get closer you realise that every stripe has a different surface texture. I walk
back and forth a few times, and the image has a queer effect, almost as though it is alive.

I rack my brains and try to think of something insightful to say, try to classify it within a certain movement, try to discern her influences.

I manage: “That’s truly fabulous.”

“Merci.”

“But, forgive my ignorance, I’m not sure I quite understand it.”

“There is nothing to understand.”

“It kind of just provokes . . . an emotional response.”

“Then it has succeeded. It is my best work so far.”

She walks over to the chaise longue, luxuriates upon it.

“Would you mind removing your . . . headscarf.” I have to clear my throat to remove a nervous, croaky texture in my voice.

She obeys, casting the scarf to the bare boards, allowing her beautiful hair to tumble free.

“Anything else?” she enquires. “Would you like me to loosen . . . this?” she asks, gently fingering her collar, a demure look upon her face.

“If you . . . please.”

Slowly she unfastens the first two buttons of her dress. Then the third. A ray of sunlight glows upon her cleavage. I can detect the suggestion of her left nipple. She places her right hand upon
her cheek and gazes coyly at me.

I carefully tear a page from the pad and clip it to the easel, surreptitiously adjusting myself within my trousers so I can stand more comfortably.

I pick up a sharp-looking pencil and begin that activity that is conscious yet unconscious, unleash that ability that is innate yet honed by practice. Where does it come from, this need to
create? What inner well of inspiration do we draw from? Why is it so compelling, why is it so satisfying?

As I sketch her I comprehend her beauty more and more intimately, like a lover. The way her hair shapes her perfectly proportioned face; the way the extremities of her hair are gilded amber by
the sunlight. This amber reaches through the tumbling waves to auburn, then to lodes of pure chestnut. The freckles that randomly decorate her cute flat nose, that nose which, like her large
almond-shaped eyes, fit her oval face. Those eyes, light blue and sparkling as the Aegean, framed by darker, arched eyebrows and pronounced lashes. The intelligence and kindness in those eyes, the
knowing in her expression. And her mouth, that light-pink rosebud, yet broad when she smiles, to bring it into even more glorious harmony with the overall subtle wideness of her visage. The slight
rouge of her cheeks, the sallow skin of her long neck, the profile of which glides and blends into that of her full bosom.

I think of Debbie, feel a pang of misplaced guilt. Then a spiteful thought flashes through my mind: ‘If only she could see me now.
That
would show her!’

We start to converse as I work.

“What do you do?”

“Until recently I was working in a locomotive works. Now I’ve got a new job in a wee shipyard. I start when I get back.”

“What do you do, exactly?”

“Just labouring, mostly. I had a welder’s apprenticeship in a yard when I left school, but I chucked it.”

“Why?”

I shrug my shoulders.

“Tell me.”

“I hated it. The place was so bloody depressing. It was where my old man had previously worked, on account of the fact that they would employ Catholics. It ruined his health. I mean,
don’t get me wrong, I love my da, and everything he did for us; he slaved for us, but . . .”

“But you don’t want to be him.”

I make a pained expression with my face in agreement.

“You don’t need to be. Did you ever consider going to art school?”

“I had the grades, but I didn’t work enough on my portfolio.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t see the point. Da’s health was deteriorating; he developed this chronic chest complaint and he stopped working. Someone had to bring a wage in. It was my duty. God,
how quickly time passes – that was five years ago.”

“Well haven’t you done your bit now? Have you any siblings?”

“Four older sisters.”

“Are they married?”

“Yes.”

“And their husbands work?”

“Yes.”

“Well maybe it’s their turn to help out.”

“Oh, they are very attentive, believe me.”

“Well then, perhaps it is time to think about yourself. Tell me, what is your masterpiece?”

I muse upon this for a moment then plump for the portrait I did of Jinky, using oils.

“That would be my study of Jimmy Johnstone.”

“Who is he?”

“A footballer.”

She unconsciously rolls her eyes skywards, just slightly, but enough to make me more intent on continuing.

“I did it in the post-impressionist style – I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Glasgow Boys? Jinky – that’s what everyone calls him – Jinky is
Celtic’s best player, and that’s saying something because we have a smashing team. He’s incredibly skilful and as nimble as a ballet dancer. His talent is a gift from God. I used
this photograph I saw of him in a newspaper, it really captured my imagination. In it he is taking the ball past a Rangers defender, his jersey two sizes too big for him, socks at his ankles, the
number ‘7’ on his shorts, his expression totally focused on the ball, yet you know that at the same time he is aware of everything going on around him. Painting him was in one way quite
easy, not least because of his distinctive appearance: his diminutive stature – especially when compared to the big Rangers half-back, and the vivid colours of his red hair and the emerald
hoops on his top. But in another way painting him was very challenging. Because Jinky is an artist himself, although he probably doesn’t realise it. He is a wayward genius and a force of
nature; sheer, unconscious expression. In a sense that is the purest and most beautiful form of creativity, that which is utterly spontaneous, in the moment, without form. I had to try and capture
that dynamic element to him in a still image, and I think that I succeeded.”

“Well, it sounds most interesting.”

“So, you study at Saint Martin’s?”

“Yes. All of us so.”

“What’s it like?”

“It is fantastic. And in London we are so graced for inspiration.”

To prove it she takes me to a gallery. It was set up by one of that mob of sugar merchants who have the refinery in Greenock. We need to catch the Tube to some place called
Pimlico.

The vastness of the underground stations staggers me. All these hundreds of people, all determined, all focused on where they are going. I feel as if I’m the only one in the throng
drifting aimlessly, my destination now unclear. But I’m also the only one with a gorgeous redhead holding my hand. She leads, frequently glancing back to smile at me, guiding me through the
crowd. We board.

“Your football team is Celtic? That is to do with the Celts, right?”

She has to lean close to me in order to be heard above the racket of the train. I can smell her skin cream and I feel a shiver of excitement as her soft cheek brushes against mine.

“Yes. Except you pronounce it Seltic, a soft ‘c’. We were founded by Irishmen living in Scotland. Hence Celtic.”

“I am a Celt too.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! Can’t you tell from my red hair? I am from Brittany. Although we moved to Paris when I was eight. Then London. My father got a job with the
Ambassade de France
. I
stayed on after . . . my family left.”

“So that’s why your English is so good.”

“Thank you. Do you mind my saying . . . the way you speak, it is easier to understand than your friends. Scottish is quite a difficult accent for me.”

“I suppose I try and speak that little bit clearer when I’m with people from foreign climes.”

“But I am a Celt, remember. Not so foreign.”

“Indeed you are. I could tell there was something special about you the first moment I laid eyes on you.”

“Et tu aussi!”

“I have, therefore, decided to bestow the title of honorary Celtic supporter upon you, even though you didn’t know how to pronounce the club name two minutes ago!”

BOOK: The Road to Lisbon
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ads

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