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Authors: Martin Greig

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“Merci!”

“Don’t mention it.”

We emerge into the sunshine. The bright red pillar boxes and telephone booths contrast with the white-painted Regency facades. The place is tree-lined and peaceful. It’s hard to believe we
are near the centre of the biggest city in Europe. I’m enjoying my sense of wonder and I think she can sense it. She smiles at me. Surely it couldn’t be that she fancies me? No,
she’s probably just amused by this peculiar species that has wandered into her ken:
gorbalae vulgarus
.

Inside the Tate one of the paintings in particular catches my eye,
Ophelia
, by John Everett Millais. We got
Hamlet
at school, and it’s odd, the artist seems
to have painted the exact image of Ophelia’s suicide that was inside my head. I kind of lose myself gazing into it. The colours are vivid and gorgeous, the scene tragic yet serene.

I look at Delphine. She looks at me, smiles.

“So you like the gallery?”

“It’s fabulous.”

“You haven’t seen many paintings, no?”

“I suppose not.”

“But you could travel. To London, Paris – to see glorious paintings for yourself if you so wished?”

“Maybe, but it’s hard to get away, y’know?”

“But after all you are travelling all the way to Lisbon to see a football match.”

I sigh dramatically. Stop and look at her. Eye to eye. Try and keep a straight face.

“I’m going to tell you something, something profound and true, something you may have trouble grasping at first yet I want you to remember it for the rest of your life. Now
don’t thank me for it.”

“Okay, okay. Hurry up – don’t get me all excited.”

“The thing I am going to tell you is this: the feeling, that feeling you get when you regard a beautiful painting . . . you can get that from fitba – football, too.”

“No!”

“Honestly. If it is played properly.” I am closer to her now – glad I brushed my teeth before we came out. “With skill and imagination. It can be beautiful, expressive .
. . it engages you. And my team, Celtic, we have a tradition of playing like that. We can be a bit dour, us Scots – ”

“ – dour?”

“It means dull, stern. Us Scots can be like that, but at the same time we can be passionate, romantic. We are a strange, schizophrenic race. Especially those of us who have the Irishness
in us.”

As she walks away, towards the Constables in the next room, she throws a smile back at me. She looks rather like Brigitte Bardot, but with red hair.

“I rather like this strange race of men.”

I feel a warm glow. Then I think of Debbie and the glow rapidly fades to nothing.

~~~

“Everyone is talking about Inter Milan,” I tell the players. “Everyone is talking about their system. Everyone is talking about how they
will suffocate us. Suck the life out of us. Everyone is fuckin’ wrong. Put all that talk out of your minds. Put Inter Milan out of your minds. We will come to them later. Today is about us.
Celtic. Today is all about what we are capable of. Today is about what we will do to them. Not what they will do to us.”

We work on team shapes and movement. The focus on the wide players to create, the full-backs to overlap, the midfielders to commit opponents. Not gentle probing. Not cat and mouse.
Not playing into their hands. Instead fast, direct, really getting in behind them. Taking them out of their comfort zones, getting them turned. The players absorb every word and respond
instinctively. I walk between them, urging, cajoling, encouraging. I feel like a puppeteer pulling the strings. I look at Sean. Sean smiles.

We are ready.

Another team meeting. As I speak, you could hear a pin drop. I look at them. Their faces gripped in concentration. Some even taking notes. Then a hand goes up.

“Boss, I’m desperate for a pee. I can’t hold it in any longer. Can I be excused?”

The spell is broken, the players look at me, then at Jimmy. They wait for the eruption. Not this time. I stay calm.

“Aye Jimmy, you might as well. In fact, I’m surprised you are still awake.”

He half-smiles, scurries to the door and closes it gently behind him.

“Wee bastard never listens to me anyway,” I add.

The players laugh knowingly, and we return to the job in hand . . .

How to cope with a wayward genius. Lesson No.1.

Willie Hamilton snores like an asthmatic horse. It is Friday night and the walls of the Stein household are shaking. Willie is in the spare room. Dead to the world. The wife
nudges me.

“You’ll need to go in there and roll him on his side.”

But Willie needs his sleep. I need Willie fresh for tomorrow. A well-rested and sober Willie Hamilton . . . what a thought. Willie Hamilton. Compulsive gambler. Excessive
drinker. Football genius. Two-footed. Quick. Strong. Lethal.

I have been carefully crafting this Hibs team for six months.

“Stein’s side can beat anyone on their day,” write the Press men.

But our ‘day’ always coincides with the presence of Willie Hamilton. We need Willie more than he needs us. All Willie needs are the betting shops and the boozers on
Leith Walk. A risk-taker in life. A risk-taker on the football field. One destructive, the other creative. Jekyll and Hyde. Mr Hyde snoring away in our spare room. The only way to keep him sober. I
look at the alarm clock. 4.15am. Jean rolls over to face me.

“Is this really necessary John?”

It is going to be a long, sleepless night. But tomorrow, at 3pm, it will all be worthwhile.

I did not expect a fanfare on my return north of the border, that’s for sure.
Stein signs for Celtic
read the headlines on the sport pages. Four
words. No adjectives required. Four words that represented something unthinkable, unforgivable to many. A Burnbank man switching to the other side. The defection of a Rangers man. Four words that
would lead to a lifetime of alienation. But four words that also foretold an association which would bring a lifetime of joy and fulfilment. However nothing comes easy. As I said, I did not expect
a fanfare.

I had braced myself for the reaction of one side of the great divide, but the reception from the other did not inspire much confidence either. Celtic were then a club mired in
mediocrity, their post-war record dominated by underachievement. In 1951 they won the Scottish Cup, their first major trophy since 1938, and followed it up the same year by lifting the Festival of
Britain St Mungo Cup. The following season, they failed to defend the Scottish Cup after losing a replay to Third Lanark. When I arrived in December 1951, their role as closest challengers to
Rangers had been taken by Hibs. They sat 12th in a 16-team league and criticism from the supporters was at its height. Celtic were in a sorry state and revolution was in the air. The signing of a
27-year-old centre-half from non-league football was hardly enough to quieten the discontent. I was the cheap option, a spare part plucked from the football scrapheap by chairman Bob Kelly. The
supporters were not happy. If I had been in their position, I daresay I would have felt the same. So, the boldest decision of my life was made all the harder by the worst possible timing. But life
is about making the best of opportunities. At the end of 1951, one path led to alienation and almost universal disapproval. The other led to the mines. Every time I heard a mutter under the breath
from a supporter of either side, I thought of the alternative. Taking the first path placed my destiny in my own hands. The second led to the darkness. The blackness.

I became a Celtic player on December 4th, 1951. I arrived as a Celtic player on May 20th, 1953. At the start, I had been fourth in line for a centre-half slot. But injuries to Jimmy
Mallan and Alec Boden gave me a chance. I seized it with relish and had become a stalwart by May 1953. The Coronation Cup final. Hampden Park. One hundred and seventeen thousand fans. Even the
Glasgow weather displayed an impressive sense of occasion with warm spring sunshine bathing the stadium. A tournament we should not have even been in. Another season of underachievement had left
the supporters disgruntled but Celtic’s ability to pull in large crowds saw us take our place alongside the top teams in Britain for the one-off competition.

It had been a poor season for the club so far, yet it marked a significant point in my career. Stepping into that Celtic dressing room had not all been plain sailing. The look on
certain faces said it all: ‘Who the fuck are you? Some dud from Llanelli? You don’t deserve to be here. Fuckin’ prove yourself.’

“I’ll have these bastards eating humble pie soon,” I vowed. For others, it ran deeper. It wasn’t because I was a 27-year-old from non-league football. I
could deal with that. In the dressing room after a defeat to Rangers at Ibrox, Charlie Tully said: “There’s too many Protestants in this team.” Tully. The genius. The entertainer.
The folk hero. Something snapped.
Fuck you
.

Next thing I knew I was in Tully’s face.

“You fuckin’ bastard. Take that back or I’ll kill you!”

I had him by the throat before I felt his hands on me. Dragging me off him. I hear his gravelly Irish voice coaxing me, “Leave it Jock. You’re bigger than
that.”

Sean. Where would I have been without Sean, looking out for me, supporting me? Something changed in that moment. Respect soared, attitudes mellowed. ‘Don’t cross the
line with the Big Man.’
Fuckin’ right.

At the start of the season, Sean appointed me vice-captain. When Sean broke his arm against Falkirk on December 20th, it was down to me to take the armband. I revelled in it.

The disappointment of the domestic campaign had turned the Coronation Cup into a resolve to salvage something from the season. I stressed to the boys the need to take it seriously,
play every game as if it were a cup final. They responded. Arsenal, the English champions, were dispatched in the first game, then we beat Manchester United to reach the final against Hibs. From
the rubble of a dismal season, we had the chance to end it on a high. We also had a new face. Neilly Mochan had joined us just a few weeks earlier from Middlesbrough. A big Celtic fan,
Mochan’s presence had further inspired optimism going into the final. Hibs were formidable opponents. Harry Swann’s team had won three titles since the end of the war and played fast,
flowing football. Their seven-goal destruction of Manchester United in a friendly game the previous September was a strong indicator of their pedigree. They had it all. But we had momentum. And we
had Neilly Mochan. After half an hour, I passed the ball out of defence to Willie Fernie, who slanted it into the path of Mochan, and his right-foot shot from 25 yards nestled in the net. 1-0.
Jimmy Walsh added another near the end and the cup was ours. The Celtic supporters celebrated as if they had won the league and I hoisted my first silverware as Celtic captain. As the trophy
glinted in the afternoon sun, I gazed out over the legions of fans with their arms aloft. The same fans who had criticised my arrival so recently.
Let it go, Jock. Let it all go.
I closed my
eyes and let their songs wash over me, and I felt the tide of scepticism wash away. May 20th, 1953.

The day I arrived.

The world always looked different on the morning of an Old Firm game. I would wake up an hour before the alarm, get dressed and go out for a walk to clear my mind.
It’s
just another game, it’s only two points.
I never believed that. Not for a second. The Celtic–Rangers rivalry ran deep, but for me it was personal. In the moments before the whistle
blew I would look around the crowd. I’d see all of them, the men from the Cross, the ‘friends’ who shunned me, the family members who sneered at me.

Da. My own da. Before every Rangers game. Never a “good luck, son,” or a handshake. Nothing. Couldn’t bring himself. Couldn’t even fuckin’ look at me.
Just a long, lingering, heartbreaking silence. Then, Ma kissing me sympathetically on the cheek as I left, feeling every ounce of the pain and disappointment written all over my face.

So I would take in the Rangers crowd. The contempt and hatred etched all over their thousands of faces.

I met them all with a steady gaze.

Fuck you. Fuck all of you.

Suddenly I would be able to feel the blood coursing through my veins, the hairs on my neck rise and my back straighten. I would gently readjust my socks, turn my collar upwards and
prepare for battle.

“LET’S GET FUCKIN’ INTAE THEM!”

I played in my first Old Firm game on New Year’s Day 1952 and lost 4-1. Against 10 men. I did not even shower. Just grabbed my stuff and raced home where I placed my head in
my hands and wept, humiliation crashing over me in waves. But success breeds confidence and victory in the Coronation Cup led to a turning of the tide. The 1-1 draw at Ibrox on September 19th 1953
was a sign of how far the team had come. Then, in the New Year’s Day fixture of 1954, Mochan scored with half an hour left for a 1-0 win. The team continued to grow in stature and a superb
nine-game winning run left us requiring a draw at Easter Road on April 17th to win the league. Mochan delivered once more with two goals before John Higgins scored a third to secure our first title
in 16 years. The significance of it was huge. We were no longer a decent cup team who could produce heroics on their day. We were consistent. We were courageous. We were Celtic. And we were back
where we belonged.

~~~

Me and the boys chip in for a fish supper to thank our hosts for their hospitality. Nicky walks me, Mark and Eddie down to Camden High Street where the chippy is. Rocky,
curiously, decides to stay behind at the last minute; says he’s too tired after all the driving and playing football. As we walk away from the house I feel a sudden dark wave of resentment
towards him as I realise he has outmanoeuvred me. It was his bloody idea to get the suppers in. To get rid of me for a bit.

Suddenly the sick feeling in my stomach lifts as I hear a voice behind me.

“Nicky! Tim! Wait for me!”

BOOK: The Road to Lisbon
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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