Monday, March 3, 2014

Glasgow diary 2014: Paradise found (again)

We took our last Subway trip of the day back to St. Enoch’s station and took a 66 bus from the city to Parkhead. Celtic’s stadium felt far more welcoming to us than Ibrox had. I’m not sure which factor contributed to this more: a psychological predisposition caused by years of preconditioning/fandom or the hundreds of Irish tricolours dotted around the stadium (with hundreds more draping the stands inside).

The only time I can recall seeing that many tricolours in one stadium was during the Republic of Ireland’s ill-fated Euro 2012 adventure when the fans following Giovanni Trapattoni’s side turned the arenas of Gdańsk and Poznań green. 

Celtic fans have always been keen to stress the Irish roots of the club, beginning with the man whose statue stands alongside those of club legends Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone outside the ground: Andrew Kerins, better known by his religious name, Brother Walfrid, who grew up in Ballymote, Sligo, and who founded Celtic in November 1887 as a means to tackle poverty in Glasgow’s East End by raising money for the charity he created, The Poor Children’s Dinner Table.

Andrew Kerrins aka Brother Walfrid outside Parkhead.
The idea to fund-raise through football was inspired by Hibernian who had been formed by Irish immigrants in Edinburgh a few years earlier. Even the first ever team to play for Celtic was comprised largely of players signed from Hibernian. Little could Brother Walfrid have known how his creation would grow to surpass Hibs and conquer Europe.

As for the stadium, the club owes its redevelopment – as well still being in existence in general following some serious financial turbulence in the early 90s – to the controversial entrepreneur Fergus McCann. With Celtic facing bankruptcy, McCann acquired a 51% controlling stake in Celtic in 1994 and acted as a guarantor for the club’s £7 million debt. During his five year stay, he put Celtic on a firmer business footing by implementing the appropriate infrastructure off the pitch. 

“It would’ve cost less, and left the previous owners with nothing, to go into liquidation - but it would also be humiliating for Celtic. So we paid all the bills.”
Fergus McCann doesn't have a statue outside Parkhead, but he has a place in fans' hearts,
What all of this meant was that instead of visiting the graveyard of a club my father used to support when it existed, we were visiting the home of the biggest club in Scotland – a point which must be considered indisputable given the current financial perils of Celtic's great Old Firm rivals, Rangers. One day, the SPFL will see the return of its biggest derby on a regular basis. In the meantime, Celtic will just rack up league titles.

They certainly didn't get much of a workout from Inverness who – despite the dogged presence of former Shelbourne player Richie Foran – capitulated in the second half having caused Celtic no real problems. Foran was actually guilt of missing a gilt-edged chance in the first-half which could, as they say, changed the complexion of the whole game. It probably wouldn't have, though.

The teams line up before kick-off.
Leigh Griffiths bagged a hat-trick – but he actually should have had six goals, he missed three other unbelievable chances in a rather comical fashion – with Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons completing the 5-0 scoreline. Seeing as Inverness hadn't conceded in over six hours of football before arriving at Parkhead, they'll be devastated at having that record almost cancelled out entirely in 90 minutes.

Seeing Kris Commons in action was especially amazing as he is possibly my favourite player currently wearing the Hoops. His eye for a cute pass or outrageous shot will always make him a crowd-pleaser, but his footballing inteliigence should not be questioned. That said, the goal he scored against Inverness was poxy to say the least. Virgil Van Dijk was immense also; he's another I fear the Celts will lose sooner rather than later as he is surely good enough for one of Europe's top leagues.

As Anto and I made our way out of the stadium, I was lost in a thought. It had taken me nearly 13 years to get back to Parkhead having been there only once before, with my dad in October 2001. He isn't around to go with me again. Even now, 12 years after his death, that thought is a cold one, an awfully final one – a permanent one. In a way, though, he is with me everywhere I go. And he was definitely there to see Leigh Griffths make a hash of completing his first Celtic hat-trick against Caley Thistle on March 1st 2014.

Dad and I, October 2001.
And he will be at Parkhead the next time I go, whenever that will be.

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