Memorable Matches-Part 7
Today’s article is by REBUS,and is another offering with a different slant from the norm. And all the better for it!
Inspired by the excellent offerings, I thought I’d have a stab at producing something. Even the exercise in trawling through my memories makes this a worthwhile exercise even if this never gets shared on the blog.
I have many memories of great games but if I limit it to games that I attended rather than watched on the box or through CelticTV, then three stand out in my memory, but one is head and shoulders above all others. Strangely, it is not the game itself that is exceptional in my memory but the aftermath of it that has significance, even to this day. But first let me mention the also rans. First is the Celtic vs Leeds game where the might and arrogance of England were humbled. Despite resorting to physicality, Don Revie’s men were firmly put in their place by an excellent Celtic performance. The other memory is not as brilliant but lives on for its shock value, is the game against Athletico Madrid in 1974. Never had I seen such a dirty team, who tried their best to destroy both Celtic players and the game of football. They should have been thrown out of the competition for that display.
However, the winning candidate is an obscure 2-2 draw at Ibrox on September 16, 1961, which is remembered for a tragedy that occurred at the end of the game. A rail gave way and many people were trampled, with some paying the ultimate price. However, although I was at the game, I never saw any of that. So why does this game stand out from all others? The answer is that it changed my life forever!
I may have mentioned that I am a product of the protestant school system. When playing school football, games against Catholic schools were always more intense. I understood about the rivalry at an early age, but I did not understand the dark side of it. Perhaps I was naïve but things changed when my Uncle X, who used to play for Leicester City, took an interest in educating me about football. He would take me to games and point out the tactics that were being used on the pitch. Most of the games we went to were Rangers games, although Thistle figured high as well. One day, he asked if I wanted to go to my first Rangers vs Celtic game. He was sure we could get tickets on the day. Uncle X liked a drink and we started off at the Rosevale. There was some negotiation to get me in because I was underage, but one order of a shandy later and we were in. We did a tour of bars, supposedly looking for spare tickets, but largely so that Uncle X could get hammered. When I had given up hope he unearthed two tickets and we were on our way to Ibrox.
It would be fair to say at that time I had leanings towards Rangers with Jimmy Millar, their centre forward, being my favourite player. I liked his all action style and ability in the air. However, to my disappointment, Millar was not in the Rangers team on that September day in 1961. His replacement was Jim Christie, signed from Ayr United, and he netted within six minutes. Christie was one of those mysteries in football, except to those really in the know. He only played eight games for Rangers, even scoring two goals against Monaco in European competition but vanished into obscurity thereafter. The crowd around me appreciated Christie’s goal and you could tell that they thought a rout was on. However, gradually Celtic steadied the ship, mainly through the efforts of McNeil and Crerand. In 23 minutes the game was tied when Chalmers acted as provider and set Divers up for one of his trademark power drives. Thereafter the midfield was owned by Celtic with Crerand outstanding…the first time I had seen him! To summarise the rest of the game, Fernie scrambled one in just after halftime, and Baxter equalised in the 88th minute with a pile driver of a shot.
But why was this game so important in my life? The answer is that it revealed a side of Rangers supporters that I had never seen before. As Crerand gradually brought Celtic back into the game with those long slide rule passes to the forwards, the crowd became restive, especially when I wowed out loud on the accuracy of his passes. Then when I clapped at both the power and accuracy of Divers equaliser, some decided that enough was enough. One of them got me by the throat and promised to rearrange my fenian face. Suffice it to say, there were several instances like this as I continued to tell Uncle X how great the Celtic passing was and how the forwards understood one another much better than the much vaunted Rangers forward line. If Uncle X had not been with me, I’d not be here today! Now, to be fair, some supporters intervened and said that much of what I was saying was correct on the day, but the majority reacted from dark places that had nothing at all to do with football opinions, and everything to do with venting hate. I shall never forget that.
After the game, to my surprise I learned that Rangers had never knowingly signed a Catholic player, nor did they sanction their players dating Catholic girls. If memory serves me right, Dennis Setterington suffered because of that. To a degree, the type of behaviour I had experienced on the terrace was encouraged by that club. This was totally unacceptable to me. WATP took on a new dark meaning for me.
When I looked at Celtic, the idiom, “A club open to all”, seemed to be borne out by the religious backgrounds of the players currently in the first team. Of course there are narrowed minded individuals amongst our support as well but these are a minority. I have never regretted my decision to move away from the bigotry and hate-fueled behaviour that I experienced that day in 1961. Sadly, the new club appear to be doing very little to control the same behaviour today nearly sixty years later!
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