One mans view from the North Curve
Today Im delighted to bring you another guest blog , this time by our esteemed colleague Vfr who will let us know how the standing section has added to his match day experience . Many thanks Vfr .
In looking to write about the North Curve “standing section” for Sentinel Celts, I was very quickly driven down memory lane. The reality is that standing at football has been subsumed into my DNA since I first attended Celtic Park in 1965. In those days it was at the pylon between the Celtic End and the Jungle. These trips began from Drumchapel aboard a supporter’s bus with almost exclusivity for men and male children. My initial problem was that of travel sickness; a fairly common ailment then as the vast majority of us didnae have motorised transport or the money for buses or trains. No trains, planes and automobiles in those days: more often than not it was Shanks pony for us with an occasional trip into town on the train or Clydebank on the bus. Trains I could cope with; buses made me spew – literally.
So it was the wee travel sickness pill and a trip on the supporters bus from the Drum. The over-riding aroma on the bus was beer closely followed by whiskey. Partially from the breath of almost all of the men who had just come from the pub; and partially from the cairry oots brought onto the bus for consumption during the journey. This journey took us along the Great Western Road, skirted the top end of the Town at Coo’caddens, along to The Royal onto The Parade, down Craigpark and along Duke St or The Gallowgate. It inevitably ended at a pub on the Gallowgate (usually the Grange) – right where the big roundabout at Tesco’s is now.
The adults went intae the pub and the weans waited at the door and were given a bottle of ginger and a bag of crisps (often wi’ a wee bag of salt inside the crisp packet). There were many, many weans standing outside, irrespective of the weather, and you didn’t dare go inside – not even for a pee; the pub wall was the toilet way back when. God alone knows how many weans current modern Social Workers could scoop up at pubs around the football grounds back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The noise, smell and songs are still easily recalled these days and the memories are very fond ones – pals made for 30 minutes in the rainy Gallowgate, sometimes rekindled at the next home game.
Then it was the short walk down to the turnstiles at Janefield St: wee legs running and skipping to keep up; shortness of breath trying to sing along with the adults whilst running; the occasional panic if you couldn’t see your dad or big brother near you. Remarkably I never got lost or separated through what must have been hundreds of journeys back and forth along that route – crowds of 80,000 or more were not unusual. Paradise loomed through the closes as we approached, then a quick organisation of who was lifting over the weans and who would have to go through the “boys gate”. Lifting the weans over was a tradition – until the hairy arsed turnstile operative saw the long legs coming up from the older boys: “naw you yer no gettin’ a lift ower; boys gate!” Expletives and a quick exit saw the “culprit” make his escape to try at another gate “mister, gonnae lift us ower?”; or doubling up with someone else and running away from the turnstile as fast as they could. I was a few years off that, but took it all in as my education for the future.
You were then into the ground and before you could run up the steps that took you to the top of the terracing (only to go back down the other side), but first, the adults had to relieve themselves of the Indian pale Ale, Export or Stout from the Grange. The smell of the toilet is still evocative of 1960s Cetlic Park, but not in a good way! Up to our place next; at the barrier slightly to the left of the pylon. If I wanted to stay with my dad and the other adults, I was hoisted on the brightly painted green barrier and sat there till I either got bored or my bum was too numb to sit any longer. Then it was down to the front where you would meet numerous other urchins out for the day. Having a laugh, playing at writing stuff in the gravel and waiting for that most wonderful sound: “Erzi maccerooooon bars and Wrigley’s spearmint cheeeeewing guuummmm!” The occasional opportunity for a (still) too sweet macaroon bar, chewing gum or some other tooth rotting delicacy was a highlight. During all that, we watched parts of the game. Half-time saw a brief family reunion and maybe a piece on jam if some had been stuffed into someone’s pocket before we left home. The second half was more of the same with the family reunion taking place with about 10 minutes to go and then it was back to the barrier perch. The exit was reverse of the entrance with the toilet stop more than occasional .
Even in summer the ground was always wet from the residue in the beer cans: this residue was a mixture of the dregs of the beer and the copious amounts of urine deposited into the cans during the game. I would assume that most of my generation can still remember the “warm, wet leg” experienced at the football. Again, evocative; similarly not in a good way.
It was then the trek back to the bus, wee legs sore from standing and running about for the best part of 3 hours since we left the bus at around 2. The mood depended upon the result, but as I was fortunate to be brought up with the Lions as my team, it was mainly a great experience.
This continued in much the same vein until the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s and double figures were achieved in age, by which time I had mastered the ability to stand on 2 empty beer cans to see the game better I was too old to go down to the front but still hankered after the macaroon bars! As we got older, we were allowed to make our own way from the bus to the ground if we wanted and try and get a lift in; on the occasional unsuccessful attempts, we would wait for our own adults to arrive and lift us over. Paying at the boys gate still wasn’t an option. The opportunity to get one over on the auld gits on the turnstile was still very welcome; until we realised that getting money for the boys gate from our parents and getting someone else to lift us over was a far smarter option! Growing up and wising up! This very soon led to being allowed to make our way to the game under our own steam as we got into secondary school. We usually went on the train. This led to various scrapes and scraps along the way but it was all part of our social education. It also allowed us to enter more hallowed ground! The Jungle.
The transition of around 20 yards to your left took you into a whole different world completely. Up until then, I enjoyed going to Celtic Park and they were some of the best moments of my young life. When I entered the Jungle, I was in love with my club and that has never changed in the intervening years. It was entering a Cathedral of Celtic and here my Celtic and Republican education was taken to a new level completely. I was able to sing the songs I had heard as a child and began to better understand them as an adolescent. They still remain with me and resonate with my love for Celtic and my Irish heritage. Some of them were probably wrong then and most certainly are now; but the vast majority of them were necessary then and, in my book, many are still OK now. My first few years were in the west end of Jungle was as a boy from the Drum, but when I was 16 we moved out to Condorrat in Cumbernauld as part of the overspill and after a few weeks of meeting up with old friends, I began to go to Celtic Park with new friends. Sadly, my old friends drifted away, but many of my new friends are now great old friends! Celtic is a family!
The ‘70s were a great time to be in the Jungle, watching WGS winding us up and some nutter trying hit him on the park; the last games of the Lisbon Lions; 10 men winning the League; the transition to McGrain, Hay, Macari, Dalgliesh and the subsequent heroes. Being older (but not wiser) we still had a few scrapes, but in the main could avoid them.
In the early 80s I moved down south where I met my wife; I stayed there for 6 years and we moved back to Glasgow as a family. During that time I was a regular passenger on the overnight train from Euston on a Friday, pub, game, pub and back home on the overnight train on a Saturday. I was never stuck for getting up to Paradise when I wanted to and it sated my need for Celtic during those times. It was like a regular pilgrimage. By the time I got back to Glasgow, the Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle was over and the Great Scottish Football Swindle was beginning.
I returned to Celtic Park as regular but the last few years were dark days for all connected to and in love with Celtic. I took my young sons and their pals; we stood in the Rangers end looking at a less than half-full stadium. The boys often took a ball with them and kicked it around the vast empty spaces during the game; the football was dire so I can’t blame them. Even the beloved Jungle was quiet and a lot emptier. The life was being sucked out of the club. It looked as if the Kelly’s and the White’s had killed Celtic.
Then remarkably the Rebels won, standing on the steps of Celtic Park with a quiet unassuming wee guy from Canada via Croy. The club was saved and a lot of other things happened; success on the park, no more standing because of Heysel, no more drink in the grounds because of the 1981 cup final and cheating on a monolithic scale that would see its full impact some 20 or so years later. Some really good times did follow.
Roll on another decade or so and we were given back the “Spirit of The Jungle”! Following on from the success of safe standing in Germany and the boisterousness of the Green Brigade in Section 111, Celtic opened the North Curve for the 2016/2017 season to provide just over 2500 safe standing season tickets for its fans. Integral to the section were the Green Brigade who have provided most of the noise, colour and controversy over the past 12 years. I was aware of the forthcoming opening of the section and as soon as I got my letter on the Saturday morning, I was straight down to Celtic Park to take up the offer of a place. I managed to get them for a group of 4 of us who attend together. I also get to see Jobo of CQN fame each time I go – he is 2 rows in front of me.
So what do I think of the North Curve? For me (even as a more mature gentleman), it’s fantastic and has added a brilliant atmosphere to Celtic park. The front part of the North Curve is where the Green Brigade are housed so there is plenty of activity in there. I’m further up but right behind the GB; the only downside is that I don’t see the TIFO’s till after the game. So where do we start?
Safety: this is of paramount importance after the numerous, awful deaths of fans in my lifetime at Ibrox, Heysel, Bradford and Sheffield. Each ticket holder has a “rail seat” that folds up for non-UEFA games and folds down for UEFA controlled games. There is plenty of space and you have a rail in front of you to prevent movement forward during the game, so the old events of previous terracings where in busy, excitable times you often moved forward several steps down the terracing can no longer happen. Judicious use of a yale key allows you to turn the seat lock so it can be put up during European games, or put down for a wee sit doon at half time to ease the auld weary legs!
Access: there are 3 turnstiles that give access to the standing section so there is usually easy access on matchdays. I’ve never been held up overly long and always got into the game on time, even on busy European nights. Stairways in and out of the section and up through the terracing are wide and safe. Overall, safe as safe can be in a football stadium. Tickets are checked on entry to the section so you can’t get in without one. (More on that later).
Comfort: considering the complete lack of comfort of the old terracing, this is massively improved. Plenty of space all round with no crushing. So much so that several scallywags manage to sneak into share space with their friends. It’s simple enough. Go downstairs with 2 tickets in your pocket, meet a mate and both come up with a ticket each. So far this hasn’t caused any problem.
Populous: the make-up of fans in the standing section is as varied as any other part of the ground I have held a season ticket for. Pre-school kids through to pensioners; male and female. I know one auld fella who was 80 when he still attended last season. It was a wee bit too much so he’s now in a seated area. He was there for the first 2 seasons because it harked back to how he used to watch Celtic. So there are no barriers other than for those who are not physically able to stand for the entire match. I’ve seen people with walking sticks and crutches in the section on occasion!
Atmosphere: superb atmosphere; it’s not quite the Jungle but it’s pretty close to it. It certainly has “The Spirit of the Jungle”. The noise is constant and can drown out everything else around you. On those special European nights and top or tight domestic games it is a joy and takes me back to the ‘60s and ‘70’s when we experienced those atmospheres on a regular basis. There have been some nights in the all seated stadium when we were almost there – winning the league against St Johnstone to stop 10 in a row; beating Juve 4-3; beating Barca 2-1 – but never quite the same as standing cheering the Bhoys on. It just cannot be beaten.
The “Rebs”: this is a personal opinion but in the main I don’t mind them. I grew up with them, sung them every week home and away; I also sung worse home and away but that’s another story. Ireland is in our DNA: we were allowed to celebrate that as younger people so I have no real issue with the younger fans singing them now. I’m still partial to “The Broad Black Brimmer” and “The Roll of Honour” myself so I won’t pontificate on that. Where we do let ourselves down as a support though (again, a personal opinion) is the “Orange Bastard” chants and the manipulation of “Beautiful Sunday” into the IRA chant; my particular dislike is the full version of “Build a Bonfire” – a hunnish chant if ever I heard one.
Other benefits: I get my tickets for semi-finals and finals with the Green Brigade so me and my mate Eddie are right in amongst it at Hampden (and Murrayfield) for those big games. It makes for a fantastic atmosphere during the game though it can be very boisterous at times – footballs equivalent of the “Mosh pit”. In the main the younger supporters are respectful when you tell them they are overstepping the mark; on the odd occasion one of them tries to argue they are usually taken to task by those around them if we speak out. The slight downside of it though is the fact that the smoke bombs are often rolled over in front of me and Eddie – we are assuming their logic is that the Polis won’t think it’s the 2 old guys letting them off!
Overall: what a fantastic move by Celtic. It has added so much to my personal enjoyment of going to Celtic Park (and cup semis and finals). From what I see on highlights and recorded games I watch back, it adds to the whole stadium. The only game I’ve not been in the section for was the 0-0 draw with Kilmarnock at the tail-end of last season: I was a guest in the Presidents Box. I spent most of the game looking over and wishing I was standing with my mates. No matter how good the hospitality, free beer and good grub was, it was a sanitised almost sterile experience and reminded me just how much I enjoy the North Curve.
The future: my only concern now is how long I will be fit enough to keep going and standing at the football; I reckon I have another dozen or so years in me so I’ll keep on keeping on until it becomes too much and then I’ll retire to a more sedate location. It will be with a heavy heart, but succoured by the notion the The Spirit of The Jungle live on! I will always remember with pride that I was part of the first “North Curvers”. I really hope Celtic take the decision to increase the number of standing places for fans; it will give more of us the opportunity to experience what we once did and for those younger fans, their first opportunity to see why football fans should stand and celebrate their team!