The 18th of November marked the 50th anniversary of my first time attending a Celtic game. Or the first one certainly that I can remember. On that day in 1972 my old Dad took me to see Celtic at the tender age of 6, and although it wasn’t actually the first time he had taken me to Parkhead, as we had attended a few reserve matches, I can still vividly remember the excitement and anticipation of finally getting to see the ‘big’ team on action for the first time.

The fixture was Celtic against Heart of Midlothian (to give then their Sunday name) and we found our seats in Celtic’s new modern main stand which had been newly built just the previous year, in 1971. It was my first experience of being lifted over a turnstile, a Scottish tradition of the time that youngsters were allowed free admission if a responsible adult ‘lifted’ them into the ground, something which many boys of my generation were to become highly familiar with during that era. Basically, your dad lifted you in without paying for you.

I will never forget my first impressions of Celtic Park. Life was very monochrome and somewhat drab back in 1972. Our television pictures were in black and white, the newspapers were colourless, and the only football colour which entered my life was from comics and magazines such as Scorcher, Shoot, and Goal, which I would peruse avidly for pictures of the Celtic heroes of the day such as Johnstone, Dalglish, Macari and Deans. All of a sudden, at the top of the stairway ,there was a blinding flash of light, from those distinctive, giant Celtic Park floodlights which seemed to stretch forever into the sky, (reckoned to be the biggest and most powerful in the UK at that time) reflecting brightness on to a vast, lush, green, footballing surface. The ground was enclosed all around us with giant roofed terracings in a ground which at that time was licensed to hold 75,000, far in excess of any stadium capacity that any of the big English clubs of the day could boast.

If it’s the vividness of the colour that I recall most then there were attacks on the other senses. There was the distinctive aroma of tobacco smoke in the stand all around us, a mixture of cigarettes, cigars and the pipes which the older men seemed to prefer, which caused a mist to eerily hover high over the stand in the cold air. It seemed as though everyone was smoking something. There was also the smell of beer and various spirits, men drinking from lager cans and hip flasks, in the days when alcohol was permitted in football stadiums in Scotland. You may notice I haven’t mentioned women in this piece yet, because I honestly can’t recall seeing any.

Then all of a sudden came the noise. A huge roar from the crowd as the teams took the field, Hearts in a very unusual, yet very smart, short lived, Ajax style strip, with a broad maroon band down the centre of their shirts. Then there was Celtic, in their traditional green and white horizontal stripes (never referred to as hoops back then) and to my young eyes, I had never seen anything finer. That Celtic strip of the period was aesthetically perfect on every way. No commercialism, no sponsorship, a totally unblemished garment of beauty, with each player having his own distinctive green number on the shorts.

The noise seemed to continue unabated for the entire game. The patrons of the main stand, probably slightly less brusque in their language than the other areas of the ground, shouted out their encouragement to the team and, when things didn’t go so well, they yelled their frustrations at the players as if they could actually hear them from the field of play. The denizens of the ‘Jungle’ enclosure, which faced the stand, made the most noise and I was able to make out their songs in praise of their various Celtic favourites of the day – Jimmy Johnstone on the wing!…Lou. Lou, skip to my Lou Macari!…Harry, oh Harry, Harry, oh Harry, Harry, oh Harry Hood! All common songs which I knew well from primary school.

Hearts’ striker Donald Ford has the honour of scoring the first goal I ever witnessed in football. A hush fell around us at that goal followed quickly by a loud roar of encouragement from the Celtic supporters all around us. It turned out to be a great game, Celtic edging a close encounter by 4-2, courtesy of two goals late on, with their four scorers being amongst some of the Celtic all-time greats – Kenny Dalglish, Dixie Deans, Jimmy Johnstone and Harry Hood, who all scored past the Hearts’ goalkeeper, Kenny Garland, who wore black tracksuit bottoms due to the cold weather. Garland would always be one of my favourite non-Celtic players in my younger days, due to him being the Hearts goalie that afternoon. Ford, such a great player in his own right, scored Hearts other goal to complete the scoring.

After that it was out into the cold and very dark Glasgow night to find the supporters bus to take us back home to our house in Govan. These days it would be described as a flat. Back then in was referred to as it really was; a room and kitchen. One thing I also recall was that the area surrounding Celtic Park in those days was less than what could be described as salubrious. Glasgow was a grim place in the 1970’s and the east end was long overdue for a period of what was euphemistically called ‘regeneration’. There would be many changes around the vicinity of Celtic Park in the forthcoming years.

So that was me hooked for life from that November afternoon. In later years I would refer to it as an addiction, something that if I was to try to refrain from, I know I couldn’t summon the willpower to do so. Sitting here now, looking back to that time, also makes me feel quite nostalgic and emotional. My Dad has passed away and many of the family and friends who we attended games with from that time are also no longer with us. Nothing ever stays the same and times do change. In 2022 I now take my son to sit in our shiny modern stadium and have done so now for the past 13 years. We sit in the new Celtic Park, raised from the ashes of the old one and built from the supporters’ own pockets. It still amuses me greatly that the main stand area within the ground, which my Dad took me all those years ago, remains roughly the same as it was back in 1972, much to the apparent chagrin of the patrons who currently fill it during each home game.

Some things have changed for the better. Smoking and alcohol is now forbidden within the stadia and the old habit of standing on the terraces is no more. And yet the one common denominator remains throughout the decades, is the passion which Celtic fans have for their team. That has never been diminished in any way. It still passes from father to son, from generation to generation. The one thrill I still get is when I hear the first bars of Glen Daly singing The Celtic Song as the team runs out 0n the pitch before every home game. I first heard that fine old tune played back in 1972, that song is unique, and should always be played when Celtic take the field at Parkhead. And every time I hear it I am transported back to those early days with my old dad, cheering on the Celts during happy times. They were a Grand old Team 50 years ago and they remain a Grand Old Team to this day.

It certainly doesn’t feel like 50 years have passed. As someone of my acquaintance was once fond of saying many years ago – We are Celtic supporters! Thanks be to God!