Several hours before hand Celtic had beaten St Mirren 1-0 to clinch the Premier League title in Martin O’Neill’s debut season as manager. The former Leicester boss, a man beloved by the Foxes support, had led his new side to the league championship with a full six games left to play, and how we enjoyed it. Tommy Johnson popped the ball past St Mirren ‘keeper Ludivik Roy and into the net on 38 minutes, after what almost all Celtic fans would agree to have been a horrendous first touch to send the crowd of 60,440 into raptures. The spine of that team would march onto a field of dreams three years later in the city of Seville. Their date with destiny would come.
Douglas, Valgaeren, Mjallby, Vega, Agathe, Lennon, Lambert, Moravcik, Thompson, Larsson, Johnson.
Subs: Gould, Boyd, McNamara, Healy, Crainey.
Remember those names. That was the team, those were the souls who transformed and transmuted our world. We had risen from our delegated role as under-class, bog-trotting fenians and had thrown down the walls of the Blue Iron Prison that surrounded and imprisoned our spirits. Martin O’Neill had become the Alchemical Master, transfiguring lead into gold. Through his Celtic team Martin had discovered the philosopher’s stone of Football, a team that were the very epitome of tactical and physical supremacy over their rivals; a team that swept all before them, achieving an incredible and symbolic treble. The euphoria on the pitch had swelled and spilled over like a tidal wave of light, flooding out of the stadium and through the grey, industrial streets of Glasgow and into the minds of the watching masses. Its light was inhaled by the thousands of fans in the stadium, at home, in the pub, in the streets and how it nourished their hearts and minds, it opened the eyes of a people who had grown accustomed to darkness. It brought to those people something they’d lacked for an entire generation…
And still we danced on, despite of and in spite of the warnings by the self proclaimed authorities of the dangers of such a gathering. It had begun as a rumour, whispered among the support like a secret password, like prisoners of war arranging an escape from bondage and ended as a hurricane, a whirlwind, an unstoppable vortex of green and white energy. Our would-be jailers could do nothing but stand by and watch.
“This is the Garngad, “ we said, our defiant voices rising like a chorus of angels, and on the Royston Road people, a nation, a spiritual brotherhood celebrated its liberation from footballing oppression.
People came from far and wide, they came in groups, and they came alone, by bus or car. Those closest to the gathering walked or hitched rides with surprised motorists. Families became separated in the swelling crowds, cut off from their siblings but swept into the safe inviting arms of life-long friends they’d never met before. In the thronging crowds strangers hugged like long lost friends, drinks were shared and spilled between newfound pals and they slapped each other on the back and laughed from the pit of their stomach the delirious laughter of children on Christmas morning. And for one eternal moment, it seemed like we’d dance on forever, in an unending day of joy. A giant huddle formed and for a moment many became one.
This must be what heaven feels like?
But eventually the unthinkable happened…the day waned and darkness drew near, the sun sank exhausted over the horizon and the heat and energy of the day began to dissipate. The cold harshness of night drew near, the crowd began to disperse and just as quickly as they had appeared, the shimmering phantoms of our collective consciousness, Walfrid, Maley, Stein – the immortals, soon began to fade becoming no more substantial than a half remembered childhood memory as they strolled back, arm in arm, into the halcyon streets of history.
Soon it was dark and the street was empty, discarded banners and flags lay in the streets and were tossed upon the sighing wind. The beating heart of a people had left a sullen vacuum, a quiet void where once was a living breathing beast, and the Garngad pined for the touch of 12,000 joyous souls upon its skin.
It wouldn’t be long before they returned.
But that’s a story for another day.