I had informed my work that morning that I was ‘sick’ (some kind of terrible plague, or scurvy…or some such disease, I can’t remember which excuse I gave), and that freed up my day. I told my 4 year old that he wouldn’t be going to school (Yippee!) and that he’d be going to see Celtic (double- yippee!!) instead, I grabbed the wife, grabbed the 5 month old son and we all jumped in the car and drove the 20k’s into town.
We parked the car just around the corner from the WACA and were treated to the sight of dozens of hoops fans all making the trek to the training session. Each and every one of us greeted each other, whether it was a knowing nod, an “Awright pal”, or a full blown “Hail Hail”, we all took great delight in acknowledging that we were part of the Celtic Family. The singing had already started, a few bars of “The Celtic Song” could be heard from a bunch of fans a hundred or so meters in front of me. As the WACA loomed large before me I became aware of the quick fluttering of butterflies in my belly and I found my hands were shaking. My breath grew short as we entered through the gate and climbed the stairs to the stand where a 300+ throng of Celtic tops from various era’s already heaved and jostled to get to seats.
And before I knew it there they were.
There were my heroes playing with the kind of vigour and skill that makes you realise that there’s no way in hell you were never good enough to be a professional player, despite what you may have told the entire Supporters Club after you downed ten pints of lager while watching Celtic destroy Aberdeen last season. “Ah could dae that, if only ah goat tae play (hic) fitba every day” you slur, as you simultaneously fall off the back of your stool and spill an entire pint over the increasingly attractive beer wench who suddenly tells you you’re not getting any more beer and it’s time to go home…
Sorry…got a little side-tracked there…It was actually quite hard to comprehend that I was watching Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley, Gary Hooper and…er…Glenn Loovens in the flesh. There’s a kind of ‘Awe-filter’ that sort of tells you “Nope, you’re not really looking at that, ” and it takes a wee bit of time before you really appreciate it…but appreciate it I did.
There! Ki Seung Yeung just fired a 40 yard laser pass to Kris Commons!
Look! Paddy McCourt just curled a 30 yarder past Zaluska!
Over There! It’s…oh…it’s just Glenn Loovens…again…
The boys looked sharp, especially Mark Wilson and Davey Ki. Alan Thompson came on at one point and began firing in the kind of crosses that made him a hero amongst the support. It quickly ended though as one cross came back out to him and he hit it clean on the volley, injuring himself in the process. I’d just turned to the guy next to me and said “Here, Alan Thompson looks like he could still do a turn for us…” to which the guy replied “Emm…probably not now mate.”
Before we all knew it the session was finished and the team came en masse to greet the fans. We had been instructed to fan out along the perimeter so we could all get autographs etc. It was a tight squeeze, despite taking up an entire 3rd of the WACA it was still a mission to fit in amongst 300 + mental Celtic fans, but we did it. The team started at one end of the WACA and worked their way through the crowd to the other end where the team bus was waiting. Each and every member of the team signed every single thing that was put in front of them, each and every one of them had a chat and said hello and spend a wee bit of time with the fans. Lenny followed at the end of the queue and shook supporters hands (including mine, which I still haven’t washed!), stopped to talk to us about where we lived, what we thought about the session, were we looking forward to the game? An absolute gentleman of the highest order, he took the time to give back to the fans every bit of encouragement and support they gave him over the last season (and by extension his entire career).
Having had my merchandise autographed I took the kids outside and waited on the wife (who presumably was looking to get Kayal’s phone number, she claimed to be getting autographs for herself but I’m not so sure…). I stood next to the team bus with my two kids and lo and behold, who came off the bus for a chat? None other than John Clarke. Now…remember when I said Neil Lennon was a gentleman? He’s got nothing on this guy! John stood and got a photograph taken with me and my youngest son and before he knew it he’d been surrounded by at least 100 people, all asking for photographs. John stood for a photo with each and every person who wanted one, not only that, he was bantering and joking like a stand up comedian, he had everyone in stitches.
By the time john was finished, the rest of the team were making their way onto the bus. Most of them, however, took it upon themselves to pose for photographs with the fans, despite having signed more than 300 autographs, they still had the time and grace to pose with us scabby commoners (see photos attached). All except Anthony Stokes, who had taken the huff after being given the dreaded “Yellow Jersey” for being worst player in training.
And before we all knew it, the team bus was pulling out of the WACA while Neil Lennon hung back on his own doing interviews, presentations for local charities and fan groups, and signing even more autographs. For the supporters though, it was back to our mundane lives, for 24 hours at least. We had a game to look forward to and by god were we doing just that.
Next up: Celts in Perth – Day 2…this time it’s personal…