Sometimes junior will ask me what supporting Celtic was like in the ‘good old days’. I know what he’s up to because when I describe the primitive, Victorian conditions which football fans had to endure in the late 20th century then it makes me sound like something from the Flintstones, much to his amusement.
It is near impossible for young football fans these days to comprehend the conditions that their Celtic Da’s and Granda’s had to endure in previous generations. Before 1980 Parkhead was the only Scottish ground that had cover on all four sides of the stadium but even then the cover in the Celtic end didn’t reach the entire terracing meaning that fans at the front got absolutely soaked when it rained.
Travelling to away games could certainly be described as an experience. Pittodrie was the only stadium which afforded away fans the comfort of having a roof over their heads. Ibrox, Easter Road, Tynecastle and Tannadice all had away ends with no cover which was fine in decent weather but could be bloody awful in the winter months.
The first game I remember suffering badly from the weather was a St Mirren v Celtic League Cup tie at Love Street in November 1977. Both ends in St Mirren park were uncovered and on this night in Paisley it absolutely came hammering down in sheets courtesy of a strong wind. Despite the inclement weather there was something about standing in those conditions which fostered a feeling of togetherness amongst the supporters. Fans, huddling in the elements, were more likely to sing and support the team to the full, a feeling of camaraderie that came from a mixture of the cold-wet and the sheer defiance of the elements. This helped to create a brilliant, yet raw, atmosphere. Mind you, in those days, fans could be fortified by wine, beer and spirits, in the time before the ban on alcohol. Celtic were enduring a horrible season but that night in Paisley the old Celtic cup spirit was shown to the full in a 3-1 win. As an 11 year old schoolboy, totally drenched from head to toe, I thought it was great.
Perhaps the wettest I ever was in a game was during the 1982 League Cup Final at Hampden between Celtic and Rangers. The so called ‘national’ stadium only covered one end of terracing (have a guess which one) and again the Celtic fans were left open in the elements on a wild afternoon of wind and rain. With Celtic leading 2-0 at half time and totally in command there were genuine hopes for another ‘7-1’ scoreline. At half time the Celtic end was rocking. However, that did not materialise although we were deserved 2-1 winners in the end. As my Dad and I arrived home that evening, soaked right down to our underwear, my Mother let rip at the prospect of us contracting pleurisy. Much to her disgust, all I could say was, ‘Ma. it was absolutely brilliant!’
If Hampden was bad for suffering from the weather in winter, it could still be a problem in summer. The 1989 Scottish Cup final was a case in point with another win over Rangers. It must have been 75 degrees that day as the sun pounded down on the Celtic support, again standing on an open terrace with no shelter, this time from the beating sun. The game was close to the very end. With Celtic desperately hanging on to a 1-0 lead I remember praying for us to win if only for the fact that I was genuinely concerned that my Dad would suffer sunstroke if his fair skinned complexion had to endure a further period of extra time and penalties.
Frost and snow were another perennial problem with old Scottish grounds. In December 1992 I can remember thinking that Tynecastle was an absolute death trap. The terracing steps were frozen over with ice and a layer of snow as the Celtic support gingerly made their way to their standing points behind the goal. However, the pitch was playable, and in those pre-health and safety obsessed days that’s all that mattered as no one actually gave a stuff about the average long suffering fan. It’s no exaggeration to say that conditions for people watching football in Scotland, until the mid 1990’s, had not improved since the pre-war years of the 1930’s
These days all the major Scottish clubs provide cover and seating for the paying public. The current fashion is for safe standing as younger fans seek to create a bit more atmosphere in the modern stadia. At my age I’m not enamoured about the prospect of standing at football anymore. After 22 years of sitting in area 445 at Parkhead I’ve become soft and grown accustomed to the comforts that the stadium now provides me with. However, I can appreciate that some people want to stand.
My message to younger fans is enjoy your safe standing but please be very, very grateful to for the roofs that we now have which provide protection over all our heads.