Celtic playing Motherwell in 2005 often creates heart wrenching flashbacks of Scott McDonald’s arms aloft as the title was thrown away in the dying minutes, or even of an inglorious start to the poison dwarf’s Celtic managership months later. I recall listening to the last ten minutes in May 2005 on the radio with a sense of anger and resentment that the title could be thrown away in this year of all years, as if somehow there was a personal vendetta that existed to make me cry for the first time whilst supporting my second love. The title defeat in itself was arguably a valid enough reason, but mine stretched beyond mere matters on the park, for 2005 was the first time I fully understood the notion of a Celtic family, tied in with the sadness that existed within my own loved ones. For Motherwell in 2005 was where it all began, but not either of the aforementioned games. Despite 58,438 (thanks CelticWiki) people in attendance, Celtic’s routine 2-0 victory over the Steelmen was the first Celtic match that I attended with my Mum, a woman who grew up in the Glenboig version of paradise.
This game was a treat for my 21st birthday, and despite reservations about missing Coventry City’s match at home to QPR, the lure of Celtic was a welcome relief to the mundane slog of the Championship. It was also a break for My Mum as her Mother had been in hospital for the previous three weeks but was thankfully on the mend. The game was lacklustre and uneventful, and I had to look up who scored Celtic’s second after Petrov’s opener (Chris Sutton for the completionists). Seeing my beautiful, fresh face on the big screen was the highlight of my day, and even a scary walk back down London Road, realising that we were suddenly on our own and several homes had union jacks staring at us as if to say ‘what ye doin’, fenians’. Never before has my Mum been relieved to stumble across the Barras on a Saturday evening.
The day after, everything changed. Mum’s phone rand whilst we were on our way to Celtic Park for the stadium tour. ‘She’s taken a turn for the worse’, my Uncle uttered down the phone, causing me to detract myself from the wheel and to instantly render my being a frozen shell. Turn for the worse? What can that possibly mean? She was fine a mere two days before, even encouraging us to drive to Glasgow and telling us to stop bloody worrying. Celtic awaited, she insisted, and she sure was stubborn. She was feeling better, so surely a turn for the worse simply meant that she may have to stay in hospital for several more weeks. Yes, that would be it, I desperately tried to convince myself, knowing in the depths of my stomach that my Mum’s white face betrayed any hope that may existed.
Looking back now, I struggle to comprehend what happened next. We carried on driving to Celtic Park, and took part in the full tour. The shock had obviously taken over, and my mind can only pick out one solitary moment, one that struck me with a ferocity and yet at the same time a gentle hope in the journey that awaited. As footage was shown of John Thompson, the voiceover relayed the inscription on his grave:
‘they never die who live in the hearts they leave behind’.
This statement was to echo around my psyche for the remainder of the journey, one that was travelled with an eerie sense of calm, as if both my Mum and I knew the fate that was to unfold over the next few days. I have still yet to meet a Mother and daughter combination as close as my Mum and Nanny, and this love was to reach its nadir over the next four days as my Mum never left my Nanny’s bedside. Her organs failing, I said my goodbyes whilst she was unconscious, a moment of reflection and thanks to a beautiful 74 year old woman. It was the first time I was witnessing death, and the link that I made, tentative or full of fate, between my Nanny’s passing and our trip to Celtic, would always remain, creating an unbreakably bond in both my Mum and I’s relationship and mine with the wider Celtic family. Despite not knowing anyone outside my family who had Celtic in their hearts, I just knew I belonged.
My three times a day trips to and from the hospital were accompanied by a Charlie and the Bhoys record that I bought in the Barras. The Fields of Athenry reached me for the first time, instabtly creating a personal moment within a much loved and highly popular song. The line ‘nothing matters Mary when you’re free’ would forever be the trigger for my unashamed tears for a beloved family member. Nanny passed away in the early hours of January 26th, 2005, a mere three and a half days after Mum and I sat in Paradise. Nanny was now entering a paradise of a different kind, surrounded by those closest in her heart. Death takes everyone down a different path, and mine was to cling onto Celtic as if it was the obvious link with my Nanny. Mum and I took great solace in the fact that Nanny insisted that we travel to the game, almost as if she had accepted that her journey through life was reaching its conclusion. Always petrified of the finality of life, Nanny’s last few weeks were a sea of serenity. She wasn’t afraid anymore, and was ever ready to be reunited with her Celtic man, my Grandad.
This Sunday, my Mum and I will make our first journey together to Glasgow since that fateful day, as we hopefully see the Celts lift the cup. To bring the family matters full circle, I have treated my Ma to a hospitality package from the money I received from selling my dad’s house in the aftermath of his devastating passing in 2009. My Dad’s headstone reads a similarity to the quote that has stayed with me ever since January 2005 and will now stay with me until my own dying breath:
‘they do not die, those who live on in the hearts of others’.