The day I counted how many people were in Celtic Park

There could rarely have been a more uncomfortable train journey than the three arduous hours I spent commuting to Glasgow on Saturday morning.  There is an argument to be made which says that I only have myself to blame for over-indulging in alcohol the night before and for fooling myself into thinking that I could make enough silly jokes to a woman that she would eventually decide it would be a brilliant idea to date me.

And perhaps it could be said that I should have moved away from my table seat when a gentleman sat opposite me and shortly thereafter a young woman sat in the seat next to him, leaving me unwilling to fall asleep and give them the likely spectacle of me drooling over myself.  Despite the fact that my leg room was heavily restricted and I was extremely tired and couldn’t allow myself to fall asleep, my conscience rendered me unable to move to another seat.  I couldn’t make things awkward for them by making them think that they had offended me in some deep way, to the extent that I had to immediately leave their company.  I would rather things be awkward for myself whilst I curse the two individuals in my internal monologue.

So I sat and listened to Ryan Adams for three hours and wallowed in a sleepy, hung over melancholy.

Everything moved in super slow motion on Saturday, like a tortoise on a skateboard with absolutely no clue how to operate it.  And nobody even knows how it got there in the first place, only that it did, which is how I felt when taking my cold, unforgiving seat at Celtic Park prior to kick-off.

Like the train ride before it and the subsequent sorry attempts at drinking a pint of beer, the football was a slow and ponderous affair.  Celtic are so dominant at the moment that it is only a matter of time before they score – the polar opposite of my romantic encounters – and you find yourself waiting impatiently for that magical moment to occur – exactly like my romantic interludes.

My tired mind struggled to focus on the action on the field and I often found myself distracted.  I could see that there were noticeably more seats empty around the ground than there have been most Saturday afternoons, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call the official attendance figure of 54,685 an alternative fact, by my haphazard head count there were around five people at Celtic Park on Saturday.

Indeed, I would go as far as to say that there are usually five different types of people who go to the football.  There are folk like me and the guy sitting in front of me with the swept back grey hair and the red jeans who keep themselves to themselves and basically sit and watch the game as it unfolds.

Elsewhere in the ground there are supporters who turn up to sing and create an atmosphere, seemingly without paying much attention to what’s happening on the field.  There was the chap behind me on Saturday who would intermittently startle me out of my daze with his crude attempts at signing, which mostly amounted to howling three or four words before giving up.  He sounded like he was under water.

Spectator group number four would be those who typically only spend approximately 60 minutes at the actual game.  They arrive 5-10 minutes after it has kicked off, leave five minutes before half-time to get into the line at the food stalls and then leave the stadium to beat the traffic as soon as the clock lands on 80 minutes.  I’d estimate that this may be the largest group.

The vocal minority is the small band of people who somehow believe that everything they shout can have an impact on the match.  Whether it is a stinging criticism of a player’s inability to “get stuck in” or a garbled cry in support of the IRA, every solo holler is delivered as though it has the inspirational quality of a John F. Kennedy speech.

Eventually that inevitable magical moment came courtesy of Moussa Dembele and the five people in the stadium could go home happy.  I put on some more Ryan Adams and walked back into the city centre with the mobility of an uncertain raindrop on a window pane.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 The slow and painful passing of a Saturday afternoon
Celtic 2-0 Hamilton


The day after I met the German

It has been a fair while since I last woke up to find that I wasn’t alone in bed.  My ‘little black book’ is best described as “dusty” whereas most other modern folk have updated to the e-book.  But when my eyes struggled to prise themselves open at around 8am on this particular Saturday I could sense another presence in the bed next to me.  My recollection of the events of the previous night were more murky than a ScotRail coffee, but there was an undeniable feeling of satisfaction in my bed.

Quite aware that I had a train to catch and was already pressed for time I knew that I couldn’t lay there for long and reflect on the glory of my achievement.  So I forced myself into action and I rolled over to confront the half-eaten slice of pepperoni pizza resting on top of the duvet beside me.  Seemingly Friday wasn’t quite the pleasurable experience I had imagined it was:  why couldn’t I finish that slice of pizza?

These Saturday trips to the football are difficult enough without questions lingering from Friday night.  I had a lot of questions though, and not all of them were “how did I end up in bed with a slice of pepperoni pizza when my Tinder profile clearly states that I don’t date cold meats anymore?”

I suppose that the primary questions on my mind related to the 70-year-old German gentleman I was talking to in Aulay’s Bar after five o’clock.  That encounter returned to me often through the day, particularly during a cold second-half at Celtic Park in which the flicks and tricks of Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele couldn’t add to the two goals Celtic had scored in the first period of play.

I can’t remember why the German man started a conversation with me – how could I? – but I do recall him being rather agitated about the state pension and the fact he wasn’t receiving it despite having being sent letters informing him that he would.  He perhaps thought that with my occupation I might be able to offer him some advice, but there were two reasons I couldn’t:  1)  I was drinking beer; 2)  Nobody understands pensions.

This guy seemed like he had lived quite the life as a master baker (as opposed to my life a consonant away) in countries like Canada, Israel and Australia, enjoying the music of Handel and Mozart and visiting the Isle of Wight festival from Germany several times during its heyday in the seventies.  And it was this latter note which was most impressed upon my mind.  For as interesting as it was hearing a first-hand account of Jimi Hendrix almost burning the stage down, Pink Floyd stepping in to replace him and the experience of seeing The Who and Bob Dylan, there was one phrase the German used regarding his time at the Isle of Wight Festival which reverberated around my mind like a Roger Daltrey riff.

“We smoked joints the size of trumpets.”

He repeated it often.  Joints the size of trumpets.  I’ve since been trying to picture this musical spliff and keep questioning why a trumpet?  How about a joint the size of a clarinet or an oboe?  Is a joint the size of a saxophone out of the question?  I can’t help but turn to thinking of a trumpet the size of a joint.  One suspects that wouldn’t be so easy to play.

And how much weed does it take to make a joint the size of a trumpet anyway?

With every break in play, stray pass along the threadbare green surface or squandered goalscoring opportunity my thoughts would return to this wild German and his group of friends roaming the Isle of Wight with their comically sized joints in a hedonistic haze of seventies exuberance.  This was worse than a hangover.  At least with a hangover a couple of pints will make you forget about it, but nothing could take my mind off Frank’s crazy assertions about the size of his joints.

Who knows if I will ever again meet Frank and have the questions which plagued me answered.  I may never learn more about this brass orchestra of narcotics.  Some questions are just destined to remain unanswered, however.  Like how Ryan Bowman avoided a red card for his high challenge on Kieran Tierney, or why I ended up in bed with a slice of pepperoni pizza.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 pepperoni pizza
Celtic 2-0 Motherwell

A night in the church (aka Conor Oberst @ Albert Hall, Manchester)

Manchester has a great history of producing legendary musical acts, from The Smiths to Oasis and Joy Division to James and New Order.  The list isn’t endless, but it is substantial.  So it seemed only fitting that I should see one of my personal Gods of emotionally tinged sad music, Conor Oberst, at a converted church in this city.

The Albert Hall was originally built as the Methodist Central Hall in 1908 and was designed with Baroque and Gothic elements.  Its Chapel Hall was unused from 1969 until its renovation as a concert venue in 2012-13.  That’s more or less all Wikipedia tells us about the building, which is a quite beautiful and atmospheric venue, ideal for a gig like this.

Getting there was somewhat less beautiful, however.  Ordinarily any day which begins with your weak and weary eyes taking in the surroundings of the easyhotel in Glasgow can surely only get better, but the cold which made the football barely tolerable the night before was in no mood to let me cling to that hope.  A three-hour train journey to Manchester seemed as palatable to me as the beef and ale pie I would later attempt to consume at a Wetherspoons on Oxford Street.

As I sat in my seat on the train awaiting its departure and listening to my playlist of sad emo songs by Conor Oberst in an attempt to brighten my outlook, a large older gentleman hobbled slowly towards the seats at the opposite side of the table from me.  He spilled into both of them in the manner I’d imagine a bowl of jelly might and it became clear that he had purchased two tickets for them.  I observed him as he emptied his bag of shortbread and chocolate and his wallet and a diary and various other items, before proceeding to tear up several sheets from his sticky pad and attach the pieces to his belongings.  It was a curious thing to witness, and sadly the most interesting sight of the entire journey.

Things would get better, eventually, with a beer.  Don’t they always?  Fortunately there is a BrewDog bar adjacent to the Albert Hall where I could enjoy pints of Dead Pony Club in the company of several other flannel clad fans of misery.  On the downside I was only capable of drinking three beers, which was due to either the man flu sweeping my body or the fear of missing the 7.19 train back to Glasgow the next morning.  Whatever it was, this was the most sober gig I’ve been to in some time.

There is something inherent about a church, I feel, that makes a person cough.  That was one facet of my cold that was missing, right up until I entered the Albert Hall.  Then I found myself clearing my throat and coughing incessantly, and I wasn’t alone.  The difficult part was trying to find an appropriate point during these poignant acoustic songs at which to let them out.  It felt like being nine-years-old again and at mass on a Sunday morning trying to stifle a cough – usually brought on by the incense – because the priest was still delivering his important reading,

This venue still looks much like a place of religious gathering, with its stained glass windows and beautiful terracotta decor, the organ resplendent at the back of what would once have been the altar and is now a stage.  Its acoustics capture wonderfully the emotion in Conor Oberst’s voice; the sharp sorrow of his harmonica.  The show leans heavily on his most recent release, Ruminations, which was recorded over three days in New York City with little more than the equipment seen on stage last night, making this feel as though we were being brought right into the album.  You could almost taste the liquor on Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out, a song about the NYC bar “that saved my life.”

Uncanny was preceded by an apology for America and “the orange rat” and an impassioned plea for human beings to stick together.  We’re probably going to hear a lot more of this at gigs over the next four years, or until Trump is impeached, whichever comes first.

The triumvirate of Bright Eyes songs that closed out the night were the undoubted highlight, with Phoebe Bridges almost stealing the show on Lua; her voice was flawless and haunting.  At The Bottom of Everything was a lively, foot-stomping finale, with its final line stating that “I’m happy just because I found that I am truly no-one” seeming somehow fitting.

The night I went to the game with a cold

Much like Bigfoot, The Yeti and President Donald Trump’s sanity there have long been questions raised over the existence of so-called ‘man flu’.  There were reports as recently as last year suggesting that the male species really does suffer worse from the cold virus due to having weaker immune systems than our female counter-parts; whilst other researchers will scoff loudly at such a notion.  Having never spent a day in the female form and therefore having no knowledge of how women work – as my romantic history will testify – I am not going to debate the prowess of man flu; rather I am here to state that having a cold can make going to the football in February a bit of a miserable experience.

I can provide no evidence linking the quality of football on show at Celtic Park last night to my cold, but then I feel that in 2017, the year of the alternative fact, I shouldn’t need to. Nor should it be suggested that the seven beers prior to kick-off were a contributing factor, or that the inordinate amount of cheese consumed from a platter at the Hippo Taproom created such a fuzzy high in my head that nothing could possibly be as it seemed. This was all the doing of my cold.

It’s not that Celtic played particularly badly.  On the contrary, they were professional, controlled and in parts dominant.  But Aberdeen were stuffy, congested and blocked off any space to the extent that this became quite a chore to shiver through.

The first-half felt as though it passed with me sneezing more frequently than there were shots at goal, which is not all that remarkable a statement considering that there was only one attempt on target – from Aberdeen – and that I was sneezing a lot.  My nose was running more threateningly than James Forrest, whilst Jozo Simunovic seemed to cough up possession to a red shirt almost every time he tried to play from the back.

It isn’t often at Celtic Park this season that you’ll see this team so drowsy for 90 minutes, and nor was it the case here when ten minutes into the second-half the away defence fell apart like a wet paper tissue as a Scott Sinclair free-kick found Dedryk Boyata’s majestic head and the ball whistled into the back of the net.  Suddenly the Celtic virus threatened to riddle Aberdeen’s system as they streamed forward at every opportunity, attacking their sinuses and their goal with swift passing exchanges.  The Dons resisted, though, and one goal was enough.

The stadium lit up with thousands of smartphone torches and the sound of jubilation rang out as news filtered through from Edinburgh that Rangers were suffering a humiliation at the hands of Hearts and their Football Manager, yet I couldn’t muster the energy for much more than a blow of my nose – again – and I slumped back in my cold plastic seat as drops of rain began to fall from the dark Glasgow sky like an overproduction of mucus spills from a nostril.  Great.

I can’t say whether ‘man flu’ exists and the cold affects men more prominently than it does women, but I can say for sure that it doesn’t make attending the football any more fun.