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 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.

The day Celtic encountered a real-life Football Manager and made history


It isn’t every day in life that you wake up in the morning knowing that there is a fairly good chance you are going to witness a piece of history being made, particularly when you are returning from slumber in an unremarkable room in a Travelodge in the centre of Glasgow.  How many people, I wonder, have woken up in the bland surroundings of a Travelodge hotel with its basic cable television and PG Tips teabags (no sachets of Nescafe coffee were even available) and bleak early 2000’s decor and gone on to be present when a historically significant event occurs?  There was certainly no-one attending the Gettysburg Address having spent an evening at the local Travelodge, and I doubt that any of the revellers who cheered as the Berlin Wall came down went back to a twin room at the Travelodge.

Yet this would go on to be a historic day, despite a night in the cotton linen of the aforementioned hotel chain.  Rodger Federer won his 18th Grand Slam title.  The United States of America completed its transition to a Fascist state.  I stood in a queue for a pie at Celtic Park for a record length of time – WITHOUT EVEN GETTING A PIE AT THE END OF IT – and most of this occurred well before lunchtime, bearing in mind that Sky television coverage decreed that this fixture kicked off at one o’clock on a Sunday afternoon.

The other piece of history we were about to witness was Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic team eclipsing the 26-match unbeaten domestic run of the 1966/67 Lisbon Lions Celtic side. The platform at Central Station was teeming with supporters eager to brave another ScotRail engineering fault to get to this game, whilst Celtic Park was swelling with anticipation.  There was a real buzz about this game – it felt like a genuinely big sporting occasion – and all that stood in the way of a passage in the history books was a Hearts side managed by Ian Cathro.

I have no idea if Ian Cathro has ever played the popular PC game Football Manager.  He certainly looks like he could be a Football Manager player, and many of his critics in the Scottish media derided him as being some sort of Football Manager, power point presentation coach when he was appointed manager of Hearts at the end of 2016. However, if this was a Football Manager save I would be seriously considering starting over again as manager of Real Madrid or Manchester United if were Cathro.

I myself am a moderately successful Football Manager player.  I dedicate several hours a week to the cause of getting Portsmouth promoted from League Two, and right now I’m doing a pretty darn good job, sitting nine points clear of second-placed Mansfield in February 2017 and with an FA Cup fifth round replay at home to Crystal Palace to look forward to.  I’ve turned Blackpool’s Jack Redshaw into a goalscoring sensation, have Manchester United loanee Josh Harrop pulling the strings in midfield and my possession style of football even saw us knock local rivals Bournemouth out of the FA Cup on their own patch with >60% of the ball.  But could I manage the third/fourth biggest club in Scottish football, for real?  That is disputable.

Cathro’s Hearts resistance here was as weak as a Travelodge tea, as soft as the water pressure in a Travelodge shower.  They tried, for a while, but ultimately they would have been better off trying to get a pie from the kiosk in block 140, because once Celtic opened the scoring through a slick counter attacking move involving Scott Brown, Scott Sinclair and, finally, Callum McGregor there was only ever going to be one winner.

From that moment on we were witnessing history develop before our eyes,  Despite the guy behind me insisting that Scott Sinclair (two goals and an assist) should have been withdrawn because “he’s been shite from the first minute” the second-half was largely played out in a party atmosphere.  There was Just Can’t Get Enough and the entire stadium doing the Huddle, where I wrapped my arms around the Northern Irishman next to me whose words I can’t understand, but words weren’t needed because we could sing and celebrate in this day.

There is an air of invincibility around Celtic at the moment, on the pitch and in the stands. Whilst singing songs about winning the league in January and going for ten in a row before six is mathematically complete has a scent of hubris to it, it is difficult to argue against. This team was missing five bona fide first-team players in Dembele, Griffiths, Sviatchenko, Armstrong and Rogic and it still comfortably swatted away the fourth team in the SPFL.  One feels that there may be many more history making days ahead with Brendan Rodgers at the helm.  And they might even begin from the bed of a Travelodge hotel.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 Availability of pies at the kiosk
Celtic 4-0 Hearts

A night when 2016 wasn’t so wretched


I can’t wait for 2016 to be over.  Not so much because this has been a year punctuated by a series of terrible events and tragic celebrity deaths, but because I’m tired of hearing those occurrences blamed on some quirk of the Gregorian calendar meaning that they happened in the same period of twelve months.

How inconsiderate of the fine work done by Pope Gregory XIII in creating this calendar which works in harmony with the earth’s equinoxes to ensure that our years are precisely 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds long in order to regulate the celebration of Easter.  He couldn’t have known about Brexit in 1582.  It is wrong to hold Gregory’s work responsible for Trump, Bowie and Prince.

Besides, 2016 hasn’t been the worst year in history as a cursory glance at social media in the wake of another twist of fate might have you believe.  At least, unlike those who suffered back in the days of the plague or outright global warfare, we have 140 characters with which to express our horror.  Did they even know they were suffering in 1665 without Twitter to confirm it?

Not everything about this year can even be qualified as being terrible.  My family has its health and a new addition, I met some great new people, Celtic pulled off a coup by hiring Brendan Rodgers as their new manager and for the first time in my life I was afforded the opportunity of becoming a season ticket holder at Celtic Park.  The latter meaning a midweek trip to Glasgow during the festive period to watch Ross County become the latest team to be swept aside in a remarkable season of domestic dominance.

Celtic ended 2016 without defeat in 22 Scottish fixtures at Celtic Park, extending a run of 23 games unbeaten under Brendan Rodgers.  Regardless of whose calendar you’re using that is an impressive sequence.

This hinterland between Christmas and Hogmanay where nobody’s really sure what day it is, lost in the haze of another night at the bar and another dip into the irresistible tin of Celebrations, is ideal for a trip to the football.  There is only so much televised football a person can take – no matter how much Sky try and tell you that Watford vs Crystal Palace is an unmissable festive treat – and nothing beats going to see your team live.  Ross County on the 28th of December is a game I was looking forward to from the moment the fixtures were published.

Not even a 13 minute delay at Garelochhead – as traditional for ScotRail these days as an overcooked mince pie – could dampen my enthusiasm, even if it meant my supply of beers would be dry by Dumbarton.  A simple readjustment of my calculations, much like Pope Gregory made, would still have me out in the West End for craft beers with plenty of time to get back for the train to Dalmarnock.

The platform at Central Station was bustling with green and white scarves, while the Celtic Way’s luminous Christmas decorations lit the route for thousands of fans towards the stadium.  This was an impressive turnout for a game sandwiched between the holidays – Celtic’s eighth of nine in December, no less.  There was little evidence of fatigue on or off the pitch.

Empty seats around the ground were almost as rare as Ross County opportunities in this game, although there were some and the visitors did start brightly.  They should perhaps have scored in the opening minutes of the match, but really this wasn’t much less than another routine Celtic win.  The game, and Ross County’s resistance, was ended in the final seven minutes of the first-half by two long range strikes from Erik Sviatchenko – whose name The Green Brigade commendably managed to fit into a song – and the ever impressive Stuart Armstrong.  His performances are fast matching the quality of his hair.

Almost more competitive than the football was the lengthy queue for the half-time pie and the remarkable resistance the pastry showed to being separated from the foil container.  Behind me in the line was a family of visitors from the United States discussing the performance of Last Christmas during the first-half and whether stuffed crust pizza would be available at the kiosk.  I suspect they were over-estimating the cuisine on offer at Celtic Park.  They debated whether a Scotch pie would be worth getting and what might be in a Scotch pie.  I thought about giving them assistance but quickly decided that it may be too complicated to explain and that they probably wouldn’t understand.  I don’t even understand.  Sometimes it’s better left not knowing.

The second-half felt like a procession and more of an exercise in trying to find ways to stay warm, as a winter breeze whipped around the stadium.  I questioned my tactic of wearing a denim jacket, which seemed to only grasp the cold air and clutch it close to me like Craig Gordon does a cross ball.

As foolhardy a decision as that turned out to be it couldn’t ruin my night, and probably shouldn’t add weight to the cynical view that 2016 has been an awful year.  Pope Gregory XIII’s reputation deserves to remain intact and the Gregorian calendar continues to serve its purpose.  Unless Celtic lose on Saturday and Brendan Rodgers resigns.

 

Final scores:
2016 1-1 JJ
Celtic 2-0 Ross County

 

The day where I couldn’t understand what the guy beside me was saying


It would probably be in everyone’s interests if I could get the Guy Fawkes puns out-of-the-way at the beginning of this blog post.  So, with that in mind:  Celtic blitzed Inverness with three second-half goals in a crackling atmosphere at Celtic Park in a performance where the Celtic attack sparkled, with a rocket from Tom Rogic particularly making the crowd oooh and aaaaah while Patrick Roberts dazzled like a Catherine Wheel as the Inverness defence disintegrated in a cloud of smoke.  After a drab opening 45 minutes where Caley Thistle managed to extinguish the home side’s attacking flame this game exploded into life following the interval when Griffiths sizzled and Stuart Armstrong was red-hot.  Celtic have as good as thrown this SPFL title race into the bonfire, etc etc.

My experience at Celtic Park this season has largely been that the folk in surrounding seats will not talk to you, and you don’t talk to them.  It is almost like an unwritten agreement where, unless you know someone (or are going to the game with someone,) you don’t make contact with anybody in the seats around you.  You can wrap your arms around them when doing the Huddle, but that’s it!  Despite that I have been able to characterise a number of people in my section.  There is the guy in the row in front of me who looks like a walking midlife crisis with greying hair swept back, he appears to be a student of the game.  The elderly gentleman in front of him begins to grow impatient if there hasn’t been a goal inside the first fifteen minutes and invariably demands that the ball is “blootered up the park.”  There is a woman a row or two behind me, whom I have yet to muster the courage to turn around and look at, who screams for anyone to SHOOT the moment they are within 45 yards of goal and is absolutely scathing when the ball inevitably lands several rows away from us.  I have been picturing Rab C. Nesbitt’s ‘Mary Doll’.

The two seats either side of me generally tend to lay empty most of the time, save for maybe the games against Rangers and Aberdeen earlier in the season.  There is a regular in the seat on the other side of the empty one to my left, however, and I will always remember, remember the fifth of November as the day that he chose to break the unwritten agreement of no contact.  (Dammit, sorry, that one just came to me.)

He hasn’t uttered a word all season.  At least I think this was the same guy: underneath all of the multiple layers of clothing he had covering virtually every inch of naked flesh on his being it was difficult to tell; he genuinely had the appearance of a man who was about to tackle Ben Nevis.  But today he was in right chatty form, from the very moment I arrived in my seat prior to kick-off.

“Blah blah blah blah blah lineup blah blah” is what I think he said.  Turns out he is Northern Irish and I had forgotten to bring my Ulster translation device with me.  I had no idea what he said.  I was able to decode the word ‘lineup’ and having seen the team selection on Twitter before heading out to the game I speculated that he was maybe quite surprised by it,

“Very attacking, isn’t it?”  I guessed.  How wrong could I be when it’s Brendan Rodgers?

“Blah blah blah blah blah three or four goals blah.”  His accent was impossibly strong and I had immediately switched to my default setting in situations where someone is talking very quietly or in a manner I can’t understand:  I nod and laugh.  He could have been telling me that he feared we would lose 4-0 with such an attacking set-up and I was standing there with a grin as wide as Emilio Izaguirre’s starting position.  For all I know he may have decided that this moment, on a freezing cold November afternoon at Celtic Park, would be the first time he would talk to another human being about the horrible death of his wife and children and the family dog in a sickening car accident and I was laughing along at every word because I can’t understand the Northern Irish accent.

“Blah blah Scott Sinclair blah blah blah.”

WHAT ARE YOU SAYING??

It was a trial, and while I wasn’t putting my utmost effort into finding out what he was saying I was trying nonetheless to converse with the guy – even if we did end up communicating in a mangled form of the English language whereby he would make a statement and I would make a counter statement which vaguely related to what I thought he might have been saying.

I can only conclude that my strategy must have been working, because at various intervals during the game he would lean across the empty seat between us and poke me on the arm to produce another incomprehensible observation.

“Blah blah blah blah blah midfield.”

“Aye, Scott Brown has been superb.”  At one point I’m sure he nodded and laughed.

Final scores:
Northern Irish accent 1-0 JJ
Celtic 3-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

Playlist:
Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George
Gene – Drawn To The Deep End
Compulsive Gamblers – Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing
Wilco – Kicking Television, Live in Chicago
Lambchop – Flotus

The day I went to the game as a 33-year-old man


Like most people my age I am now a 33-year-old man.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, although I suspect that biology and the Gregorian calendar may have had something to do with it.  I mean, I always knew that there was a fairly good chance it could happen one day, but I’ve never really prepared for the reality of being the same age as Jesus when he met his demise.  This is the year that I finally have the opportunity to outlive our Lord and Saviour and I have no idea how to handle that sort of pressure.

I have been thirty-three for five days at time of writing and I haven’t achieved anything of note.  I did survive a rather severe hangover the day after my birthday, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone being knighted or indeed even sainted for that feat.  The first chance I had to make my mark on life as a thirty-three year-old man was going to be the challenge of surviving the hangover from post-work drinks on Friday enough to make the train to the football on Saturday.  Building schools and hospitals or saving vulnerable refugees is remarkable, but making it through a Saturday morning on little more than a £2.70 cup of ScotRail “coffee” is a true achievement.

I don’t think of myself as being ‘old’, although there are definite signs that I am no longer young.  There was this dazzlingly alluring young woman standing at the bar before the game and I couldn’t help but keep looking over in her direction.  She was wonderful and I felt a strong urge to walk up to the bar and talk to her.  But my subconscious wasn’t whispering enticingly to me that “you’re a 33-year-old man, go up and talk to her.”  Rather, it was screaming:  “You can’t talk to her…you’re THIRTY-THREE-YEARS OLD!!”’

With that said, I sat in my seat and watched as 25-year-old James Forrest went on a run and supplied the cross for 27-year-old Scott Sinclair to open the scoring, and as 20-year-old Moussa Dembele sealed the points from the penalty spot and 19-year-old Kieran Tierney earned another Man of the Match award and 20-year-old Liam Henderson was imperious in midfield and it struck me that I am older than the entire Celtic team on the field (I was made to feel a little better when Kolo Toure came off the bench.)  From being a 13-year-old idolising Pierre Van Hooijdonk and an 18-year-old worshipping Henrik Larsson to being 33 and being confronted with the fact that all of my footballing heroes are now younger than I am.  It was a sobering thought to occur at three o’clock on a Saturday.

Thirty-three needn’t be seen as the call for last orders on my youth, however.  33rpm (rounds per minute) was seen as the ideal speed at which to play a vinyl record, and it could be that 33-years-old is the finest pace to live your life.  After all, there have been many fine achievements accomplished by people of my age:  Vaudeville performer Walter Nilsson rode across the United States on an 8 1/2 foot unicycle;  Paul Raposo began studying watchmaking;  Robert Hensel set a world record for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair. Mr. Hensel, who was born with spina bifida, covered a distance of 6.178 miles.  The list goes on and on.

In retrospect yesterday was never likely to be my unicycle day.  I spent much of the early part of the day wandering in the coma of the drinks I had on Friday night.  When I went into Rhoderick Dhu I realised that the reason it seemed so unfamiliar two weeks ago to the place I had last visited several years earlier was that I wasn’t in Rhoderick Dhu at all prior to the Kilmarnock game, but instead had sauntered unaware into the bar next door.  Getting a half-time pie was an even greater ordeal than at Aberdeen.  Having waited in line for what felt like thirty-three years I finally reached the front of the queue and ordered a steak pie, handing over my £2.50 in the manner such transactions work.  The girl promptly returned and informed me that there were no steak pies left, so I said I would take a scotch pie instead.  She shuffled back across to the hot cabinet and moments later once again returned empty-handed.  “Sorry, there’s no scotch pies either.”  I just wanted a pie and intimated that I would take any type of pie.  “We’re completely out of pies,” she said.  “Would you like your money back?”  Faced with a choice of no pie and losing £2.50 or no pie and getting my £2.50 back I decided that I would take my £2.50 and go and join another queue for a pie for thirty-three years.  I eventually got my hands on one just as the second-half was kicking off.  It wasn’t worth the wait.

In a way that was a perfect metaphor for the game of football I watched.  Motherwell were stodgy and resilient and were unwilling to offer any change.  Celtic, though, never really looked as though they were going to be denied their steak pie, even if they did have to wait longer than expected for the meat.

Meanwhile, I struggled to finish my beers on the train home and frequently found myself drifting into slumber and being swiftly startled out of it.  My great achievement is going to have to wait for another day.

Final scores:
Celtic 2-0 Motherwell
Age 1-0 JJ

Playlist:
Destroyer – This Night
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Ezra Furman and The Harpoons – Inside The Human Body
The Smiths – Meat is Murder
Conor Oberst – Ruminations

The day I discovered my seat is in a drip zone

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I always knew it would be something of a risk taking a seat in the lower tier of the Jock Stein Stand, in an area which is probably most kindly described as being weather adverse. However, the stand lurches just far enough over the bottom tier that I thought I could get away with it.  I felt it might offer just enough of a steel umbrella to shelter me from the worst of the elements.  My first four visits to Celtic Park this season suggested that I was in an ideal location and had made a supreme choice.  I have an unobstructed view of the entire pitch and a birdseye position to watch Celtic attack in the second-half.   This probably contributed to some slightly overcooked hubris:  those four trips have been largely dry, warm and on one occasion I even left a game with sunburn.  On the one wet night I experienced the rain had subsided enough before kick-off to deny the true nature of the situation and thus solidify my arrogance.

The weather forecast for Saturday was looking pretty daunting all week.  Wednesday night versus Alloa was a near miss, but it was becoming clear that Kilmarnock would truly test the resilience of my seating.  There was even a brief, crazy moment where I contemplated abandoning Friday night beers in Aulay’s due to the uncompromising weather front. Thankfully common sense prevailed in that regard and I was able to brave the conditions and get suitably (overly) drunk, but a marker had been laid down.  This was going to be a wet weekend.

I made the train on Saturday morning – hung over, windswept, but ultimately dry.  It would be the last time I would experience that feeling until Saturday night.  The rain must have started almost immediately, because by the time we reached Glasgow the service was on a 16 minute delay due to adverse weather conditions.  Even the brief walk from Queen Street to The Raven left my glasses resembling a broken kaleidoscope.  If there was an Olympic sport for rain then the way that it bounced off the pavement in Glasgow would surely secure yesterday’s experience at least a silver medal.

By the time I exited Dalmarnock Station and took my route along the Celtic Way the east end streets were slick with rain water and the floodlights from Celtic Park glistened in the dense grey distance.  The rain was relentless and I was looking forward to getting inside the stadium to my seat which would offer so much comfort and protection from this ridiculous Autumn afternoon.  I went through my current pre-match ritual of going to the bathroom to expel a couple of pints of beer before taking my seat in time for the teams entering the field.  When I had to wipe down my seat with a pocket tissue in Niles Crane fashion should have been the moment alarm bells began to sound in my head, but Celtic were entering the huddle and my thoughts were consumed with the hopes and expectation of sporting triumph.

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Barely had the first whistle been blown when it hit me.  A series of large, wet drips plunging from the tip of the Jock Stein Stand.  It was a cold awakening to a new reality:  it wasn’t the rain I had to worry about, but the excess rain clinging to the roof of the stand above me.  There wasn’t a relentless surge of drips, unlike the Celtic attacks on the field, but they would come every ten minutes or so and when they did you would feel the full force of them, like a Moussa Dembele piledriver from nine yards out.  And similar to Jamie McDonald in the Kilmarnock goal there was nothing you could do about them.

I think I came to the conclusion that these drips fell most prolifically during breaks in play.  Any goal-kick, throw-in, corner-kick was met with a ferocious splurge from the top-tier as though these drips were being dispensed from a firing range.  It was like a synchronised fall – three of them would come at once, one after the other.  BAM!  SPLASH!  WALLOP!  And they would get everywhere.  No matter how well concealed you thought you were from the elements, these menacing drips could reach you.  Be it on the face, down the back – these buggers really liked to get inside the neck of your coat – or wherever, they would leave every bit of you soaked.  They had the pinpoint accuracy of a Tom Rogic pass and significantly more menace.

These were not small drips either.  They were a remarkable size.  If the inflatable sex dolls which briefly dangled from the stand above me a couple of weeks ago were offensive then these engorged drops of rain were a permanent threat.  Judging by the number of seats in front of me which had become vacant at the half-time interval I suspect that a few folk were put off enough by these rogue interlopers to either seek higher ground or even throw in the towel altogether – though there would have been far greater uses for that towel.

As it was, Celtic were not as distracted by the monstrous drops of water from the Jock Stein Stand as I was and they pounded the Kilmarnock goal with a deluge of attacking opportunities, particularly in the second-half.  The flood gates were truly opened and there should perhaps have been even more to show for it in the end than six goals.  Despite Celtic’s stylish play in and around the Kilmarnock area they were restricted to ‘just’ the half-dozen, which was enough to dismiss the relentless rainfall and send a sizeable crowd home happy, if considerably more wet.

Final scores:
Celtic 6-1 Kilmarnock
The Drips 1-0 JJ

Playlist:
Okkervil River – Away
Wilco – Schmilco
Jack White – Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

The day where the half-time pie wasn’t worth the anticipation

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Perhaps the largest roadblock to having a good Saturday morning is enjoying a good Friday night which extends much later, and several drinks longer, than intended.  Getting out of bed at 7.45am for a three-hour train journey is a chore when you only went to bed around six hours earlier; your mouth feels and tastes like a desert where several creatures have died and to make matters worse you forget to pick up your banana before you leave home.  You try and eat a roll on the way to the station but your internal organs have all curled up into the foetal position and snort in derision at your ridiculous attempt to appease them for the damage done.  Reading the newspaper is an act in trying to fend off your body’s patent desire to both vomit and fall asleep simultaneously.  Eventually you give in and sleep.

You arrive in Glasgow and foolishly believe that a sandwich and some soup might help matters, give the body the substance that it has been craving all along.  But it turns out that your body was pulling an elaborate practical joke all along and what it really, truly wanted was a beer.  It has known you for thirty-two years, after all.  It knows what you need.  So you go to The Raven for a couple of pints of Caesar Augustus and everything feels better, the equilibrium of the world has been restored.  You are no longer drunk/hungover from the night before.  Your mouth doesn’t taste like several animals have died in the desert, rather it has the fragrant tang of a lager/IPA hybrid.  Tiredness has given way to the excitement of your first match as a season ticket holder at Celtic Park.

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There was only one question prominent on my mind when I took the short walk from Dalmarnock train station up the Celtic Way:  should I sate my hunger for a pie now or at half-time?  (I checked the team news before I left The Raven and Brendan Rodgers had answered the other question on my mind by dropping Craig Gordon.)  It was around 2.50pm by the time I made it through the fairly lengthy turnstyle queues and into the stadium, probably cutting it a little fine to buy a pie and eat it before kick-off I thought, so I decided to save that treat for the interval.  But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking about that pie for large periods of the first-half, especially during those lengthy spells where it felt that Celtic were simply passing the ball around their own 18-yard box with little intention of going forward, almost as though goading the ten Aberdeen men camped inside their own-half to come out.  Thank goodness I was no longer hungover, because those passages of play would surely have sent me to sleep earlier in the day.

Celtic enjoyed 69% possession in that opening forty-five minutes.

Three first-half goals – two of them for Celtic (two very fine finishes from Leigh Griffiths and James Forrest) – meant that I could look forward to my pie without having to worry too much about the football.  The lines at the various food outlets were long and disorganised, presumably because many folk worried even less about the game than I and had retreated to the pie stalls before the whistle.  Standing at the back of this line, with the front about as far away as it had ever been, my craving for that meat and pastry intensified.  There is no finer hangover food than a good stodgy pie.  Maybe a sausage roll (links, not pastry) with the right kind of mustard, but it’s debateable.  I wanted that pie terribly; I dare say that I needed it.  I had forgotten my banana, my body rejected the bacon roll and the soup and sandwich were laughed off as a cruel joke.  It was a pie at the football that I was craving all along,

When I finally made my way through the long and disorganised pie line and exchanged my £2.50 for a steak pie and returned to a safe location from which to enjoy said pie it crumbled immediately as I tried to free it from its foil container.  The “lid”, the top, lifted right off, leaving the base and all of the meat sitting in the foil.  If I wasn’t crying literal tears then I was certainly on the brink.  I attempted to make the best of a relentlessly terrible situation, but the internal elements of the pie were piping hot and not conducive to scooping up with fingertips.  It was quite the ordeal.  I eventually managed to manipulate the foil enough to allow me to consume the vast majority of the pie, but it wasn’t the same.  It wasn’t nearly enough.  All that anticipation, all that hunger, all that need and it came apart like cheap discount retailer tissue paper.

Sometimes you have to overcome hurdles in life, though.  You have to learn to deal with disappointing situations such as pies falling apart in your hand.  There were still forty-five minutes of football to get through here and although Aberdeen had spent almost as much time in possession of the ball as I had enjoying a half-time pie they were still very much in the game.  There were times where Celtic were careless with the ball and the crowd would become tense.  They were looking for that killer punch but all they were getting was pastry stuck to foil.  Some of the guys around me in 140 were keen for the ball to be “booted up the park”, but any time that happened it invariably landed with a red shirt.  Others felt that howling their support for the IRA might spur their heroes onto victory.  There was the oft shouted critique that any Aberdeen player was “a sheep shagging wanker” which, to me anyway, seems like a contradiction in terms.  If he’s shagging sheep then why the need to masturbate?

As it was Celtic added a further two late goals – through a Scott Sinclair penalty and the man of the match, Tom Rogic – and everybody inside Celtic Park went home happy. Everybody except me.  I was still pretty disappointed about that pie.

Final scores:  Celtic 4-1 Aberdeen
                          Steak pie 1-0 JJ

Playlist:        Bob Mould – Workbook
                       Ron Sexmith – Long Player Late Bloomer
                      The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
                      Dinosaur Jr – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
                      Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires in the City