Celtic draw brought childhood memories flooding back.

When the Champions league draw was made recently and my boyhood heroes Celtic were drawn against Barcelona,Ajax and AC Milan, my mind drifted back to when I was a kid and my father took me along to see celtic in European action with opposing teams like Internazionale, Ujpest Dozsa, Leeds Utd, Olympiacos, Fiorentina, Ajax, Benfica.

I remember as a youngster witnessing players of the calibre of Cruyff, Eusebio and sniffer Clarke the atmosphere at Parkhead was always electric, in all the years I have been involved in football I have yet to experience anything like it.
As a kid my Da would take me along to Celtic Park, lift me over the turnstile and once in the stadium, he would sit me down on a wall, which was at the very front, give me a bag of sweets and disappear back into the crowd to stand with his mates. “Stay there don’t move.” He would tell me.
I was only six years old in 1967 when Celtic won the European Cup. I was too young to actually get to see the game, one abiding memory I have is going to a packed Parkhead, the night the team showed off the trophy, the place was heaving.

After each Championship success a flag would be hoisted at the ground often to the tune of Cliff Richards song congratulations, over the crackling PA system. Once the flag was unfurled, a huge cheer would go up and I still remember the immense  feeling of occasion that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up.

It wasn’t all glamour however:

In 1969/70 I recall going to see Celtic beat the great Leeds Utd at Hampden to progress into the European Cup final against Feyenoord at the San Siro, my father took me along, unfortunately we lost out.
Other games that stick in my memory are going to Hampden park to see Celtic face Ajax, in 1971 it was the quarter final, Celtic bowed out of the competition.
Another game that sticks with me is, when Celtic faced Inter Milan in 1972 at Parkhead, Celtic were on the brink of their third European final, the game went to a penalty shoot out,up stepped Dixie Deans, he blazed his penalty over the bar. My Da and me walked all the way back to our council house at Castlemilk in mourning.

Recently my Da passed away, but I will be forever grateful that he introduced me to the game of football, introduced me to Celtic and played a major part in me becoming a professional footballer.

His proudest moment was when I pulled  the Republic of Ireland shirt on for my debut against Wales, he made the journey that day to Dublin and was delighted to see me score the only goal of the game.

But now that he has gone I just wish I could have worn the famous hooped jersey. When I was playing for Middlesbrough and banging in the goals the rumours were rife that I was on my way to Paradise unfortunately both Billy McNeil and Liam Brady quashed the rumours.

Whenever I hear you’ll never walk alone it will always remind me of my boyhood dreams, my Da and Celtic.

 

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