MY father let me travel on the Penilee & Cardonald CSC when I was a wee boy because he knew (and worked beside) the bus-convenor, a man called Big Hughie. He was indeed big, and had a grim sort of face … but I never heard him raise his voice or even put on a threatening look. Hughie used to sit at the front of the bus, and I always sat at the back.
My first real trip was to Aberdeen, and the bus left Penilee at 7 o’clock Saturday morning for a 3 o’clock kick-off, with a stop at the Halfway on Paisley Road West to pick up the Cardonald contingent.
It used to take about six hours to get to Aberdeen along slow roads and through all sorts of towns and villages.
“The past is a different country; they do things differently there…” That’s how a famous novel begins, and it’s true. Back in the 1940’s there was no television, and no taped music either. It was no great hardship because we could listen to the radio, and always the BBC. So, a full bus of Celtic supporters heading on the long trip north would listen happily enough to ‘Housewives’ Choice’ (a request programme), ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’ (a long-running radio soap), ‘Music While You Work’ (a cheerful, up-beat fifteen minutes) and my favourite – an hour-long version of ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’, introduced by the frenzied music of ‘The Devil’s Gallop’.
Sometime in the first half-hour Big Hughie would make his rounds to collect the fares. I seem to remember that it should have cost me 2/6d (12.5p) for the trip to Aberdeen, but a routine evolved. I would hand over the money, and Hughie would make his way to the front; he would huddle with a couple of committee members for a minute or two, after which he would return to the back, and growl: “We’ve got a wee bit extra the day; so here’s two bob back.” And my trip to Pittodrie cost me 6d (2.5p). For every away game we always had “a wee bit extra”, but the ritual had to be carried out: to Tynecastle, Easter Road, Starks Park. For some strange reason, we didn’t have a bus for home games.
That first trip to Aberdeen has stayed in my mind. It was the first time I had been there, the first time I visited Pittodrie, and (at the age of 12) the first time I had been in a pub. That was on the way home, at a village called Laurencekirk. The bus pulled up about 6 o’clock on the village’s one street, a couple of committee–men got out, went into the pub, presumably had a wee talk with the owner, and we all left the bus, and piled into this country pub. We stayed for an hour; I had an Ir’n Bru and watched Celtic supporters and locals mix, and talk, and eventually leave on the best of terms. Even at my tender age, I felt impressed…
Actually, it was always a very well-run bus. Nobody was allowed to carry any beer or spirits on to it. On one trip, probably on the way back from Dundee, the bus was stopped by the police at the Kincardine Bridge, and a search was conducted by three officers. No alcohol was found, and I remember the sergeant call out just before leaving: “Well done, lads! Clean as a whistle.” Somehow or other, the Penilee & Cardonald always were given a state-of-the-art bus called, I think, a Northern Star and it was immaculate.
Another memory sticks in my mind from that trip to Aberdeen. After the stop at Lawrencekirk, the mood was jovial and we had a little concert with everybody expected to do their party-piece … but a discussion broke out. It puzzled me at the time (and still does). Somebody wanted to give a rendering of a song called ‘Kevin Barry’ but the committee vetoed it, because it was “a rebel song” and so it was shelved (and with the general approval of everybody). Think about it for a minute: a Celtic Supporters’ Bus, filled with fans – and the driver was one too – trundling through the dark, Scottish night, in the middle of nowhere, and agreeing it was inappropriate to sing a rebel song… “A different country”, indeed; and different times.
I was well-looked after: somebody was always delegated to be beside me on those packed terracings, somebody always squeezed me through the 1/6d gate usually without paying… often, as a club, we had ‘High Tea’ after the game and I don’t think I was ever allowed to pay my share. Once at Leven, there was Willie McNaught and Alec Colville of Raith Rovers being studiously ignored and left in peace to enjoy their tea at an adjoining table.
Celtic supporters, but also men who knew and enjoyed their football. In 1952 the Penilee & Cardonald ran a full bus to the Scottish Cup final between Motherwell and Dundee. For what it’s worth, I think the attendance for that final was one of the highest ever.
And sportsmen too. Celtic had just lost a thriller at Tynecastle in 1949 by 4-2 to a Hearts’ side making all the headlines with their ‘Terrible Trio’ of Conn, Bauld and Wardhaugh. This was before the M8 made things easy, and the buses trundled along side roads.
Somehow we had picked up four extra passengers in Edinburgh, all Hearts’ supporters and planned to drop them off somewhere near Whitburn. During the short trip, everybody praised ‘the Terrible Trio’, admired the positive play of Hearts, and wished our ‘hitchhikers’ well. No sooner had they departed, the game was analysed: “Bauld was over-rated … their second goal was offside … it was never a penalty … Bobby Evans was the best man on the park … Hearts won’t beat Rangers on that form…” And not one word like that had been uttered while our guests were on the bus!
It may be a bit late, well nearly seventy years later, but thank you, gentlemen of the Penilee & Cardonald for looking after me so well.
Years later, on holidays to Scotland from Canada, I travelled more than once on another supporters’ bus, one that left from a pub in George Square right beside the City Chambers. Sometimes I think that my life has been punctuated with the dates of Celtic matches; for example, I was married on a December 26th in Toronto (and Celtic beat Motherwell 2-0 that day) and years later my wife and I separated a few days before Celtic won the Scottish Cup by beating Rangers through an Andy Lynch penalty.
Punctuation? Dates? I think back to the Scottish Cup final of 1984 between Celtic and Aberdeen and I was on that bus along with Pat Woods, Kevin Macarra and Peter Burns, SJ. In the pub I was given an impressive Jesuitical version of ‘the Conspiracy Theory’ by Father Burns, an account enhanced when Aberdeen’s first goal, clearly offside, was allowed to stand and Roy Aitken was ordered off in the first half.
Another interesting moment from that day: the bus was moving slowly around George Square, caught up in the Saturday lunch-time traffic… a man and his wife on the pavement were accompanying their daughter obviously heading for her First Communion … the man, seeing the bus and noting the green-and-white, nodded and gave us a thumbs-up… somebody was quick to react: “Come on, boys; let’s chip in for the wee lassie!”… a cap was passed around quickly, money poured in, the bus-convenor raced down the road, and came back a minute or so later beaming: “He’s a Tim, alright but he couldn’t miss that family occasion. Quite right, too.”
I went on that same bus to Dundee once with my sister, on holiday in Scotland from her position as Mistress of Ceremonies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. On the way there some members felt an urgent need to relieve themselves, and the bus pulled over at the side of the road. Quite a few others joined in the exodus, probably just to be sociable. So, you get the picture: about fifteen men all standing with their backs to the bus, staring happily into space as they relieved themselves of the beer they had rented about an hour earlier. My sister was vastly amused at this, even more so when she spotted the sign at the entrance to the lay-by — a P.
Celtic at Dundee? Celtic won by 2-1 that night, and Paul McStay, that most gentlemanly of players, got ordered off after carrying a Dundee player on his back for some twenty yards. Presumably the advantage rule was being applied. I seem to remember that some bottles or cans were thrown in the direction of the parked buses after the game, and also little clusters of other locals stood at some corners to cheer us off back to Glasgow.
And then, of course, there’s the Edinburgh No. 1, a club I joined when I lived in Edinburgh between 1994 and 2010. I’ve written in the past about Archie Wright, Francie Larkin, and Charlie McFadden but a couple of other incidents come to mind.
I had always wanted to visit Cuba, especially while Fidel was still alive and the country was in a time warp still suffering from the American embargo. Some of my friends had told me things were in short supply there and so, as a former teacher who wanted to visit Cuban schools, I got together a mini-care package: pens, pencils, erasers, some English text books… I had mentioned this to people in the Edinburgh No. 1, and I was pleasantly surprised when Michael Duff, the club’s treasurer, approached me and gave me £100 telling me, “Use it where you think it can do most good over there.”
A splendid, generous gesture.
Over the years I also had invited several friends and relatives to Celtic games and to travel on the Edinburgh bus including Bill Murray, author of ‘The Old Firm’, and they were all treated with respect. Charlie McFadden, always the diplomat, spoke to other members of the ‘One Foot in the Grave Gang’ when he heard that my Canadian daughter was coming to the next game: “Tom’s daughter will be here next week, and she’s never been to a football game in her life. It might be a good idea if we tone down our language a little bit too…” The others promised to behave, and to watch their language … and they were as good as gold, gentlemen every one.
I should tell you about the rabbi’s daughter at this point. It’s not the start of a joke. A mutual friend told me about Ruth, a young English lady whose father was a rabbi and her mother a doctor. Ruth was 17 years old and had just finished High School and had been accepted into Oxford. A brilliant young lady, and apparently well brought up … but she was a football fan, and a keen supporter of Newcastle United and she wanted to see Celtic at Parkhead. I felt this was a special case; so, I rose in the pub the week before to explain things (just in case): I reminded the lads of the past visitors I had brought into the club, and how well they had been treated… I mentioned Ruth was young (at 17) and had probably led a somewhat sheltered life … I reminded them she was Jewish and of a different culture, and assured everybody I was confident she would be treated perfectly…
Understanding, and acceptance all round.
At that moment one of our members was returning from a visit to the toilet, and asked what was going on. It was explained to him, probably by Archie: “Next week, if Eyal Berkovitch is having a bad game, we’ve to make sure we call him an Or*nge b*****d!”
The Saturday that Celtic thrashed ‘Rangers’ by 5-1, and all of us at the Ottawa CSC enjoyed it thoroughly – even though we had to gather downtown at 7:00 a.m. to witness it. We welcomed a new member, and of course there’s a story behind it. A week earlier I had been having trouble with my laptop and had to go into the Apple Store for advice, if not repairs. The technician assigned to me was a pleasant young man, about 30 years old, and infinitely patient. During a lull in the proceedings we made small-talk, and he had noticed some odd-looking files on the desktop. I explained that I wrote books about football, and he (confessing to be a Manchester United fan) was interested.
I told him I supported Celtic, and he was agog; he showed me his phone, and there were images of the Green Brigade with their Palestine flags and of Arab children with Celtic strips collecting money to help Celtic pay their probable UEFA fines … He provided further information about himself: he had been born in Lebanon of Palestinian parents, and had emigrated to Canada… he had been touched (profoundly) by the display of flags, and by the solidarity shown by thousands of Celtic supporters to his people.
Well, to cut a longish story short Walid Abdou Hamde turned up at the James Street Pub at 7:00 a.m. that Saturday, and bearing gifts – a ton of mini-donuts and a portable container of enough coffee to keep us awake for a week. He’s one of us now, and he’ll be back. What goes around, comes around.