Brian Viner: High price for membership of Celtic soul brotherhood

Related Topics

Tennents Bar on Byres Road in the West End of Glasgow was as good a place as any to watch Celtic v Milan on Tuesday night, or as good a place as any except Parkhead. We stood, 15 or 20 deep, clutching our beers to our chests only because there was no other way of holding them, in as tight a formation as the wooden bricks in a game of Jenga.

Even a thirsty gerbil would have struggled to navigate its way from the door to the bar, which made it all the more remarkable that, late in the second half, an ambulance crew managed to do just that, the packed throng miraculously parting for them like the waters of the Red Sea. A man had collapsed, not from a want of oxygen but from a glut of drink.

I asked my friend, Graham, just when the hospitals of Glasgow started sending ambulances to pick up men who slump to the floor of busy pubs, too blootered to stand? They must razz round the city like the chariots in Ben Hur, stopping briefly to belt in and out with stretchers. It's another way in which the Glasgow pub experience has changed: a night in Tennents a few years ago would have left my clothes smelling like Pete Doherty's breath, but now, like everywhere else, it's a blessedly smoke-free zone.

The other astonishing thing about the ambulancemen's visit was that nobody except me took the blindest bit of notice. The parting of the crowd happened instinctively, with not a single set of eyes, except mine, leaving the many screens festooning the walls. In Tennents, and many bars like it, a Celtic fixture in the Champions League is uninterruptible by anything less than the sudden death of a close relative, and even that is negotiable.

It has been my privilege on two or three occasions in recent years to visit Parkhead on Champions League nights, and in my experience, which embraces big matches at Old Trafford, Anfield, Ibrox, San Siro and the Nou Camp, there's nowhere else remotely like it. Tennents Bar was the same, writ small. In a way it was a mercy that there were no Celtic goals, because I can't imagine what would have happened to all those pints clutched to all those chests. The biggest show of emotion was reserved for the 70th-minute dive by Milan's Alberto Gilardino, for which he was wrongly booked only in the sense that he should have been sent off and banned from all contact sports for life. It was the most miserable, weaselly, limp-wristed stab at cheating it has ever been my misfortune to see, and I've seen Arjen Robben.

Needless to say, the crowd in Tennents erupted as one, in a righteous roar of outrage, followed by a volley of blasphemous abuse sufficient to make a stevedore blush. In fact, it occurred to me that it probably did; that close to the Clyde, there must have been a few stevedores in.

Martin O'Neill must watch Celtic on nights like that with seriously mixed emotions. For all Aston Villa are a big club, he will never again get the unique buzz of managing his beloved Hoops on big European nights in a stadium where no fewer than 52,000 people are season-ticket holders, about double the tally at Villa Park, and where plans are afoot to increase capacity to 80,000.

Nor, whatever he achieves at Villa, will he ever be accorded the messianic status he got at Parkhead, although whatever his successor, Gordon Strachan, achieves at Celtic, he will never be worshipped like O'Neill was.

Heading for the airport on Wednesday morning I got chatting with my taxi driver, a Celtic fan old enough to remember "wee Puskas" visiting with Real Madrid. What did he think of Strachan, I asked. "Aye, he's done well, right enough," came the reply. "But he's no' a real Celtic man, no' like yer Jock Steins, yer Billy McNeills, yer Tommy Burns, yer Martin O'Neills."

However wistful O'Neill gets when he hears things like that, he knows that for Celtic, those European nights are the jam doughnut reward for enduring the flavourless bread-and-butter of the Scottish Premier League. There is a price to pay for entertaining Milan at home, and it's Dunfermline away. There was a price to pay, too, for watching Celtic v Milan in the nervous hush, except during Celtic's rare attacks and when Gilardino dived, at Tennents Bar. And that price was the volume and clarity of Archie Macpherson's commentary, as pompous now as it was when I lived in Scotland 25 years ago. I was always more of an Arthur Montford man, Montford being Macpherson's ITV counterpart, the Brian Moore to Archie's John Motson, and justly celebrated for his shameless partisanship.

Once, in a World Cup qualifier between Scotland and Czechoslovakia, with the Czechs playing hard and not terribly fair, Willie Morgan received the ball on the wing and dear old Arthur could contain himself no longer. "Watch yer legs, Willie," he bellowed, "watch yer legs!"

Who I like this week...

Audley Harrison, if only out of sympathy following his devastating defeat by Michael Sprott, which in turn was followed by the unseemly spectacle of people gleefully dancing on his professional grave. Those who ridiculed his chances of ever becoming world heavyweight champion conspicuously did so after the Sprott fight, not in the weeks before. Still, I confess to a slight personal agenda because I took some gentle ribbing from colleagues after Harrison's defeat, given that my interview with him, in which I was again suckered by his eloquence and ambition, had appeared in these pages the day before the fight. I like you, Audley, but it won't happen again.

And who I don't

Craig Bellamy, who says that the press can write what they like, so here goes: he's a nasty little thug who, by celebrating his goal for Liverpool against Barcelona with a parody of his alleged golf-club attack on John Arne Riise, showed himself, by no means for the first time, to be utterly devoid of shame, scruple or indeed wit. Bill Shankly or Bob Paisley would have dragged him off the field by his ear, except of course that those two, mindful of the club's reputation, would never have signed such a known troublemaker in the first place. I imagine that Alan Hansen considered the episode deeply offensive too, albeit mainly because it was such a horrendous golf swing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping the child abuse taking place now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower