In the warmth of Lisbon

This time last week I was in a taxi with Henrik Larsson’s next door neighbour.

Roger and I were both heading to a special place.

I generally find travelling stressful.

Consequently, my default setting is to eschew opportunities to leave my little corner here on Ireland’s west coast.

However, when I walked up to Stadio Nacional on Thursday, May 25th last week I knew there wasn’t another place on the planet that I wanted to be at that precise moment.

On the journey from the hotel where the Road to Lisbon (RTL) cyclists had been staying, I got chatting to a couple of fine men from Sweden.

One of them, Roger, had known Henke for a very long time and lives beside him.

Consequently, he had caught the Celtic bug along the way and so had his buddy Stig.

That was why the pair of them had been at the “spirit of 67” gala dinner the night before in the Portuguese capital.

My buddy had briefly chatted with them as they were at the opposite table from us.

In the taxi, Henrik’s neighbour stated that Glasgow football was fascinating for him.

He said that he would not comprehend how two sets of supporters sharing a city could be SO different.

I asked him if he had seen the film “The girl with the dragon tattoo” and he said he had.

He proudly added that it was a Swedish film.

I knew this, and hence it was a good starting point to proffer my explanation.

In the film, there is an old recluse, Harald Vanger, who is the embodiment of Sweden’s fascist past.

The old Nazi realised that modern Sweden didn’t want to acknowledge him or his kind.

In that Scandinavian country, he was one of The People.

I remarked to my new Swedish buddy that the movie is based on the novel by the late Stieg Larsson.

Those Larsson’s are an impressive bunch!

In my opinion, the book is much more enthralling than the celluloid adaptation.

However, the movie was an appropriate hook to give him a cultural reference point for The People.

He had never heard the lyrics of ‘The Billy Boys’ stated clearly or explained to him.

I think it is fair to say that he was utterly appalled.

We parted outside the stadium beside the iconic Hillman Imp.

 

 

He has my card and the title of “Minority Reporter” on the back.

Moreover, he stated to me that he would get a copy and he would give it to his goal scoring neighbour once he had read it himself!

It was an appropriate conversation on the way to the site of Celtic’s finest hour.

Victory at that stadium on the 25th of May 1967 inflicted a psychic wound on the Herrenvolk club of Glasgow.

Ultimately that lesion led to their self-inflicted death in 2012.

In the two horse race, one of the contestants died.

For the avoidance of doubt, I can reveal that The Scarf made it back after a half a century!

When it was last here around the neck of my uncle, he was part of the biggest civilian airlift that Europe had ever witnessed.

The Celtic fans of 1967 changed football on the continent just as much as Stein’s Lions revolutionised how the game could be played at the highest level.

Explaining to Henke’s neighbour the cultural differences between the two football tribes of Glasgow helped me to further grasp the unique appeal of Celtic.

A club set up by immigrants to raise funds to feed hungry children.

This isn’t an Irish in Scotland story; it is a universal story.

It is a narrative that people around the world can embrace, and they do.

In the hotel, one of the cyclists was a Dutch lad.

He had been reared a PSV fan, but he had caught the Celtic bug.

When he approached me in the foyer, he said he checked this site every day.

His grasp of the issues of what had transpired over the last five years on Planet Fitba would put any stenographer to shame.

The RTL people encapsulate what makes Celtic a very special club.

 

Charity is at the heart of being Celtic.

It was just like the thing that I travelled to Portugal and found myself sitting beside a lad from An Fál Carrach!

Ruairí is domiciled in Australia these days, but he travelled back to his corner and then onto Glasgow to start the cycle from Celtic Park with his RTL comrades.

The bean chéile of the main man behind the RTL cycle is a Westmeath woman.

It took us about 30 seconds chatting in the foyer to establish that she knew my kin in the Midlands.

Ireland is a small country and even abroad I’m never far from a relative or a neighbour.

This writing craic adds a new dimension to that.

Even in Stadio Nacional on that mighty anniversary there as someone who wanted me to sign their copy of Downfall!

 

As I walked around the stadium, I was stopped by a Gaobh Dobhair man.

He introduced himself as the father of a lady who had been in my play “Hame”.

I wrote the part especially for her in the Sweet for Addicts production as the director said Noreen was a mighty singer.

She is.

The song I picked for the character to sing on stage was Gleanntáin Ghlas’ Ghaoth Dobhair.

I put in a script note to say that I would provide the lyrics with a translation and a phonetic spelling to aid her pronunciation of the Irish song.

Noreen said that wasn’t necessary as her father sang the song to her as a child!

It was a pleasure to meet him and chat as Gaeilge in that special place.

Although we were in a football stadium with no match due to be played that day we all knew that Brendan’s Bhoys had a date with destiny that Saturday.

It was clear that Aberdeen was the next best side in Scotland and their robust play might be tolerated.

I think Kieran Tierney can testify to that.

When Tom Rogic put the finishing touch to a perfect weekend, I celebrated in my Argentina CSC T-shirt.

The Buenos Aires Bhoys were sent photographic evidence.

After the cup final, I had a relaxed din dins in Bairro Alto with a Resolution 12 Bhoy and his seriously smart brother.

The latter is based Stateside; I reminded him that it was a great country where it isn’t a crime to be Second Generation Irish.

That cannot be said of the country where the three of us first saw the light of day.

When Billy McNeil lifted the European Cup, it was a victory for a socially excluded community.

The Lions won against all the odds by playing pure inventive, beautiful football.

No financial doping, no side letters and no Honest Mistakes.

It was, as Helenio Herrera conceded, “a victory for sport”.

50 years on Tom Rogic’s goal at Hampden wrote another magical page in the unbroken history of this special club.

When the final whistle was sounded by Brother Madden, the scenes in O’Gilins Irish Pub in Cais do Sodré were not Quintessentially British.

The club founded by Irish immigrants is now the preeminent power on Planet Fitba.

The stenographers and The People are in still in denial about that.

Ah well…

This has been an amazingly unprecedented season, and just like 50 years ago no one can erase that or take way the memories it has created.

I’m still smiling, and I am fairly certain that Roger and Stig, my two new Swedish friends, are similarly minded!

Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion