Homeless in Glasgow: Old firm football and feeling human again

In part seven of a 10-part series, John-Paul Clark takes solace in the football at Hogmanay

HOGMANAY was the only day I left that high-flat not feeling like a homeless person. It was also Old Firm day and I had been gifted a ticket for Celtic's first visit back to Ibrox in five years. 

After a long, sleepless night, I walked excitedly from the shadow of the concrete tower with a scarf around my neck, just one of the 50,000-throng going to the football.

I hadn't been to the football since I became homeless. Previously I had been something of a die-hard and 2016-17 was in fact the first year I did not have a season ticket in over 15 years. 

After a long, sleepless night, I walked excitedly from the shadow of the concrete tower with a scarf around my neck, just one of the 50,000-throng going to the football.

With no internet or satellite television I had regressed back to the 1980s and listening to games on the radio. Although, amid the chaos this wasn't always possible, either, and I barely even kept track, or cared much, of their fortunes anymore.

I missed my friends and the social element of the football most. My passion for the club itself had perhaps been waning for a while. The independence referendum proved there was no real political consensus among Celtic fans, and the club's decision to opt for a policy of austerity while Rangers were out the league seemed to mirror the economics of Westminster. 

I'd started pondering if Brother Walfrid helped the homeless of the East End of Glasgow when he created Celtic as a vehicle to aid the poor in 1888. Certainly, today's capitalist caretakers, Brothers Desmond and Lawwell, weren't offering me any benevolence a hundred odd years later.

It was a morning kick-off so I went for breakfast first at a bakers. As I was leaving, an old man asked me what time kick off was. He'd have known but was just making small talk as fellow partisans tend to on such occasions. 

The scarf had obviously roused him into talking. "We'll pump them," he chirped as I left the shop grinning. For the day I was a Celtic man, not a homeless man. For the first time in eight months it wasn't even on my mind as I made my way to the bus stop.

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I was travelling alone and the routes were alien so the possibility of bumping into Rangers fans was real. On the bus, the crowd was mixed but it was a decent vibe with no animosity. 

I allowed myself to look out the window and people-watch as we got into the city centre. This was something I had been avoiding when on buses as it only served to trigger all I was missing. 

There were loads of beautiful women out doing their shopping in the sales and this got my mind wandering and considering when I would be fit to date again. I quickly realised this not to be a healthy pattern of thought and snapped out of it and focused on the game again.

I got off at Cowcaddens feeling rare but the subway lay ahead. Nearly all Glaswegians will know this is how a lot of Rangers fans travel to home games. It was still two hours before kick-off, though, so I figured there was no danger I'd see any of them. 

At St George's Cross, the station was empty. They wouldn't come through in big numbers until nearer kick off, I thought, and relaxed a little but was bristling and enjoying the excitement of it all, too.

READ MORE – Homeless in Glasgow parts 1-6

Then, in a scene reminiscent of a football hooligan movie, the train pulled in with Rangers fans everywhere. My heart felt like it would jump out my chest but luckily, I had hidden my scarf by that stage and I got on and found a space at the edge of a seat and sat down. 

It was surprisingly quiet as we made our way towards Ibrox and I sat trying to avoid eye contact while at the same time remaining confident and not seeming out of place.

Govan is the station Celtic fans get off due to police segregation and as we approached one of the Bears quipped that nobody would be getting off there. The comment barely went noticed but fell hard on my ears. The train slowed at Govan and nobody moved. I wasn’t going to get off until the last minute to save standing up waiting on the doors opening and getting abuse. The doors opened and before I could move a wee guy to the left shot up and bolted out the door. Heads turned and before they had time to say anything I was up and off my mark, too. 

I could hear the doors closing just as the jeers and inaudible abuse rang out and we both scampered toward the stairs and safety. He was undercover, too, and we pulled our scarves out, exchanged names and walked up together.

Walking by the parked supporters buses that snake up Broomloan Road in single file, there were loads of lads hanging around I knew from over the years. I nodded my head at plenty but tried to refrain from bantering with folk in the event the conversation would turn to my situation. 

I bid the guy from the subway goodbye and approached the stadium in battle mode. Nothing else mattered then but the 90 minutes ahead.

I bid the guy from the subway goodbye and approached the stadium in battle mode. Nothing else mattered then but the 90 minutes ahead.

Inside the stadium it was just as special as any away day at Ibrox. I was an hour early so stood alone reminiscing on past visits. Adversity makes you appreciate the good times more and I made sure I took in every last bit of atmosphere and even enjoyed the familiarity of the opponents' song book. 

I did get a bit emotional standing there and thinking about certain stuff but once the game began that quickly diminished. Old Firm games absolutely consume your emotions and the game passed in an instant. Thankfully we got the result and Scotty Sinclair made all the bhoys sing.

I spilled onto the road with the masses feeling just like any one of the bhoys. The smile was plastered to my face as I walked back down toward Govan. There were plenty Celtic fans around at this stage so I didn't have to worry about hiding this time. 

At the station, the train wasn't due for a while so I bought a coffee. I stood outside the shopping precinct sheltering from the rain when a wee wummin with a trolley approached to talk about the game.

I spilled onto the road with the masses feeling just like any one of the bhoys. The smile was plastered to my face as I walked back down toward Govan.

Again, on the subway, a bus driver approached me to ask the result, obviously thinking I was just an ordinary Joe who was at the football. Normally I am not one for small talk but I was revelling in it all.

Bus drivers are generally arseholes, too, and I had numerous scrapes with them throughout my homeless spell, but there I sat discussing all and sundry with the guy until he got off.

Back in town I walked around for a while. My normal ritual after such an occasion would be to immerse myself in the events for the remainder of the day, poring over footage and reports online. I couldn't face the bedsit and since there was still some Christmas cheer in the air I figured I would go and spend the night at my mother's to get online and continue my day of escapism.

Resting that night, I reflected upon the day and while it felt just like it used to I was well aware that my love affair with football would never be fully rekindled. There would hopefully still be the odd day but no longer would my life revolve around it. 

Obviously, housing was my immediate priority, but thereafter my career and finding a sweetheart would take precedence. Memories of when football was everything remind me of a simpler time.

Picture: CommonSpace

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Comments

MauriceBishop

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 17:04

"Bus drivers are generally arseholes, too,"

Keep it classy, Common Space.

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