In looking for some more positive things to blog about my mind drifted back to a much more optimistic time for any Celtic supporter. In August 2012 we were a young team, with a young and ambitious manager in Neil Lennon. We were sold on Neil after his efforts as a player with our club and his promise to bring the thunder back to Paradise. In a personal sense this was also an exciting time for myself. With Glasgow getting a little too small after a good few years of being out 8 days a week and pretty much pissing anything meaningful away it was time for a fresh start elsewhere.
Helsingborgs away from home in a Champions League qualifier was the occasion. The location was Molly Malones on Hope Street in Glasgow city centre. Myself and the Reidster were well settled at the bar some three hours before kick off. Whilst I was giving my usual lecture on how poor my quality of life was Reidster suggested I get a change of scenery about me. No doubt fed up with my daily rants concerning my mostly self inflicted circumstances my comrade in Guinness had thrown me some pearls of wisdom. I was to look for work down south and give it a month at least before making any plans on returning.
For a person who’s never even endeavoured to get a driving licence and had spent his last ten years or so rather drunk, the world had become a very small place indeed. Clinging on to wherever I felt most comfortable like a limpet in terms of pubs has long been a trait of mine. I normally try to enjoy affairs with only 3 pubs at the one time. One for each mood I generally find myself in. Different company of rogues in each and you’ll never be bored. You can imagine how my habits were thrown into disarray when my good pal had suggested I take flight. The Celtic won 2-0 away from home in Europe that night. I took it as a sign that since they had gotten their act together on the road then maybe I should too.
The next morning, due to the nature of my trade, I had a job to start the following week if I wanted it. In Oxfordshire. Wherever that was? Luckily I would be travelling down with a fellow Glasweigan. Macca from Govan, a fellow Tim and someone I had known briefly through our working lives. With Macca being in the same dilemma as myself, in the fact he had never worked or lived down south, we had both agreed that if nothing else it would be an experience. The man from Govan had his license and a working car to go with it. After saying our goodbyes we were off. A mixture of excitement and fear of the unknown we both shared. We both agreed however that it was the Celtic we would miss above most.
After 9 hours on the motorway we reached the digs the agency had recommended to us. The two of us were pleasantly surprised by the outside of the pub/restaurant/lodgings in the countryside close to a place by the name of Banbury. Once inside however we quickly realised the exterior of the hostelry was the most deceiving of facades. The room we were shown to would have made the Bellgrove hotel appear 5 star. All kinds of smears, marks and splashes of various coloured liquids covered the walls that surrounded a bare matress which sat on a carpet that was visibly moving with creatures. We decided on a night in the Audi. Not the best of starts to our adventure it has to be said. A few hours of broken sleep and we were on our way to work.
Arriving at our new workplace was a welcome distraction to the previous nights disappointments. After asking around we were told to head for Banbury to seek accommodation. There would be plenty for us to do there seemingly. Sat Nav banged on and we were away after a shift in the tropical heat of Chipping Warden, Oxfordshire. The first pub we tried for any rooms came up trumps. We were in a hurry you see, The Celtic were playing the second leg against Helsinborgs on this night. The Horse and Jockey had been good enough to promise us a shared room for two nights minimum. The barman had been a Scotsman in his mid fifties who seemed more than happy to help out a couple of young compatriots. No Sky tv was available in The Horse and Jockey but having passed plenty of pubs on the way we weren’t missing our beloved team. Showered and changed into the Hoops tops me and Macca had most likely packed before anything else we headed down through the bar to be greeted with the words “If I’d have known yous were Tims I’d have never given yous the room!!!”. It would seem mine host Denny was of the Hun persuasion. You can only sympathise.
We had decided on a boozer adjacent to the famous Banbury Cross statue in the centre of town, The Swan Inn. Standing outside for a quick smoke before we entered, resplendent in our home tops we were approached by an older woman. With more than a hint of Irish in her accent she told us that “The rest will be down soon”. Myself and Macca gave the woman a nod and a friendly smile but were both as confused as to what she meant. After ordering two pints of strong cider and confirmation from the staff that they were indeed showing the game we took our seats towards the back wall of the pub in decent view of the flatscreen TV for the game. Both agreeing this was like a working holiday we got stuck into our cider. Not trusting the Guinness in a foreign land just yet.
Ten minutes before kick off the side doors of the pub swung open and around 15 men made their way into the bar area. Immediately we were questioned as to our origins and reasons for being here. The men all varied in age, Scottish and Irish, and as happy to see us as we were them. After the introductions we settled into viewing the game. 2-0 the Celtic and everybody was happy. We drank together and sang together. The woman who had approached us outside the bar joined her husband and son in the company and it all clicked. We had stumbled upon a hardcore of fellow Tims slap bang in a “ye olde” market town in middle England. Very quickly the thought dawned on me that this was the place for me. On leaving at closing time that night we were invited to meet the rest of the gang at a different pub in town, an invite that was duly accepted.
The Wheatsheaf Inn sits just off the Main Street in Banbury and can only be described as an on land pirate ship with varying degrees of rogue regular it could never be described as a family pub. Macca didn’t fancy a scoop so I made my way down alone to keep up our pre arranged appointment with the Tims we had met a few days earlier. What followed were the beginnings of friendships that last to this day. On meeting the rest of the gang and hearing their stories of how they had all ended up in this strange scenario I realised I had found somewhere I belonged. None of these people had known each other previously. They had never really heard of Banbury before. Various circumstances all meaning they had ended up here. If I hadn’t seen it or experienced it for myself I doubt I’d have believed it.
All in I was to spend another 6 months in Banbury over two stints working down there. The second time I went down solo. Only I wasn’t alone as soon as I arrived there. I knew exactly where my comrades would be. Cormac, Mick, Tom, Stevie, John, Brian, Leo, Kenny the Hun, Larko. Some of the laughs enjoyed were unreal. We had a fantastic rapport with the locals too who most likely didn’t understand what we were saying half the time. Televised Tic games were great occasions that we would all make a massive effort to enjoy. One night that sticks out in the Swan Inn was Barca away. We lost 1-2 to a late Jordi Alba goal. Manchester United and Chelsea were both in action that night and the Chelsea fans were given the games room, Man Utd the bar area and us our usual side to watch the respective games. I will never forget the Chelsea and Man U fans watching us singing for almost a full 90 mins in utter disbelief. More than once I heard them ask, “What if they had fucking won?”.
What was the magnetic force that brought us all together down there? The Glasgow Celtic. I know it’s a nothing story you’ve read here. That a lot of you will have been thousands of miles away and found fellow Tims and supporters clubs in all corners of the globe. That’s a beautiful thing too. This was my amazing thing. It made me believe in the togetherness of Celtic people. It gained me friends I’d never have had. Memories that can’t break. It was an awesome time and place. We take our club for granted when we are right next to it. It’s always with us though. It’s always The Celtic. It brings us together.