The camera glided beautifully from George Square over the sun drenched East Glasgow streets to zoom onto Celtic’s Parkhead stadium.
And then you saw a bastion of Irish catholic nationalism, republicanism and Scottish independence adorned with the logos and banners of the empire games. Some serious psychogeographic skulduggery is afoot.
The Celtic fans, the Bhoys, knew what was coming. They had already been exiled and banished to the east to play on a rugby pitch. The neutrals, staggering from one mega sporting event to another (the modern opiate of the masses), only began to realise what was happening a couple of days before the ceremony. The royal unionist forces are gathering to perform an epic hit and run of psychogeographic vandalism.
You can sense the murmurs of anguish as the Queen imperiously enters the stadium but far worse is to come as the pipes and drums of the Scottish regiments led representatives of the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering. The pipes fall silent with military precision as the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force target the stadium. The camera tracking from overhead helicopters thrills as they sweep over the twilight city, trailing grey vapours. Just before they hit the stadium, they switch the vapours to red, white and blue. The trails slowly drift down onto the defenceless stadium, a royal toxic gas poisoning the Irish green.
The Queen, just to be sure that it is well rubbed in, gleefully glides about the sacred turf in a daimler adorned with the Scottish royal standard and other insignia. The commentator reassures the watching audience that the welcome is warm but if they were booing he would still read from the script. To be fair the welcome is warm but there’s a dawning realisation that the national anthem is going to have to be sung for the old lady, at Parkhead.
Glasgow, with its whiff of socialism and radical politics in the air, would normally be a city reluctant to sing the anthem. The audience is gripped by a terrible dilemma. This is the friendly city hosting the friendly games with a huge international TV audience. They sense the Daily Mail and the English right wing press eagerly leaning forward, yearning for a chance to savage Salmon and all his roguish kind. There’s no choice, it has to be done. It is muted, respectful but not the outpouring of passion and emotion if it had been Flower of Scotland. (The press will be further disappointed by the lusty cheer given to the English athletics as they enter the stadium.)
“It’s like Ariel Sharon visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque*,” cries one fan.
“Paradise is lost,” weeps another.
The stadium can only retaliate with brief flickers of resistance. The First Ministers bemuses the Gaels with a mispronounced Gaelic greeting. The Glasgow Council leader, having raided the Chamber’s secret coke stash to quell his nerves with lines of white powder (carefully aligned of course to channel the city’s secret ley lines and the Sacred Line), starts shouting at everyone, and the Queen’s Baton momentarily refuses to release the Queen’s message. The murmur of anguish is now silent horror. Parkhead is listing badly from its psychic bombing, its green heritage eviscerated by the red, white and blue who are smirking as they rapidly exit from the scene of the crime. Job done, that’ll teach them. Exorcism is going to be painful.
Fast forward to the first home match of the new football season and Celtic is back from the east. The Bhoys stream back to Parkhead with flags flying, Celtic colours and scarves tucked-in for the early autumn chill. The Commonwealth Games has long gone but the fans enter into the stadium with an air of unease. It’s like the first consummation after forgiving a lover who committed an outrage with a rival. At first their approach is what happens in the opening ceremony stays with the opening ceremony but something is clearly wrong. The first lines of You’ll Never Walk Alone starts with passionate exorcising gusto. Then something terrible happens. The great football song falters and then slowly disintegrates into silence. Everyone stares at each other bewildered, ashamed and inexplicably heartbroken.
The Green Brigade leaders frantically try and instigate a mass Huddle but it’s no use. The sound of weeping and wailing starts to echo round the famous old terraces.
“I feel sad.”
“I can’t stop crying.”
“I miss Rangers. At least we could corral them in the away corner and shout at the bastards,” says another, admitting to the unspoken truth that the demise of their deadly rivals to the lower leagues has rendered life dull. It’s like a loveless vitriolic marriage forced to split and each side discovering that they just can’t get the same satisfaction in loathing the lesser lights in their orbit. The Maryhill boys in red and yellow do their best but it’s just not the same.
The Chairman panics and runs about shouting. “For Christ sake. Run the Henryk Larsson DVD – that’ll cheer them up.” It doesn’t work. Nor does the re-runs of the Pope’s visit to Glasgow or the Lisbon Bhoys. This is going to require dangerous skills. The Chairman rings a secret number deep within the Donegal countryside but the woman is strangely immune to the desperate situation and actually rather cheerful.
“The vote will cleanse everything dear,” she says, as if talking to an anxious elderly aunt.
“Even if the vote is yes we will still have the bloody Queen.”
“I really don’t know what the problem dear and you can mind your language. We are all friends now. Martin keeps having dinner with Lizzie. In fact he’s even organising a cricket match between the palace staff and the Stormont staff and trying to get her to wager Northern Ireland on it. He still misses Freddie Flintoff but it’s all good. Tiocfaidh ár lá.”
“What the hell is going on with you people over there,” roars the Chairman.
“You West of Scotland people are the craziest. You think too straight. They don’t even know it’s happening. Now relax. It’s as strong as you allow it.”
“We need help now. The football’s dreadful and all the other fans are laughing at us.”
“Contact Father Gilbey at the Travellers’s Club in Westminster. He runs a private little chapel in his bedroom. All the old gentlemen travellers stagger up for confession of vices so they can stagger back down and continue where they left off.”
“To rid Parkhead of the stench of the Westminster imperial establishment I have to ring a Westminster imperial establishment drinking club and ask for Father bloody Gilbey?”
The voice changed from infuriating cheerfulness to something quite sinister.
“Yes you do. Father Gilbey is of the old ways and he will do it his way, in Latin. Oh he’ll repair the damage but don’t over-estimate him…or the cost.”
The Chairman’s skin crawls with a sudden unpleasant sensation. He knew there would be a high price to pay for this service. He also knew he had no choice, there was too much at stake.
He sighs and rings his secretary. “Put me through to Westminster please.”
Disclosure: I enjoyed the Opening Ceremony (well bits of it) and am strictly Old Firm neutral! Martin McGuiness is indeed a cricket fan. Father Gilbey was a legendary priest who used to live in the Travellers, give Latin mass in a Mayfair church and was a great friend of my father. *Thanks also to my friend and Celtic fan TP who frequently dispenses highly amusing one liners and similes.
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