The Paradise Way

This is a repost of a piece I wrote for the altalbion site, which has more regular ramblings on a variety of issues. If you want to read them, go here.

I’m standing nervously in a queue, without quite knowing why. But the longer I stand there the more I’m certain that it must be the right thing to do. If you’re not allowed to hail a cab then you’ve got to join an outlandish queue for one. We’ll allow that. And if everyone else is queuing that’s further evidence that you’re doing the right thing

Context: It turns out we don’t have tickets to the Old Firm game, because the scammy bastards who sold us them never had tickets in the first place. I’m momentarily crestfallen, but soon recover my good humour, and convince myself that given that there are 52,000 people going to this game of football, a game more-or-less identical to those which occur between the same two sides at least four times a year, and given that we’ve come such a long way and have such a sorry story to tell… given those compelling circumstances, obviously someone would sell me their ticket. Evidently I’d massively underestimated the Glaswegian temperament.

After an interminable wait for a cab, several near-scuffles between the cheerfully inebriated public transport users, and our looking plaintively at some old men who we’ve somewhat detachedly determined are our best chance at finding a scalper, a saint – anyone mad enough to part with their tickets – we reach the front of the queue and hop into a cab. It’s here we’re delivered the hammer blow of bad news.

Using the trusty, never-fail opening gambit “I’m from New Zealand, and…” I recount our tale of international credit card fraud and thwarted dreams, and ask our driver how exactly we might procure a ticket at such short notice. His response is emphatic:

“You’re nae gettin’ a ticket now lads,” he says cheerfully, and despite continuing to push the issue for the next 10 minutes, in my heart I know he’s right. I’d earlier remonstrated with our guide, a native, about how even before an important Bledisloe Cup game you could get tickets if you had to, wave a big enough wad and someone’s going to bite. And New Zealand’s ‘crazy’ about rugby, right? They have a slightly different, dimmer view of such behaviour in Glasgow:

“If ye tried to sell ye tickets for anything more than face value outside the ground ye’d be attacked. No one would dare try. The Firm game’s sacred man, you don’t profit out of it.”

We admit defeat. Our frank, sympathetic yet entirely realistic cab driver drops us outside the next best thing: Baird’s Bar, and perhaps the most exhilarating pub sports watching experience of my life. If you want some idea of what it was like, watch this:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MAP1UFtSko%5D

And then imagine the same small pub with approximately (and I’m only guessing here) 10,000 more people in it. Then you come close to what I experienced this afternoon. I spent the first half in the inaccurately-named lounge bar. Inaccurately as when we walk in it’s probably the fullest bar I’ve ever known, and it takes a good 15 minutes to get our bearings and drinks in order. The game starts, and we’re struck by the faintly subdued atmosphere. Bairds is supposed to be the hub of all things Celtic, and something’s mssing. The songs are right, but the response isn’t quite.

Less the intro, and with a reedy voiced woman singing, this is what it sounded like, with the occasional interspersed shout of “wanker”.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_4E50YO5_w%5D

It was good and weird. But it didn’t feel right. We started to doubt ourselves, think maybe the Glaswegian passion, which includes occasionally killing/dying (depending on your perspective) for your team, was overstated. At halftime though, we ducked into the Public Bar next door, and everything changed forever. We learnt what a a really full bar felt like.

That sign was prominently displayed, but perhaps not adhered to as well as it might be. Instead we were treated to a an afternoon of outrageous political and religious passions cleverly disguised as a sporting contest. It was as if 22 men were sent out to decide how to resolve the struggles in Northern Ireland, and which was better, Protestant or Catholic. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been at all surprised then, that it was a 0-0 draw.

But for a game ostensibly so dull it thrilled in a thousand other ways. Every lull in the action prompted a song from the crowd, one packed to the gunnels and pressing uncomfortably hard on every side of you. These songs were familiar, but somehow different. For example, surely not many of you are aware that The Beatles’ Hey Jude’s chorus actually runs “Na-na-na nanana-na, nanana-na, Celtic”? Well, there’s a roomful of Scotsmen (and a surprising number of suspiciously tanned Scotswomen) that I’d not argue with who’d tell you that’s exactly how the song goes.

Strangely that was one of the least odd things about the experience. Hopefully this selection of poorly-taken photographs will help you along the way:

Literally every square inch of the walls and ceiling place was covered in Celtic propaganda paraphernalia, and every square inch of the floor in the most rabidly partisan sports crowd you could possibly conjure. It was an experience of incredible power, frightening and elevating at the same time, and I think I need much more time than I have to absorb its implications. One thing I can say beyond doubt is that there’s no sports fan in New Zealand so feverish as the average person in this pub, and that I will never forget one moment spent in the hot, wild confines of Bairds Bar, just down from Parkhead.

– Duncan

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