IT WAS Saturday April 7, 2001. A Celtic win and they become league champions. Rare in those days and myself and Ultan (above) were told we had a golden ticket each, but there was a 4am ticket mixup at the bus and a huge row with the organiser. We were told ‘a mistake was made. I’ve no ticket for you. Go home.’ Heartbroken and, yes, tears were shed as the bus headed off.
4:30am, crying a little on the porch and Ultan certainly not slagging, a taxi flew up the driveway. The two of us were ordered to get in as ‘another bus’ would take us, but we have to catch up with it! Whizzing out the dual carriageway, we were told to get on the bus and informed: “I’ll help yous, but keep this quiet now, d’ya hear me?” We got to the ferry port and were hiding under the seats during security inspection. The bus broke down. Typical. We snuck on another and hid again. We got to Glasgow, but still had no ticket. Ultan said: “We’ve done well to get this far. Anything else now is a bonus.”
With ten minutes until kickoff and the stadium in sight, we were given two unused ticket stubs found in the glove compartment from a game played three months earlier and told “Try your luck with them. I can do no more for yous now!” The noise of the stadium grew louder. We raced through the wasteland, puddles and rubble as a shortcut. Nowadays it’s where the Emirates Arena stands but it looked a lot different 20 years ago. We were given a footie over the high, gang graffitied wall from a group of fairly rowdy—but sound—local lads. Buckfast and all. “Yiv nae ticket, man? Dinny worry. Stick wi us and we’ll git yiz in, ken?”
We got to the turnstile, distracted the collector as much as possible and I handed in the fake ticket stub upside down. Ultan did the same and we were in Paradise! Quick high fives of thanks were dished out to the gang lads who helped us at the wall. Tommy Johnson’s bundled effort went in and, despite a scrappy game, Celtic did win the title at the final whistle. A real rarity back then and the celebrations got underway and, by hook or by crook, we got there. Even if we’d to stand at the back as we’d no seats.
After all the excitement was over, I did meet the ticket organiser in a Glasgow hotel later that day. Yes, we did exchange a few words. He was livid that I’d snuck on the boat but, I must say, we did bury the hatchet a few weeks later, to be fair.
I’ve been to much better games at Celtic Park since that one, but St Mirren in 2001, will always be the one with the most—fairly avoidable—drama. Ultan moved away and I’ve not seen him in years, but I think we’ll always have that day to give us something to chat about.
Getting back home on the ferry that night didn’t have a quarter of the drama. Thank God!
Follow Johnny Foley on Twitter: @JohnnyFoley1984. Keep up to date with his new podcast on Twitter too: @ArmchairFanatic