Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Goodbye Charlotte: turning on to the runway
Aside from our near miss with flight delays on the way out to Scotland, our flights were faultless.

I could describe the entire weekend as faultless, but that wouldn't do it any justice...

My Aunt Maureen was waiting for us at Glasgow airport. Smiles were followed by a few tears, and then more smiles. We made a brief pit stop in Bishopbriggs before heading over to our hotel, Menzies, in Glasgow. The stop in Bishopbriggs gave a chance to say a quick hello to Paul and Katy as they prepared to start their day.

We made our way to the hotel to grab a nap and meet two people.

Signed: a Celtic jersey autographed
by Peter Mullan
One of life's random moments gave rise to our first gathering at the hotel. My Mum and Dad were Christmas shopping in Charlotte, NC, when a someone passing my Dad in the aisle detected his Scottish accent. Recognizing that my Dad has a strong accent isn't difficult, but placing it as a Scottish accent is a rarity, particularly in the US. A quick chat ensued between my Dad and the lady that placed his accent, Leslie Walsh. As fate would have it, Leslie is related to the actor Peter Mullan, of Trainspotting, Braveheart, Harry Potter, and Warhorse fame. That chat in the aisle of a shop in the US gave rise to our meeting Peter's sister, Cath, in Glasgow. The meeting was all to see that Cath could deliver a hand signed Celtic shirt from Peter. Cath was an absolute delight to talk to, full of wonderful stories, and it was a shame we didn't have more time to talk. I'm very thankful to Leslie, Cath, and Peter for such a kind gift. Sadly, my exhaustion from the journey over cut things short.

CQN: Paul Brennan
A power nap preceded our next meeting, where we were joined by Paul Brennan. Paul runs an incredibly successful site called Celtic Quick News. As the name suggests, Paul's site features his own wonderful insights and stories about anything related to Celtic FC. Paul was very helpful in arranging some treats during our visit to Celtic Park -- "Mince" from Celtic Minded was also a big help -- and Paul also posted a lovely piece about me on his site titled, "The Motor Neurone fight 6 years after Jinky". We met Paul to buy him a drink and say thank you for his help. A short chat turned in to a two-hour conversation, and it was simply wonderful.

You won't be surprised to hear that a nap quickly followed, before a trip out to Bishopbriggs!

The first pleasant surprise of the evening came when my Aunt Mairead, herself journeying from Newcastle to Bishopbriggs, stopped at our hotel to take us to the Nicolson household.  I'm not sure I could tell you the last time I saw Mairead, but it was a wonderful surprise to be greeted by her at the hotel, and a real treat for her to make the journey up from Newcastle.

Upon arriving in Bishopbriggs, were greeted by the entire Nicolson family - my cousins Matthew and Stephen had made it out of bed by then, and Katy wasn't rushing to get out the door to school - my Uncle Peter and Aunt Sheila, Aunt Babs, my cousin Susan and her son Liam, my cousin Chris, Trudy Nicolson, and Jim McKenna.

The entire night was great fun. Great company, and a great spirit.

Yum! (Yes, I took a photo of
my breakfast!)
The event that epitomizes how much fun the night was came in the form of a family portrait. My Uncle Peter, a career photographer, arranged furniture and subjects before snapping a series of great images. Then things got interesting. There was a "Rocking Out" picture taken around the piano, and several more casual poses to follow. A lot of great images, and lots of laughs. It meant a lot to see everyone.

We returned to our hotel and got a decent nights sleep.

On the curb: Martin, me, and my Dad
stop for a snap in front of the main stand
Waking on Saturday morning, one of our first thoughts was about breakfast. Martin volunteered to go down and retrieve whatever breakfast offering the hotel had, but he returned quickly. Expecting the standard American offering of bagels or muffins, we were delighted to find that Menzies offered a buffet of traditional British breakfast items: eggs, sausages, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, good bacon, and - since we were in Scotland - black pudding and haggis! Bonus!

'67: iniside the Boardroom, standing
before the European Cup
We returned to our room and got ready to head over to Celtic Park. Again, the Nicolsons came to our rescue, as Paul transported us over to the stadium. It was wonderful to be back at Celtic Park. And they were probably glad to see us...

...then we paid a visit to the club shop, and spent enough money to make a noticeable improvement in Celtic's profit forecast for the financial year!
Old: The Scottish Cup, the oldest trophy
in football, and current property of Celtic
We then entered the stadium to have a quick tour. We spent fifteen minutes in the Boardroom/Trophy Room looking over a collection of the finest trophies won by the club. I was most impressed by the Scottish Cup - the oldest physical trophy in football - and the European Cup - accompanied by original shirts worn in the game in 1967. We paused in the hallway behind the boardroom to observe display cases showing famous individual awards and shirts worn in famous games, before heading to the tunnel. We stopped for enough time in the tunnel to take a few pictures. My two favorites are below:

Inspired: one of many great quotes
by Jock Stein, and the source of this
blog's name. The quote hangs in the
tunnel that leads players out to the pitch
Pitch-side: Dad, me, and Martin
pose between the dugouts at the
foot of the tunnel
Meet: Finally meeting James, and
being joined by Celtic legend
Billy "Cesar" McNeill
We cut our tour short to head outside Celtic Park and meet James Johnstone. James is the son of Celtic great Jimmy Johnstone, and had been kind enough to reach out to me after my diagnosis. As I mentioned in an earlier post, conversing with James was particularly poignant and heartwarming given that his father passed away from the same disease that I now have. Given James' kindness, inviting him to join us at the game was only natural, and we were thrilled when he accepted. It only took a few moments to find James; hardly surprising since we were meeting beneath his father's statue. It was wonderful to finally meet. As if the moment couldn't become any more precious, none other than Celtic legend and teammate of James's father, Billy McNeill, happened to be walking past and stopped for a good chat. Billy had some words of encouragement for me, and enjoyed some friendly banter with my Dad.

Yum: Another fine meal, this time
at Celtic Park
After chatting with Billy, we made our way up to the Walfrid Restaurant in Celtic's main stand. The white-glove service was outstanding from beginning to end. No sooner had we sat down before champagne was poured, and menu selections were made. We finally had some time to enjoy James's company, and it didn't take long for a wonderful, enjoyable conversation to kick in to gear. It was great to have James with us, and I'm sincerely appreciative to have had his company on such a memorable day.

Speaking of memorable: we were soon asked if we had time to visit the team downstairs, as they arrived for the game. I have to pass on my thanks to Peter Lawell, Tony Hamilton, Iain Jamieson, Eileen, and everyone at the club that made this possible.

Emilio, James, dad, Martin, Scott Brown, and me!
Meeting Neil Lennon, the Celtic Manager
I think the pictures say more than I ever could, but I'll still thank everyone for sparing some time on a match day. And for signing my shirt (with James's help)!

More legends!
We returned upstairs to finish our meal, and, wouldn't you know it, we met more Celtic legends. Bobby Lennox, George McCluskey, an Tommy Callaghan caught James's eye as they passed by, and yet another wonderful 10 minute chat ensued. If we include passing Bertie Auld in the hall, that would make five Celtic legends in a single day!

To recap; wonderful company, wonderful hospitality, wonderful atmosphere, and some privileged access to the team. And yes, you've guessed it, great seats for the game (James went down a few rows to say hello to Rod Stewart!). In fact, the image below was taken as Victor Wanyama headed in Celtic's second goal (that's James jumping out of his seat on my left)!

Paul Brennan has a good recap of the game here. While it had its ups and downs, the result went our way, and it was a memorable game. I don't think there's anything like the atmosphere at Celtic Park; people shouting and singing from the stands, a slight cold bite to the Glasgow air, the faintest smell of the grass wafting up, and that electric sense of anticipation in the stadium. It was wonderful. And my hat is off to the Green Brigade; we were all a little jealous of the noise you were making and the fun you were having!

Stadium noise:

Full time brought a final round of hospitality. My Dad and my brother shortly excused themselves to retrieve our purchases from the club shop. It gave James and I a while to ourselves. James, that final conversation really helped to put some kick back in my stride. Thank you.

We retreated to Bishopbriggs one last time. Dad treated us all to a curry, before Paul got us back to the hotel.

Sleeping that night felt like I closed my eyes one second, and then woke the next. As quickly as I woke, it felt like we were in Maureen's car and back at the airport in an equally brief amount of time. And our farewell wasn't dissimilar from our welcome on Friday morning.

Home: Louise knows what to do!
It was a bittersweet moment. I was sad to leave Glasgow after such an amazing time, but I missed my girls.

Thankfully, our flights home were on time, and half-empty! It wasn't long before we were back in Charlotte, tired, on Sunday evening.

A welcome overnight stay at my Mum and Dad's house followed on Sunday night, before making the journey back home to Lexington.

My deepest thanks to my Mum and Dad, my brother, all our family and friends; those that supported Amanda in my absence, and those that helped to turn the weekend in to such a memorable event.



  1. Sounds like a fantastic weekend, Tony. Great meeting you, Martin and your Dad.

  2. That sounds awesome Tony! So glad you had this opportunity. Take care, good luck @ JH!

  3. Your day at CP was just as I'd hoped it would be for you.. awesome! And yes, the green brigade seem to have loads of fun in that corner! we loved seeing you again so soon, and hope to see you again before too long... haste ye back. love always susie & liam xxxxx

  4. So glad it was a wonderful memorable trip! Loved reading it and following your journey back home! Glad you're back safe. Great pics!

  5. Tony my boy I am proud to know you! Never mind the illness; any man who can shake off the jet lag - put away that full breakfast and several pints of 'heavy' and still stay awake for a full 90 minutes is a hero in my book. I'd be a gonner by half time. :-)

    I must admit the photo of the breakfast startled me at first, as I wasn't initially sure if it was taken before or after you had digested it!

    What a trip.....what a trip.

    1. Asleep by half time? It's not like we were at a Rangers game :)

  6. Steve,

    Margate survived the Jolly Bhoys Outing.
    Next must join us.

  7. Fantastic story Tony

    Glad you all enjoyed the trip to Paradise

  8. Wow what a trip, I was watching the results come in on Sky Sports News and hoped /knew Celtic would do it, and it was great for you guys. Sounds and looks like you did so much in just a couple of days.

    Well done guys.

  9. keep going Bud.

    excellent recollections.

    glasgows , green and white.