Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club - Est. 1999
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images/stories/brian_1.jpgOn Friday the 8th of February the Sportsmans Dinner made a most welcome return to the club's social calendar and what an excellent evening it was. This year it was organised by popular member, and former Chairman of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club, Brian McMillan, pictured here with Celtic legend (and honorary club member) Stevie Chalmers at the Estádio Nacional in Lisbon. We thought Brian would be a fitting person to kick off a series of stories on our relationships with Celtic, so we asked him about his and he gave us this excellent piece of writing. Over to you Brian..................

September 1932, Celtic v Kilmarnock, and Killie's big centre half chops through Malky McDonald for the umpteenth time much to the annoyance of a young Celtic ball boy, Alec Smith. As referee Tom Dougry from Bellshill waved the game on, young Alec told the Killie player in no uncertain terms what he thought of him, unfortunately within earshot of the aforementioned Dougry. Alec's recollection was that Mr Dougry "didn't like the fact that I was questioning the parentage of the Kilmarnock player who I considered wasn't treating Malky with the respect he should have, and so I was sent off to the dressing rooms". Alec Smith would become Fr. Alec Smith, a Salesian priest, imprisoned in a Japanese camp during World War 2, the Rector of St John Bosco's in Hong Kong, working latterly with the Vietnamese boat people. He was my great uncle.

images/stories/brian_2.jpgSome 35-ish years later, and at the ripe old age of 6 or 7, I was taken to Celtic Park for my first ever Celtic match, a reserve fixture against Hearts. The overwhelming excitement of the day left my only real memory the fact that Joe McBride had a goal disallowed just before half time, adding to Fr Alec's experience from 1932. I now had a chip on both shoulders allowing me to go forward in my life as a perfectly balanced individual, like most Celtic fans are!

Growing up in Kilbirnie with three brothers, my dad used to take us to as many games as he could, but around 1975/76 I became aware of the supporters club bus ran by Arthur Gallagher from Saltcoats and so the trips to Celtic Park became more and more frequent. Many of those who travelled in that bus from yesteryear are still members of our club today - Sam, Wee Tony, Joe, Wee Danny, Tony K, John D and a certain Mr O'Leary!

As I grew up (some would say physically but not mentally) and we went our separate ways to experience wine, women and song, I continued to get to as many games as I could. Even at college, I used to either hitch a lift through from Dundee or catch the Hilltown Celtic Supporters Club bus to stand in the Jungle and cheer on Celtic.

Growing up at the end of the Lisbon Lions era, with the emergence of the Quality Street Kids and then Roy Aitken, Tommy Burns, Paul McStay, Charlie Nicholas, etc, well it was an easy time to be a Celtic supporter. We didn't bother really about referees because RH Davidson, Tiny Wharton, Bob Valentine and their cohorts couldn't prevent the inevitable Celtic victory. Our centenary year was still an amazing time to be a Celt. OK, Rangers were emerging as a force, but we had met those challenges before and proved again in that year that "we only know that there's going to be a show and the Glasgow Celtic will be there!"

The beginning of the nineties were a hard time for us as Celtic fans. Rangers were raising the stakes and our family dynasty board were out of their depth, but too stubborn to see it. Our "field of dreams" in Cambuslang was embarrassing and so when I saw the advert in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper asking supporters to unite with Fergus McCann and invest in our club, I joined the queue. I became a Celtic Shareholder (according to my certificates) on the 27th of January 1995, approximately 62 years after our family's last contribution with Fr. Alec's sending off!

The boost of playing my part in seeing Wee Fergus's dream being realised brought the nineties to a happy end. The new stadium rising, the Celtic style of football returning under Tommy Burns, and even the hint of silverware again, culminating in stopping Rangers doing ten in a row, some great memories. In 1998 I actually left Scotland to work in Belfast, but retained my Season Ticket and got back over as many weekends as I could. After the games, some of us would meet in The Kings, some in The Turf, some in other hostelries in and around Irvine, to discuss the match but it wasn't like the old days of Arthur Gallagher's bus.

Around this time motions were in place that culminated in the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club being founded and eventually opened. A Celtic Club in Irvine, our Celtic Club in Irvine, was the proverbial godsend, our own place where we could be proud of our heritage, our club, our team, where we could toast our successes and drink away our failures!

By 2002, having lost both my parents (some might remember my mother as Head Teacher at St. Mary's and latterly St. John Ogilvie's) I had no proper sleeping arrangements for trips home to see Celtic and decided to return to Scotland from Belfast. Having been an active member of the club I was known by many of our members and was asked if I would join the committee. Like any true Celtic man I was proud to be asked but needed to be persuaded that I had something to offer. Persuasion usually came in the form of a pint being bought for me and a quiet word "down the stairs", and so after 2,837 pints (okay maybe not!) I agreed.

Thankfully during my time as a committee member I managed to embarrass the club only once. Saturday the 7th of September 2002 was the day when Tony Keane, the late Martin Feeney and I were invited to play at Celtic Park, winners of a competition ran by Coca Cola. Unfortunately, Martin, to use industry terms, "failed a late fitness test" and was replaced by his bhoy, Graham McQuaid.

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To play on the pitch at Celtic Park for ninety minutes in a team managed by Ronnie Simpson in a pair of Neil Lockwood's football boots (mine being binned many stones ago!) was absolutely amazing. The fact that we took a bus load from Irvine to watch the game and shout abuse at us (or support as they called it) made it truly a Celtic experience. Graham and I scoring penalties at the Celtic End after 90 minutes will live in my memory for ever.

But back to the club and, in what seemed like a quick promotion, I became Vice President, working with Robert McAllister, Mick Davis, Kenny McCleary and Gail Ronney. When Robert resigned I was appointed as Chairman, Liz Wyllie taking my place as Vice President. Being the Chairman and representing our club was a proud time. Convincing then Celtic captain Paul Lambert to visit the club, speaking to Jimmy Johnstone as we organised a dinner in the club for his charity, meeting Billy McNeill, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, John Clark, Bertie Auld, Joe McBride, and especially Stevie Chalmers and Bobby Lennox, all heroes but also lovely people, talking with then Celtic Chairman John Reid and Chief Executive Peter Lawell about our inviting Willie Henderson to speak at our Sportsmans Dinner, presenting a club quaich to the Celtic Supporters Cub in Johannesburg..................

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I also pulled a pint in The Parlour in New York, a bar that many a Celtic fan has declared a home from home in the Big Apple. I met with Emmet and the San Francisco Bhoys in the Abbey Tavern. And I stumbled out of The Blackthorn Bar in South Boston after a right good Celtic day, night and next morning session. Yes, representing our club was hard but it had to be done!

Since resigning as Chairman I have continued my love affair with Celtic and another of my proudest moments as a fan was on Saturday the 4th of October 2008 when I was invited to sit in what I thought was the Directors Box at Celtic Park for our SPL match with Hamilton Accies. Arriving at the ground I was ushered into the boardroom for pre-match food and drink before receiving my match ticket for what I realised was actually the Presidential Box. The first half passed and it was back to the boardroom for half time soup and chat followed by a second half that (I think) we won easily. Sadly, like a kid in a sweetie shop, I think I spent most of the day waving at folk I knew, who couldn't believe that a bhoy from Kilbirnie would ever sit in the Presidential Box at Celtic Park. I should have been watching the match!

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I remain extremely supportive of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club now, although not in any official capacity, and I am very proud that it is still standing strong thirteen years after its opening, when many said it wouldn't last a year. It has been presented with, and overcome, many challenges. And it has lost some legends, and great friends, in Tam Black, John Davis, Stevie Docherty Martin Feeney and John Martin. Just as our great club has lost Stein, Murdoch, Johnstone, Burns and so many more.

So when someone asks me why I support Celtic I can speak of the common bond, the shared beliefs, the camaraderie, the happy times, the sad times, the people, the characters, the drinking mates, those who have died and now have free season tickets from above! I think of Seville, I think of the Thai Tims, and I am reminded of my late friend Martin Feeney who once advised a priest to "Keep The Faith Father", and famously declared that the future is bright, the future is green and white!

images/stories/brian_7.jpgFor anyone who thinks that my story is an insufficient reason to support Celtic, can I add that although I haven't mentioned a lot about it, we're not a bad football team either! Watching Celtic throughout Scotland, not to mention England, Wales, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia, Ukraine among others, and experiencing the friendship and hospitality that welcomes the name Celtic, makes me glad every day. As a Season Card holder, a Shareholder, and a member of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club, Brian McMillan is proud to be a Celt!

And another man who is proud to be a Celt is John Bell, whose brilliant story about the European Cup Final in 1967 is now documented below. 

"67.........in the heat of Lisbon.........the fans came in their thousands.........to see the bhoys become the champions........."

images/stories/john_1.jpgThe Green Brigade chant that has been ringing around Scotland's football stadiums in recent years tells of Celtic's greatest ever victory on the 25th of May 1967. And one of the thousands who witnessed it was John Bell. Born and bred in Coatbridge, where he was an active member of his local supporters club, John has lived in Kilwinning for the last 20 years and is a founder member of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club. His pilgrimage to Lisbon, however, got off to an inauspicious start when he nearly hunted the very man who held the key to him getting there! Read on..................

On the evening of Friday the 19th of May 1967 the Bell family home, then in Cumbernauld, received a knock on the door. John answered it and found what he describes as "a salesman-type bloke" informing him that he had won a competition. John assertively, shall we say, informed him that he had not actually entered any competitions and did not appreciate being bothered with such nonsense after a hard day at work. As he reached for the sweeping brush to shoo the hapless fellow up the path, the chap begged to be listened to and went on produce evidence of a win that nearly floored poor John!

images/stories/john_2.jpgIt transpired that one of John's friends had recently entered him into a raffle sponsored by the Celtic Car Club in conjunction with Crown Filter Cigarettes and he was one of the five lucky winners. The prize? Flights, transfers and a match ticket for Lisbon! Needless to say the door-knocker, now revealed as a representative of the cigarette company, was invited in and treated like one of the family! Once the initial excitement died down, John's thoughts turned to the practicalities of the trip, specifically the fact that he would need two days off work at very short notice.

First thing on the Saturday morning, John went in to see his manager. "You know that Celtic are playing in the European Cup Final in Lisbon on Thursday? Well I'm going". While the boss was quite happy to grant him one day off he explained that a second day in these circumstances would have to be approved by the personnel department, giving John an agonising wait until the Monday morning. By the time he went to see them his raffle win was the worst kept secret in Cumbernauld, they knew exactly what he was about to ask and, caught up in the final fever that was sweeping Scotland, were happy to oblige.

So with his flights, transfers and match ticket sorted, and two days holiday from work now in the bag, John began to get organised for the trip. He was encouraged to make contact with fellow winner Fr. Noel Burke, parish priest in St. Philomena's, Robroyston, where John's sister-in-law Patsy stayed. By strange co-incidence, Noel's brother, Cornelius, was parish priest in St. Winin's, Kilwinning, at the time. (Older Kilwinning folk - of all religious persuasions - will fondly remember this man for the hugely positive impact he had on the town)

Back to Fr. Noel Burke, who warmly received John as his travelling companion, and invited him to the Mass he was celebrating on the morning of Thursday the 25th of May. A 3:00 am service, in a church full of Lisbon-bound men and women, was the start of an unforgettable day for Noel and John as they prayed for a safe journey for all of the fans and, of course, a Celtic victory! They made their way to the airport, boarded the plane and began chatting excitedly about the day ahead.

images/stories/john_3.jpgDuring their conversation Noel informed John that he would be meeting up with old friend when they touched down. "You might know of him" he said "it's Charlie Tully". A wary John went along with the story but, sure enough, they stepped off the plane to a warm embrace from the Celtic legend. In the 50s the clergy were invited to Celtic Park to play in fun matches against the first team and Noel had struck up a friendship with the iconic winger. They spent the day soaking up the sun and the atmosphere, made their way to the Estádio Nacional and took their seats for Celtic's showdown with Inter Milan. And the rest, as they say, is history..................

images/stories/john_4.jpgAs a nice postscript to the story, when the family moved on to High Valleyfield in Fife, where John was also an active member of his local supporters club, their next door neighbour was none other than Celtic midfielder George Connelly, with whom John and wife Josephine became friends. He took John's programme in to Celtic Park and got it signed by every single one of the Lisbon Lions. This was the "icing on the cake" for John, the perfect end to a perfect story. It remains one of his prized possessions and will be handed on to sons Christopher and Graeme in due course.

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We would like to thank Brian McMillan and John Bell for the above stories and we would encourage other members to come forward with theirs. Please e-mail to get the ball rolling!

Last Updated ( Feb 19, 2013 at 04:46 PM )
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