The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 43

August 28, 2010

Felled In The Box

This piece appeared in TAG 37 MARCH 1994. The events recorded here happened on 18 September 1993. So return with us now to an age before Fergus McCann, before the reconstruction of Celtic park, before Lou Macari, before Tommy Burns, before Wim Jansen, before John Barnes, before Martin O’Neill, before Celtic were anything other than a joke.

Felled in the Box

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Regular readers who have been taking notes will know that Celtic Park is not a venue that I tend to frequent. I made an exception on 18th September last year. I had been planning to go to the Dumbarton-Falkirk match at Boghead that day. On the Wednesday before the game my next-door neighbour asked if I fancied a trip to Parkhead. Sensing a wind-up, my initial reply consisted of two words which are frequently found in conjunction when one wishes to convey a strong negative. However, he patiently explained to me that the company which employs him have an “executive box” at Celtic Park and that, due to a late call-off, there was one space left in the box.

I stilI wasn’t too impressed, until he spoke the magic words, “It’s free drink all day “. Suddenly I remembered that I had a positive duty to the readers of TAG to carry out a spot of investigative journalism into this “executive hospitality” malarkey. Thus it was that on the Saturday morning I hunted out my “Sack the Board” t-shirt (previously worn at Ibrox in the early eighties, Brockville since the arrival of Deans Pere et Fils, and Boghead all the time) and off we went to “Paradise”.

Although the official kick-off time was the traditional 3 o’clock, our arrival time at Parkhead was 12 noon, not so much to soak up the atmosphere as to soak up the free booze. I should point out that although the hospitality was completely gratis for me, it was all courtesy of my benevolent neighbour. The cost to his company in respect of my day out was in the region of £200. For that reason he counselled me before-hand to eat and drink as much as I could in order that as much of the outlay as possible could be recouped (even if, as inevitably turned out to be the case, the food and drink was later to be chundered into the nearest convenient receptacle).

Over the last year or two there’s been a lot of adverse comment about the Mickey Mouse nature of Celtic’s commercial operation. I went to Parkhead thinking that the executive boxes would be converted pie-stalls fastened to the roof of the lavvies by sellotape and chewing-gum, with the hospitality being roughly on a par with the semi-legendary hot soup and a roll dished out by Brother Walfrid and Co to the original East End mendicants of yore and lore. I was therefore pleasantly surprised, on entering via the main door, to be met by club officials, all smartly turned out in Celtic blazers, handing us a copy of the match programme, and guiding us up thickly-carpeted stairs to our box. The box itself was comfortable, and was on two levels, one containing a dining table, and the other being a few steps down to the seats from where we were to watch the match through a large picture-window.

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Our box was near the half-way line, and the vantage point afforded us an excellent unobstructed view of the whole park. We were met by a pleasant young hostess who served us glasses of Champagne. There were 6 of us in the box, and there’s probably something like 20 or 30 similar boxes running along the length of the Stand. After a couple of glasses of Champers, as we high-rollers in the camel coats and designer suits call it, I joined a large party of other revellers who were being given a conducted tour of the stadium. On the way we met some veteran Celts, including Bobby Lennox and Stevie Chalmers. One of the party asked them what they thought of Celtic’s chances that afternoon. Bobby replied, only half-joking, that the team would be stronger if he and Stevie were playing.

Then it was out through the tunnel to stand and be photographed in front of the “Hail Hail” sign. If any readers ever chance to see a photograph of that happy occasion then the person standing near the back holding his middle finger aloft is probably me. Next we were shown into the board room which incorporates the trophy room. Michael Kelly was glimpsed in the corner sellotaping the lid back onto a Tunnocks tin. Here there were more photographs taken of the group standing in front of a life-size replica of the European Cup, the same single digit prominent at the back.

Then it was back to the box. Those members of my party who had been astute enough not to bother with the stadium tour had already kilIed a couple of bottles of red johnny jump-up as an accompaniment to the soup-course. We tucked into a five (yes five) course meal. I won’t make any smart-arsed comments here. It was delicious, and accompanied throughout by a range of fine wines which would have tickled the palate of the most discerning epicure, to say nothing of the effect it had on the bunch of heavy bevvy merchants in our box. By two o’clock we were on to cigars and brandy. By kick-off time I had slipped gently into another dimension. I remember hazily thinking that if I’d turned up at the turnstiles in the state which I was now in, then I would’ve been spending the afternoon in the pleasant confines of London Road police station rather than Parkhead.

When the match started I detected a general feeling of disappointment amongst my group that we had to temporarily curtail our quaffing, because as we all know, you’re not allowed to actually drink alcohol and look at a football pitch simultaneously. Thus the curtains in the box are closed right up until the moment before kick-off, in case the sight of the green sward coupled with glasses in our hands will release a squadron of uncontrollable Mr Hydes, slavering wildly and baying for plasma. The message seems to be that it’s OK to get totally rat-arsed between noon and 3, but it’s Armageddon time if a drop passes your lips after the refs whistle blows.

As the game meandered on without incident, one of our number suggested that we shut the curtains, crack open another bottle of something suitably fiery, and get on with the real business of the afternoon. Our pleasant young hostess cut up a bit rough at this proposal, locking the drinks cabinet and threatening to summon Tony Mowbray to sort us out. Half-time arrived, and along with it came a rather incongruous pie and bovril (just to remind us of our roots).

In the second half Dundee United scored. I leapt to my feet, gesturing insanely at my companions, who sat stone-faced. Outside the box, green-swathed troops began turning round to view this madman who clearly had a death-wish. Bad language was used. Fists were shaken. Intimations of my imminent demise were issued. I was past caring. My blood alcohol level saw to that. Plus, of course, I was protected by the reinforced glass screen.

Celtic equalised, the game finished, the curtains were closed, and we began an earnest post-mortem,gdal_drambuie.jpg fuelled by more brandy. A lot more. I had taken to heart my neighbour’s injunction to drink as much as possible. Our high-minded post-match analysis generally consisted of such searing insights as, “That Sheltic defensh are pure murder, eh? Couldnae pass eh, eh, whitdyacallit, eh, is there any o’ that Drambuie left? “.

Seven o’clock was chucking-out time, or as the Parkhead officials put it, seven o’clock was the scheduled departure time of the honoured guests. By then, I was well plastered. Except that I didn’t know that. Unlike one of my companions, who found that, try as he might, he simply couldn’t stand up. A thoughtful steward phoned his wife to say that her man had “been taken poorly” and that it might be a good idea if she came and picked him up.

The survivors, who were all drunk as monkeys themselves, but meantime still able to walk unaided, were thus treated to the humorous spectacle of our companion being stretchered down the stairs as a human kerry-oot and then being poured into the back seat of his waiting wife’s car. How we all laughed as he lay comatose receiving a tongue-lashing from his better half. She should have saved her breath as he was exhibiting all the symptoms of having joined the legions of the undead.

Curiously enough, the very next thing I remember is waking up at about 4am, lying just inside my own front door, in a pool of what had, in a previous incarnation, been a sumptuous five course dinner, several excellent wines, and the best part of a bottle of brandy. I blame the prawn cocktail myself.

Precisely how I had got home remains a mystery. I haven’t enquired too closely, as I’ve heard a rumour that a rather unpleasant incident took place at Falkirk railway station, in which an as yet unidentified male person aboard the Glasgow to Edinburgh express mistook the first-class compartment for the toilet.

So, there we have it readers. This is my contribution to the debate on whether corporate hospitality has a role to play in our game. I don’t intend to glorify drunkenness, and I’m appropriately ashamed of the state I finally ended up in. There is, however a moral in all of this. If you’re paying a big whack for your entertainment, then your Scottish instinct is to get your money’s worth. When the bait is limitless drink then the temptation is to view the game as a sort of ninety-minute interlude in what is otherwise a good day out.

I venture to suggest that at 5pm every Saturday there are hordes of wee men lying drunk in hospitality boxes all over the country.

There’s surely something wrong when you have to read the Sunday Post to find out what happened at a match that you were actually at.

Like the true Calvinist that I am, now that I’ve sampled corporate hospitality, and am not likely to be invited back, I recommend that it should all be closed down.

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