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Books - The Sevenpenny Gate: A Lifelong Love Affair with Celtic FC (2011)
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DetailsTitle: The Sevenpenny Gate: A Lifelong Love Affair with Celtic FC
Author: John Cairney
A football fanatic's memoir about a lifetime supporting of CelticProduct Description
'Clutching in my hand my seven copper pennies, I ran down the two flights of stone stairs from our tenement flat and through the East End to Kinloch Street, where, puffing a bit, I joined the queue of other wee boys lining up to place their coins on the brass plate above the iron turnstile, push hard against it, then climb up onto the dirt terracing and into Paradise. The rest of the world called it Celtic Park.'
This is a story seen through green-and-white spectacles. It begins when nine-year-old Glaswegian John Cairney walks through the boys' gate at Celtic Park and embarks on a series of adventures that, over the years, take him all over Scotland and beyond.
The Sevenpenny Gate is about a search for heroes, Celtic heroes. It is also the tale of an East End club of humble Irish origins that has developed into a worldwide brand and continues to command the devotion of its fans, even with the Celtic diaspora now spread across the globe.
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Mainstream Publishing (6 Oct 2011)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 1845967771
- ISBN-13: 978-1845967772
- Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 2.3 cm
John Cairney starred as the bard for years but actor's real heroes play at Parkhead
Oct 16 2011 Steve Hendry, Sunday Mail
VETERAN performer John Cairney is never more at home than when he is on the stage.
A renowned actor, painter, writer and raconteur, he is probably best-known for his portrayal of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns.
Now, at 81, he can look back at his life in the spotlight and the place which, in many ways, started it all for him.
John’s new book, The Sevenpenny Gate, is subtitled A Lifelong Love Affair with Celtic FC. And it was on the terraces of Parkhead where he was first introduced to the highs and lows of the theatre of life.
John grew up in the shadow of the stadium in Glasgow and attended his first game, aged nine, in 1939.
He said: “From nine to 19, Celtic was my total obsession. It coloured my life and left me with a feeling for colour and the outer expression of an inner passion.
“It was good medicine to take every Saturday. It was good for any young boy growing up – that freedom to stand on the terraces and yell.
“To stand on the terraces and feel the tears coming down your cheek if they lost.
“It is like theatre. You could mourn or celebrate in public and when the 90 minutes were up you could say, ‘Right, what’s on at the pictures tonight?’”
John’s support for Celtic has been a constant thread throughout his life and the book traces it from his early days, getting in through the seven penny boys’ gate with coins salvaged from the gas meter.
It fired him through the Second World War years, causing him no little frustration when he was twice evacuated from his Parkhead home to aristocratic surroundings.
john cairney the sevenpenny gate Image 3
First, to the grand home of racing driver Sir Malcolm Campbell in the south west of Scotland and later to the home of the Earl of Cluny near Aberfeldy, Perthshire.
It went with him to Germany, where he was stationed with the RAF in Berlin in 1948 during two years of national service, and followed him to Bristol and London as his acting career took off.
John enjoyed a brief stab at singing stardom in 1956 and 1957 with partner Sammy San, but he only realised he could sing in 1948, when he celebrated as Celtic escaped the threat of relegation thanks to Jock Weir’s hat-trick against Dundee.
He got drunk and belted out every Celtic song and chant he knew on top of a table at RAF Padgate, Lancashire.
John’s book is full of such rich anecdotes – but it was almost never written.
He originally turned up for a meeting with publishers Mainstream with his weighty PhD on Robert Louis Stevenson under his arm.
He came away with a commission to write The Sevenpenny Gate as a previous book he had written – on Celtic legend Jimmy McGrory – was selling well and they wanted more of the same.
John said: “It’s unusual for an author to go in to sell one book but come away with a commission to write another.
“Even now, I can’t look at it without disbelief, thinking there I am on the cover shooting a penalty past my cousin, Philip Cairney, then the Clyde goalkeeper.” Writing The Sevenpenny Gate was very obviously a labour of love – not just for Celtic, but also for a different era of football.
John said: “I peeled away the years as each chapter went on. I wasn’t trying to write a list of who scored what and when through the years.
“I was on an emotional journey. Football is an emotional matter for me. That’s why I agreed to call it a love affair. It’s a deep, warm affection.
“I don’t want to make it feel like it was a nostalgic paradise, but it was a good time because football made a very simple demand – give us your all and we’ll give you something back.
“Now the clubs are saying give us your all and they are really giving you back nothing, because everything is given to the sponsor.
“Look at the price of a football match today. I raided the gas meter to get the money to go. To pay £100 to see a match makes my seven pennies look quite historic.
“As I say in the book, the day will come when the viewer can sit down on a Friday and watch every league game played until a Monday without ever leaving his couch.
“That’s no way to watch football. Football is played in the open air in a green space. You can’t imagine what even the smell of grass was to a Glasgow eastender in the 1940s.
“People were dying in the streets not far from us and yet we went to see the worst team Celtic ever put out.
“We used to cheer at a corner because Celtic were always beaten. We expected them to lose but we loved watching the game and, no matter what happened, we thought, ‘This time, we might just do it.’
“So when it came to the great times under Jock Stein, it was special.
“Unfortunately, I was based in London and would fly up and then get the train to the games.
“My mother thought I was an idiot. She used to say, ‘A married man like you coming up here like a laddie.’
“I would phone her up and she would hold the phone to the radio if a Celtic game was on until she said, ‘I’ve got better things to do.’ That’s what football does to you, though.”
Things have inevitably changed. John spent almost 20 years living in New Zealand with his wife, Alannah, although he always kept in touch with his beloved club.
His return to the game, at the rebuilt Parkhead, was different to what he remembered. He said: “When I came back from New Zealand I couldn’t wait to go… but I was appalled.
“It was like a big American experience, like Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play. All I missed were the dancing girls, we had everything else.
“I was perched away up high, at risk of vertigo. Then I saw a little boy of about nine coming up at half-time with his dad and the look on his face...
“I just thought, ‘That was me.’ So the essential thing hasn’t changed at all really.”
●The Sevenpenny Gate – A Lifelong Love Affair with Celtic FC, by John Cairney, is out now
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