Setting Free The Bears is on the buses as Glasgow is truly green and white on 26th May 1967…
On the evening of Friday 26 May 1967, Glasgow prepared to welcome back the Lions from Lisbon. There must have been over 100,000 fans lining the streets to welcome our heroes home. Every Celtic supporter worth their salt turned out for the event and to be part of the party. But now for the first time in my life, and I swear that my family are completely unaware of this, I must cleanse my soul and confess that the hapless SFTB managed to miss the complete party.
I am struggling to re-create the events of the time as I must have managed to bury the shameful memory over the years and details have been lost to the ravages of memory. As far as I can faithfully re-construct that night, I will do so and await my penance.
The young SFTB was just a few months past his 11th birthday. He was a shy, bookish, carefree soul who had plenty of people to look out for him and look after him. He rarely left Castlemilk except to go to the Picture Houses, as we called them, the State in King’s Park or the Rio and Odeon in Rutherglen. I was vaguely aware of the bus routes of the buses that served my side of Castlemilk but, as I usually traveled with others I did not need to be too aware of landmarks or road names. You just memorised the bit where you got off and you got on at the number 5 bus terminus within 100 yards of my house. I knew that the 46 bus was the preferred route to Celtic Park and that it travelled via Rutherglen but, I usually was taken to the game by my dad and he was responsible for knowing details. I must have gone, on occasion, without my dad but it would have been with older kids and I do not think I had ever travelled alone until that night.
I cannot fathom the reasons why I had chosen or had to travel alone that night. I was too young to have started my milk run, which involved collecting money from all my patrons on a Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, and dodging through the backcourts trying to steer clear of those who were looking for a little easy money or those who would offer violence free of charge. It could not have been a school football training night as we usually played on a Saturday morning. It could not have been due to having homework due as, conscientious though I was, I could skate through that task on a Sunday. Well, for whatever reason, the young SFTB found himself late on that Friday preparing to rush to see the parade, with his father already gone, presumably straight from work to pub to Celtic Park, and with my older brother already away with his pals. Maybe I wanted the thrill of independent travel and experiencing this unique event as a solitary figure in a crowd of strangers. That is just the kind of over-romanticised pish that I would have been guilty of then, and can still stray into now.
So, I set out for the 5 terminus, normally a hive of activity where there would be no bus for 20 minutes then 3 would turn up in convoy to pick up the dozen or so disgruntled natives, and boy, were we not regularly short of gruntle with Corpy Bus drivers. Well maybe more of those guys were tims than I was giving them credit for, as I waited 15 minutes with no bus in sight. Those bus drivers must have called in with a sickie in order to join in the fun themselves. Either that or the Rangers fans amongst them were carrying out a personal vendetta to deprive the young SFTB of transport. I have since heard that Andy Cameron was a young conductor on the buses then so he might have been in on it too.
I had intended to get the Number 5 bus for only a few stops to get off and get a 46 to the ground so, starting to panic, I decided to walk up to the Tormusk shops where I could meet up with the 46 route. On the way, of course, two number 5 buses,waiting for the young SFTB to commit to just such a daft ploy, had emerged from hiding, rushed down to the terminus, turned around, and managed to pass me as I was in between bus stops. I swear the drivers were giving me the vicky.
Nevertheless, I reached the bus stop where I could get a 46 to Paradise and there was still time to savour the excitement. I would not have long to wait now. The bus would emerge from the terminus on Ardencraig Road that it shared with the 37 service to Springburn, a route I had never used as who wanted to go there? Up till now, only minor mishap had befallen the young SFTB but it was soon to go far more wrong.
I think the bus must have surprised me by arriving silently or, at least, quicker than buses normally did, but I glanced up and around 40 yards away was the bus I thought I wanted. I screwed up my eyes, unaware that within 9 months I would be diagnosed as myopic and prescribed a pair of, now-fashionable, thick rimmed black specs (geek chic was not an acceptable look in Castlemilk) and read the two digit number. To my satisfaction, it read 46 and I looked down, fumbling in my pockets for the change needed for the bus.
Normally, there would have been a fail safe for my, unbeknowns to me, myopia, as Corpy buses had their numbers on the side at the door as well as on the front, but this one was blank and I remained confident that I had boarded a 46. It was full fare to Celtic Park so I just asked for the ticket and I did not tell the friendly conductress where I was going.
I was of course on a 37 bus. The two digits I thought I had seen, were only close to a 4 and 6 if you were looking at a number line. I was about to embark on a mystery tour of Glasgow visiting exotic locations that I had never seen. It may well have included a trip past the Croftfoot roundabout and by the doors of Christ the King church. It certainly went past the secondary school, that I would attend from August of that year, but that was my last recognisable landmark.
I had been taught to not talk to strangers but I may have over-generalised that rule. I also had an innate masculine tendency not to reveal weakness and lack of knowledge and I may have possessed an unjustified confidence in my ability to spot a landmark I had seen before. After all, Glasgow is not that big a place, is it?
Those three tendencies combined to leave me sitting looking anxiously out of the window and recognising nothing. I had been on the bus for 10 to 15 minutes and still nothing. We must have passed by Hampden which was on the route, I think, but I had only ever walked there and never came in from that side, the Rangers end. Somewhere around Crosshill train station or maybe just before we reached the Gorbals, I panicked and got off. I had seen no sign of crowds on pavements, indicating I was anywhere near where the action was.
I may have been near to tears by now but I was determined to be independent and not seek advice or help. I wandered several streets in god knows what direction but, fatally, took the option to go away from where the bus I had been on was heading- straight for Glasgow Cross and the High Street. 30 or 40 minutes of stoic wandering and the young SFTB was managing to skirt the crowds that were lining streets elsewhere in Glasgow. Exotic thoughts were entering my head of never seeing home and hearth again. I had read vaguely in the Imperialist minded novels of G.A. Henty and Captain W.E. Johns of some sort of white slave trade and was beginning to fear becoming the plaything of an exotic Arab potentate with niche market tastes. Thankfully, I was not yet sporting the thick rimmed glasses to add to my allure and I managed to evade the clutches of the pimps of the white slave trade.
Eventually, the little boy in me broke through the street hardened veneer I was trying to project and I approached a women of pensionable age, I thought. She was probably around 40 but that is ancient to a boy of 11. Whatever age she was, she seemed an unlikely agent for Fu Manchu or a minor Pasha, so I managed to blurt out “Missus, Ahm lost”. Women of Glasgow must all have undertaken a course in re-uniting lost souls with their families and, having questioned me gently, sent me 100 yards down the road to meet up with the bus service that I had spent the last 40 minutes walking away from. My circular route, like a thisty soul in the desert, had brought me back on my own tracks.
Unwilling to trust to my own instincts any further, I decided to get the bus home to the same spot I had embarked from and to trudge down the road to my much-missed family. I arrived home to be greeted by my mother and younger sisters, who expressed only vague interest in my adventures. I was able to get away later with telling everybody that “it was magic but I never got to see anyone up close”. It was close enough to most people’s experience for me to get away with my Celtic supporting credentials intact and it was close enough to the actual truth for me to not mention this to Father Toye or Father McCafferty or Father Banciewicz in confession.
They say confession is good for the soul but for SFTB, that experience was just good for telling me to buck up and learn where the buses go. A few months later I was an accomplished bus surfer. I had learned all the routes and, when Celtic next won the European Cup, I would know exactly where to go, even to North Glasgow, which I had discovered in a manner similar to Livingstone in Zambia.
The young SFTB is still awaiting an opportunity to try out his new expertise.
A combination of senility and complete changes to the Glasgow Bus Routes might yet produce the same outcome but, if it does, I am hoping that Andy Cameron is back as a conductor on the bus I get on.
Written by SFTB, an esteemed contributor to CQN Magazine…