As you get older, and going to funerals becomes more common, you start to develop a deep understanding of something few like to think about and even fewer talk about; that neither you nor those that you love are “safe.” That one day you and they will be no more. You start coming to terms with that, to a kind of acceptance.
You also start seeing your heroes fall, one by one, those colossal figures you grew up admiring from afar, those individuals who defined a part of your upbringing, perhaps even a part of yourself.
The last few years seem to have been particularly horrible in that regard, as giants have fallen like ninepins across music, the screen, literature, politics, culture and sport.
Today Tommy Gemmell has gone, and the world is less because of it and our Family has lost one of the keystones of its greatness. Yet because of him, it will be great whether he is in the world or not, because his life and his accomplishments have helped to make it so in way that echoes down through our history. Because of what he did, the exploits of our club will never be forgotten. Because of that, he will never be forgotten.
Above all his medals and his gongs are those two goals in European Cup finals. No player at Celtic will ever do that again, not that we can foresee, not that we can imagine from here. Even if, in times to come, long after we’ve all gone, it is managed Tommy will forever be the first, the trailblazer, Page 1, Line 1 of that particular roll of honour.
That is immortality.
That is the measure of the man and what he did on the park.
But, of course, he will always be more than just the man who scored those goals.
He will always be more than just a Lisbon Lion.
That title both limited and enhanced Tommy; underneath it, there was a genuinely warm, wonderful human being, of whom many an illuminating, usually hilarious, story could be told. He was a man who made friends everywhere he went because he remembered where he came from and what it meant to represent that community, and our football club. A humble person who knew on an intellectual level what it was that he had done but forever considered it but a small contribution to the greater whole that was Celtic and our history.
When someone like that passes it is a tragedy only insomuch that they are no longer with us; the greater truth is that we were lucky he was here at all, that people who leave such a mark, such a positive impact on the world, are a miracle for which generations to come, those who never saw him, who never met him, who’s knowledge is limited to those history books, will be just as grateful as we are.
Legends die, but they never really leave, they are never truly gone, their legacies remain and Tommy’s was as magnificent as we could have hoped for.
Others, who saw him or knew him better, who’s exposure to him wasn’t limited to the handful of times I got to say hello or shake his hand, will write more florally, more eloquently, more knowledgeably on him than I ever could. I can only offer my thanks, and that of my generation who never got to see him out on the field.
Our club is built on the achievements of that man and the other members of that majestic team, and if we are reaching for the stars right now it’s because Brendan and Scott and Moussa and the rest are standing on the shoulders of giants.
My gratitude is no less for never having watched Tommy play.
I know what he did for this club, and what he leaves behind him. My admiration is no less for not having been there in Lisbon or in Milan when he carved his name into the immortal rock. I know what accomplishments they were and their importance does not diminish with the passage of time.
Last night, our unstoppable juggernaut rolled over Inverness on the one ground this season where we faltered, and then just a little. Tommy, looking down this morning, will have been proud of that display, and he and Jock will have recognised it; pure, beautiful, inventive football, the kind the Lions were famous for. They set that standard, they built up that wonderful ideal for all other Celtic sides to try to meet.
We owe them everything.
We will never forget, in life or in death.
These men will live forever.
Tommy Gemmell, thank you and may you rest in peace.
Gone but never forgotten.