There are subjects I rarely write on for this site, and this is one of them. It’s because I think that other sites do this stuff far better than I ever would. I am like this at funerals and stuff; I never quite know how you are supposed to segue into a conversation from a stony silence, however respectful.
But for once I do know how to break the ice and get started. With a memory.
It’s 18 May 1985. I am eight and I’m at Hampden for my first ever final.
Dundee Utd are 1-0 up, and there are 13 minutes to go.
We get a free kick. I’m in the enclosure behind the goal where it’s being taken. I’m surrounded by relations; my dad is there, my uncles, and its crammed and its busy and although I’m a wee guy I can see perfectly well.
“This is it,” one of my uncles is saying. “This is in,” he says to me and I don’t even want to look. I jam my eyes shut.
If I saw that goal going in I must have opened them at the very last second, but I doubt that I did because the next thing I clearly remember is bedlam, of being in the midst of a moving wave of emotion. I’ve seen it a hundred times since and can only assume that my memory of Davie Provan’s free-kick springs from those replays.
But I saw the winner, and I’ve never forgotten it and I never, ever will.
It is one of those goals I’ve seen from the TV replay angles so many times that I can play it in my head without needing to be looking at a screen. Yet the memory of watching Frank McGarvey score that header from the Celtic end that day conjures up a more vivid series of images by far.
It always happens in slow motion.
That’s the thing. I see it unfold like a film reel slowed down, although I’m the guy behind the camera, the film is playing through my own eyes. It was a beautiful moment, a goal typical of those I’ve since found out that McGarvey scored with a beautiful regularity.
I know I had watched him many times before that afternoon, and had probably loved him as a player as much as any I’ve ever seen, but that’s my clear memory of him, and all the rest I got from YouTube clips and Celtic history books.
He is part of our 100 goal club; I have been blessed to see an astonishing number of players do that, Brian McClair, Charlie Nicholas, John Hartson, Henrik Larsson, Leigh Griffiths and James Forrest.
But that goal that day was perhaps my first experience of how mind-frying the late winner is, and in a big, big match, in a cup final, with everything on the line.
Whatever doubts I had about the direction of my life, I’m sure that day took care of them. It was that moment and the similar scenes at the end of the Centenary Final which got me through the years of Ibrox dominance that followed without me ever wavering once.
Shortly after McGarvey scored that goal, Celtic let him go.
It was to be his last game for us, and the last he would score for the club. He went on to play for St Mirren, where he scored another 100 goals and proved that he’d still have had something to offer.
But he was a true Celtic man and never allowed his departure to change how he felt about the club. He was a true great and one of the people who helped cement my love for Celtic and for being a fan of the game itself.
I told you I was inspired to write this by a memory.
It wasn’t the memory I just outlined though, it was another, one of those strange things that happens in life sometimes.
Not long after that final, when my folks lived on a golf course on the north side of Glasgow, we all came out our door one day to see Frank McGarvey loading his clubs into his car.
I was encouraged to go over and say hello, and still well short of my teens and experiencing, for the first time in my life, what being true star-struck was I went over and asked the dumbest question ever.
“Are you Frank McGarvey?” He smiled and laughed and confirmed what I had already known.
I mumbled something about being a fan, and about that cup winning goal.
And then I fled before I could say what I know I had really wanted to. He was nice and polite and even kind. He was not in any way arrogant or standoffish so I could have said anything.
If I knew then what I know now, about what he meant to us, what he gave us, and what he would continue to give us in the years afterwards, I’d have shook his hand, said thank you and called him a legend.
I’d have told him what his goal meant to me … the course of my whole life as I can tell, and that it has continued to bring me more pleasure with every passing year.
And I dearly wish I could have.
But I think he’d have heard it before, and that he knew.
Of course he did. A man who loved Celtic like he did could not have been other than loved back, and he was.
By so many, many, many of my fellow fans.
Rest in peace Frank, and know that we’ll never forget you.