By Jimmy Rhatigan
THERE were no prizes for guessing who was coming to dinner.
The world and its mother knew that former Glasgow Celtic and Wales star John Hartson was to be guest of honour at a 25th anniversary bash in our city.
The local Wolfe Tone Celtic Supporters’ Club dinner party was a nostalgic journey down football way, a celebration of friends who live and love the team that for generations has played in vertical green and white hoops.
It was fascinating too as guest speaker speaker was Hartson, a bulky but brilliant striker, who for years put the fear of God into opposing defences at club and country level.
John, described by Wolfe Tone organizing committee member, Luke Leydon as refreshingly friendly, warm, knowledgeable and genuine. with no airs or graces, was a superb post grub orator.
The contrast between his good life on the pitch and his bad luck off the park, was a tale of good and bad fortune.
It was scary too.
John spoke of being rejected by Glasgow Rangers when he failed a medical.
But his let-down was to have a fairytale-like turning when he was snapped up by Celtic and was to go on to a glorious career at Celtic Park where his club and country careers flourished.
He had many great battles on the park as he proudly fought for The Bhoys in Green and lashed home 14 goals for Wales.
But it was away from football mania that he encountered real enemies.
Cancer and gambling don’t do sympathy.
Visitor list was roll of honour of world soccer
He told of how he battled and beat testicular cancer that moved to his lungs. He conquered a gambling addiction.
On the battlegrounds, sometimes termed fields of dreams, that are Scottish soccer arenas, he was a winner.
Away from the stadia, with the support of his loving family, he was a man of courage too.
Loyal Celtic fans from our city and county who make regular Ryanair excursions to Parkhead leaned on big John’s every word.
They loved his stories, delighted in his honesty and passion and perhaps got a real grasp as to why he is considered a legend of the Glasgow Celtic Club which so many of them eat, sleep and drink in their leisure time.
John Hartson was here for the first time. He was welcomed by club chair Derek Maher who has green and white rolling through his bloodstream.
John follows in the famous footsteps of fellow Celts who visited the Tones over the years, including a hectic party celebration to mark 15 years of the Tones.
The list is a world famous roll call of larger than life heroes of yesteryear, including famous Lisbon Lions who were part of Celtic’s glory season of 1967 when the club became European Cup Champions.
Travelling icons were Sean Fallon, Ronnie Simpson, Billy McNeill, Bertie Auld, Bobby Murdoch, Bobby Lennox and Republic of Ireland hero Packie Bonner.
John Hartson also played with Arsenal, West Ham, Wimbledon, Coventry City, West Brom and in the Football League with Luton Town and Norwich City.
‘The hair would stand on the back of your neck’
Now a pundit with BT sport, John was rushing back to Scotland early on Sunday morning following a hectic Saturday but not before he visited a hospitalized Sean O’Connor of Johnstown, a devoted lifelong Celtic fan.
When it comes to looking after supporters of his beloved Celtic, John’s commitment knows no bounds.
Another beautiful twist to the tale of the 25th celebration was the arrival of members of a family called Young from Dundee, Scotland, who through Celtic aficionado Eugene O’Sullivan sponsored the Wolfe Tone Club in the ago.
Publican Davy Young who sadly passed away last November became a great friend of the Kilkenny Club.
Here for the evening of remembrance were Davy’s wife and daughter Sarah and Lynn who helped to raise €2,000 at the celebrations, to be donated to a charity of the Young family’s choice.
As evening ebbed towards morning the stories flowed in the Ormonde and in the thick of the craic and chatter were current chair Derek Maher with former chairman John Doyle, Pat Ward and Don Egan.
A very helpful, Luke Leydon deservedly gets the final word.
“I travelled to Parkhead for the first time two years ago and was hooked. My first game was a memorable experience. I was bitten by the bug.
“There were drums beating, flags flying and supporters singing passionately. The hair would stand on the back of your neck. I love every minute of my trips nowadays.”
Luke’s heart is often in Glasgow.
But it is well and truly ensconced too in his beloved O’Loughlin Gaels GAA club where he is kit manager to the senior and junior teams.
The former CBS lad truly is a class act.