Last Friday, at the invitation of Father Gareth, who is a massive rugby fan, Brother Antony and myself accompanied him to the Scotstoun Stadium, which had upped its capacity to 10,000 for the night, to see the Glasgow Warriors take on the (Llanelli) Scarlets in the semi-final of the prestigious pro-14 tournament. The last time I had gone to a rugby match was in Dublin in 2015 when two parishioners brought me along to see the Glasgow Warriors play Leinster in what was then the pro-12 tournament, before two South African teams were added to make it the pro-14. It was a remarkable match that night with Glasgow running riot in the first half to lead 25-7; and then Leinster doing exactly the reverse in the second half so that the match ended 32-32. The Warriors actually won the tournament that year, beating Ulster in the final.
So, after closing the church on Friday evening, the three amigos walked into town to get the train from Queen Street to Scotstounhill. The train was naturally full of rugby fans going to the match but we managed to get seats more or less next to each other. Father Gareth sat beside a man from West Lothian who was clearly a fanatical rugby fan who claimed to support both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, and to follow them both wherever they went. We could believe it as he never paused for breath, talking rugby, throughout the whole journey, although Father Gareth seemed to hold his own quite well. At one stage our friend said to me that I must remember Captain Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride, who were top Irish players in the 1960’s, so it seemed both that he wrongly guessed I was Irish, but rightly guessed my age pretty accurately. Meanwhile Brother Antony was pretending to be asleep to escape the onslaught. When we got off the train Father Gareth was beginning to panic that this man would stick to him like glue for the rest of the night, so he made the most unsubtle excuse imaginable to take Brother Antony and I in another direction and bade his farewells.
When we reached the stadium Brother Antony and I wanted something to eat. The smallest queue was at the fish and chip stall so Father Gareth gave us our tickets and said he would meet us at our seats in the West Stand. After eating our chips, which were very nice, we meandered past the very, very lengthy queue for the bar and began to climb the steps of the West Stand, only to see Father Gareth reclining back in his seat with a nice drink in his hand and basking in the lovely evening sunshine. Somehow, and this will be no surprise to anyone who knows him, he had charmed his way past the stewards to get into the main stand where he was able to avoid the portaloos and the bar queue, and then saunter back at leisure to his place in the stand and wait for us, grinning broadly.
As to the match itself, the Warriors were terrible. They were playing towards our end in the first half and we hardly saw them as Scarlets ran up a big first half lead. Brother Antony and I had started out not really bothering who won, until we found our ears being assaulted by a very noisy Welshman behind us who shouted, screamed, roared, and murdered Bread of Heaven and Land of Our Fathers throughout, and we began to pray the Warriors would win just to shut him up. In the second half, with Scarlets now playing towards us, Father Gareth said “I bet you we hardly see them up this end at all”, and he was right. Warriors played a bit better but never enough to get back into the game.
All in all, we enjoyed the night and we were happy for Father Gareth, and now he is looking forward to finding somewhere to watch Scarlets play Leinster in the final this Saturday. As we left the ground, Brother Antony and I congratulated him and said to each other, “So long as Celtic win the cup tomorrow”, which of course we did. On the train going back I was reminded of my age again when a couple took pains to make sure I got a seat and then sympathised with me as I searched my pockets again and again for my train ticket, which I never found, and so, I was grateful for a kindly guard back at Queen Street who let me through no problem. Thanks for a great night Father Gareth – I think!
Here is the first verse of Bread of Heaven, one of the Welsh anthems, and a beautiful hymn when it’s not being murdered by a noisy, and rather the worse for wear, Scarlets supporter:
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand: bread of heaven, bread of heaven; feed me till I want no more; feed me till I want no more.