Celtic Stories: Ashes to Ashes

We were delighted to receive an email from John Paul Conway from Portobello on Scotland’s eastern seaboard reminding us of a player whose time in the Hoops was all too brief – but  who has a family bond with Celtic that will endure for much longer. 

“Muirhouse in Edinburgh is not known for being one of the more salubrious areas of the capital.  I’ve only ever visited the scheme a couple of times and the first time was some years ago when my pal Minty met a girl from the area on a night out in the city centre and started seeing her.

Muirhouse girls don’t feature in the Beach Boys song ‘California Girls’ but if they did it would be something along the lines of fake tan, homemade tattoos and bingo wings.  Caitlin was the girl that Minty had hooked up with and, by Muirhouse standards, she was unusual in still having all of her own teeth and both of her parents.  It was through Caitlin that I had one of the most memorable nights out in my life.  Definitely the most dangerous.  And all because of Derek Riordan.

Riordan celebrates 1st goal

Derek ‘Deek’ Riordan celebrates his first Celtic goal

Minty had assured me that Caitlin was a cousin of the Celtic player and if I joined him on a sojourn to north Edinburgh’s finest housing scheme one summer’s evening then there was a good chance I’d get to meet the player universally referred to as ‘Deek’.  Minty was of course looking for a wing man.  Or, in reality, a bodyguard.  He’d arranged to meet Caitlin in her local pub, The Gunner.

That is when the alarm bells should have started ringing.  I thought I’d heard about the pub before but couldn’t be sure.  If only I’d kept ‘Crimewatch’ on series link.  To say The Gunner is a notorious pub would be doing a disservice to notoriety.  Minty was telling me that Deek’s aunt and uncle ran the pub and that it was sound, that Jonathon Woss had drunk there (what??) and also that when a boy Deek himself used to go to the Hibs games on the bus that left from The Gunner.  I knew that Riordan was a mad Hibby from an early age and had heard he was once kicked out of Easter Road by a steward after breaking his own seat in frustration when getting beat by Motherwell or Kilmarnock.  Hibbys do not have it easy.

What Minty didn’t tell me was that it looked like a warehouse with no windows.  It was featured in Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ book and I was thinking that it must have been the location of ‘The Worst Toilet in Scotland’ as I hadn’t been in many worse toilets than this.  The music didn’t quite stop when the two of us walked into the bar but local heads did turn to eye us warily and I felt about as welcome as plainclothes CID.  Fortunately Caitlin appeared and guided us over to a table where she and a few of her pals were sat.  The girls were oblivious to the atmosphere around us – it seemed more than a few of the locals were unhappy at the thought of two interlopers making merry with these fine specimens of Muirhouse womanhood.

The Gunner pubThe Gunner – the Muirhouse version of ‘Cheers’

 

Minty was oblivious, with eyes only for the ravishing Caitlin.  He would try to pacify me every so often by saying “Deek’s coming in the night” and “Mebbe get the chance to meet him” etc.  My objectives for the evening had lowered sharply from meeting and greeting Celtic’s exciting new forward who had lit my fire with his exploits for the Edinburgh greens to getting out of that shitehole with as little of my blood spilt as possible.  The glares we were getting couldn’t have been more severe if Rudi Skacel was sat at our table in his full Hearts kit.

After ten minutes of the staring and general hostility towards our presence at the table I was genuinely scared to go to the bar on my own.  My attempts to tell Minty we should consider moving on to somewhere “quieter” (i.e. with less propensity for violence) were brushed aside.  That changed pretty quickly when the quaint phrase “Who’s that cu*t?” was directed towards Minty by one of three men now standing behind Caitlin’s seat.  One may have been her older brother, we never did find out, but the one doing the talking was definitely Davie, her former boyfriend.  At least Minty had been told his status was ‘former’.  From the look of thunderous hate on this gargoyle’s face, it didn’t look as though anyone had shared this fact with the charmer himself.

Sneak Deek up in court

Deek – darling of the Scottish tabloids

I’m not entirely sure what the spark was that kicked things off but it might have been Minty’s attempt at pacifying the homicidal ex-maybe-not-ex boyfriend with a smile.  For his trouble Minty took a fist to the side of the head, I got kicked in the back and knocked off my chair before one of Caitlin’s pals threw a bottle of blue WKD at one of the assailants.  A proper rammy then ensued after this lassie’s dad joined in with some older guys after she got her hair nearly pulled off her by one of the boyfriend’s pals.  It was zero to bedlam in under 20 seconds.

With the help of one or two kind souls, Minty and I were pulled away from the general melee and urged to “run like f*ck” out the door which we did without even a fond adieu to the fair Muirhouse maidens who had done a much better job at defending our honour than we had managed.  We ran a few hundred metres along the street before a bottle shattered just a metre or so behind us – thrown by a chasing posse headed up by mad Davie.  This development saw us truly “run like f*ck” for what may have been the best part of a mile.  They could have given up the chase some distance before this – we were just too scared to look back to see.

My chance of exchanging pleasantries and dressing room tittle-tattle with Derek Riordan was gone, probably forever.  And not just because, in what seemed no time at all after joining Celtic, the bold Deek was barred from every drinking establishment in Edinburgh.  A remarkable feat in itself.  (Although he was surely still getting served in his aunt’s boozer??)

Deek in court

Deek – more court appearances than Scotland appearances

The skelf-like figure of Riordan made only 20 odd appearances for Celtic – all that promise came to nothing.  I thought he was a little hard done by under manager Strachan who signed him then seemed to play him out of position, if he played him at all.  He didn’t help himself by constantly getting into bother with the police and was clearly a marked man about the toon.  Singing a racist ditty about Rudi Skacel did little to help his cause and he was back to Hibs and Auld Reekie and the city-wide pub ban in just two seasons.  After that he, incredibly, went to China to play but only lasted a handful of games – the “strange food” wasn’t to his liking! – and then ended up in the lower leagues, when he could be bothered playing at all.  Wasteful didn’t even come close to covering the disaster his football career had become.

I met up with Minty again recently and he mentioned that Deek’s auntie had to close The Gunner down due to falling customer numbers as Muirhouse was undergoing “social regeneration”.  Wow.  From Muirhouse to Morningside with the help of a squad of bulldozers.  He waxed lyrical about the lovely Caitlin and her long red locks and what might have been, while I wondered what might have been if we hadn’t been wearing decent pairs of trainers that night.  He also mentioned that Deek had recently left East Fife – where he’d scored his first goal in four years – with his next move unknown.  Methil no more, as those other famous Hibbys once sang.

Riordan scoring for East Fife

Deek’s East Fife adventure is now at an end

I asked Minty if Caitlin was in fact related to Deek or was it just something conjured up so I would accompany him on that mad mission into the douce suburb of Muirhouse.  He was adamant that she was a cousin and told me a story to prove that point.  I was amazed that this had never come up before . . .

A year or so after he’d broken into the Hibs first team, Riordan’s uncle Terry had taken his own life in a tragic double suicide with his partner.  Terry was the younger brother of his mum Rosanna and that side of the family, the McGoverns, were all Celtic daft.   So much so that one of his other uncles, Frank, asked Derek for a special favour – to spread Terry’s ashes on the turf at Celtic Park.  As with many football clubs now, Celtic do not allow their pitch to be used for such ceremonies.   So Deek agreed to do it himself.  The next time Hibs played Celtic away, with his uncle’s ashes in a pouch in the pocket of his tracksuit, he headed out for the pre-match warm-up and scattered them around the pitch while those looking on were unaware he was doing anything other than exercising.

It was a lovely touch.  In fact it was almost too good and not really in keeping with the Riordan public profile.  And for most of the time I’ve known Minty he and truth had a volatile relationship at best, so my doubts persisted.  Until I found the story online.  Unknown to us at the time, Deek himself had confessed all about his unorthodox ashes ceremony at his press conference when he signed on at Celtic Park back in 2006.  He also spoke respectfully about his uncle and what the signing would have meant to him:  “Terry is one man who would have been absolutely delighted that I have signed for Celtic.  Wherever he is I can guarantee Terry will have a smile the size of Leith Walk on his face when I run out at Celtic Park to make my debut.”

He lived his uncle’s dream.  And I would love the chance to ask him about it one day over a drink in The Gunner.  Maybe when it re-opens as a wine bar I’ll get my chance.  If his life ban is lifted by then.”

 

Riordan celebrates at Celtic

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Read more Celtic Stories here:  https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/celtic-stories/

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