David Friel, Freelance Sports Journalist
Four years working with Celtic as part of the club’s multimedia team provided a multitude of memories, but the weekly game of seven-a-side at Lennoxtown was always a personal highlight.
We were mostly a rag-tag bunch of journalists, security guards, scouts and medical staff, but a touch of class was added every single week by the presence of one Neil Lennon.
Neil, then a coach under Gordon Strachan, was a regular. Come 4.45pm on a Friday, he would stalk the corridors of Lennoxtown and demand to know if you were playing. A valid excuse would be accepted, but this did not stretch to romance.
I once informed him that I couldn’t play because I was going to the cinema with my significant other. His reaction was one of utter dismay. Thankfully, I never told him we were going to see ‘Marley & Me’.
Neil always lifted the standard. Everyone was out to impress and worked that bit harder. Gordon, having had a hip operation, normally watched, but one day he shocked all of us by asking if there was room for two more. He had brought a mate, Danny McGrain.
Gordon and Danny lined up on the same side and among their team-mates was my good self, David Friel, whose footballing claim to fame was a season with Airdrie under-16s and training stint with Raith Rovers.
So there I was, demanding the ball off Strachan and McGrain, two of the best footballers Scotland has produced. Gordon stayed away from the physical stuff but ran the game from start to finish. Danny? Well, he was just Danny McGrain. “I’ll sit at the back,” he told us. Before long, he was rampaging up the wing.
It was a great game, but I couldn’t even tell you which team won, as I only have one abiding memory and it is the best of my football career. One I have replayed over and over in my head.
The move started with the goalkeeper rolling the ball to me. I hadn’t even taken my touch when Gordon screamed for the lay-off. I got that part right and made a run as he sprayed a pass to Danny on the left. Scotland’s greatest full-back took one touch and picked me out with the perfect pass.
Time stood still as the ball came towards me. Take a touch or shoot first-time? That’s what I was thinking. In the end, I took the shot. The ball flew towards the top corner and crashed in off the underside of the bar.
Strachan. McGrain. Friel. Goal. I could hear Arthur Montford’s legendary tones describing this perfectly crafted goal. “Well played David,” said Gordon. “Good finish,” added Danny.
As I walked off, I thought to myself that the three players involved in that goal won 112 Scotland caps between them, but I was soon brought crashing back to earth.
“Did you ever play senior football, David?” asked Gordon, as everyone shook hands. I was feeling all happy. He must think I’m decent, I thought.
“No, Gordon,” I replied, trying to sound modest. “Aye, I can tell,” was his deadpan response, as the hall burst into laughter.