I’ve been following Celtic for 13 years.
When I lived in Milwaukee, back in the 90s and early Aughts, I was a huge Milwaukee Rampage fan. Probably the biggest: I had four season tickets, just so I could (try to) give them away and create new supporters. But eventually they did a Rangers and went belly up. Soon after, I moved to Phoenix.
My first few months in Phoenix, I occasionally dropped by the George & Dragon, because I figured an English pub might have some soccer on TV. The service was awful. (As “Bar Rescue”s John Taffer later discovered.)
Looking for another place to watch football, one day I was driving down Camelback Rd. when I saw a sign outside Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub advertising Celtic F.C. matches on TV. Bingo.
I joined the Bobby Murdoch Phoenix CSC in time for the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson’s, last match in the Hoops. And I’ve been going to Rosie’s ever since, sometimes for matches as early as 4:00 a.m. 😳
It was a close call, as I later discovered the George & Dragon is also a den of Hunnery.
My wife Bernie and I made a pilgrimage to Celtic Park in 2014, but we had never been to the North American Federation of Celtic Supporters Clubs convention. Usually the convention is held in Las Vegas, but it has also been held in entertaining, exotic, places like San Francisco, New Orleans and … Windsor, Canada. Right across the river from the bombed out ruins of Detroit.
Frankly, I can’t drink like I used to, and didn’t relish the idea of drinking all day for an entire week.
But 2017 is special, the 50th Anniversary of the Lisbon Lions 2-1 defeat of Inter Milan, defeating Helenio Herrera’s catenaccio with what legendary manager Jock Stein described as “Pure, beautiful, inventive football.”
As we all must, some of the Lions have passed on, but the those who are still with us would be in attendance. (I geeked out when I bumped into Bertie Auld in the Westgate lobby. 😍) Kathleen Murdoch, Bobby Murdoch’s widow, and a wonderful lady we spent a good deal of time with in Scotland, would be there, sponsored by the eponymous Bobby Murdoch Phoenix CSC, as was Jimmy Johnstone’s widow Agnes. (Unfortunately, after arriving, Agnes Johnstone fell ill, and could not attend any of the events.)
So, this year, my wife & made the trip
There were Tims at Las Vegas’s Westgate Resort & Casino from all over the world: Obvious places like the United States, Canada, Scotland and Ireland, but also from as far away as Australia, Dubai, and even Sakhalin Island, off Russia’s east coast. There might not be “500 million” of us, but Celtic Supporters are truly a worldwide family.
A family that, despite truly heroic amounts of alcohol — the young dafties drank the nearby AM/PM Mini Mart dry — remains cheery & well behaved. (In the words of Dinner Dance emcee Hugo Straney, “the two clerks working there were promoted to management”.)
Tuesday, My wife & I drove in from Phoenix, arriving about 3:00 p.m. as the already legendary pool party raged. (Though it did not “rage” in the Hun sense.) I regret that instead of diving in, so to speak, we instead took a nap. We won’t make that mistake in 2019! That evening we went out to dinner with family at Ferraro’s, an excellent Italian place not far south of the Westgate on Paradise Rd.
Wednesday, I was up early to hit the gym, riding a bike through “Languedoc” and “Champagne”, France, all without the benefit of EPO. After breakfast, I went looking for familiar faces in the casino, bumping into Rosie’s owner Seamus McCaffrey and his brother Peter talking to former Celtic players Joe Miller and Vic Davidson. (Vic is a Phoenix area resident.) I joined in the sesh, which soon migrated upstairs to say hello to Kathleen Murdoch and Agnes Johnstone. Seamus, Peter, Vic and I spent hours at the craic … and the beer. Somewhere along the line, I met George McCluskey and bumped into Derek Warfield.
I bailed before the others, as I had another early morning planned for Wednesday, hiking Fletcher Canyon, in the Spring Mountains, near Mount Charleston, northwest of Las Vegas.
Thursday, after my hike, Bernie and I barely made it back in time for me to shower before attending Paul Larkin’s showing of his documentary “Anyone But Celtic”, about how the anti-Catholic and anti-Celtic biases of the Lanarkshire Referees Association’s (LRA) incestuous ties with the Orange Order and Freemasons are the power behind the Scottish Football Association (SFA) throne.
It was then I realized I had left my nice clothes at home, leaving me nothing to wear to Friday night’s “formal” Dinner Dance. 😡
Off we dashed to the nearby Fashion Show Mall. I dropped over $400 at Tommy Bahama’s. 😲
We made it back to the Westgate in time for Green Night, a show by Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfetones in the hotel’s cavernous ballroom. (Space that would be jammed on Friday evening.) I took it much easier on the beer.
Friday morning, Bernie and I went for a Sundance Helicopters ride into the Grand Canyon. It was a present for her birthday. ❤️ Our pilot, Michelle, took us over the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, to just past the Hualapai Tribe’s Skywalk. We ate lunch several thousand feet below Quartermaster Point. There was some turbulence going over mountain passes, but I had a blast as it was my first chopper ride since I retired from the U.S. Army.
After washing up back at the Westgate, and donning my newly purchased finery, we headed to the ballroom for the Dinner Dance. Bernie & I were not sure what time it would start, so we arrived at 5:00 p.m. Turns out festivities did not commence until 6:30, so my initial beer was soon replaced by a bucket of beers.
The festivities began with a cowboy riding an actual horse into the ballroom, appropriately accompanied by the “Theme from the Magnificent Seven”, in honor of Henrik Larsson and, hopefully, Paddy Roberts. (I was hoping Sea Biscuit would drop a load on the carpet.) Then Emcee Hugo Straney introduced the Celtic players & widows in attendance, followed by the national anthems of Portugal — in honor of the Lisbon Lions — Australia, a country I forget, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States.
Over 3,000 people were crammed into the ballroom, not counting staff. Many buffet lines were set up around the ballroom’s perimeter, but everyone was orderly & courteous. Definitely no Orcish feeding frenzy. I got desert first, as everyone else went to the entree lines. 😉
After dinner, we remembered recently departed Celts, including Lisbon Lion Tommy Gemmell.
The dance kicked off with a couple of Rod Stewart ballads. Unfortunately, the hardcore Tim was not present to sing them in person. Then it was Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfetones with another night of rebel songs.
On Saturday, the convention continued, but Bernie and I headed back to Phoenix. We have a short week before flying out to Ft. Bragg, NC, for a reunion of my old Army platoon (TACCP, Alpha Company, 50th Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade). As there was construction on southbound US-93, south of Hoover Dam, we took a side route home, which afforded me the opportunity to get in some roadside memorial photography along NV-164 to Searchlight; US-95 to Vidal Junction, CA-62 to Parker, then AZ-72 to Bouse.
So, it was a great week, and Bernie & I are already looking forward to 2019 NAFCSC Convention! ☘️☘️☘️