The tale of Lubo and Joe —– and the old man in the park!

25 Sep

The tale below has been told elsewhere before. A shortened version first appeared on Celtic Quick News a few years ago, and then I rewrote it and extended it as part of the Celtic Anthology Book of stories.

Given recent events and the activities of the Celtic Graves Society, I thought it was worth reproducing with a couple of small changes.

Some of the scenes, stories and events within this tale are absolutely true. Others, alas, are the product of a fertile imagination ……….. apparently.

However, the basis of the story is absolutely true.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————

“Has he gone?”

“Yes, there was no persuading him.”

“Right, well I just hope that he knows what he is doing and what the consequences of this could be. Bloody Hell…… this could be a real problem down the line if he digs his heels in!”

“He says he will be back tomorrow and he will talk to us then. You never know, it may all come to nothing.”

“But what if it does? What if he comes back and says “Right, we could have a deal” and wants us to make it formal and start the wheels in motion? Do we really want to do that?

“Well, technically in this sort of thing he is the boss.”

“Yes I know that, but I have a position to think about too and I have the final say on where we spend our money, and I am not at all sure about this. This is a personal crusade if you ask me, and I am wary….. very very wary. We could get slaughtered for this…… even by our own people. And in many ways we can’t afford that.”

“At the same time, the man has a job to do and was entrusted with that job. Do you not have to let him do it? Do you not have to put your trust in him and his judgement?”

“Yes you do…. But as part of a team, not as a one man committee who makes decisions based on the past and based on some romantic notion he has in his head. You have to consider finance, PR, and of course the net result on the rest of the team. As a business we are behind in the race and we can only take steps that take us forward…. This is a trip to the past to a certain extent and as I say I am very wary.”

“Look on the bright side, he has gone on a 24 hour trip, will be back tomorrow and at this moment in time he is making a private trip which no one knows about—he is not even officially there on our behalf. If it comes to nothing, no one will know. If he comes back with a positive we can then sit down as a team and analyse the pro’s and cons and decide from there.”

“I suppose so…. But if he comes back with a positive he will want to proceed and I might just have to stand in his way, which could then lead to another problem altogether.”

“Jock—you are getting ahead of yourself. Just wait till tomorrow and see what it brings. In the interim maybe we should try and find out more about this guy. Maybe he could be on to something?”

“Maybe, but if that were so, then why would nobody else think the same way? Why would we not know more about him, it is not as if we don’t have our ear to the ground and have contacts here there and everywhere? None of those contacts have shown the slightest interest here. Never a mention, no recommendations, none. Yet here we are discussing the possibility……..”

The conversation was interrupted by the door opening and the two men in the room were suddenly faced with a third man entering through the door. He was younger than the two seated men, was dressed in a track suit and had a towel over his shoulder.

“Sorry, I was looking for the boss?”

“Well, he has gone for the day.”

“For the day?” said the younger man

“Yes he will be back tomorrow.”

“Where has he gone? Is he alright?”

“He has gone abroad for the day—to see a friend.”

“To see a friend? ……. For the day?”

The two older men looked at one another and with a nod of agreement and decided to tell the young man more.
“ He has gone to meet someone with a view to persuading him to perhaps join us… though, at this stage, we are not sure at all that the trip will be successful……….”

“……. And we are not at all sure we want him to be successful to be honest. This may prove to be very delicate as we could be in for some…….. conflict.”

“Ah” said the younger man “ I see. Can I ask who it is that he has gone to meet?”

The two older men looked at one another again, before one slid a manila folder across the table towards the young man in the track suit. He sat down and opened the folder and the first thing he saw was a name and a photograph.

Without delving into the folder any further, he looked up at the two men who were watching him closely for any reaction.
He looked back at both of them, smiled slightly and said “Him?” holding up the photograph.

Both men nodded.

“You have got to be kidding….. Right?”
——————————————————————————————————-
The hotel was no different to many of the international hotels that the man had been in over a number of years. It was modern, luxurious, had all the necessary facilities and was close enough to the airport as to be convenient. He hoped that he would not have to be there for too long and that his business could be conducted quickly. He only had 24 hours before he was due back at his desk.
It was only the day before that he had made the call to set up the meeting. It was a call out of the blue that only he could make and which in the strictest sense of the word was against the rules. Any formal arrangements that followed would have to be dealt with in a very different manner.

Arranging the meeting was easy enough and all he had left to do now was to convince his prey that the proposal he was making would be mutually beneficial, was a good deal and a good move— and then he would let the executive types swing into action.That was their world, not his. He would have an input of course, but this was not an executive type meeting. This was a chat between two old friends and no more.

However, he had wrestled with himself as to just how to achieve his intended goal. After all he had known the man he was about to meet for years, knew him really well – and yet he was not sure if that made the conversation to come easier or considerably more difficult?
Time would tell – Nothing ventured, nothing gained – and besides the younger man was a friend was he not? He kept reminding himself of that.

He sat in the lobby waiting and his mind drifted to Anton.

Dear Anton. It was just about two years since he had been laid to rest with all the old gang turning up at his funeral.
He could see him in his mind’s eye….. Young Anton…. Swarthy…. Swashbuckling….. Funny ….. Brave.

He cast his mind back decades and pictured him in the dressing room pulling on his socks, chatting away, joking and laughing. He missed Anton…. Missed talking to him and listening to him.

He turned his attention back to the meeting. He felt slightly nervous for some reason which he could not explain…. after all this was just a meeting… that was all.

Yet it wasn’t all at all was it? The older man knew fine well that he may have to dig deep into his own past to make the deal work. He may just have to reveal a part of himself that he had kept hidden for years in order to gain the trust of the younger man.He may even lose a friend on this day, with the younger man concluding that his old friend had finally grown too old for the real world and had lost his marbles entirely!

He was thinking about that very thing when he saw the young man come through the door. Small, diminutive and with an impish grin which immediately lit up his face on seeing the old man.

Lubomir Moravcik still looked like a schoolboy in his eyes! Yet he knew he was 33 years old, and now a veteran in the eyes of the footballing world!

”Josef!”

“Lubo!”

The two men hugged and embraced as only old friends do.

After some brief pleasantries, they retired to a waiting room where they could be alone for their chat.

Moravcik had also come alone. He had driven the short distance from Duisburg to Düsseldorf to meet Josef Venglos, and knew in advance that the old man would be alone and the reason for his visit.

Once in the seclusion of the room, the two men asked about one another’s families and talked of old times and acquaintances, before Moravcik brought up the business in hand.

” So– you are now in Glasgow– Scotland? And managing Celtic Glasgow?

” Yes Lubomir, that I am”

” And you want me to go there too– at 33?”

“Yes, I do – very much so”

” Boss,– (He still called him boss despite the years) – I am 33 years old, not at my fittest and I cannot hold down a place with Duisburg. My time in the footballing light has come and gone I’m afraid, and as much as I would like to play forever I have to face up to the fact that mother nature is telling me it is time to move on in life. Maybe coaching back in Slovakia, maybe somewhere in France, but the playing days are coming to an end if I am not at the terminus already!”

The older man sighed, poured some water into a glass, and looked at his countryman.

”Lubo, I know how old you are. I know where you have played, how often you have played and who you have played with. I first saw you as a schoolboy and know fine well that here you are in Germany and that you are not the youngest in the squad you currently play with. But, I also know that you can do a job for Celtic, even if you do not play the full 90 minutes of each game. This will be good for you Lubo– I promise you – and besides it will stand you in good stead for when you do finally hang up your boots. I have every confidence!”

“But Scotland, Boss? It is a very different standard to here in the Bundesliga. It is different to France and St Etienne and whilst everyone in Europe knows the Celtic of old – with no disrespect they are no longer amongst the big teams of Europe. I tell you, if it is a physical league – requiring fitness and physicality – then I am not up to it – at least I feel I am not up to it. I know Duisburg will agree a fee – they see me as surplus. But I can see out my time here, make contacts on mainland Europe and plan for the future. In Scotland? Well I know no one, and no one knows me. I may find myself in a wilderness and miss out on chances here – chances off the park and away from the game – I am not certain at all.”

“Besides” He added “ I do not speak a word of English… not one! On the continent I can communicate… French, Slovak, Croatian, German… etc. English? I have nothing…. And Scottish English? I haven’t got a clue!” he added with a huge smile.

The two talked back and forward.

Venglos briefly outlined how he found the club and the squad. He repeated that he was confident and that whilst Rangers were the dominant team in Scotland – he knew the day would come when they would be toppled from the top of the Scottish tree, and how he believed Moravcik could play a part in that process.

Despite all of this and despite their friendship, the younger man remained dubious and unconvinced.

Ultimately, Venglos knew he would have to make the last throw of the dice. It was taking a risk and would test a long-held friendship with his young counterpart but he decided to go for it.

“Lubomir? Do you remember when you first came to Prague?”

“Eh? Yes– I think it was when I was maybe 15 or 16.”

“I was younger– maybe ten years old.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Lubo, I am going to tell you something that you may find hard to believe– something hard to comprehend. Please hear me out as I thought long and hard about telling you this, and at the end I will ask you one question and no matter how you answer I will respect your decision no matter what!”

The younger man looked perplexed and out of respect for his older friend simply nodded his assent.
The old man continued

“As you know I was born in Ruzomberok in Slovakia. Until 1918 the town was In Hungary – all mountains, streams and cotton mills. I was never anywhere near Prague until I went with my school not long after the end of the Second World War – 1946. I was ten years old and all I wanted to do was play football – football, football, football – that was all I cared about. That visit has stayed with me ever since – though I have often been too embarrassed to speak of it because people would think me a fool.”

“On that trip to Prague, the school team played in a mini tournament that was held in the Letenske Sady Park. We were not very good I’m afraid but we played a number of games all the same.”

“At the end of one game, we noticed that our match had been watched by a few spectators, one of whom was an old man in a wheel chair. He was very animated this man. He had a nurse with him who kept telling him to be quiet, but despite this, he continued to shout instructions at us boys. The instructions were in broken Czech and they were barked – he seemed angry to me, he spoke in a funny accent – yet he also seemed knowledgeable about football and at the end we were taken over by our coach to meet him as apparently he was quite famous – or indeed had been famous at one time.”

“He was introduced as “Dedek” or Grandpa and he was 80 years old. We were told that he was the Grandpa of Czech Football. He had been the manager of Slavia Prague for 25 years and had won many championships, including what could be regarded as the forerunner of the European Cup. He coached in a different way to anything or anyone that had come before. He knew about tactics, and muscles and physiotherapy long before anyone else. He was a national hero! He had helped coach the most successful national teams, at the Olympics and in the lead up to the world cup. We hung on his every word.”

“However, the strangest thing about Dedek was revealed in a ten minute story he told me that day. For despite being a hero in Czechoslovakia, he was born in Scotland – in a town called Dumbarton. He was a riveter in a ship yard and played football part time for the local club and he gained some success getting to the Scottish cup final in 1887. Then he said everything changed – changed in a way that he could never imagine, that you would never believe.”

“In 1888, he was asked to turn out as a guest for a new team – for a club to be called Celtic in Glasgow. He was reluctant at first but eventually agreed. He told me that there had been several attempts to start a club called Celtic and that they had all failed. He honestly felt that this club would fail too, but this time there was something different. So– on the 28th of May 1888– Dedek became the very first player to kick a ball for Celtic Glasgow. He was their first centre forward, and as such he took their first kick off and so started the whole Celtic ball rolling– literally. They played against a team called Rangers Swifts and won 5-2.”

“After the game there was a celebration which Dedek went to, and at that party he was asked to join Celtic permanently, but he said no.
He returned to play for Dumbarton, which was a good team then and about 25 miles from Glasgow, but could not get the Celtic thing out of his head. He was pursued by other clubs from England but kept bumping into a Celtic man called Glass and another called Maley who promised him that something special would happen to him at Celtic Park– a park that the supporters built themselves Lubo. The way he spoke, it was as if they said that Celtic Park had been fashioned out of magic – you know like by a wizard? Eventually he signed for Celtic in August 1889 and stayed until 1897. He was apparently like you, Lubo, an entertainer, good feet, ferocious shot and a crowd pleaser. His nickname there was the rooter – because his shots were so hard they uprooted the posts. He won leagues and medals with Celtic and never left until he was forced to retire from the game.”

“After he retired from playing, he went back to working in the shipyards but kept up to date with football. He travelled, and in 1905 Celtic toured through Europe and by coincidence came to Prague. By design or accident, Dedek came too and somehow got the job of managing Slavia Prague on 15th February 1905. He was a huge success and he never went back to Scotland.”

“But on that day in the Letenske he said that his whole life in football truly started that day he turned out for a team called Celtic. As a young boy, I listened to this old man in the park and he told us that if you can play football at all then you can play at Celtic Park in Scotland. He said it was a place where, for some, their real destiny awaited and that strange and wonderful things happen there. So I always knew about Celtic park, and deep down I always believed in the old man’s tale that it was a magical place. So when I got the chance to go there I didn’t hesitate – and I have seen it Lubo – seen it with my own eyes. I have seen and felt what the old man told me of – and it exists Lubo. It is there and it is real, and most of all it says to me “Moravcik! Moravcik!”. You are the kind of player that can play there Lubo! You will shine and achieve things you have never before experienced– believe me.”

“The old man’s real name was Johnny Madden – go look him up – the very first guy to kick a ball for Celtic, Lubo, and he ends up a national hero in our back yard? A guy who was destined to fit rivets in a shipyard all his days until he went to Celtic park– and I meet him in a public park one tram stop up from the Sparta station in 1946 and he looks into my eyes all those years ago and says if you get the chance one day go to Celtic park because strange things happen there? And so here I am – all these years later. The manager of the club where that old man kicked the first football which in turn led him to be a legend in the country that both you and I played football for.”

“So here is my question Lubomir. I know you have doubts about your fitness and about Scotland. I know you have a future to think of and that you could have gone to Marseilles and Juventus and regretted not making those moves. So trust me Lubo – just this once more. Will you come with me to have a look at Celtic and their ground? Will you come and “feel” what it is like? See what the old man said was true all those years ago – and if you don’t get that feeling that you can play there, that you won’t fit in and that there is not something different about the place – well we will pay all the expenses of your visit and you can come back here – nothing lost at all!
“What do you say Lubomir – will you walk through what they call the Parkhead gates with me for a look at the place where Dedek kicked the first ball?”– I swear you will just never know if you don’t!

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

“No we are not kidding, that is who Josef has gone to see!”

“Moravcik?”

“Eh… do I take it from that remark that you have heard of him, Eric?”

“Heard of him? I played against him!”

“Really?”

“Yes Really!”

“We know nothing about him other than that Josef is away to see him with a view to persuading him to come here. We have doubts and whilst we don’t want a row with Josef when he is so new to the job, there is a real concern about this.”

“OK first of all I have to say you appointed Dr Venglos and in my opinion you have to back him in any footballing matter unless the finances prohibit any deal. The Boss is the boss and that is the way it should be in any matter.”

“Yes we agree with that, but at the same time we do not have to, — actually cannot— sanction the employment of just anyone he throws at us….. any appointment has to make sense… even if it is someone he knows well from his past and who is a friend!”

“But this is Moravcik we are talking about!”

“So?”

“So?… I am guessing from that comment you don’t know Lubomir Moravcik?”

“No we don’t… all we know is that he is an old protégé of Joesf’s… they go back years!”

“Ah now I see. OK. Lubomir Moravcik was possibly the most two footed player I have ever seen on a football field. With either foot he could more or less make the ball do anything he wanted it to. He played midfield, or just behind the strikers, and could pass with both feet, dribble, cross, shoot… you name it he could do it. He should have been a footballing superstar!”

“Well why wasn’t he then?”

“I can’t answer that. I only saw him up close towards the end of my time at Metz, though I kept an eye on French football obviously and saw how he stood out at St Etienne. He was there for years…. And then he moved on to…….. Bastia I think?”

“Why did he never move to a bigger club?”

“I don’t know that either…. He could have….. Possibly should have. When I moved back from France I obviously concentrated on other things. But I tell you this, if Josef thinks he would be a good addition to the staff here then I would follow that instinct. If we could harness his knowledge and skill he could teach the players an awful lot about technique and skill. He would be a great addition to the coaching staff in my opinion.”

The other two men in the room looked at one another briefly.

“ Josef, doesn’t want him to come and coach….. he wants him to play!”

“What?”

“You heard… he wants him to play!”

Eric quickly reached for the file again and opened it.

“He is less than two years younger than me! He will be 34 next summer!”

“Yes we know.”

Eric Black got up from the table and walked to a nearby window and looked out.

“He wants him to play? To the end of the season?”

“The way he is talking he wants to offer him a contract for a couple of years. Effectively he wants to sign someone in his mid thirties who most people will never have heard of. We think that the club may well get slaughtered in the press. They will try to have our guts for garters….. and unless the guy turns out to be a superstar.. and that is very unlikely…. The fans will go ballistic.”

“But that is just it…. Moravcik IS a superstar…. He is just a superstar that people don’t know. But Jo Venglos knows it. The only question is can he still play?”

“Well that is the point….. he can’t even get a game for Duisburg in the Bundesliga, so why does Josef think he could play in the Scottish league?”

“You will have to ask him that, but….. and you say they go back a long way…. If there is any way that Josef can get Moravcik to play then honestly it may a masterstroke. He is a creative genius with a football….. bloody hell….. the fans will love him…. Absolutely love him…. If he can still play?”

“Anyway that is where Josef is….. and depending on how he gets on we may have to sanction his transfer….. or risk coming into conflict with Josef…. Which we obviously don’t want.”

“I am going to say it again, Dr Venglos is the boss in football matters. You gave him the job so you should back his judgement……. And maybe…. Just maybe….. you should back his hunches if this is a hunch.”

“What would you do? Honestly. Can a thirty something year old unknown European really come and make a difference here in this league?”
Eric paused before replying.

“Well, I have gotten to know Josef Venglos reasonably well and he is a man who believes in skill and a man who believes in people. However, he also believes in methodology and science, and at the same time believes in Celtic as a club…… that there is something special about Celtic among football clubs. I don’t know where that comes from or why it should be…. He hasn’t told me…. But he has said that fate lead him here for a purpose and to do a job. So if he believes that Moravcik can play here then you have to back him and his judgement.

“As for Lubomir Moravcik? Provided he is fit and can pass a medical then Celtic Park will never have seen anyone like him. He just could be a gift from God!”

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Lubo Moravcik looked across the room at Josef Venglos and said:

“I still don’t know boss. That is a nice story but….. it is a story after all and I am not sure I can plan my future on a story…. Even a story told by you! You know I have always held you in high regard, you have always been there for me to call… with Nitra, in France, with Czechoslovakia and with Slovakia…. But this is different. I now have to look at earning a living…. Looking after my family……. Without kicking a football.”

“It is time to take the step that you took boss, move away from playing football, and move on to coaching football. If I come to Scotland and play for a year or so how will that advance my chances of coaching? Let’s face it I can’t coach in Scotland or England….. I don’t have the language. But I can coach in Europe…. It is something that I really need to consider. Of course I would love to play and keep playing but how realistic is that?”

“Lubomir, you are correct, the story of Mr Madden is a good story… a nice story…. But it is a story with a point and a poignancy, and with respect so far you have only heard half the tale and why I consider the story as more than just a story and something which points to sheer pragmatism….. nothing more and nothing less.”

Moravcik looked back across the room and raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, smiled and simply said “You know I will always listen boss. If you have something to say just say it no matter what it is…. I will consider anything you have to say.”

“Lubomir, you know that I spent all of my playing career with Slovan Bratislava?”

“Yes”

“We had a good team.. ….not a great team, but a good team…. A team that could be built upon and taken forward. We were Czech then…… although we were also Slovaks and very proud to be looked upon as Slovaks and a Slovakian team first and foremost. You yourself were the only Slovak in a very good Czech team.”

“Yes I know…. I was very conscious of that”

“I had to give up my playing days when I contracted hepatitis….. so my playing career ended early and my coaching career began early as a result. Perhaps, because of that I have always had a tendency to look forward and look back at the same time.”

“How do you mean— look forward and look back? I don’t think I understand?”

“What I mean Lubo is that I look at football today and try to learn things from the past. When you are playing, you only look at now, the game in hand, the game you are playing. Yes you might consider a career move, where you will play for the next couple of seasons and so on, but it is all very current…. very now.”

“When, like me, you are forced to stop playing early, you look at what happened to you, what influenced you at the time, even though you perhaps didn’t know it at the time. Plus, when I went into coaching I wanted to find out what made the footballer—what made him run faster, jump higher and so on and so forth. So, I gained qualifications and learned about sports medicine, physicality, training regimes, diet – all the things that make a good player a better player.”

“Forgive me boss, but you are losing me— what has all this to do with me and going to Celtic? What has it to do with the old man in Letenske Park?”

“It has EVERYTHING to do with that old man and that conversation Lubo… absolutely everything!”

“How Boss—I don’t understand.”

“Well remember he told me that everything changed for him when he signed for the new team called Celtic?”

“Yes”

“Well by the time he came to Prague he knew all about physiotherapy, being fit, tactics, coaching and so on”

“Yes”

“But he also talked of….. spirit…. about….. that certain something which you can’t name but which changes the way you play…. Changes your life….. changes everything…..

“Some might call it fate Lubomir….. some might say it is destiny, or luck or whatever. However, fate and destiny and luck can be helped along…. Fate can be moulded if you put the right people in the right place at the right time and for you Celtic park is the right place and this is your time Lubo and that I know for a fact…. It is not a dream or a nice story or an old man’s daft notion, it is a fact! And I know, not because the old man told me but because I saw it for myself and today I still see it”

“Are you saying this because you can tell all this from having the job at Celtic park for….. for literally a number of weeks? That is hard to accept Josef?”

“No Lubo…. These last few months have only confirmed what I have known for decades.”

“OK, what have you known for decades?”

“I know that Celtic Park is a place where a reasonable footballer can become good and where a good footballer can become great. I know that there is something there which acts like……. Like the greatest team talk you will ever hear. The place is inspiring to the footballer, it has an atmosphere all of its own. It has a spirit…. A something that I cannot properly name or adequately describe, but I know that it is there.”

“And you have known this for decades? From talking to an old man in a park?”

“No Lubomir, the old man only told me about Celtic Park, I first saw it for myself 35 years ago!”
“What?”

“My recent appointment did not bring about my first visit to Celtic Park, I first went there in the early ‘60’s”

“You played there?” asked Moravcik

“No Lubomir, that is just it, I did not play there!”

“Sorry, but you are losing me boss!”

“Slovan Bratislava played at Celtic Park in the European Cup Winners Cup in late February 1964, Lubo. I was due to play but could not because of injury, and so instead I sat in the stand that night……. With my close friend and your namesake…… Anton Moravcik.”

“Anton? He wasn’t playing either?”

“No, Lubo, both of us missed out playing in Glasgow. My place was taken by Alexander Hovarth.”

“Hovarth?”

“Yes Lubo, Hovarth. The previous year we had been drawn against Tottenham Hotspur at the same stage of the European Cup Winners Cup. Anton and I both played in the home tie against these great Tottenham players — Grieves, White, McKay and so on. Yet, on our own ground we beat them 2-0 but it was an ugly dirty game. The return leg was even worse – before a hostile London crowd – we lost 6-0 and went out. However, it was a really nasty bad-tempered affair and the packed White Hart Lane had a very ugly feel about it — a bad feel — and I am not saying that because we lost Lubo.”

“OK”

“So one year later we draw Celtic. Now, at the time they did not have famous players, we knew nothing about them really, and so we just looked upon the game as likely to be more of the same from a British side — physical, ugly bad-tempered football. No more and no less”
“Then, I told the story about Dedek— the story of my meeting Johnny Madden and what he told me about being the first to kick a football for Celtic. To be honest, most had the same reaction as you — it is a good story Josef – and that was that.”

“However, one or two asked a little more about the story…. And one of those was Anton. What a player he was Lubo…. He was far better than me… much more clever… like you. 25 caps, Lubo….. he appeared 25 times for Czechoslovakia and scored 10 times…. Not bad for a midfielder eh?”

“Not Bad at all, boss.”

“What a pair he and Masopust were in the middle of the park — and you should hear Masopust about Celtic? Anyway, he and I were both disappointed to be left out in Glasgow and so we watched from the stand…… and there it was Lubomir…. Celtic Park. Not quite the way it was when Madden played, but very different to the way it is today Lubo.”

“How so, Josef”

“Well today there is a modern stadium with a huge stand facing you when you come out of the tunnel — as good as any in Europe. Then, it was more old fashioned with lower buildings, But it was not the buildings Lubo it was…… the atmosphere…. The feel of the place. During the game I had experienced nothing like it….. nothing whatsoever.”

“What do you mean?”

“Against Tottenham, the atmosphere was ugly. Against Celtic on a cold February night a crowd of 55,000 came to see their team play us and the atmosphere was spectacular. They sang and sang. They cheered. They shouted and waved their hats in the air as the game went back and forward — and the game did go back and forward. The best two players on the park were the goalkeepers — theirs was called Fallon and we had the marvellous Viliam Schrojf who had one of his best games ever.”

“The point is this game was nothing like Tottenham — this was an open game — with end to end play. Their players went on to become famous —McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Murdoch, Chalmers and so on, but that night we played well — really well.”

“It was a great game to watch, Lubo, but all the while I sat in the stand with Anton and he kept saying “ I wish I was playing.. I wish I was playing”. So did I, but for Anton it was evident that he wanted to play in that atmosphere — he could feel it, taste it, touch it. So could their players, as by the end of the game they could run and jump and tackle when roared on by that crowd, they were just unbelievable.”

“In the end we lost to a penalty goal, but were confident of getting a result in Bratislava to be honest. However at the end of the game, the crowd cheered and clapped us. In the stand people shook our hand, and afterwards we were made most welcome by the Celtic people. After the game, we got speaking to some of their players and they made it plain that they played for that crowd, for their fans, and that made a difference to them. I didn’t tell anyone the Madden story that night for fear that they would laugh, and for years I wish I had.”

“In the return leg, try as we did, and even with Anton playing, we could not beat Celtic. We lost 1-0 again in our own stadium, and once again after the game we were told that these Glasgow players play for their fans…. Play for…… something I cannot quite put my finger on”

“So that was my first experience of Celtic Park Lubo and it confirmed all that the old man told me…. It is a magical place…. A place for footballers and for some to fulfil their destiny.”

“Within a couple of years Anton and I had retired from the game, but he always talked about the visit to Celtic park — always talked about the atmosphere and how it made their players run and tackle and play as if by magic.”

“But that is not what sealed my belief in Celtic Park. Within 3 years or so, many of that Celtic team went on to beat Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup Final in Lisbon. They played beautiful flowing football. They attacked and moved the ball and the opposition about in a way that was fantastic, and this was against the great Inter side of Herrera who had dominated Europe by getting in front and killing the game stone dead. We did not see that game immediately of course as there was no live television available to us but we did get to see it eventually. I watched it with Anton and he raved about Celtic, the movement, the passing, the formation.”

“Two years later, Slovan Bratislava had their greatest moment when Alex — Alexander Hovarth —- lead them to victory against Herrera’s old team, Barcelona. I mention that because as you know Anton passed away two years ago. I went to his funeral and all the old guard were there including Alex. We talked about Anton and reminisced and so on but while we were there Alex told me that Anton came to believe in my story about the old man in Letenske Sady Park. He said that Anton and he had talked to one another about that night in Glasgow and how Anton had said for years that he wished he had been playing.”

“In turn, Alexander told me that he believed that he learned something that night out on the Celtic turf. He could see in the eyes of his opponents that they had a determination and a zest that came from the crowd — like a drug or a potion. Alex Hovarth also told me, that he felt that had it not been for that night at Celtic Park he does not believe that Slovan would have won the Cup Winners Cup 5 years later— because he and others had learned something that night and he too had felt that special……. something”

“So Lubomir, now there is a great big modern stadium in Glasgow, but that atmosphere is still there. It has a motivation all of its own Lubo. I can’t define it in terms of science and there is no mathematical equation or formula that will help you reproduce it. The only way you will find it is to see for yourself, but I assure you that it is there.”

“It is up to you if you want to come but I say again, I look at the squad, and the stadium and it all says to me “ Moravcik, Moravcik” but this time it is not Anton, it is Lubomir that it calls out for… and this time in a Green and White shirt.”

Lubo Moravcik looked at his mentor and after a pause he finally asked;

“Boss, is there anyone else at the club you have talked to about this? Anyone who…. Honestly feels the same “Thing” That you do….. that somehow fate will call on them at Celtic park?”

“Yes, Lubomir there is. If you come and have a look, I suggest you somehow have a chat with Henrik Larsson.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

In late October 1998, Lubomir Moravcik was unveiled as a Celtic player in a cut price —some would say cheap skate —- deal which saw Celtic pay the meagre sum of £300,000 for his services. He signed as a player for 2 years.

When asked by the press why he had signed for Celtic he said through an interpreter that he had been persuaded to come by Josef Venglos but then added “And as soon as I saw the stadium I FELT I can PLAY here… oh yes I have to play here.”

The Scottish Sports Press were far from convinced however and saw the signing as evidence that Celtic were cheapskates and that Venglos had exercised a jobs for the boys policy by signing “ an old friend” rather than seriously seeking to strengthen his team. Some went as far as to describe the signing as a disgrace and an insult to the Celtic fans.

Moravcik, made his debut for the club in a home match against Dundee which Celtic won comfortably with Moravcik easing his way unspectacularly into the team.

Two weeks later, Celtic would face a rejuvenated Rangers side at Celtic Park. Rangers were a large team, a physical team who would pose a far stiffer test than Dundee or St Johnstone who Celtic had faced the previous week.

Josef Venglos faced a decision. Should he include the diminutive Moravcik against this Rangers side or not? Perhaps he should leave him on the substitute’s bench and bring him on once the tension had died down a bit and the game had found a more leisurely pace. It was Venglos’ first game in charge of Celtic at home to Rangers before that famous Celtic crowd.

Dr Venglos sat in his office considering his options when there was a knock at the door, which quickly opened to reveal Lubomir Moravcik.

“Can I come in Boss?”

“Yes Lubomir.”

“Boss, I don’t know what your plans are, but I want to play tomorrow. I want to face Rangers!”

“Are you fit though, Lubo? You have been here only two short weeks and I recall you telling me in Dusseldorf that if it was a physical league and a physical challenge then you felt that you were not up to the challenge. This will be physical and maybe it is better if you allow one of the younger players to start….”

“No! I want to play….. from the start!”

“I see….. well, I will think about it….. I obviously need to put out my strongest team….”

“Boss. You told me about this place. You told me about Celtic Park and all its magic. Well now I have seen it, and to be honest I have felt it. I feel I can play here. I feel I have to play here…. For these people. There were 58,000 here for Dundee two weeks ago.. it was a great atmosphere, but it will be better with Rangers as the visitors…. I want to play… for them…. And to be honest for you…. And for Anton…. For Anton Moravcik who never got to play here. And most of all, I want to play for me!”

Venglos merely nodded

“And there is something else, Boss.”

“What ?” Said Venglos

“As you know, I have no English, but I am not a stupid man. I may not be able to read what the press have been saying but I still get to know what they say. I know they have ridiculed you, ridiculed the club, and ridiculed me in signing for Celtic. I am an “unknown old man” an “old pal” of yours, I am the cheap option instead of getting a real player apparently. Is that not correct?”

“Well Lubo, there has been some talk like that but ignore it, It is the chatter of fools.”

“No, I don’t want to ignore it, and if you let me play against Rangers I will talk to the press and put the record straight. I will talk to the Celtic support and show them the truth and explain why you have faith in me and why I have faith in you, this club, this stadium, the legend of Celtic and Dedek and these fans. I want to show them something.”

There was no impish grin on the face of Lubomir Moravcik and Josef Venglos could see that he was deadly serious.

Partly to humour his countryman, Venglos said simply “OK Lubomir, I will have an Interpreter standing by, and if things go well maybe you can say a few well chosen words to the press.”

Instantly, the impish grin returned to Lubo Moravcik’s face as he said “Oh that will not be necessary Josef, I have my own interpreter.”

Venglos looked puzzled.

“You do?” he asked.

“Yes boss, I will not need an interpreter…… I am going to talk in the language I know best….. I am going to make the ball talk for me and for you and for all the Celtic fans……and in reality I will not utter a word….. not a single one ….. none will be needed! Everyone will know and see Lubomir Moravcik …….. trust me!”

And with that Lubomir Moravcik left Josef Venglos with his thoughts……. And the story he first heard from an old man in Prague that for some their true fate would only be realised at Celtic Park, Glasgow.

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3 Responses to “The tale of Lubo and Joe —– and the old man in the park!”

  1. Des Dougan September 25, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    Absolutely wonderful! You have a fantastic way with words – I’d read previously about Johnny Madden, but your story joins the dots in a truly uplifting way. Mes que un club!

    Thank you for creating and publishing your excellent stories – the one about Ayrton Senna still comes to mind.

    Regards,

    Des

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan September 27, 2015 at 11:08 am #

      Thankyou Des, That is very kind of you. Funnily enough the Senna story came to mind last night so it might just get a wee outing on twitter today!

      All the best.

      Jim

  2. Davy fitzpatrick October 28, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    Absolutely riveting piece Jim, It actually brought a tear to my eye reading that. You have a great gift.

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