When I arrived in Scotland I'd never heard of the 'old firm'. So, three months after stepping off the bus in Edinburgh, I found myself working for the Scotland on Sunday (SoS) newspaper in Airdrie one Saturday in November, 1992, when the boss called. I was being diverted to Celtic Park in Glasgow to photograph what was to be my one and, unfortunately, only, old firm match. I had no idea what to expect.
A brief history lesson...the old firm is the collective term (with differing origins - Google it) given to Celtic and Rangers, or Rangers and Celtic, depending on which side of Glasgow you come from. At the heart of the old firm is religion - Celtic's origins are Catholic and Rangers, Protestant, and never the twain shall meet. As a result, when Celtic and Rangers meet on the football pitch, it is more than two teams playing a game of football. The term battle isn't too far short of the truth and the religious divide between the teams means it is one of the most intense rivalries in football. Not only Scotland, but the world. In some quarters the line between rivalry and hatred is blurred and, while things may have mellowed in the years since I left, there are still elements of hatred between the two sets of supporters. The old firm rivalry started in 1888 and is as much a part of Glasgow's history since then as anything else.
Upon arrival at Celtic Park (Parkhead) I duly picked up my photographer's bib and made my way onto the pitch. Even before kick-off the atmosphere was electric. The crowd - I'm not sure exactly how big but well in excess of 50,000 - was in full voice. I chose one end of the ground and assumed my position in front of what turned out to be the Rangers support.
The design of what is now the old Celtic Park meant that the low stadium roofs acted like a megaphone and the crowd noise was projected out into the middle of the ground. As a result, I was surrounded by noise until the moment the Rangers team ran onto the pitch. As more and more of the crowd became aware that their beloved team was arriving for battle, the roar increased until it sounded like a jumbo jet was taking off behind me.
Soon after the Ranger team appeared, the Celtic team ran out and the noise level rose to beyond deafening. Even though I was a newcomer, I had shivers running up and down my spine. I'd never felt anything like it before and I haven't since.
Another brief history lesson...when I arrived in Scotland, I had no money. In fact, I only had enough for a one way ticket there and some left over to buy camera gear in New York on the way. I had nowhere near enough money to buy a decent telephoto lens and could only afford an 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. When it comes to photographing football, this is a piddly lens. It barely reaches past the edge of the goal box. In time I bought a telephoto lens (two, in fact) but early on I had to resort to goal mouth action and hope nothing major happened in the middle of the pitch or beyond.
So, on that day at Celtic Park, I was sat alongside the other photographers like the 'new kid on the block' that I was...looking highly inadequate.
Not having an ample telephoto lens meant I had to be creative elsewhere. Preferably within about a 30 metre radius. Due to this, my attention turned to Andy Goram, the Rangers goalie directly in front of where I was sitting. The old firm passion also extended to the players and Goram reacted to everything that was happening down the other end of the pitch, especially each time a Rangers shot on goal missed the mark. He was quite animated and I knew he might make a more interesting photo if Rangers scored.
I trained the camera on Goram, watching his every move and reaction. Between him and the crowd, I could gauge what was happening outside the tiny piece of Celtic Park I was concentrating on.
I can't remember when it was - I know it was during the first half because I had to leave at half time to get my films back to Edinburgh in time for edition - but suddenly there were several short gasps behind me. At the same time Goram began twitching as he watched the play from a hundred metres away. I made sure I was focused on him and listened. He suddenly stood on his toes and his hands tensed. The crowd fell behind me fell silent as they collectively took a long, deep gasp. It was, in fact, only a fraction of a second but it seemed much longer and, even though I wasn't watching, it was long enough that I knew what was about to happen. Rangers were going to score.
As the ball connoned into the back of the net at the other end of the stadium the massive gasp now bellowed forth on a level that defies description. For many in the crowd behind me, their lives revolved around this moment. The sheer, unadulterated joy released in that instant was like an explosion and I had to do everything possible to keep my camera still.
Despite wanting to turn around and see what was going on, I remained focused on Goram. He was my story. At the same moment the crowd exploded, he turned to his left and, in what seemed to be slow motion, started running straight at me with his arms out wide, like a plane accelerating down the runway. I pressed down hard on the motor-drive of my camera and slowly pull-focused as he moved towards me. With each stride the expression of joy on his face grew larger. After a few paces, and with his arms still spread wide, he turned like a plane banking away after lift off, and weaved his way back to his goal and the Rangers support.
I was in a sea of emotion, both from the Rangers support and also myself. I knew I had something no one else had - they were all focused on the other end of the field - but wasn't exactly quite sure what. It looked good through the camera and I was excited, I know that. So much so that I didn't even make it to half time. I knew I had a great photo of some sort and left. Looking back now, I wonder how we ever managed not being able to look at the screen on the back of the camera like we can now.
All the way back to Edinburgh - an hour's drive - I wondered what it was that I had. Then the doubts crept in. Had all the frames been in focus? Had I been too over-excited and missed the shot? I didn't think so...I hoped not...
When I finally got back to Edinburgh I somewhat nervously put the films through the processing machine and waited. As they emerged from the other end I impatiently tried to see what was on the films as they moved slowly (too slowly!) through the dryer. They finally broke free of the machine and I held one of the films up to the light, hurriedly passing it through my hands. The series of shots I was after - the ones that mattered - weren't on it. I threw it on the bench and grabbed the other film, repeating the process. I stopped when the familiar figure of Goram doing his plane impersonation appeared. I moved them closer to have a look. A smile broke out. They were sharp. They were beautiful. Deadline was bearing down but I still umm-ed and aah-ed over which one to use before finally choosing the one you see here. I got the darkroom technician to print a large copy of the photo and took it up to show the boss, who was as excited about it as I was.
That night I sat in the Jinglin' Geordie, the pub across the close from the Scotsman Publications building, with all the other SoS photographers, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the first edition of the paper. When it finally arrived my photo was splashed across the entire back page. It looked amazing and, to this day, is one of my favourite photos I've taken - the red of Goram's top against the grey of the day, his arms oustretched like a plane taking off, the fact it was the one and only old firm match I photographed.
But, most of all, I love it because I was the only photographer to get the photo. And all because I had a piddly lens.
Gear used - Nikon FM2 body, Nikkor 80-200mm lens, Fuji400ISO colour film no doubt pushed to 800ISO, (probably) 1/500sec @ f5.6