PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
On Our Way to Lisbon is an Isosceles Production written by Patrick Prior, directed by Jim Dunk and performed by Pat Abernethy and Dave Marsden. Not only does it recapture that historical night in Lisbon but it takes the audience on an enchanting journey starting from the very first round.
Many supporters can systematically tell you every detail from the match in the Estadio Nacional. However, 'On Our Way to Lisbon' recalls the moments that are sometimes not emphasised as much. From standing in the Jungle at Celtic Park in the first match against Zurich, to listening to the radio for the away ties to the final itself no stone is left unturned.
Which brings me nicely to the setting of the play. Our two characters, Denny (played by Pat Abernethy) and Tony (Dave Marsden) are introduced with one asking 'What time is the kick aff?' 'The coffin leaves the hoose at 2.00pm' comes the reply, setting the tone nicely with typical Glasgow black humour. Their friend Gerry had passed away and our two heroes say that there is no better time to meet your maker. You see the date he died was the 25th May.
This starts the remarkable journey as the play takes you On the Road to Lisbon. (When the curtain rises for the beginning of the play it has to be said that Denny bares an uncanny resemblance to Jim Craig).
The play charts the journey of Celtic through Europe as the opposition rolls up only to be knocked out by the rampant Celts. FC Zurich, FC Nantes, Vojvodina and Dukla Prague - the matches are given the complete treatment by Denny and Tony. The play has all the goals but it's not until you reflect on the performance that you realise the historical detail the play actually includes. From the mannerisms of the opposition managers (which are quite superb) to the singing of the particular songs from the campaign, the play will be like a step back in time for those that experienced Lisbon. Those that haven't will come closer to knowing what it was like that season.
Memorable lines include comparing FC Zurich to 'Mary Poppins with a flick knife' to the time when the Celtic fans are begging the referee to blow the full time whistle in Prague: 'No fur ma sake, no fur God's sake, but for FUCK SAKE!' Humour typical of that experienced in the old Jungle and greatly received from the Celtic audience.
As the title of the play suggests it's more to do with the journey to Lisbon than the actual final itself. It's probably because I've watched the video of the game over and over again that the enactment of the goals in the final by Tony and Denny do not have the same effect on me as do moments in the other games. For example Denny cites the return leg against Vojdvodina at Celtic Park as the most memorable game that season, even more so that the final itself. Personally I found this as the best part of the play as well. The moment Celtic score the winning goal in the final minutes I found my own feelings elevated to the same high level as those shown by Denny. I won't spoil it for any of you going to see the play, but the visual effect of Billy McNeill scoring the winner is worth the entrance money alone!
Other great visual moments include the wee lay off to Gemmell at the free kick on the edge of the Dukla penalty area for him to blast the ball into the net and the theatrics shown by the Inter player as he goes down for the penalty. However pay attention - blink and you might miss the moment!
Even though I found my feelings peaking at this part of the play there is still the small matter of preparing for the final. Tony and Denny superbly remind the audience throughout that the date with destiny is approaching as they tell of Inter Milan progressing through the rounds and casting a shadow over the Big Cup. Everyone knows that the match was viewed as a battle between Celtic's attacking, cavalier type of football and the dull catenaccio, or "door bolt", style of Inter. The play emphasises this in a style almost approaching pantomime as they contrast the differences in the teams. I actually wanted to boo and hiss every time Inter were mentioned. Of course we know the ending to this match which is maybe why my emotions were not as high as earlier in the play.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh - my emotions were probably drained from the incredible journey that Tony and Denny took me on from the very start! From the moment they started reciting the names we know like a prayer - Simpson, Craig, Gemmell... - the hairs on your neck stand to attention and do not fall until the final curtain.
In between they dance with laughter at the humorous parts of the play. The balance of the two characters make this possible as they seem the perfect complement for each other. I know I'm doing them a great disservice but they are similar to the two light house keepers from Chewing the Fat fame. However multiply the humour tenfold and you're close to the effect this play will have on you.
Despite the constant hilarity the play draws to a close with more serious matters - the realisation that their friend Gerry is going to meet Big Jock and Bobby Murdoch. At this point Denny sings the Fields of Athenry (About Mary's love, Michael, being taken to Botany bay on the prison ship). As the song says 'She lives in hope and prays' for the day she might see him again. As well as Denny and Tony thinking about their pal Gerry the song is also a message for Celtic supporters and how we hope and pray that we will see days like Lisbon once again.
As the play draws to a close our two characters are standing singing the song that all Celtic supporters would proudly have sung 35 years ago. 'We shall not be moved'. At this point you can't help but want to join in. I hope when it comes back to Glasgow the audience do, in fact contribute to this final act.
The play makes you feel as if you were there and so the urge to sing along is testimony to the magical spell that is cast upon you for it's duration. 'On Our Way to Lisbon' is touring the country again. Like Lisbon 1967 this is a must see performance. In fact it's probably one of the best performances since Lisbon.
Jake the Rake
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