DAY 1: Glasgow and Liverpool
Having lived with this idea for the better part of six years, and been in planning for the last 9 months, it
seemed slightly surreal and more than a little bizarre to be stood in the foyer of Celtic Park awaiting our
first Medallion Man, Jim Craig.
There was an early match-day buzz about the place, generally created by the EuroChampsChallenge
team and supporters, supplemented by a couple of photographers who were checking the snaps they had taken earlier. Our group was intermittently parted by the early arrival of the Motherwell kit ahead of the lunch-time kick-off. There was a hum of chatter between all assembled, and the children, very well behaved, were laughing and joking together.
It was strange that, amidst all of this, Jim Craig came confidently yet cautiously down the stairs almost un-noticed by everyone but me. I stretched out my right hand to greet him. “Jim Craig?” knowing beyond doubt who I was speaking to “I’m Robin Blacklock. Thanks for coming along to kick off The EuroChampsChallenge”
And there it was. Shortly before 9 am on Sunday 15th May 2011, Day 1, Club 1, Medallion Man 1. We were underway. And what a great feeling.
09:00 Celtic Park, Glasgow
It would be impossible not to like Jim Craig. His impeccable appearance was matched only by his manners and in the formal - almost intimidating - atmosphere of the Celtic Park boardroom, he quickly put us at ease. In our first Medallion Man experience, and clearly still finding our feet, we bombarded him with questions and queries, threw numerous items of memorabilia to him for signing, and still he offered more. "Here guys, let me tell you about the silverware over here..."
He offered tales of the trophies and supplemented with stories with anecdotes. Still practicing his day-job of dentistry, it is easy to imagine him putting many a patient at ease with his engaging style.
When we came to quiz him on his memories and thoughts his love of the game was apparent. You could listen to the man all day long, and had we not had an appointment some 200 miles south, I am sure we would have. A real gentleman, and great way to start our trip.
Most memorable moment as a player: "Jock Stein's words of encouragement and wisdom at half-time of the final in 1967, after having given a penalty away in the first seven minutes. It was only at full time, having won the cup, that he was little more forthright in his views of the incident!"
Favourite Medallion Man: "Di Stefano from the 1960's Real Madrid team, Jimmy Johnstone from the Lisbon Lions team, and in later years Marco van Basten"
Prediction for this years final: "Barcelona by the odd goal in a tight game."
"one-nil to Barca, then Jim?"
"aye, I'd say so!"
14:00, Anfield Road, Liverpool
We reached Liverpool comfortably ahead of our well planned schedule which allowed us time to scout the vicinity and get a photo or two by the Shankly Gates. Alan Kennedy could not have been more accomodating, and his easy acceptance of our request for an earlier meeting time gave a hint of the man we were about to meet.
We managed to talk our way into one of the offical car parks close to the ground and made our way to the stadium through a crowd which suggested that kick off was a lot closer than 16:05, a full two hours away. The route to the allotted meeting place, The Carlsberg Lounge, was packed with fans - young and old - awaiting the arrival of the team bus and hoping for a glimpse of their star players. We skipped our way through as if trying to keep pace with an adult; Angus was practically sprinting.
When we met Kennedy space was tight so we conducted our interview outside. The initial thought was that this was a less than ideal situation, however we quickly drew a crowd and our second Medallion Man could not have been more engaging. He spoke at length about his favourite moments and his favourite players, and through it all shone a genuine love of the game, a full 30 years on from his winning goal against Real Madrid in Paris. Not even Angus' attempts to fall from a great height could interrupt the man, who even did himself few favours with his prediction for this year's final.
Most memorable moment as a player: Scoring the winning goals in 1981 and 1984 finals. "It just doesn't get any better than that"
Favourite Medallion Man: "Cryuff from the great Ajax team of the 1970's, and John Robertson from the fantastic Forest team of 1979 & 1980. A great era for British football".
Prediction for this years final: "It'll go all the way to the wire, and I even fancy Man United to nick it on penalties"