Old friends and new hopes

7th April 2006 at 01:00
In these days of quality assurance and improvement planning, it can come as a surprise when a spontaneous incident ignites the school day. So our experience last month was all the more joyful for its unexpected nature and the timing of its effect.

As a Catholic school with a mission statement based on gospel values, when it comes to inclusion and reaching out to others, we try our best to walk the walk (interesting use of language - Ed) as well as talking the talk.

So we were delighted when four of our talented footballing pupils were connected to Rangers' coaching facility at Murray Park and even happier when John Greig, "Mr Rangers", contacted us to say he would like to visit us to talk about the education support that Rangers give to their youngsters on training nights.

Despite the routine abuse I had hurled at him from the Easter Road terracing in the 1970s, I had always had a quiet regard for the Rangers captain. His sister worked at the university halls of residence when I stayed there, and was held in high affection by all the students. His origins in the street next to my auntie in Edinburgh's Prestonfield kind of demythologised him a little in my eyes.

Meeting him in the school office was a surreal moment. I think all concerned were aware that it was a coming together that might not have been possible until relatively recently. For football-loving colleagues, it was always going to be a big moment to meet a footballing legend.

We got on famously with a huge amount of goodwill on all sides and, as he is an excellent raconteur, we were well entertained.

Then his mobile phone rang and he excused himself to answer it. It was obviously bad news and he was clearly emotional in his attempt to take it in. Finishing the call, he informed us that he had just been told that Celtic's Jimmy Johnstone had died. Still upset, he shared a number of stories with us, relating to his friendly rivalries with "Jinky".

It was an unexpected, sad, but strangely uplifting moment, to sit in a Catholic school with the former captain and manager of Rangers, mourning the death of an iconic Celtic player.

It gave perspective to our attempts to banish sectarianism, and gave the lie to those who would condemn football, our education system, or religion as hopelessly tribal and divisive.

I recalled the words of Arundhati Roy: "Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

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