THE FIRST time I saw my dad shed tears was at Parkhead on May 1 1971.

Celtic had lifted their sixth successive title a few days previously.

At the end of a 6-1 victory they carried Bertie Auld shoulder-high as they saluted the supporters and it was at this point that my father’s emotions began to get the better of him. Looking around the Jungle that afternoon I saw a lot of hard, hard men struggling to hide their tears from a thousand bewildered boys.

This was the last time anyone would see the Lisbon Lions in the wild, so to speak, and it forms one of my most treasured childhood memories. Bertie had been allowed to leave Celtic to join Hibs on a free transfer and John Clark would leave to join Morton later that year.

The Lions had only played together on a handful of occasions after Lisbon and I recall a quote somewhere about Jock Stein not wanting to dilute the memory of their achievement by fielding them together again very often. It seemed that our great manager was fearful that defeat at the hands of some lesser team would have diminished their immortality. I don’t think the big man need have had any worries about that.

Perhaps a number of factors had come together to produce such raw emotion in men whose sense of themselves would not normally leave room for crying. I once discussed this in a pub near Parkhead many years ago with other supporters of my generation. All of us had watched our dads at funerals and witnessed some in the act of giving their daughters away at the altar. But only Celtic, and then only rarely, had moved them to tears. 

The end of the Second World War marked the beginning of decades of profound social and economic challenges for families in working-class communities. You rarely glimpsed anyone shedding tears at loss or absence because it was understood that these were a luxury amidst such widespread hardship.

Thousands of men who had witnessed unspeakable horrors in Europe were only then entering middle-age, their trauma undiagnosed and barely acknowledged by the society they’d helped save from fascism. You were expected to bear your grief silently and without fuss out of respect for men such as these who continued to carry their own emotional and psychological burdens in silence. 

In these communities, though, you were given a free pass to let it all go once in a while for football. Having worked all week in punishing conditions for meagre pay, the football teams that arose from these towns and villages became an expression of themselves. As such, men and women invested a lot more than mere money in following their fortunes. Every goal, every victory, every trophy – no matter how seemingly minor – was regarded as a triumph in lives characterised by challenge and adversity. 

For Celtic supporters of my dad’s generation, the achievements of the Lisbon Lions signified much, much more than glorious football and winning trophies.

From the first day of Celtic’s existence the club was a symbol of hope and deliverance from the unremitting discrimination to which the people were subject in every sphere of their lives. Every success made Glasgow’s Irish community walk a little taller and made all the little prejudices of the week to come a little easier to bear.

READ MORE: Bertie Auld lit up my family holiday... I’ll never forget him - Amy Canavan

On that May afternoon in 1971 the direct descendants of those earlier generations had gathered to show their gratitude to players whose exploits at home and across Europe had actually improved their lives and given them self-confidence. 

Of course, the Lisbon Lions all sprang from working-class communities and continued to live in the neighbourhoods of their youth. Their wages perhaps allowed them to afford something a little fancier and a little more refined, but not by much. An old picture taken during the Lions era shows them walking back from Barrowfield to Parkhead. Amongst them is a wee Glasgow wummin in trademark headscarf gloriously impervious to their presence around her. It was a snapshot that accurately depicted the status of these players and their proximity to the people from whom they’d emerged.

In the decades following Lisbon, as it became clear that this would remain our only triumph in the world’s greatest sporting competition, the affection and love for these men probably intensified through the generations.

I think it was around 1982 after we’d defeated Ajax and then lost in the next round to Real Sociedad that I began to realise we’d never win the European Cup again. All the more reason then, to cherish these men who brought us that big cup for the rest of their lives.

As the Lisbon Lions began to grow old and then pass from our lives - first Ronnie Simpson then Jinky, Bobby Murdoch, Tommy Gemmell - it seemed that Bertie Auld had taken it upon himself to maintain the extraordinary emotional link between this team and the Celtic supporters.

All the Celtic players from that squad were never less than comfortable in the presence of those of us who idolised them, but with Bertie there was something more. I don’t think there’s been any occasion when his name is mentioned that hasn’t brought a smile.  

He just seemed so delighted at having been a Celtic player – let alone a magnificent one – that he wanted to share that joy with every person he encountered. That invisible but palpable barrier that goes up when greatness meets ordinary – a mixture of caution, reserve, uncertainty, perhaps – never seemed to exist when Bertie met Celtic supporters. He really was one of us and wanted us to know this.

He was entirely without artifice. You always formed the impression that when he stopped for a picture and an autograph that any other appointments he might have later that day would just have to wait. He would always find the time for Celtic supporters.

And I think that when my dad shed those tears for him and his team-mates in 1971 some of them came from knowing he’d never see Bertie in a Celtic strip again.

This afternoon at Hampden, 50 years after that game against Clyde, all the Celtic players will wear the same number again: 10, in honour of Bertie. If he’d been allowed to choreograph this occasion, the 10 might even have become a 10.30. God rest Bertie Auld.