Thursday, August 18, 2011

Born on The Bayou-The Story of The New Orleans CSC&Hurricane Katrina

As we approach the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I caught up with some of the Celtic supporters who were directly affected by it, how they got over it and what has happened since. This is their story.

Co-founder Joe Chalmers picks up the tale:The New Orleans CSC was formed in 1996 and has now been going an incredible 15 years .If  my failing memory serves me correctly it was a time when a lot of CSC’s were forming and we had the advent of the Vegas Convention. I remember calling the one and only “Castlemilk Cat” and asking, “Mr. Donnelly…how do you start a club?” “Easy” says the mighty one. “Find a pub, get a bunch of Celtic supporters and club together to get the game money and hopefully you’ll get walk-ins…Oh and yae need a big dish!”

Oh right! A big dish! How Big? Try 12 feet…and a decoder!!!

I vividly remember one evening going into the ballad room in O’Flaherty’s looking for a Stephen Patterson and asking him if he would like to start a club. “Are yae serious?” said the big Lurgan mhan. From there it was the simple matter (GULP!) of convincing the owner (Danny O’Flaherty) to spend $3000 on a new satellite dish and a decoder. Also, if it hadn’t been for the work of Bobby Orr in recruiting new members, it would not have been possible. We had a lot of good times at O’Flaherty’s, having had our fair share of famous visitors, Gerard Butler, The Lord provost of Glasgow (Peter Mosson) but to name a few. In the summer of 2002 Stephen and Pauline Patterson bought their own bar and the following season the New Orleans CSC moved to its new permanent home"

No one on the ground knew just how bad Hurricane Katrina would be until it was too late. The citizens of the Louisiana Gulf Coast were well used to tropical storms and hurricanes but nothing could prepare them for this. New Orleans CSC President was worried to an extent, but something else to attend to first, "My daughter was born two months premature on August 22, 2005 just seven days before Katrina hit. My wife had a c-section and wasn't released from the hospital until the Friday (27th I believe) the storm hit. We were aware there was a storm in the gulf, but it was at the back of our minds. On Saturday, as it was clear that the storm was massive (Category 5) we began to worry. The levees here were only built to withstand a Category 3 storm. We visited our daughter in the NICU and were told the Hospital was shutting down and going into emergency status, which meant we had to leave, but would be able to come back once the hurricane passed. Not wanting to leave the city without our daughter, we made the decision to ride out the storm in a New Orleans hotel room"

The strain and pressure on any family in that type of scenario is incredible, add in a Category 5 Hurricane and you're dealing with something that would test any human being to the limit. Especially when you know that is affecting people you know, people you love and, of course, being Celtic supporters, the local CSC, Stephen picks it up: "Being in the city, we had a radio and were listening to local broadcasts. At first after the storm had passed it appeared to everyone that we had dodged a bullet. Even the newscasts were saying so. After the storm was over, everyone was on Canal St looking around and everything looked normal, except for the normal debris everywhere. We decided to stay in the hotel one more night so the cleaning crews could clear the streets. When we woke up the next morning, you could see the flooding down Canal St. At that point, hysteria started setting in. Radio reports were saying that all of NewOrleans would be under 14 feet of water in a few hours, and were sitting there in a hotel watching the water rise. At that point is was pretty clear most of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes were fucked"

That kind of devastation is unthinkable for most. Rivers running down the streets, all your property destroyed, loved ones missing, dead. The recovery would need to be immense, on a scale never seen before in the area. In terms of Stephen and the local CSC, at Finn McCools,  it had been destroyed completely. Once everyone got together again, the decision was made quickly that they had to re-build it, with the help of some friends, but let's also not forget Baby Zoe,  Stephen says "Dan Shields (former member of the N.O. CSC) began trying to contact people looking for myself and what had happened to our daughter in the Hospital. A couple of days after the storm my wife's step-brother, (Chief of Medicine at the Birmingham, AL VA Hospital) had arranged with the people coordinating hospital rescue efforts to have my daughter and several other babies from the NICU flown to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. Dan being in Birmingham, somehow found this out and contacted Julie's step brother. All this happened while we were still stuck at the New Orleans Convention Center about 3 days after the storm. Once we were evacuated, we ended up in Birmingham and where the support was awesome. Dan brought us all kinds of baby clothes and Celtic shirts for me. I even watched a few Celtic matches and ate Scottish meat pies at his house. My daughter was in the NICU there for a little over a month so we stayed in Birmingham for about 3 months. Another person who really helped me out was Donie Kerins of the Woodside NY CSC. The amount of financial support he gave us was unbelievable. He even offered me a fully insured car for as long as I needed, as my truck had been flooded (I didn't accept the car as my insurance money came for my truck and I was able to buy a new vehicle) . I had never even met Donie before this and his generosity was staggering. We had literally lost everything, house, car, jobs, etc... so his help was tremendous. I finally met him at the 2007 Vegas convention and he is a genuinely humble, nice guy. To me, Donie and Dan sum up what it means to be a Celtic supporter. The NAFCSC were fantastic in their support and clubs like Global Hoops were incredible as well, guys you've never met in your life before raising money and giving help. It really is a family."

Finn McCools was re-built, people like Stephen Patterson, his wife Pauline who owned it along with Stevie Collins and Stephen's brother Keith sweated blood, sweat and tears to re-build it, along with members of the local CSC. Photos appeared of the Bhoys and Ghirls watching Celtic beat Rangers 3-0 on a small TV in November 2005. In human tragedy comes human resistance. Although it wasn't easy, the club was re-built. Some members moved away though, some had no choice, so the club struggled for a while but it didn't fold, the people of New Orleans are made of strong stuff. Stephen again "We lost a few members and it has been very hard but a core group remains and a bond created that will never be broken"

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