CHICAGO -- Celtic’s misses at goal were piling up against St Mirren, and it was getting to Rod Stewart as he sat before a flat-screen television at The Atlantic Bar & Grill in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood on Saturday morning.
With each failed chance, Stewart, a Celtic fan since the 1970s, became more demonstrative. He grabbed the back of his head with both hands. He ran one hand through his famous blond hair and then both hands through it. He placed his head on the table in disappointment.
When Celtic defender Du-Ri’s shot sailed well over the goal from about 30 yards out in the second half, Stewart jumped off his barstool and laughed.
“How much does he get paid a week?” Stewart joked.
The tension could be felt throughout the bar. Stewart was one of nearly 20 Celtic fans watching the game. Most of the others were regulars in the Chicago Celtic Supporters Club, which gets together for every Celtic game and has welcomed Stewart a few times over the years. Stewart was in town to perform at the United Center on Saturday evening.
With time running out and Stewart’s (and everyone else’s) hope fading, Celtic substitute Kris Commons changed the day. In the 78th minute, Celtic’s Shaun Maloney dribbled the ball to his left, passed it backward with his right foot, and a charging Commons one-timed it into the bottom left corner of the net.
Stewart yelled and sprung off his seat. He turned to his left and congratulated one person with a slap on the shoulder. He spun the other way and embraced two Celtic fans. He exchanged high-fives with others.
Chicago Celtic Support Club president Tom Spence walked up to Stewart, smiled, shook his hand and reminded him it was the same score Celtic won by the last time Stewart was in Chicago.
Atlantic owner Cathal Lynch shouted from behind the bar, “The bar is open. It’s okay to have a drink now, boys. Celtic has scored.”
Celtic’s goal had ignited the crowd, but everyone was still on edge. St Mirren began pushing players up the field, looking for the equalizer, and the bar knew the final 15 minutes would be a fight.
St Mirren created plenty of chances in those minutes, putting a variety of balls inside the box. After one close call in the second minute of stoppage time, Stewart said, “I can’t watch this.” In the game’s final minute, he clutched the back of his head and stomped his feet in nervousness.
When the final whistle was blown, the bar erupted in cheers again. Stewart pumped his fists in the air, shook hands with a few supporters and was out the door.
“It’s exciting,” said Spence of Stewart’s appearance. “He’s a normal guy. He’s a normal man. No one bothers him when he’s here. We let him watch the game. He’s a Celtic fan. He’s a real fan.”
Stewart sat alone at a table watching the game, but he did interact with other fans, often turning around and talking to Chicago Celtic Club Supporter treasurer Mike Boyd about a game’s sequence or a player. When Stewart arrived, he asked Boyd for the entire starting lineup.
At halftime, Stewart took photos with people and talked with them at length. During the second half, he tried out The Atlantic’s full Irish breakfast.
“He enjoyed the Irish breakfast,” Lynch said, laughing. “He was great, down to earth, very nice. It was a privilege to have him. He’s a great fan and welcome back anytime.”