Queens Park v Albion Rovers
15.00 hrs 25th August 2018
Hampden Park….an almost empty Hampden Park…the supporters’ hurled cries of disbelief, mockery and occasional encouragement not only clear to the intended recipient but almost following the ball in its voyage from keeper to header to silky pass to shy to foul to cross to header to keeper
There was no anonymity in the crowd here. The players probably knew who was doing the shouting and with whom they perhaps occasionally shared a pint. It’s the Scottish sixth sense and survival instinct to recognise familiarity in the tone of a poisoned insult and the subsequent reaction as the target took revenge on any opposition player who came within range of an Achilles ripping tackle.
Oh but there was skill too, more skill and talent than the casual dismissal of media ignorance would ever acknowledge; the passing could be smooth and quick, the vision wide and discerning, the burst of speed sometimes surprising and penetrating, the goal-keeping athletic and exciting….oh and the shooting ….well let’s leave the shooting out for the moment.
I had got there just a few moments before kick off, rushing towards the turnstile only to be accosted by the security bloke.
“Can I just check yer bag sir” (I haven’t used a question mark there as it obviously wasn’t a question.)
“Hmm is that a computer, very nice…and a camera…smart…Whit Nae drink” That wasn’t a question either, more a remark on the incongruity of a bloke going to a Queen Park v Albion Rovers game, in possession of a bag and NOT trying to sneak some banned cargo through the border perimeter control.
The thought had barely formed in my mind when he confirmed it; “Shame really cos after about five minutes you won’t half be needing wan pal!”
I swung the bag back over ma shoulder and stepped into the turnstile darkness.
At first, I couldn’t quite make out anyone else present and tried to push the barrier. I felt a shiver up my timbers as a form materialised from the walls of the wee cubby hole behind the grill.
“Shiver me feckin timbers” I said only half-jokingly to hide the shock, and then added Pirates of the Caribbean style “Part of the ship, part of the crew…..aaarrrr you’ll be Davie Jones then and this is yer locker”……With an added “AAARRRR Jim Lad” for authenticity.
He looked possessively at the £20 note I had placed below the grill and with a skill that had been perfected over many years of buccaneering treasure on the Glasgow’s notorious Southside high seas he swashbuckled it into the dark unknown below the counter while leaning nearer to the grill to seemingly let me in on a wee secret ….
“Nae fivers pal” while almost magically dispensing my change before I could decide that the absence of fivers was reason enough not to demand my £20 back. “Six pounds change” he counted out “one, two three, four, oops ran out of pound-coins as well” he sniggered “so there’s two fifties and five twenties. Enjoy the game”
The click of the turnstile was superfluous as yer man marked off another cross-line on his five bar gate attendance accumulator.
I nearly broke into a trot to get to a seat and managed to settle down about half way up the corner of the west and south stands. Another wee shiver rattled my skeleton perhaps triggered by my realisation that I hadn’t been in that part of the ground since the Celtic V Leeds collision of 1970, but more likely by that weirdest of weird sensations of not knowing what to expect, not having a clue of the standard, the players, the styles, the heroes or the villains; in fact not knowing anything about anything.
“Welcome to this strange new football dimension” I greeted myself “let the extravaganza commence”!
But there was more than novelty in the air………perhaps I did need that drink after all; maybe that hadn’t been a turnstile….more a time tunnel…this wasn’t Hampden anymore…I looked at my bare knees….short trousers? ……who was I….?
“Ye’ll love the brass band” a familiar voice said from somewhere above me.
“Ah’m lookin’ forward tae that Granda” I said grasping a shilling in my palm inside my pocket”
The tales of the brass band were one of the little peccadilloes of Coatbridge life but the shilling….ah the shilling; what a twisted tale lay hidden in the spines of the tails’ side thistle.
Life as brief as mine had been to that date had always been precariously balanced on the edge of a mountain of cold hard reality with the thrill of magical possinbilities that lay beyond one more step and launch into the final proof of whether I really could fly or not.
But with that shilling gripped spanner like in ma wee hands, reality, logic and consequences penetrated my wall of imagination and shackled my ankles to the cliff-edge.
I knew that no matter the temptation, that shilling, THAT SPECIFIC shilling had to be restored unspent, spick, span and chalice-like to the tabernacle-like drawer in ma dad’s desk. The consequences of failure were clear even to a five year old. How could I go through the remainder of my life knowing that I was responsible for the collapse of the socialist movement in Scotland and possibly the wider world (which was anywhere beyond Coatdyke and Bargeddie.).
I grasped it even more tightly. I would defend it to the death.
My Granda silhouetted in the world-renowned (a world in-between Coatdyke and Bargeddie) Coatbridge-Saturday-mid-afternoon sunshine, looked down from on high his voice tumbling from the depths of his bunnet making its way out the free side of his mouth, the other seemingly permanently engaged in chewing, puffing or blowing his previously rubbed-tobacco filled pipe.
“You can take that other hand out yer pockets if you want…dae ye want wan o’ these bon bons…”
That was the first time I realised that ma Granda could speak French. I lodged it away in wan of my mental nooks for later use to amaze ma street pals wae.
“Aye jist wan” I replied reaching up wae ma right hand.
“Telt ye” he said to the big bloke the other side o’ me, ma Uncle Alec. “telt ye” he said again and nodded.
Ma uncle Alec returned the gesture and in that moment I thought……..
“They know….and I know they know…and I think they also know that I know that they know that I know….that they know.”….and so now I can see that you know too.
A moment later and someone flicked time’s hoover from suck to blow and there I was back again at Hampden the faint ripples from an age gone-by receding and blurring, 1959, Cliftonhill, Albion Rovers versus East blah blah blah blah Stenhous blah united blah city and my first senior football game ever.
The fable of The Shilling, the Brass Band and the quest for Socialism’s triumph is too important to leave swinging in the buffeting gale of questions so all will become clear ….eventually …..hopefully over future voyages into the jigsaw pieces of the picture on the box of Scottish football. Trust me!
But the referee peeped his pea and the ‘here and now’ of Scottish Football reached out and hauled me back from that precipitous launch and re-shackled my ankles to the cliff of long-trousered reality.
Queens Park attacked, and attacked and attacked and then defended The Rovers defended and defended and defended and then attacked.
Red and Yellow versus White and Black. Black and blue seemed to be an available option if anyone tried to take the pish. Skill was plentiful but so was righteous revenge if some snotty nosed wee upstart decided to attempt a Messi move on the more pragmatic of our species. And why not?
Queens seemed the generally more accomplished, their passes in the majority reaching the intended team-mate but usually just that second too late to dissuade the more aggressive Rover’s opponent from initiating a full blooded and successful attempt to bring the well-intentioned home move to a muscle-massaging interruption.
Incidents, shots (well more ack ack spray than ok Corral bullseyes), tackles and saves followed an amazing five-minute cycle and the football was good. The lack of cutting edge at least kept the outcome unclear for almost the whole of the first half.
But Queen’s second goal just on the stroke of half time, the first on fifteen minutes, sealed it and all the crowd had left was banter….un feckin rivalled banter.
I tell you Scottish football…I just love it… I’ve always loved it and always will. The intrigue, the suspicion, the administrative incompetence, and the game itself have always been the unacknowledged legacy to an ungrateful rest of the world. We may be minnows now —-time is a mere inconvenient measure — but the seemingly unrivalled corruption of FIFA, UEFA, The English FA, The EPL, Stanley Rous, Warner, Platini, Blatter, Havelange….ach where to stop….. have taken what we jock-the-lads may have piloted, and wae their money rich theft and emotional malnutrition have turned it into a cesspool of mutual sphincter lickers.
But they will NEVER…NEVER….(have I said NEVER)… EVER rival The Scottish Football Fans’ wit, invective and soul piercing badinage.
It was just five minutes into the second half that the Rover’s penalty box shuddered in a domino collapse of players.
Penalty! Sending-Off! Queens Park on the cusp of 3-0.
Great penalty…great save and parry by a gymnastically diving keeper…. stramash….ball ricochets towards the net….keeper twists like a toe-touching ragworm….tipped over the bar.
And then the loveable rogue frae the Whifflet ……….
“FFS Potts…catch the bloody thing…you’re allowed tae catch it ye know….use yer haunds….ya useless…****..Haw you Brogan….aye you…A keeper who can catch the ball, lob a left haunded midfield disorienting throw, a wing-back who can trap, turn, evade a tackle, hit a speeding winger with an arrow of a pass, a winger who can cross a homing pigeon of a pass onto the head of a forward with the speed of flash…..it’s not feckin rocket science Brogan….are you listening Brogan?”
Even the Queens Park fans applauded.
Even my Granda whispered…”Always the bleedin same…and ran out of bon bons”
So where to Saturday coming?
Ach, I don’t know where I’ll go, but go I will.
Maybe I’ll learn the players names, maybe I’ll find a way of fitting the next instalment of the Shilling, the Brass Band and The saving of Socialism in, but most of all maybe I’ll get a transfusion of why I love Scotland, Scottish Football, The Players, The Fans, the Refs and the wee stray bits of the universe that even Higgs couldnae find but made the difference between evolution’s boring trudge and the dance of flawed humanity….That is Scottish Football..
I found it again at Hampden ….or maybe in ma Granda’s bon bons.