Scottish Football: Passion, Hate, Love and Orange String

Written by TJ

Last night I watched the Scotland game on my sofa, and then went to bed.  But I also went on a bit of a journey.  In the end I fell asleep reminiscing about football when I was younger with Pat Nevin’s voice in my ears talking intelligently about the Scottish football product and its unique selling points. Waking this morning I felt like the white Martin Luther King when I told the missus ‘I have a dream’.

When I say a journey – it’s more like aimless rambling that seemed to end up with me being exactly where I needed to be.  I was going to take today off from writing but when I woke I knew that was no longer an option.  So apologies because this is going to seem scattergun and all over the place for the bulk of what I say, but I’m not a f**king satnav.  Incidentally I swear a lot when I’m passionate about something and this is going down on paper in a stream of consciousness because it’s the only way to tell it.

The Warm-Up

I said I wasn’t going to watch the game – that I wasn’t going to give the SFA my money.  I’m a damn liar. I knew when I walked through the front door I would.  I knew when I uncharacteristically got myself a beer with dinner (Punk IPA – good stuff) that I would. By the way if there’s any Brewdog guys reading – you can pay me in beer for the advertising.  I knew when I was furtively looking at the clock as it edged towards 7:30pm I was going to change the channel.  Finally when I called myself a hypocritical d*ck and flipped it over I accepted it. But not before convincing myself it would be terrible and we’d get beat anyway.  And that Alex McLeish is a c*ck for leaving out a player who’d just scored four goals in a game after making a big deal about playing form players.

The Game

Scotland were terrible.  Devoid of leadership, shape, imagination or any sort of panache. I’d been critical of McLeish’s appointment, so it’ll be no surprise that I thought he lacked any sort of insight into how to change a performance clearly going nowhere. He confirmed his utter cluelessness after the game in declaring it a game-of-two-halves.  It wasn’t, unless he meant two halves where we were systematically outplayed without any intelligent change in the set-up.  This is Scotland though, we’re used to it right? People are turning out to watch the games in smaller numbers.  Celtic and Rangers fans both seem more disengaged from the national team than at any time I remember, other than a small contingent of Teddy Bears that seem more enthusiastic due to some sort of perverted wish (and I don’t mean that in a bad way – you’ll see) to see McLeish succeed to get one over the Celtic fans that want him out.

Long before the game was over my mind had drifted. There was nothing worth watching to keep me engaged.  I started flipping through social media on my phone and ended up in an animated discussion with friends on facebook about Cooper’s inclusion on Ruud Gullit’s ‘best I ever played alongside list’. This delved into some light hearted teasing of the ‘Falkirk fan’ friend of mine who posted it with an opening line of “I’m not a Rangers fan but….”, suggesting a bending of the truth (his brother is a big Rangers man, but in fairness he’s not). Jumping over to Twitter I got into a bit of cut-and-thrust with a Rangers fan who seemed determined yesterday’s article was some sort of Timmy agenda to overturn LNS (which wasn’t even mentioned once in the article).

Old firm
Colours passion and football rivalry

I got drawn over to reading and thinking about some earlier posts about Falkirk’s old Brockville Stadium.  An auld Bairns fan was giving Roger Mitchell pelters for his rigidity on 10K all-seater stadiums while in situ at the SPL and saying how much that stadium was loved by fans.  He’s right on that.  I came clean to the earlier Rangers fan and Roger – who by now was making the point that I’m actually a Falkirk fan and not the devious LNS under-miner he thought he was tackling – that once, way back in the day at the auld Hope Street ground I did shout something that might be viewed as having a pro-Celtic agenda.  It must have been around 2002 and I was behind the goals in Falkirk’s claustrophobic den. Those that remember Brockville will remember that when I say behind the goals I really do mean up close and personal.  Andy Goram – formerly Rangers number 1 – was the goalkeeper for Queen of the South that day.  While play was up the other end and Falkirk winning, I shouted his name out until he turned around, then yelled “smell the glove!”.  To his credit he laughed and applauded. And that’s where my reminiscing started.  The Scotland game finished a clueless defeat with a lucky penalty goal we hardly deserved.

Walking Back From the Game

As I left the match behind me, something Roger Mitchell had said a few days back by now had come back to my mind:

“What is the Scottish game’s unique selling proposition? Its passion, serious serious edge, great craic and connection with history. In short, fans baiting other fans, arguing, laughing. It’s a soap opera of bright colour.”

In a flood of memories I was back over the Channel and playing football on the AstoTurf at Stenhousemuir’s Ochilview Park under the lights at night, with wet sand filling my boots and playing a game-within-a-game of trying to nutmeg my friend Peter more than he got me.  The best player by a distance on the pitch was Peter’s young brother-in-law, then on the books of Dunfermline and an aspiring pro. Totally incidentally, he was also the brother of a well-known DJ with sporting leanings of a Jambo variety. We didn’t know then that the young fella would tragically die in his sleep one night and baited him relentlessly at the time about being an undercover Fifer.

I was back in Prague, following the tartan army in a qualifying campaign. My big mate Sean had thrown a sicky from work to take a long weekend over there.  He’d turned up kilted, but where a sporran should have been, instead he was wearing a pasting brush on an orange string.  Somehow I’d lost my Scotland shirt along the way during the post-match beers and was now bare chested in the boozer. A kind local gave me a touristy Prague t-shirt.  I used to care deeply about Scotland and their performances.

It brings me to a conversation at a later date, after a game at Hampden (against Greece I think).  I’d retired down the road to wait out traffic, to my uncle’s house round by Cathkin Park – a short stroll from the overgrown terracing that used to house a mighty Third Lanark team. A few mates with me – and drinking some expired beer from his shed.  The subject of Tourette’s syndrome came up and Mark didn’t know what it was.  Uncle Dunky tells him it’s “like being a fu**ing Scotland supporter but without the alcoholism”.

glasgow-cathkin-park-third-lanark2
Third Lanark were long gone when I played around here in Cathkin Park as a child

I was then over in Hamburg talking with my 40 year old, Celtic-supporting mate in just about the only civilised pub near the Reeperbahn.  We’d just been on the St Pauli stadium tour (which is inspirational).  He’s a successful businessman and had recently held a meeting at Celtic Park with Peter Lawwell.  Business done, he tells me that he looks around the room and confides to Lawwell:

“You know I always thought if I was at this table I’d be signing a contract to play for Celtic”

To which Lawwell replies:

“You know, I’ve not given up hope of that for myself!”

I think about other friends of mine that went on to carve out careers in football – they just love the game.  My friend Deano, that played premier league with Raith Rovers and now works closely as part of the Ladbrokes team after some horrific injuries stopped him having the career he deserved. I remember seeing him recently smiling and holding the Scottish Cup.  My buddy Keezo who is now a Director of Marketing at arguably the finest community team in Scotland and is still coming up with crazy ideas about hot tubs at football games.  I think “what have I given to the game?”. Money. Love. Sometimes hate. Time. The opportunity cost of all the things I could have done instead.

It strikes me that all the above come under the banner of ‘passion’.  I’m back with the quote from Roger that started this walk:

“What is the Scottish game’s unique selling proposition? Its passion, serious serious edge, great craic and connection with history. In short, fans baiting other fans, arguing, laughing. It’s a soap opera of bright colour.”

Last Orders and a Cheeky Pint

The walk is coming to an end though and it’s time for bed.  I think about what it is we are trying to achieve at Fans Without Scarves.  To unite fans of all different teams just for once to rid our game of the cancerous parasites that hold us all back.  I think back on something else from the conversation I’d had a few days ago:

RM: “What eventually killed the SPL was what always does in football. Self-interest.”

Me: “He’s right that self-interests win out over time and unity only lasts as long as a purpose. But not that the game is finished”

I don’t recall a time since Farry was deposed that the SFA has been this vulnerable to the concerted efforts of the stakeholders in the game demanding change.  As fans we’re still fighting amongst ourselves though.

It strikes me that the greatest hurdle to getting fans a real voice in the game though seems to be the very thing that makes the game here special in the first place.  The tribalism. The distrust. The occasional outright hatred.  I ponder the old adage about love and hate being two sides of the same coin and how the vitriol between our clubs – and I do not just mean Celtic and Rangers here – is nothing more than unbridled passion for football and it’s really hate/love. You can’t feel that level of emotion whichever way your pendulum is swinging without a deep love for Scottish football.

I head upstairs to bed thinking that if we can unite long enough to make a change then we can get back to what makes the game special afterwards.

Coming Home

I’d promised I would listen to this podcast and now’s the ideal time.  I dig out the headphones – don’t want to wake the missus – and turn it on as I hit the sack. Honestly, I get a bit bored at the start as I’m tired and they talk about rugby and golf – not my sports – though I enjoy some anecdotal bits such as things Terry Butcher said. In a short spell, Pat Nevin is on.  He’s talking about the separation of the mega-clubs from the chaff and how we’ve got to specialise our product for media consumption.  About the love and the hate and the passion and why it is special.  I fall asleep before he’s finished; nodding and disagreeing in places in silence. I dream about Scottish football and better times – whether they really were or not, I was young then after all. Maybe I was just blissfully ignorant.

sitdown
France 1998 – the last major tournament Scotland reached 20 years ago

The Hangover

This morning I woke up knowing exactly what I needed to do.  I needed to find a keyboard and say this.  Say that I love those dirty Dunfermline Fifers even when I’m hating them.  Say that I love the old firm even when they see everything in green or blue.  Say that I love the intransigent posters on Twitter that can’t see beyond their own team and biases.  Say that you can’t hurt after another woeful Scotland performance without that love.  Say that I love Brockville’s mine shaft style toilets and antiquated terracing, but also that I love progress and reminiscing. I love when my friends back in Scotland call Falkirk’s new ground in the shadow of the Kelpies, the Bairnabou. Say that if we can stop all the damn arguing just for a little bit we can put the game back into our own hands.  Say that we can have Scottish Football for the fans if we stop letting others take our voices.  Say that now is the time to do something before the opportunity passes again and we’re another 20 years down the line wishing it was different. Because football is for the fans, not the other way around.

Please help us provide that voice and sign the petition.

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