On Hating Football
I can tell you the exact moment when I decided to hate football for life. It was 11 June 1978 at 6.08 p.m. Scotland were playing Holland in the first stage of the World Cup Finals in Argentina. It happened to be the day of my tenth birthday party: my mother had to have the party after my actual birthday owing to a cock-up involving a cement-mixer and the police, but the party was called for that afternoon, and the cream of St Luke’s Primary School turned up at 4 p.m., armed with Airfix battleships and enough £1 postal orders to keep me in sherbet dib-dabs for a month.
Things started to go badly the minute my father rolled into the square in a blue Bedford van. He came towards the house in the style of someone in no great mood for ice-cream and jelly, and within minutes, having scanned the television pages of the Daily Record, he threw the entire party out of the living room – Jaffa Cakes, Swizzle Sticks, cans of Tizer, the lot – all the better to settle down to a full ninety minutes with Ally’s Tartan Army, now taking the field in Mendoza.
A full cast of Ayrshire Oompa-Loompas (myself at the head) was then marched upstairs to a requisitioned box room, where several rounds of pass-the-parcel proceeded without the aid of oxygen. I managed to eat an entire Swiss roll by myself and take part in several sorties of kiss, cuddle or torture before losing my temper and marching to the top of the stairs. From there, looking through the bars, I could see the television and my father’s face. Archie Gemmill, at 6:08, wearing a Scotland shirt with the number 15 on the back, puffed past three Dutch defenders and chipped the ball right over the goalies head. The television was so surprised it nearly paid its own licence fee, and my father, well, let’s just say he stood on the armchair and forgot he was once nearly an altar-boy at St Mary’s.
My school chums were soon carried out of the house on stretchers, showing all the signs of a good time not had, by which point my mother was mortified and my father was getting all musical. ‘We’re here to show the world we’re gonnae do or die,’ he sang unprophetically, ‘coz England cannae dae it coz they dinnae qualify.’ My birthday was spoiled, and I decided always to hate football and to make my father pay. I had a hidden stash of books in a former bread bin upstairs – the revenge of the English swot! – and I went out to the swing park to read one and to fantasise about becoming the West of Scotland’s first international male netball champion.
Hating football was a real task round our way. For a start, my brothers were really good at it; the fireplace had a line of gold and silver strikers perched mid-kick on alabaster bases, and they turned out to be the only part of the fireplace where my father wouldn’t flick his cigarette ash. For another thing, I went to a school where Mr Knocker, the teacher, was football-daft, and he’d sooner you packed in communion than afternoon football. But Mark McDonald – my fellow cissy – and I broke his spirit after he gave us new yellow stripes to try on. We absconded from the training session and stretched the shirts over our knees, all the better to toll down Toad Hill in one round movement before dousing the shirts in the industrial swamp at the bottom. The destruction of footballing equipment was beyond the pale: we were too young for Barlinnie Prison, so we got banned to Home Economics instead and were soon the untouchable kings of eggs mornay.
My father gave up on me. Mr Knocker put me down for a hairdresser and a Protestant. But there was always my uncle Peter, a die-hard Celtic supporter – not like my brothers, but a real Celtic supporter, the sort who thought Rangers fans should be sent to Australia on coffin ships, or made to work the North Sea oil rigs for no pay – and Uncle Peter for a while appointed himself the man who would, as he delicately put it, ‘get all that poofy shite oot his heid before it really does him some damage.’
Game on. But not for long. Uncle Peter arranged to take me to see Celtic and Rangers play at Hampden Park. He was not unkind and had put some planning into the day out, but not as much planning as I had: for a whole week it had been my business to make sure that the only clothes available for me to wear to the treat were blue. For the uninitiated, I should say that Celtic fans tend not to wear blue, especially not to the football, and never, in all the rules of heaven and earth, to a Rangers game.
My uncle was distressed. He called me a Blue Nose to my face (strong words for a bishop) and when we arrived at the ground he made me walk behind him. He said that if Rangers scored and made a noise he would throw me to the Animals (the stand in Celtic Park where men peed and drank Bovril was affectionately known as the Jungle). When Celtic lost the game 1-0 he called me a Jonah and said everything was lost with me and I should stick at school because I was bound to end up at university or worse.