“The Game’s Aff Son”

By Elston Gunn

 

So the Beast from the East has done its stuff and barrelled off towards Ireland, leaving a shivering Scotland in its considerable wake. Football, of course, wasn’t immune form the Beast, with a number of games called off in the last week, including Celtic’s game against Dundee on Wednesday night.

There is something about a cancelled football game that It leaves a hole in your day much, a much bigger hole than it really should. If you hadn’t planned to go to a game, there would be no problem filling your time – after all, we’re often found complaining about how busy we are. When you’re expecting to go to a game though, especially a big game, and its postponed, it’s hard to find an equally rewarding way to spend that time.

When games are called due to a snow event (that’s what they’re call now), my mind invariably drifts back to a time when a snow storm hit Glasgow, resulting in games that day being cancelled. I was due to go to a game that day. Not just any game. This would have been the biggest game of my life by a long way. My first “Rangers game”.

January 3rd, 1984. I was 14 and had started going to games a year or so before, but never to a Rangers game, not yet anyway. No one in my family sent to see Celtic, so I had to find – and fund – my own way there, thus I was a relatively late starter. Also, and more significantly, my mother had a thing about me going to see Celtic. Now, my mother wasn’t one for exaggeration or drama, but she held a very firm view that if I went to see Celtic, I would get stabbed. Most likely, to death. She was unshakable in her conviction, despite me regularly pointing out to her people who actually went to games and who – incredibly – were still very much alive. (In her defence, her friends’ nephew was tragically killed at a football game in the 70’s, after fan violence, so she was just protecting her wee laddie, much to her wee laddies’ utter disgust!)

I had been gradually winning the battle about going to games – I went to half a dozen in the run up to Xmas that year. My old man knew the guy that ran a local bus, so he could – in theory – keep an eye on me and make sure I returned home stab-free. Incidentally, the theory was bullshit – by the time the guy in question rocked out of the pub and onto the bus, he couldn’t have picked his own weans out of a line up, never mind look out for me, but still, it was a useful charade for all parties and I got to the games.

So, Xmas 1983, and I get my first ever Celtic strip (up until then, Celtic tops had been a no-no for me, again, by maternal instruction). My first strip was the lime green one we won the league in at Paisley – It was, and is, a diamond of a strip. But more important than the strip, I got my ticket for my first ever Rangers game.

As an aside, when I was growing up as a Celtic fan, we never – ever – used the phrase ‘Old Firm’. If someone was talking about the Glasgow derby, you would ask “did you see the Rangers game? Never, “did you see the Old Firm game”. It just never was said where I lived , either amongst my peers, or guys on the bus, nobody said it.

The phrase Old Firm belonged to the newspapers. It belonged to Radio Clyde and the old guys on there, along with all the other shite they used to repeat, as if by rote. In Radio world, Clyde were the Bully Wee, Dumbarton were the Sons, Aberdeen the Dons, St Mirren the Saints, Thistle were the Jags – (Harry Rags if you were daring), someone going to Dundee took the “roads and the Miles” and Celtic and Rangers were the Old Firm. No thought, just repeat.

No one I knew ever spoke like that.

Anyway, I suffered the slow passage of time through Xmas and New Year, the way you did when there was a big game coming in January and you have to kid on to your family you were more excited at the prospect of spending time with them than a football match. I got good at this in later life, I had a lot of practise as Celtic Rangers games were a regular feature on the new Year holiday calendar!

Glacially, the days passed and January the 2nd rolled around, the night before the game. My strip was ready along with Celtic scarf and Celtic hat. My ticket was on the mantlepiece (£3.00, if your curious). The bus was leaving at 12.30 for a 2pm kick off – it was a Tuesday, still a public holiday. Strict instructions were left with my Dad to get me up for 11.00.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

“The games aff, son”. My dad had come into my room and said these 4 words.

“What?”

“The games aff – it was just on the wireless. You don’t need to get up”.

For some reason, the next thing I said was “I don’t believe you”. A pause, then a small chuckle came drifting across the room. “Suit yourself. You might want to look out the window though”.

I jumped out of bed and pulled up a corner of the blind. The world outside was completely white and eerily silent – about 4 inches of snow had fallen overnight. I remember there was a van stuck trying to get up the hill outside my house. “Maybe the game is aff right enough”, I thought, though I actually didn’t fully believe it until I heard it for myself on the next radio news bulletin.

It would be impossible to convey how gutted I was – my first really big game, and it was off. The day ahead – previously filled with promise and excitement, now yawned long and empty, like some huge cosmic punishment. Sure, I could find other things to do, couldn’t I? There would have been stuff on the telly, for example (though only 3 channels, and the English were back at work, so it wouldn’t be up to the standard of the last 10 days). I have no recall of what I did that day, but I remember clearly how I felt.

All told it was bollocks. That horrible feeling is one I’ve experienced many times since. There isn’t anything remotely comparable – a movie is cancelled, a night out called off, they don’t create this huge gulley of disappointment that dominates the emotional terrain for few hours.

That game in 1984 was the first time I had this experienced and it remains the worst.

As an aside, the game wasn’t replayed for 3 months – on the 2nd April 1984, on a Monday night – yep, a Monday night. My ticket was still valid, so I got to go to the rearranged game.

Celtic won comfortably, 3-0, with a few notes for the trivia watchers. Two brothers scored for Celtic – Paul and Willie McStay (Davie Provan got the third). Peter McCloy had an utter howler that night, the last 2 goals just bumbling through his seemingly well-greased gloves, which was fantastic. The result was emphatic, the mistakes funny, just how you wanted your victories over Rangers!

I got to witness it all from the front of the Celtic end – not the greatest view in the world admittedly, but there was a consolation. In a rare foray into corporate marketing – and in an even rarer foray into common sense – Celtic released a video of the game. I think this was the first time the club had done this and it made sense as the game wasn’t on the telly (I think). Anyway, I was fist in line to buy the tape and yes, there I was, behind the goal, captured in full grainy technicolour glory.

It didn’t get much better.

So older and (allegedly) wiser, do I now take match postponements in my stride? Shrug casually and think how best to use a few hours that have suddenly become free?

Nope, it’s still crap! Can’t see that I will ever get used to it. Which is probably exactly how it should be.

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